The Episode Overview
A message is being sent around the universe from a town called Christmas on the planet Trenzalore. The message cannot be deciphered. It attracts forces from across the universe, all in fear. The Doctor is on the scene as well, with no fear. The planet, however, has a barrier preventing access by a force known as the Papal Mainframe as led by Tasha Lem.
Meanwhile Clara wants the Doctor to be her ‘boyfriend’ at the family Christmas dinner and there is humour to be had at his choice of clothing (or lack of) for the occasion. The Doctor and Clara, however, need to appear naked before Tasha. The Mainframe is the church responsible for the Silence as we see the familiar figures who are forgotten when not seen.
Tasha agrees to send the Doctor and Clara down to find the message’s meaning. After a brief skirmish with some Weeping Angels they enter Christmas which has a Truth Field. There the Doctor discovers that the message originates from the Crack in the Universe that has followed him since the start of his regeneration. The message is from his lost home planet of Gallifrey.
The message is the oldest question hidden in plain sight – Doctor Who? If the Doctor answers the question it would bring the planet back from the known universe unleashing the Time War bring devastation in its wake. The Papal Mainframe takes on the role of the Silence to ensure that the question is not answered, as the Doctor becomes protector of both Christmas and Gallifrey from the horde of forces who seek to invade.
Clara is sent back home, as the Doctor fears having to bury her. The fear is well founded as the Siege of Trenzalore lasts hundreds of years. When she finally meets him again, the Doctor is aged, feeling the effects in limited mobility. As they catch up, Clara seeks to get the Doctor to leave the defence of the village to someone else. The Doctor remains committed. He also confirms that this incarnation is the last one, and he is happy to spend his time somewhere he is wanted.
Stakes are raised when it transpires that the Papal Mainframe has been infiltrated by the Daleks, taking over even Tasha Lem. Yet an act of bravery helps Tasha overcome the Daleks briefly, and what the siege becomes war, this time the Silence being on the Doctor’s side. Once again Clara is returned home, this time bringing greater sadness as there is no obvious way of return, which brings her into tension at the family meal.
The TARDIS however returns, although it is navigated now by Tasha who has come to bring Clara to be with the Doctor as his life reaches close to its end. Now the wizened Doctor understands he is near his death – he has lived his lifespan, and is ready to make the final stand against the Daleks.
Clara pleads to his people through the crack on the wall to do something. AS the Doctor appears at the top of the church tower to face his foe, a crack in the universe appears through which he receives a gift from Gallifrey – a new regeneration cycle. The Doctor uses the burst of regeneration power to wipe out the Daleks.
In the aftermath, Clara searches for the Doctor and finds him in the TARDIS. He looks young again, but it is apparent that this is momentary, and he uses the time to state how all things must change as he welcomes in the new guy. Before he goes, he is bid a good night by the first face his face saw, Amy Pond.
As Clara seeks to stop the change, in a flash the new Doctor emerges. The new guy with the older face glares at Clara and first comments on having new kidneys and how he doesn’t like the colour. Then moving around the console he seeks to get himself to focus, before asking Clara if she has any idea how to fly the machine.
This episode had the typical Smith ingredients such as the humour, making use of his wiry physicality. It also brought out his ability to convey his emotions even when older and less mobile. Huge props to the prosthetics as the wizened old Smith was truly a masterpiece. It was s superb performance in every element from Smith. His closing scene was full of emotion without making it saccharine. It was the end, he realised, but it was also a new beginning which he accepted, unlike his predecessor.
Kudos likewise to Jenna Coleman as Clara, the chief conduit of the motion in the episode. This was her best performance as Clara. She played the role of the companion to a tee exuding confidence, bravery, genuine sadness and anxiety at just the right pitch. An important ingredient in the programme’s success is the relationship between the companion and the Doctor and Smith and Coleman played their roles superbly.
