Like 'The End of Time' before it, tonight's episode had a horrendously complex brief. It had to generate pathos over a festive canvas, introduce a new Doctor, incorporate a surprise cameo, drum up a world ending threat, and then drape it across a yarn worthy of a departing Matt Smith. Unlike its predecessor, however, it worked. The story served the characters (rather than the other way around), the loose ends were tied in a neat(ish) bow, and by the time Matt finally took off his bow-tie, I was in tears.
Whereas Tennant's swan song was tinged with (some may say drowning in) sadness and regret, Smith's was a celebration of life. The eleventh Doctor didn't see regeneration as an ending, he saw it as progress—a continuation of life, where memory was the key to longevity. His closing dialogue was reflective, at ease, optimistic: the final words of a man content with life, satisfied with his achievements, and at peace with the ephemeral nature of existence. He embraced change, and it was refreshing to see.
Thankfully, the Time Lords intervened and saved us from any further repetitions. It was a no-brainer that they'd come to the Doctor's aid and grant him a renewed regeneration cycle. It should likewise come as no surprise that it was Clara who secured the deal. What would have happened if the Doctor hadn't abandoned her? Could she have saved him, too? I hated seeing him leave her behind like that. He didn't send her away—so technically, he didn't break his promise—but it still felt like a betrayal. Thankfully, Clara dealt with it like a champ. She had the intelligence to realise that the Doctor doesn't leave you holding a delicious cooked turkey unless things are serious.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much of this episode belonged to Clara, actually. Her tears at her gran's reminiscences, coupled with her confession in the truth field at Trenzalore, left us in no doubt as to her feelings for the Doctor. Surprisingly, he seemed to reciprocate. He seemed quite chuffed about being asked to be her boyfriend (despite not being asked to be her boyfriend at all), which made Clara's plea that the Doctor change the future, that he use his unique gifts to keep everything exactly as it was, that he keep on living, all the more poignant. When you see something so beautiful, you don't want it to change. You want it to stay the same forever.
But times change and so must the Doctor, and unlike Ten's solitary transformation, Eleven had his companion there to see him through it. He was even paid a visit (albeit in his mind) by Amy (both young and old), the first face his new face ever saw. She was still wearing Rory's ring. I teared up at that. I liked that Amy said 'goodnight' instead of 'goodbye.' Again, there was the thread of hope there—there would be another morning. But the dawn came quicker than expected, and this time the Doctor's regeneration was almost instantaneous, with Peter Capaldi's first words as confused and bonkers as you'd expect from any newly minted Doctor. Post-regeneration amnesia never fails to amuse.
It's hard to say what kind of Doctor Capaldi will be. With his guilt over the Time War now assuaged, and a relatively relaxed regeneration in the company of old friends, I can't imagine he'll be an angry Doctor. (Sorry Malcolm Tucker fans.) And how will Clara feel about him? Once she's acclimatised to his new face, will she feel the same way she felt about Eleven? Age certainly doesn't seem to be an issue with her. Those scenes of Clara with her head on an aged Eleven's lap, reading out Eric Ritchie Junior's 'Thoughts on a Clock' were utterly charming, as was her helping his weakened hand pull the Christmas cracker. Such a tender moment. Will Clara's semi-romantic interest continue with Twelve?
I think Jenna was at her best tonight. She nailed the emotional beats perfectly. The Christmas elements may have felt a little tacked on, but they effectively emphasised Clara's loneliness. Even amongst close family her mind was elsewhere. Her pleading with the Doctor not to change really got to me—and then the sadness turned to mirth as Twelve materialised for the first time. Clara's eyes almost popped out of her head. It's easy to forget sometimes that she's only been around for half a season. (With the exception of 'Asylum of the Daleks'.) She's achieved so much. Hopefully, next season will establish her as a firm fan favourite.
On the downside, a couple of the reveals felt a little underwhelming. I think a lot of it was to do with time constraints—there was a lot to wrap up, and just an hour to do it in, resulting in some of the plot points feeling a little rushed/lacklustre. (The 'Doctor who?' part, for example.) Maybe the episode could also have been longer? Surely they could have managed an extra twenty minutes? Regardless, this was Matt Smith's episode, and he threw everything he had at it. Everything good about his Doctor was on display—he sacrificed himself to save the world, was witty throughout, protected Clara, was loved by all, and finished his time old and satisfied in days. You can't argue with an ending like that.
With David Tennant being such a charismatic character, I'm not sure Matt Smith really got the kind of respect he deserved as the Doctor. Hopefully history will look back upon him more favourably. His time on the show has been my favourite of the new era. Eleven's comment that 'I will always remember when the Doctor was me', coupled with him momentarily breaking the fourth wall, felt like a last minute message from Matt to his fans. I dare say we'll never forget when he was the Doctor either. It was some ride.
—Since Matt's officially given us permission to keep calling him Eleven, I'm going to keep calling him Eleven.
—Some lovely wigs on display. Both Karen and Matt were sporting beauties.
—Deleted scene alert! Shame it didn't make the cut.
—I loved Matt teaching the kids on Trenzalore how to dance. A lovely call-back to Amy and Rory's wedding.
—A quick word of appreciation for Orla Brady as Tasha Lem: I loved her interaction with the Doctor. The two of them aggressively flirting in front of Jenna was perfect.
—Handles dying was pretty sad. That the Doctor could form a friendship with the head of a sworn enemy, speaks volumes about his ability to forgive. Luckily, Handles got to deliver his last message before dying.
—I liked that Smith's tenure started with a crack in the wall and finished with a crack in the wall. Whether it was planned, or just worked out that way, I enjoyed the circularity.
Clara: 'Emergency! You're my boyfriend.'
Doctor: 'Ding Dong! Okay, brilliant. I may be a bit rusty in some areas, but I will glance at a manual.'
Clara: 'No, no... you're not actually my boyfriend.'
Doctor: 'Oh, that was quick. It's a roller-coaster this phone call.'
Tasha: 'Hey babes.'
Doctor: 'Loving the frock.'
Tasha: 'Is that a new body? Give us a twirl.'
Doctor: 'Tush. This old thing? Please, I've been rocking it for centuries.'
Doctor: 'The old key in the quiff routine. Classic!'
Tasha: 'I'll send a transport.'
Doctor: 'Don't bother. I've got me motor back'
Tasha: 'They engineered a psychopath to kill you.'
Doctor: 'Totally married her.'
Doctor: 'The trouble with Daleks is they take so long to say anything. Probably die of boredom before they shoot me.'
Clara: 'You are the Doctor.'
Doctor: 'Yep. And I always will be. But times change and so must I.'
Doctor: 'I will not forget one line of this. Not one day. I swear.'
Amy: 'Raggedy Man, goodnight.'
Clara: 'Please don't change.'
Doctor: 'Just one question: do you happen to know how to fly this thing?'
Four moor peaces eye rote, sea hear.
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