Who: “Doctor Who” airs on cable TV, specifically on BBC America, Saturdays at 8:00 PM, though the show is currently in hiatus.
What: “Doctor Who,” the long-running British science fiction show about an alien time and space traveler who gallivants across the universe with companions in an effort to save people and/or history and/or the universe itself. The synopsis changes from Doctor to Doctor, but the above statement pretty much encapsulates all of them.
When: The Christmas Special, “The Time of the Doctor,” aired on Wednesday, December 25, 2013, on BBC America at 8:00 PM.
Where: The show is set literally everywhere in the whole universe at any given time, though not without the Doctor’s ship, the TARDIS, and some face of the man who pilots it.
Why: Once upon a time (no, not that show), friends of mine said precisely this: “Why aren’t you watching Doctor Who?! It’s science fiction, it’s British, it’s everything you love (short of vampires)! Watch it! Do it!” I started with the 2005 pilot of “Rose” and kept right on chugging. Now, I’m a fully converted Whovian, with an obsessive eye to both past, as in Classic, Who and the future incarnations of the “Madman in a Box.”
How – as in How’s It Going? (THOUGHTS…at present)
First, Doctor Who celebrates a milestone not touched by any other television program: it achieves a 50-year anniversary and broadcasts a special both advancing the now mythos-heavy series story line while simultaneously creating a loving homage to a fan-dom decades in the cultivating. Yet, the year of 2013, for this unique British science fiction show, was not limited to one milestone: Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith announced in the summer that he would be departing from the titular madman’s role. As is tradition, at least for the revival portion of the series, the annual Christmas special marked Mr. Smith’s final (for now) turn at the fez-wearing, bow tie-sporting, physically zany version of the Doctor in a fun if somewhat anticlimactic denouement.
In other words, 2013 provided a second milestone: the latest regeneration of the dear Doctor and the introduction of Doctor number 12 (ignoring the 50th special’s War Doctor for the sake of ease) – Peter Capaldi, whose prior appearances in the Whoniverse have created speculation and confusion that this viewer is avoiding for now for the sake of this post. “The Time of the Doctor” is Matt Smith’s swansong. Overall, the special, written by show runner Steven Moffat, is a grand spectacle – in some ways, a splashy finish to a largely uneven if still engagingly entertaining series of seasons for Matt Smith’s Doctor rivaling the scale of the 50th Anniversary special. Yet, it was surprisingly bloated, somewhat confusing, and lacking some of the emotional punch of Mr. Smith’s predecessor’s departure, the much beloved David Tennant. Ten was able to revisit many stomping grounds and say touching goodbyes to all of his best companions, including romantic Rose. Eleven, and his respective body and face, was given a unique opportunity: the chance to live a full life, over centuries, before meeting death somewhat naturally. His parting speech was brief but poignant, as darling companion Clara (Jenna Coleman) looked on with a mixture of horror and sadness, no matter how much intellectually she is able to accept that this type of thing happens to this being quite often.
The 50th Anniversary special reminded us that Eleven is the man who forgets – until Ten, Eleven, and the War Doctor changed – or preserved – history by hiding the Doctor’s home world, Gallifrey, from the invading Daleks in another universe rather than destroying it. The Christmas special allowed Eleven to forget that regret, however fleetingly, as he attempted to save the universe once more from the crack that never went away and the growing list of enemies he amassed in this form.
