Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor
(1 episode, Christmas Special, 2013)
Death and birth in Christmas.
A fleet of ships respond to a tri-tone signal echoing in the cosmos from a seemingly unimportant planet. The Doctor is among the respondents and transports aboard a Dalek ship. When they start shooting, he transports back and scolds a disembodied Cyberman head named Handles.
His rant is interrupted by a ringing telephone. Unfortunately, it is routed to the handset on the outside of the TARDIS, but fortunately, the caller is Clara. She invented an imaginary boyfriend and needs the Doctor to pose as him at Christmas dinner. He materializes the TARDIS on a newly arrived ship, this time a Cyberman ship, and then scampers off as Clara calls again.
Clara’s trying her best to host Christmas dinner, but she’s having difficulty with the turkey and her family. When the TARDIS arrives, she runs down to meet the Doctor but finds him naked. It seems that he’s going to church. He puts on some holographic clothes and runs up to meet the family, but failed to extend the holographic projection to the family. Clara explains her issues with the turkey and the Doctor takes her to the TARDIS to cook it in the temporal engine.
Meanwhile, Handles has calculated the planet’s identity: Gallifrey. The Doctor refuses to believe the analysis even though he has recently saved his homeworld. His thoughts are interrupted by the arrival of Mother Superious Tasha Lem and the Papal Mainframe. Clara dons holographic clothing – nudity is the order of the day at church – and the pair board the new ship.
Tasha is pleased with the Doctor’s new body and offers a private consultation while Clara waits outside the chapel. While Tasha and the Doctor confer, Clara encounters the Silence, repeatedly forgetting the confessors once she looks away from them. She interrupts Tasha and the Doctor in a panic, forgetting why she did, and then joins the Doctor as he teleports to the planet surface. Tasha demands the TARDIS key so he can’t summon the time capsule and requests that he return in one hour.
Once the travelers arrive on the surface, they find a group of Weeping Angels buried in the snow. The Doctor summons the TARDIS by removing a surprise wig and revealing a key hidden beneath. The TARDIS materializes in a nearby village where the freshly re-dressed travelers meet the residents and a field that forces people to tell the truth.
The town, by the way, is called Christmas.
As the Doctor and Clara explore, they find a glowing crack in the wall, something he hasn’t seen for some time. The Doctor detects evidence that someone is trying to break through this weak point, and Handles suggests that it is Gallifreyan in nature. The truth field and the signal are coming from the Time Lords, and the signal is a question being transmitted through time and space.
It is the oldest question. You know, that inside joke about the show’s title. If he answers the question with his name, the Time Lords will know that it will be safe to return. Unfortunately, that means that everyone in orbit will open fire to destroy their enemy. The Time War will begin again.
The Doctor sends Clara to the TARDIS as Tasha reveals the true name of the planet. Turns out that Christmas is on Trenzalore. As the Doctor negotiates the problem with Tasha, the TARDIS returns Clara home. The Doctor places the planet under his protection, forcing Tasha to begin the Siege of Trenzalore and order the Doctor’s silence to fall.
The Doctor defends against Sontarans, Weeping Angels, and even wooden Cybermen as the years march onward and begin to show on the Time Lord’s body. The town celebrates every victory and comes to love the man who stayed for Christmas.
Eventually, the TARDIS returns to Trenzalore. It has been gone for 300 years, but it has returned Clara as she clung to the outer shell through the temporal vortex. They yell at each other and then embrace. Clara learns about the Doctor’s exploits and joins him for sunrise. Sadly, it is the last sunrise for Handles as the Cyberman head has developed a fault over time and succumbs to inevitability. The Doctor and Clara discuss the nature of his work on Trenzalore. Everyone gets stuck somewhere eventually. Everything ends.
The Doctor also reveals that he’s out of regenerations. Eleven Doctors, the War Doctor, and the Tenth Doctor’s vanity regeneration mean that this regeneration is the end of the line, but every life saved is a victory for him. His musings are interrupted by a request for a parley from Tasha. The Doctor and Clara take the TARDIS to Papal Mainframe. As Tasha and the Doctor negotiate, she reveals that everyone aboard has been replaced by Dalek puppets in order to snare their greatest enemy. The Daleks also know who the Doctor is thanks to information downloaded from the mainframe.
The Daleks try to use Clara as a bargaining chip, but he’s able to restore Tasha’s memories so she can fight back. The Doctor and Clara take the transmat back to the TARDIS. The turkey is finally done and Clara forces the Doctor to promise that he’ll never send her away again. Of course, the Doctor lies – rule number one, right? – and he tricks Clara into returning home while he stays on Trenzalore.
The years continue on as the fleets above continue the siege and the Doctor continues the fight. On Earth, Clara’s family consoles her as they celebrate Christmas. She hears the TARDIS returning and rushes to meet it. Inside, she finds Tasha, who then returns her to Trenzalore so the Doctor doesn’t die alone.