Part of the build-up for the final story was how strands that had been going on since the start of the Smith era would be tied up. That happened. We know why the TARDIS exploded in Smith’s first series. We know who the Silence are in more detail. We know what the fall of the eleventh was all about. We have some idea of how Gallifrey can be located. We know how Smith was the 13th incarnation of the Doctor and how he could get over the rule of the 12 regenerations.
It is unfortunate, however, that the way these were tied up were fairly routine and almost glibly. Something I tried with a few episodes of Doctor Who was actually close my eyes and see how much of it could be explained almost like an audio play. This episode could have worked equally as effectively as an audio play such was the stress on dialogue. (That must have been a whole heap of words to have learnt.)
After four years of searching and pathos and excitement, for things to be explained in a sentence might have felt somewhat deflating. That is the problem, however, with building things up for so long and to such an important degree. Satisfying so many strands in a 60 minute episode was always going to be a big challenge.
This episode, however, was full of excitement, fun, drama and emotion. Moffat’s writing makes for good television. There was effective use of colour to depict this as a darker story that is about the end of the Doctor’s journey. If you wanted to get all philosophical and deep there were plenty of ‘messages’ you could get about loyalty, life, relationships, fear and hope among others.
Something that has improved over the time of the series is the brilliant use of incidental music. This episode was no different. It is a great example of assisting with the feel of the drama at key points from the revelation of Tasha Lem as a Dalek, to the regeneration scene itself.
Other than the Doctor and Clara the only other character of worth is Tasha Lem. She plays her role well mixing the enigmatic with the caring very well. It does, however, say something about others in the episode that she’s the only memorable one. Clara’s family are there as decoration (geddit) on the whole, though there’s a precious little nugget from her Gran.
On the regeneration itself. Eccleston’s change took place after he took the Vortex from Rose, and it didn’t take too long for the change to take place. When it did, Rose could see it quite clearly and the aftermath. With Tennant, his change gave him enough time to wander around the universe looking for his reward. It was long and drawn out to say the least – and it was a good thing he didn’t have over a dozen companions. The actual change, however was powerful and made an impact.
With this episode, it was brilliant seeing the wizened and decrepit Doctor receive the new cycle from Gallifrey and get a new bounce in his step before unleashing an enormous wave of regeneration energy to wipe out his long-hated adversary. I must admit, when I saw the usual arms out, head back, regeneration energy burst, I expected to see the change there and then.
Clara’s steps into the TARDIS and look at the clothes on the ground, and steps on the opposite side of the console room got me thinking of seing the new Doctor there and then. Yet Smith’s final monologue was superb and not a let-down at all. The flash that just brought Capaldi’s face to the screen was a disappointment.
Still, the New Doctor is here. His start was interesting and left enough for us to eagerly look forward to how he’ll flesh out in time to come.
I do not help comparing episodes to other episodes of a similar kind. Hartnell had the Tenth Planet. Troughton had the War Games. Pertwee had the Planet of the Spiders. Tom Baker had Logopolis. Davison had Caves of Androzani. Colin Baker never had a proper regeneration story. McCoy had the Movie. Even McGann got a send-off in The Night of the Doctor. If you want to include Hurt in the canon then he had Day of the Doctor. Eccleston had Parting of the Ways. Tennant had The End of Time.
The only full story I’ve not watched is Hartnell’s one. The best regeneration story for all reasons remains Caves of Androzani, which is usually followed closely by Planet of the Spiders. This episode is as good as Planet of the Spiders. Where others have been too long (War Games is 10 episodes! End of Time should have been one episode not one and a half, with a protracted regeneration.) and some have been forgettable (Logopolis), this one had drama and emotion in fitting with the character of this Doctor.
After the episode I said to myself that they did it the right way. It’s a strong end to Smith’s time on the show. It’s a good episode. I enjoyed watching it, and felt it hit the right notes emotionally without going over the top.
“I will always remember when the Doctor was me.”
Now, the Smith era is over and I will certainly remember when the Doctor was him.
C. L. J. Dryden