The Special begins with the Doctor stuck on a planet, talking to the head (only) of a Cyberman he calls “Handles,” as several of the Doctor’s alien enemies amass in orbit above, including Daleks, Cybermen, and the lot. Clara calls after the Doctor to pretend to be her boyfriend at Christmas dinner – he’s game, of course, though he admits he’s a bit “rusty.” What’s more, he shows up naked, claiming he’s going to church. Though he’s kind enough to project holographic clothes onto Clara’s visual cortex, he kind of forgets to do the same for Clara’s family, though Clara’s granny seems game to play Twister. Clara apologizes for the Doctor – “He’s Swedish” – prior to showing him a very underdone turkey. When the Doctor reminds Clara that the sonic screwdriver doesn’t “app” turkeys, though time machines might, Clara brings the bird’s carcass aboard the TARDIS. Apparently, she makes a habit of using the TARDIS for routine daily crises. The Doctor frustratingly tells her she needs to learn how to use iPlayer. That would be the BBC’s online streaming app. Thank you, shameless self promotion – seems awfully American of the Brits to do that, but I digress.
Handles whisks the TARDIS, Doctor and Clara in tow, back to the planet surrounded by his enemies and identifies the planet as Gallifrey. The Doctor doesn’t believe him; though Clara reminds him that he might have actually saved his planet, the Doctor indicates that the planet is hidden in another universe if it survived at all. Yet, a ship hovering above the planet turns out to be the Papal Mainframe, the church where nudity is required, and a universal security force. The head of the church is Tasha Lem – apparently, she’s had quite a history with the Doctor (which body, though?) and asks to speak to him privately. Clara, sensing the awkward sexual tension, is only too happy to oblige and remains outside Tasha’s chapel, except that she is greeted by a member of the Silence, the alien race who can only be remembered while being actively seen.
Tasha, like Handles before her, though much more flirtatiously, points the Doctor toward a message being broadcast from the planet that has drawn all of the alien species to it. The Doctor asks for her leave to be transported to the planet, though the Mainframe has shielded it from the would-be aggressors. Clara, nearly surrounded by the Silence, bursts through the door just in time, since Tasha and the Doctor are nose to nose, only to forget why she did so. Tasha demands the key of the Doctor’s TARDIS for some reason prior to beaming the Doctor and Clara to the planet, where a human settlement has created a town called Christmas. The Doctor and Clara first land in the woods outside the settlement, where they are surrounded by Weeping Angels, the statues one must stare it, lest they come to life, sneak up behind one, and hurtle them back through time. The Doctor believes they got past the Mainframe’s shield; fortunately, the Doctor keeps a spare TARDIS transporter/key thing in his wig?! Seems the Doctor shaved his head one night when he was bored. Don’t we all.
Clara encourages the Doctor to put the wig back on, saying the Doctor’s ears are like “rocket fins.” “I know,” he replies proudly.
After the Doctor and Clara are properly wearing clothes, they venture into the town and are greeted by some inhabitants. As the Doctor attempts to make his introductions, he finds himself spilling the truth of his entire identity: Time Lord from Gallifrey, stole a time machine, ran away, flouted all who crossed him, etc., while Clara admits that she ran off with the man from space because she really fancies him. It seems that in the town of Christmas, only the truth can be told, due to a truth field originating from the town’s tower, from where the message is also being broadcast.
As the Doctor and Clara enter the Tower, the Doctor happens upon a familiar sight: the crack in the wall, the tear in the universe/reality that he first discovered in the bedroom of young Amelia “Amy” Pond way back in season 5 when the “universe blew up” on June 26, 2010, the first day of Eleven’s existence. Though the Doctor attempted to repair it with his sonic screwdriver, he admits that he knew it wasn’t over, and that he would see this crack again. He figures out, with the help of Handles, that someone or something is trying to break through the crack, to bust through to this reality, and Handles confirms that the message is Gallifreyan in origin, and that it is being broadcast through all of time and space, the oldest message in the universe. The message when translated: “Doctor Who?”
The message is a question – to retrieve an answer only the Doctor can provide, to verify his identity. The answer is that which none of us truly know: the Doctor’s real name. When Clara asks what might happen if the Time Lords come back, the Doctor creates an errand for her to return to the TARDIS, primarily for the purpose of removing Clara from danger, and indicates that if the Time Lords return, “hell” would happen, since so many enemies of the Time Lords have amassed above the planet and would be prepared to open fire.
