Monday, 14 April 2014

Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor

"Why are you naked?"

"Because I'm going to church!"

Yes, I know. I'm very, very late. But I spent Christmas away in an ITV household and only saw The Time of the Doctor late at night and on iPlayer, and when we finally got home after the New Year we discovered that Youview hasn't recorded it. Grr. We're switching to Sky.

But now I've finally seen it again, thanks to Netflix, and been able to take notes so I can blog it at long last, and there is soooooo much to talk about, old news or no. I'm aware that there is a very vocal group of online Moffat-haters, but I'm not one if them, I'm afraid. There will be gushing. If you don't want to read a gloriously positive meditation on the perfect conclusion to the Matt Smith era, look away now.

One thing I've often wondered about Steven Moffat, what with his near-Douglas Adams approach to deadlines, is to what extent his intricate plot lines are charted in advance and to what extent they're made on the hoof (an equally valid approach). Personally, I suspect the answer lies at neither extreme, but it matters not: however he's done it, the Moff has triumphantly tied up all the ongoing plot lines of his era so far as far as I can determine. So let's get all the arc stuff out of the way first so we can move on to talk about the episode, shall we?

The cracks in Amy's wall? The Time Lords trying to get through to our reality via the original crack, so to speak, at Trenzalore. The question that must never be asked, "Doctor who?" Required by the Time Lords so they can come through. Who is behind those religious, military types who have been a theme of the Matt Smith era? The Papal Mainframe, headed by the Doctor's friend and fellow exchanger of flirts, Tasha Yem (whose name reminds me of Tasha Yar from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

There's more. The Time Lords cannot come through, whether they're nice now or not: their reputation precedes them, and a new Time War would erupt. Tasha Yem's lot go through an "unscheduled faith change" (delightful dig at religious hierarchies there!) to ensure that Trenzalore is protected, the question is never asked and that "silence will fall": the Silence, it transpires, are actually goodies, and we see them fighting alongside the Doctor.

There's even more. The Doctor is, in fact, on his thirteenth incarnation ("Are we forgetting Captain Grumpy?"): this is it, although we should perhaps not think too much about what looked like an aborted regeneration in The Impossible Astronaut. The Kovarian chapter broke away from the Papal Mainframe to blow up the TARDIS and send River to kill the Doctor ("Totally married her!"). And I do believe that's all the loose ends.

Anyway... we all love Handles, who is cool, cute and useful to the plot, but he is also a useful metaphor for that old Christopher Bidmead theme of entropy, essentially that things fall apart, and as with Logopolis this functions nicely as a metaphor for the Doctor's regeneration. But- and this is important- the fact that everything is going to fall apart and degenerate until the eventual heat death of the universe ("Can't get the parts") is no reason to despair. The Doctor knows that the siege of Christmas will eventually break through and destroy everything, but that's not the point; generations of people will live and love laugh there in the meantime, and these people matter. They matter so much that the Doctor, with his notorious wanderlust, is content to spend his last few centuries of life staying in the one place, defending the citizens of Christmas for as long as he can. This kind of cheerful defiance of entropy is the most Doctor Who thing ever.

The funny scenes of Christmas dinner with Clara's family are important, as they anchor these weighty themes to everyday reality. There's a definite parallel, in the Doctor sending Clara home to protect her, in what he did to Rise in The Parting of the Ways. We remember this as another regeneration story, so the stakes are raised. Still, it says a lot about Clara that she is a lot more resourceful and clever in getting back than Rose was.

Christmas is under attack, so we get nice set pieces with Daleks, Sontarans, cool wooden Cybermen and Weeping Angels, although the latter are a little under-utilised. There's a scene which nicely exploits the fact that Matt Smith has a shaven head during filming. There is the delightful concept of a town where lying isn't possible. But better than any if this is seeing the Doctor embedding himself into a real community, slowly growing old (this is an acting your de force from Matt Smith), yet holding out against all comers... except old age. By the end of the episode he's at least 1,400, and dying. The clock is striking twelve.

But there's Clara, as ever, to save him, in this case by having a chat to the Time Lords on the other side of the crack. Yes, entropy, everything dies, blah blah blah, but why not kick the can down the road for a bit more and give the Doctor a brand new regeneration cycle? We may all be doomed in the end, but the Doctor will now live to save a load more people along the way.

The regeneration itself has its cake and eats it in being both enormous (the explosion) and low key (Clara and the Doctor in the TARDIS). The short cameo from Karen Gillan, "the first face this face saw", is far more effective than Tennant's over-indulgent "reward" in The End of Time. And the underplayed regeneration is brilliant; it would have been so easy, as with last time, to be self-indulgent. Instead we have an exciting and unknown future lying ahead.

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