BBC America’s bittersweet event, the Doctor Who Christmas special, started before it even began, with a special “Farewell to Matt Smith”, which took a fond look back on Matt Smith’s tenure as the Eleventh Doctor. Taking us from fish fingers and custard to the fields of Trenzalore, by way of the utter and inimitable coolness of bowties and fezzes, visits to San Diego Comic-Con, and a detour through the show’s 50th Anniversary; the special featured interviews with–and stories from–people like David Tennant, Steven Moffat, Karen Gillan, Arthur Miller, Jenna Coleman, and Chris Hardwick. We learned what it was like saying goodbye to Amy and Rory, saying hello to Clara, and how so much fun went into crafting Smith’s Eleventh, which is arguably the most unique and memorably fashioned Doctor since Tom Baker’s scarf-clad Fourth. Yes, it was a delightful–and, at once, melancholy–examination of all things Eleventh Doctor, and the whole thing was narrated by River Song herself, Alex Kingston. Alas, as joyful as it was, the moment of truth had to arrive eventually; the beginning of the end of Matt Smith’s time as the doctor began with the opening of “The Time of the Doctor”.
Before the Christmas special began, I took a look at the episode’s description provided by my television provider; said description read merely, “The Doctor makes sacrifices.” I thought, “But of course he does. That could easily be his job description.” Truth be told, The Doctor’s existence is one long sacrifice. Be that as it may, this was the description provided, and as I sat through “The Time of the Doctor”, that summary became more and more apt. Penned by Steven Moffat, “The Time of the Doctor” is predicated on a mysterious and indecipherable message that is being transmitted throughout all of time and space. This message serves as a fabulous conceit which gives a reason for the Eleventh to revisit so many of his nemeses one final time: Daleks, Cybermen, The Silence; they all make appearances of varying length, as everyone makes their way to orbit around the planet from whence this message is emanating. My personal favorite is an awesome scene where a group of Weeping Angels methodically emerge from a snow bank.
Yes, the episode quite fluidly manages to incorporate quite a lot of memories here, but–speaking of snow–it was a “Christmas” special, after all, and this trope provides us with a terrifically awkward Christmas dinner with Clara’s family. The scenes around the Oswald holiday dining table will remind anyone of so many uncomfortable moments spent at family gatherings. As is often the case with this series filled with space-time adventures and exotic locales, these authentic and human moments feel the most alien of anything Doctor Who has to offer; I love that.
In an attempt to not be too spoilerific, I won’t speak in too much detail about the real specifics of the episode, but I will say it stunningly bids adieu to Matt Smith and his incarnation of The Doctor in a way that squeezes so much of the timelord’s lifetime into so little space. In his last stand for Christmas, he shows his style in donning that dapper bowtie (still cool!), he exhibits his clever bravery in never having a plan, and he owns the battlefield in a hell of a bitchwalk; but the Eleventh’s heart is what truly gets put on display. From a lifelong love affair with the TARDIS, to maintaining a sweetly sterile camaraderie with “a bit of a Cyberman”, to always keeping his impossible girl safely at arm’s length; the Eleventh’s greatest strength is his endearing spirit.
I loved “The Time of the Doctor” for its gung ho approach to sending Matt Smith out with a hell of a bang, as much as for how greatly I feel it did expand our Doctor’s relationship with his impossible girl. For the Whovians among us who haven’t been feeling Jenna Coleman’s Clara Oswald (I’m not one, but I know they’re out there), I sincerely hope this episode finally brought them on-board, because she was fantastic, and I can’t wait to see where she and Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth go from here.