Clara runs to the TARDIS with a key given to her by the Doctor, though once she plugs it into the interface, the TARDIS disappears, and she discovers herself in England, outside of her apartment building. Tasha demands to speak to the Doctor via celestial hologram, though the Doctor responds by asking her what the name of the planet is. “Trenzalore,” she replies.
Remembering a prior vision/episode, the Doctor realizes what this must mean. He has reached the planet where he will be presumed to die…on the fields of Trenzalore. The Doctor is faced with the choice of returning his people in peace only to court a war with all of the beings of enmity, a resurrection of the Time War, which would never end according to Tasha. “Speak your name, and this world will burn,” Tasha announces, but the Doctor indicates that this world is protected. By him. He introduces himself to the citizens of Christmas, Trenzalore, as the new sheriff, while Tasha tells her chapels in the Mainframe that the siege of Trenzalore has now begun, and that her church will be dedicated to the cause of silence: prevention of the Doctor ever speaking his name. The Doctor knows that if he abandons the planet, the Mainframe will incinerate the planet to stop the Time Lords from reentering this reality and reigniting the Time War that got them into their predicament to begin with.
The Doctor then spends decades defending Trenzalore from an onslaught of his enemies: Sontarans, Weeping Angels, Cybermen, Daleks, etc., which look for new and innovative ways to bypass the Mainframe and to sneak past the Doctor’s watchful eye. In the meantime, the Doctor himself ages. His body, Eleven’s body, gains years, decades, even centuries. He grays, he wrinkles, he walks with a cane (a possible nod to the First Doctor), and seems to forget that he lived any other life.
Three hundred years later, while the residents of Christmas dote on the Doctor for his efforts to defend them so handily, the TARDIS reappears, with a frozen Clara grasping the key to the outside door. She was stuck in the time vortex, out in space, lost in time, only to reappear centuries into the future. Temporarily furious with each other – the Doctor at Clara for preventing a timely return of the TARDIS; Clara at the Doctor for tricking her – the Doctor shows Clara what he’s been up to for centuries and invites her to look upon the very temporary dawn of Christmas.
Handles has been with him the whole time – sort of the Doctor’s version of Wilson the volleyball from Cast Away – only Handles has some consciousness and ability to speak. Sadly, though, Handles is old, having weathered the centuries as only the head of a Cyberman and nothing more. His consciousness is fleeting, and he expires. “Good job, mate,” the Doctor says.
Clara asks the Doctor why he sent her away. The Doctor believes he would have buried her on this planet if she hadn’t gone, but she defiantly says she would never have let him get stuck on the planet. “Everyone gets stuck somewhere, Clara,” the Doctor responds matter-of-factly. “Everything ends.”
Clara says, “Except you.” She reminds him that he doesn’t die but changes faces. “Not forever,” the Doctor responds with a shake of his head. He reminds her, and all of us, that he can change 12 times for a total of 13 versions of him. Clara goes through the math: he’s number Eleven. No, the Doctor says. Don’t forget “Mr. Grumpy,” i.e. the War Doctor – the Doctor who didn’t call himself the Doctor during the Time War. Twelve? The Doctor reminds us that Ten regenerated and kept the same face. “I had vanity issues at the time,” he offers sardonically – though it was really only his hand, yes? Still, he has accepted that he is the last of the Doctors – his face, his version, and that he ends up right where he is. He reminds Clara of the vision of the future that showed him the graves, all of them his, on the fields of Trenzalore.
Clara encourages the Doctor to change the future – after all, doesn’t he have a time machine in the TARDIS? – but the Doctor will not fly away from the planet while it is under siege. “There is no one else to protect it,” the Doctor tells Clara when she opines that someone else should have a go of it. But doesn’t the Doctor have the right, after all this time, to consider his own life, after saving so many others? The Doctor admits that he has considered it in the centuries on this planet, but he notes that every life he saves is a victory. Just then, Tasha appears in the sky to say that the Church of the Silence requests parlay, to which the Doctor agrees, now that he’s got his “motor back.” As Tasha guarantees his rights and security before disappearing from the sky, dawn ends its brief reign over the town of Christmas. “Everything ends, Clara,” the Doctor comments. “Sooner than you think.”