Clara returns to the room with the crack, marveling at the Doctor’s exploits and advanced age. They share a Christmas cracker and find a poignant message inside. The moment is broken by the arrival of the Daleks, and the Doctor ascends the belltower to make his last stand. This is how it ends.
Clara promises to remain behind as the Doctor bids her farewell. She turns to the crack and begs the Time Lords for assistance, offering the Doctor’s reputation as proof of who they seek. They respond by sealing the crack.
The Doctor faces the Dalek ship from the belltower. He admits that he has nothing left to offer, but the Dalek assault is disrupted by the crack opening in the sky. A burst of regeneration energy floats down to the Doctor and he begins to glow in a familiar golden light.
A bit of advice: Never ever tell the Doctor the rules. Regeneration number thirteen begins as the Time Lord uses the power rushing through his body to tear through the Dalek forces and Clara shepherds the villagers to safety.
After the battle, Clara returns to the TARDIS as she searches for the Doctor. She hangs up the phone and enters the time capsule to find the Doctor’s clothes on the floor and a bowl of fish custard on the console. He appears to her with his restored face, claiming that this is the reset. He sets the TARDIS in motion as he prepares to regenerate.
He talks to Clara as he begins to glow, seeing visions of Amelia Pond running around the TARDIS. He promises never to forget when the Doctor was him, then says farewell to a vision of Amy Pond.
He drops his bow tie, which he donned on his first day, then regenerates in a snap. As the new Doctor – an older Scottish man with familiar attack eyebrows – muses about the color of his kidneys, the TARDIS begins to spin out of control. Unfortunately, he doesn’t remember how to fly it.
This story bounces all over the map, and that is truly unfortunate. It was an attempt to tie everything off for Matt Smith’s era, including the Silence, the cracks in time, Trenzalore, and the fate of Gallifrey, but it was just too much and the sheer volume of concurrent story elements made for a muddled send-off for the Eleventh Doctor.
The mystery of the time crack was pretty well wrapped up back in Series 5, and the Silence arc came to a suitable end in Series 6. Bringing both of these elements back for this story seemed more of vain conceits than meaningful plot threads, particularly trying to redeem the Silence as religious confessors when they previously served as murderous foot soldiers.
The fate of Gallifrey was handled quite well in The Day of the Doctor, and while their minor influence here was welcome, I feel like the ending wasn’t quite earned. It’s Clara who begs the Time Lords for help, and historically the Time Lords have looked down on the Doctor’s interference in universal affairs. They even forced him to regenerate as punishment at one point, remember?
Sure, he saved them from utter annihilation, but is that enough to look the other way? I don’t know. The stakes seem awfully high since they’re perfectly safe in the pocket dimension… unless the goal is to ensure that the Doctor is indebted to them and obligated to free them.
The final element – the Doctor’s regeneration limit – takes a few turns here. This story firmly establishes that the limit is purely arbitrary, dictated at a whim by a higher power. Similar to the Master’s offer in The Five Doctors and the brand new set of regenerations gifted to him before The Sound of Drums, the Doctor’s potential is unleashed by the Time Lords with a snap.
The regeneration limit itself was mentioned three times before this point – The Deadly Assassin, Mawdryn Undead, and the TV movie – and given how regenerations are treated by other Time Lords like Runcible (The Deadly Assassin), the Council (The War Games, wherein the Time Lords didn’t even bat an eye at what was effectively capital punishment), and Romana (Destiny of the Daleks), I have long considered the limit to be very flexible if not completely artificial. The Doctor and the Master may believe it (at this point in the series progression), but others have shown us that the limits of regeneration are capricious at best. They are a way for the Council to keep the lesser Time Lords in line.
By extension, this also adds more credence to the Morbius faces being those of the Doctor before the First Doctor, but we’ll get there soon enough. (Breaking the Timestamps Project timeline, this story is exactly why I didn’t have an issue with the Timeless Child revelation during the Thirteenth Doctor’s run.)
It seems that this regeneration was the first in a whole new set of twelve, provided that the Eleventh Doctor didn’t burn all of them off with that over-the-top light show. It also offers a reset, so in that way, it was suitable for Steven Moffat to tie everything off in a sloppy bow. I have already talked about how this whole regeneration limit discussion could have been pushed into the next era by replacing the War Doctor with the Eighth Doctor, but again, Moffat and vanity conceits.
Taking a look at other elements of series mythology, we saw a nice list of “guest” aliens in orbit of Trenzalore, including the Judoon, the Silurians, the Terileptils, and the Raxacoricofallapatorians. In the Doctor’s hall of fame, there is also evidence that the Sycorax, the Monoids, the Racnoss, the Pyrovile, the Ood, and the Adipose also came to play.
It’s one hell of a finale for this era of Doctor Who. I only wish it was better. The ending was emotional, but the rest of the story was uneven. It definitely needs to take advantage of the Timestamps Project’s +1 handicap for regeneration episodes.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.