Thursday, December 26, 2013

Doctor Who 2013 Christmas Special: "The Time of the Doctor"

“We all change. When you think about it, we’re all different people all through our lives. That’s okay, that’s good. You’ve got to keep moving. So long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this. Not one day, I swear. I will always remember when The Doctor was me.”
- The Eleventh Doctor

This year’s Christmas special marks the end of an era as Matt Smith exits the role of the Eleventh Doctor, making way for uber-fanboy Peter Capaldi to take up the helm of the TARDIS. But before we get there, the Eleventh Doctor has one last adventure. A signal is being broadcast throughout all time and space from a quaint little planet and it has drawn all of the Doctor’s enemies in. The Doctor of course is off to investigate the signal because it’s what he does, and he can’t decipher it, which intrigues him. Along for the ride is a Cyberman head that he’s dubbed Handles who keeps sending him on to enemy ships while he happens to be holding bits of said enemies (a Dalek sucker, Handles). The shenanigans are of course interrupted by Clara calling and begging him to be her Christmas date to family dinner. We see Clara’s family briefly before she and the Doctor head off to solve the mystery of the message.

We then meet the Mother Superius, Tasha Lem, of the Papal Mainframe (which should sound familiar to those who paid any attention to “A Good Man Goes to War”). Tasha has put up a forcefield to keep everyone off the planet and away from the signal, but the Doctor finds a way down and quickly learns several key points; the signal is coming from Galifrey, the Time Lords are using the crack in the universe caused by his exploding TARDIS to send the signal, and the signal is asking “Doctor Who?” The Doctor crack (and the signal) have settled on Trenzalore, the Doctor’s final resting place. We see him defending a small town on Trenzalore called Christmas from various foes for over 300 years until one day, Clara returns, and he’s aged so much that he almost resembles David Tennant’s Doctor in “The Last of the Time Lords” when the Master rapidly ages him. The Doctor explains to Clara that because of the War Doctor and the Tenth Doctor’s second regeneration (which created 10.5), he’s all out of regenerations. But Clara begs the Time Lords to help the Doctor since he saved them on the last day of the Time War, and so they gift him with a new set of 13 lives as the Siege of Trenzalore ends and he regenerates into The Twelfth (Fourteenth?) Doctor.

Fandom reaction to this special was most definitely mixed, but we found both some positives and negatives to take from the episode. On the positive side, there was some welcome development to Clara. We got to meet her family, specifically her father, stepmother, and grandmother. Clara’s grandmother is especially entertaining, as she has gotten to the age where she just doesn’t care about what other people think of her. Hopefully, this is a sign that the creative team is moving beyond Clara the “Impossible Girl” plot device and starting to try and develop her as a real character in her own right. We haven’t seen this in-depth of a look at a companion’s family since Donna Noble, and seeing it in this episode was an unexpected pleasant surprise.

The actual regeneration from Eleven into Twelve was a bit different from the other Modern Who regenerations, presumably because the Doctor just got a whole new regeneration cycle. Eleven had the opportunity to give a whole speech expressing his thankfulness for his particular regeneration. Instead of the “I don’t want to go” sentiment of Ten’s regeneration into Eleven, Eleven viewed his impending change as just turning to a new chapter in the book of his life. As he put it, we all go through changes in our lives, and as long as we stop and remember who we used to be once in a while, that change is a positive thing. The visual effects for the regeneration were very sudden. In a flash, Matt Smith had turned into Peter Capaldi.

Keeping in line with past regenerations however, we only see a brief glimpse of the new Doctor as he stumbles around dazed and confused by the change. He asks Clara if she knows how to fly the TARDIS. Could the Doctor be experiencing a little amnesia like the Eighth Doctor did in his early days? Twelve was disoriented by the regeneration for sure, and in his unsure state, Capaldi seemed to use some very Malcolm Tucker-like mannerisms, namely a sort-of-evil glare. He also, for the record, doesn’t like the new color of his kidneys. It’s not really fair to judge a new Doctor by his first appearance in his regeneration episode, as it’s always just a few seconds, and the Doctor hasn’t really settled into his new personality. While Capaldi’s first appearance was decidedly odd, we are still anxiously awaiting his true debut in August, 2014.

One of the less positive aspects of this year’s special was the suggestion by some fans that Tasha Lem was in fact another regeneration of River Song/Melody Pond. Now, for those of you who follow the blog at all, you know that we are big River Song fans. Her history has been fairly strongly established throughout series 6 and 7, once it was revealed she was Amy and Rory’s daughter. We saw her regenerate into Mels and then River. And then she gave up her remaining regenerations to save the Doctor in Berlin. While Tasha had some similar personality traits and speech patterns as River (including that she has an inner psychopath and she can fly the TARDIS), it would require a bigger retcon than we hope even Moffat would risk at this point. And whether there is any merit to the theory, the relationship between Tasha and the Doctor seemed shoe-horned in and rushed. Then again, a lot of the story seemed to go by very quickly where action was shown with voice-over explaining away what’s happening.

Inevitably, Moffat had to address the “how do you get around the twelve regenerations” issue. As we saw, it was solved by the Time Lords gifting him with a fresh batch (presumably for not massacring the whole lot of them in the Time War). While that was a nice little call-back to the 50th Anniversary, he had already laid out another option and there was precedent for a second option. In the Classic Era, the Master got extra regenerations by stealing them from another Time Lord (and he tried to steal them from the Doctor right after he regenerated into the Eighth Doctor). Clearly the Doctor wouldn’t do this but at least it was a possibility. The other possibility was that he had an extra nine or ten regenerations stacked up thanks to River using her remaining energy to bring him back at the end of “Let’s Kill Hitler”. It would have been a nice throw-back to another plot point in Eleven’s run. It just seemed a little cheesy that all Clara had to do was ask nicely and say “please” for him to beat the twelve-and-done rule.

Whether you loved, hated or had mixed feelings about Eleven’s swan song, more Doctor Who is never a bad thing. Even with all the over-plotting that is the hallmark of the Moffat era, it’s still more entertaining than most of what is on television. We here at More TV, Please will be looking forward to seeing Twelve take charge when series 8 graces our screen in August. And if it’s not too much to ask, a few Eighth Doctor webisodes or another movie wouldn’t be amiss to tide us over.

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