While the denizens of Christmas, including a little boy named Barnable, are anxious about the Doctor’s departure, Clara and the Doctor return to the Papal Mainframe, where we discover that members of the Silence are veritable members of the security force. We also discover that Tasha Lem is “against aging” and looks the same as she did when the Doctor visited the surface of Trenzalore so many centuries ago, though she is not above peace offerings, minus the “pink ones.” While Tasha and the Doctor realize that they are at an impasse, chaplains of the Church, humanoid in form, reveal themselves to be Daleks with humanoid shapes and suggest that the “Time Lord has entered the trap.”
Meanwhile, Tasha asks the Doctor why he ever came to Trenzalore. The Doctor bites back that nothing can change the fact that he did, despite the fact that a faction of the Church separated from the Mainframe for the purpose of traveling in back in time along the Doctor’s time stream to try to change the future, which is how the Doctor reasons that his TARDIS was blown up (and decidedly lady like at the time) to begin with. These separatists also created the self-same crack in the universe that has caused all the trouble for number Eleven, er Twelve, er Thirteen, er this Doctor. The Doctor realizes that it’s a “Destiny Trap,” though he notes that you can’t change history if you’re part of it. Tasha also reminds the Doctor that the separatists enlisted a “psychopath” to kill him. “Totally married her,” Eleven quips and notes that he would not have made it this far without River Song.
Tasha tells the Doctor that she wants to change the future, not the past, and describes how Daleks are amassing forces daily and have attacked the Mainframe. When the Doctor and Clara asked how the Mainframe escaped, Tasha replies, “We didn’t. I died in this room screaming your name!” This glitch in memory allows for a reveal: a Dalek has infiltrated Tasha’s mind and body, as well as the minds and bodies of everyone aboard the Mainframe, including the members of the Silence.
The Chief Dalek then rolls in, with the usual threats of annihilating and exterminating, and the Doctor reasons that Tasha would never have given up the secrets to the force field over Trenzalore without dying. “Several times,” the Dalek replies. Eleven challenges the Daleks to kill him then, but not without sonic-ing the message from the crack in the universe. “Doctor Who?” it repeats eerily. The Doctor threatens to answer the question and reignite the Time War; the Daleks threaten Clara’s life. When the Doctor encourages them to kill her – after all, what does it matter when the inevitable is on the brink of eruption – Clara states that she is not afraid, for the Daleks will kill her anyway. “That is a woman!” the Doctor exclaims, using Clara’s courage as a basis to spark Tasha’s inner soul into wakening. Tasha reclaims her consciousness long enough to destroy the waiting Daleks; the Doctor plants a big wet one on her lips. Uh…
They continue to flirt (…) until the Doctor asks to be taken to the TARDIS. Tasha agrees, indicating that she is fighting the Dalek’s reawakening inside her, but the Doctor encourages her to fight. “Fly away, Doctor,” Tasha Lem suggests, noting that he is doing what he always does. She also tells him that she did none of the fighting for him, “fatuous egotist,” but for the peace.
Back aboard the TARDIS, the turkey is done, and Eleven cheerily suggests he is also equipped with Christmas crackers, but Clara wants the Doctor promise that he will never send her away again. He offers the promise complete with big sad eyes, but as Clara is nursing the turkey out of the TARDIS, the Doctor looks down upon the town of Christmas and disappears, leaving Clara Oswald aboard the TARDIS as it sails back to London, present day. Clara looks upon her family’s flat before turning to watch the TARDIS dematerialize again.
