Regeneration stories are a tricky beast. Do you try too hard and fall short like The End of Time and Logopolis? Do you go out in triumph like The Day of the Doctor or solemnity like The Night of the Doctor? Do you send the Doctor down fighting like Planet of the Spiders and The War Games? Or do you send him out in a blaze of glory like The Caves of Androzani and The Brink of Death?
Naturally I was apprehensive of The Time of the Doctor because we knew it would end with the Doctor – MY Doctor – regenerating. Thankfully he goes out in a blaze of glory, but we’ll get to that. First there’s the story itself to tell. It’s one that’s filled with great moments and tonnes of monsters…
…and Handles, the disembodied Cyberman head that’s also the Doctor’s companion. What sort of mind comes up with that?! Pure Moffat Madness! But who among you doesn’t shed a tear when, after centuries of loyal service, he dies?
This is an episode that perfectly sums up Matt Smith’s time. It brings together the plot arcs of the Silence, the cracks, Gallifrey falls no more and Trenzalore and ties them up in a neat little bow to wipe the slate clean for incoming Doctor, Peter Capaldi. It also plays to Smith’s comedy strengths, like the bald scene and his interactions with Clara’s family while naked to everyone but her. His dramatic skills are utilised as well, with the story taking place for him over 900 years and the Doctor aging with it. Smith looks older – I have to hand it to the makeup people for making him look older convincingly – and never has the description of the 11th Doctor being an old man in a young man’s body been more noticeable than this episode when his body ages too. He doesn’t even need to change his character’s mannerisms and speech patterns!
The Doctor and Clara are both naked here. Just let that sink in for a moment.
Credit must also be given to Jenna Coleman for her stellar work in this episode. It really puts her through the mill and she comes out the other side having gone through more in this one story than other companions have in all of theirs combined! Coleman is the best actress to ever play the companion and she shows off her full range here, but this is Matt Smith’s show so she rightly allows him to take the spotlight, but that doesn’t mean we can’t praise her as well.
Moffat has said that he thought Matt’s performance here was the best of his entire doctorate, and it’s hard to disagree. Not only are there comedic moments and the drama of his aging but there’s also the small matter of the regeneration itself, and it’s here that he really truly makes this one stand out from the other performances he gave. His speech as he receives the new cycle of regenerations is a thing of beauty that I could try to praise but I feel no need to. This one speaks for itself.
And that’s the essence of The Time of the Doctor concentrated into one single scene. This is the Doctor’s greatest triumph as the future seen in The Name of the Doctor is changed when the Time Lords give him new regenerations and he goes off in an explosion of light. With the soundtrack from the wonderful Murray Gold, the beautiful visuals of the Dalek ships against the starlit sky and the church-bell symbolically striking twelve as the Doctor takes down all the Daleks in one fell swoop.
And you cheer him on the entire time. The Doctor is dying yes, but there’ll be a new one along in a minute and he’s going down fighting! The 11th Doctor never gives up and even in his death that rings true.
But it’s not the end, merely the moment being prepared for. That was just the reset.
The actual changeover comes next. Clara arrives in the TARDIS to see the Doctor young again with a bowl of fishfingers and custard. He gives another speech about change and halucinates Amy. Then he drops the bowtie and that’s it symbolised, the change is ready. Then it comes and suddenly the Doctor is an old man saying the instantly quotable line...
“Kidneys! I’ve got new kidneys! I don’t like the colour.”If there was any doubt that Peter Capaldi had it in him to replace Matt Smith as the Doctor it was dispelled in that moment. This is Matt Smith’s show and it’s Matt Smith’s Oscar-worthy performance that you remember afterwards, but Peter Capaldi still makes an impression.
So what are we to make of The Time of the Doctor then? I’ll tell you: The best regeneration sequence ever, the best performance Smith ever gave, the debut of Capaldi, the resolution to the Smith era and a triumphant conclusion to the first fifty years. That’s what makes The Time of the Doctor stand out and that’s why you should watch it again immediately.
When he's not obsessing about Doctor Who whilst having I Am The Doctor play in his head, Dr. Moo can usually be found reading up on the latest in Quantum Physics. As you do when you're a physicist.