Back in Christmas, Trenzalore, the future, the TARDIS meets the Doctor again – a reminder, not a getaway this time, he assures Barnable, though he states that he always might leave. Just then, the attacks resume on Trenazlore: all the enemies of the Time Lords emerge for the “winter of the Doctor,” and as ally forces perish or retreat, the Mainframe, complete with the members of the Silence, aid in the war on Trenzalore, as the Doctor stands his ground.
Meanwhile, Clara’s family tries to be helpful. “You could make a boy band out of my list,” of possible other boyfriends Clara’s adoptive mum is willing to suggest, but Clara is sad. While Clara’s gran thinks on a majestic pigeon that she did not want to change, due to the beauty of it in the moment she saw it, the TARDIS inexplicably reappears in Clara’s front yard. Replete with Christmas cracker, Clara runs aboard to find Tasha Lem. “You can fly the TARDIS?” Clara rightfully questions. “Flying the TARDIS was always easy,” Tasha replies gravely. “It was flying the Doctor I never quite mastered.”
Tasha brings Clara to Trenzalore. “Go to him,” she urges. Clara finds the Doctor in the Tower, now a brittle old man, whittling toys for young Barnable. When Clara announces her presence, he looks on her fondly. “Were you always so young?” he asks. “No. That was you,” she replies.
The Doctor is dressed in a curious ensemble that at once recalls several Doctors and yet is uniquely Eleven’s, a possible harbinger of what is about to happen. With a somber “Merry Christmas,” Clara helps the feeble Doctor crack the cracker to reveal the poem inside, which was classier than jokes, according to Clara’s mum.
With Clara’s head on the Doctor’s lap, as he eagerly awaits her joke, she reads this poem:
“And now it’s time for one last bow
Like all your other selves.
Eleven’s hour is over now
The clock is striking Twelve’s.”
“I don’t get it,” the Doctor grouses.
The Daleks demand the Doctor’s emergence, and a young man asks him to appease. “Are you Barnable?” “No, Doctor.” “Ok, Barnable,” and then a nod to Tom Baker’s Four: a fingertip to the side of his nose. “I’ve got a plan,” the Doctor says merrily. After the boy leaves, hopfeul, the Doctor quips, “I haven’t got a plan, but people love it when I say that.”
When Clara asks the Doctor what he’s going to do, the Doctor indicates that he hopes for the best, but that it’s time to end. “We’ve seen the future,” he reminds Clara, before she rejoinders with another urge to change it. “I could have once. Not anymore,” he replies.
He tells Clara to stay in the Tower as the Daleks call for him, to keep her safe – one last victory. “Give me that,” he urges as he embraces his “impossible girl.” He thanks her and tells her goodbye before grousing that because the Daleks take so long to say anything, he’ll die of boredom before they shoot him.
Clara, however, does not give up, as the Daleks demand their final confrontation with the Doctor. She turns to the crack in the wall/universe and urges the Gallifreyan Time Lords on the other side of it to help the Doctor change the future. She then tells the Time Lords that they’ve been getting it wrong: the Doctor’s real name is the Doctor – it means everything and says everything about who he is. “If you love him, and you should, help him. Help him,” she tearfully urges the glowing crack.
Suddenly, the Crack closes, and as the citizens of Christmas and Clara gather in the town square, they watch the Doctor ascend the bell tower. The Daleks announce that the Doctor is dying. He agrees – noting the irony that the Daleks have been trying to kill him for centuries, while he remains on Trenzalore, dying of old age. “You will die, and the Time Lords will never return,” the tin cans reply. The Doctor goads them: they still can’t shoot him. They still worry he has something up his sleeve. “Knock yourself out, boys. I’ve got nothing this time,” he says in defeat.
As the Daleks resume their attacks, the crack in the universe reappears in the sky overhead. Suddenly, the Doctor is infused with what is clearly regeneration energy. While the Daleks triumphantly announce that the Doctor is at his end, having expended all of his regenerations and lived all of his lives, the Doctor peps up. “What did you say?” he asks as his limbs lose the age from his bones. “Daleks never – ever – tell me the rules!” the Doctor exclaims with vigor. “If you want my life, come and get it!” he screams to the heavens, initiating his thirteenth regeneration and using the considerable energy required as a weapon to deflect the Daleks’ latest intended extermination. Clara urges the Christmas citizens to take shelter while Cowboy Eleven opines, “I’m from Gallifrey, boys!”
The massive amount of universe-infused energy takes out the Dalek mother ship and all of its subservient ships to boot. Christmas is saved. Clara is saved. The Doctor is saved.
Clara looks for the disappearing Doctor, only to find his clothes strewn about inside the TARDIS and half eaten fish fingers and custard on the console. As she looks about, he reappears, younger and the original shade of Matt Smith’s Eleventh (or so) Doctor. “You’re young again,” Clara happily notes. “You’re saved. You didn’t even change your face!”
“Ha,” he laughs. “It’s started. I can’t stop it. This is just the reset.” The regeneration cycle is taking a bit longer; he’s breaking it in. “It all just disappears, doesn’t it? Everything you are, gone in a moment, like, breath on a mirror. Any moment now…he’s a-comin’.”
“Who’s coming?” Clara asks. “The Doctor,” he replies.
“You are the Doctor,” she says.
“Yup, and I always will be,” he says with effort, the regeneration taking hold. “But times change. And so must I,” he says amid tears, as the apparition of a young Amelia Pond scampers across the deck of the TARDIS. “Who’s Amelia?” Clara asks. “The first face this face saw,” the Doctor says with a giddy smile. “We all change when you think about it,” he says, turning to a tearful Clara. “We’re all different people, all through our lives. And that’s ok. That’s good. You gotta 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 ghost of the adult Amy then crosses into view. “Raggedy man,” she breathes with a hand to his face. “Good night.”
Ms. Pond, Eleven’s first beloved companion, disappears, and the Eleventh Doctor removes his cool bow-tie, letting it fall to the floor. “No!” Clara cries, reaching for his already glowing hand. “Please don’t change.”
And then he does. Introducing Peter Capaldi as the Doctor.
He first shouts about not liking the color of his kidneys – who does, really – before grabbing the controls of the TARDIS. “Just one question,” he says, his eyes similar to that of a deer in headlights. “Do you by any chance know how to fly this thing?” Clara’s look of horror must tide all Whovians over until August 2014.
1) So many questions: to start, GALLIFREY IS STILL OUT THERE!!! That was pretty much a redefining moment for the Doctor. So exciting to see where this search takes him. How far will he travel in Eleven’s last ride?
Answer: Eleven travels to Trenzalore, while Gallifrey hides away in another universe. The story doesn’t end on those fields after all.
2) Exactly how many regenerations does the Doctor really have? The long-time accepted fact is that the Doctor is allotted 12 regens and 13 personae – if that’s true, though, John Hurt’s Doctor would add the number to 13! There are all sorts of theories circling out there, but what I’ve come to conclude is that the Time Lords can do just about anything and have done just about anything. Then, there’s the 3D movie introduction with Eleven prattling on, cheekily referencing 57 doctors and the 100th anniversary in 12D, so clearly, Moffat has something up his sleeve… Never mind the Curator and his portraying actor… Maybe this means, though, that the Doctor need only change his name, and he can receive 12 more regenerations? Golly, Doctor Who calculations are hard. Where’s my Sonic Screwdriver? (Other theories arise from events that happened to the Fourth Doctor, River Song’s using her regeneration allotments to revive the Doctor, and Ten’s regeneration using only his hand).
Answer: He’s always had only 12 regens and 13 personae originally – but Time Lords really can do anything and everything, including infusing regeneration energy into one of their own. Limits are for sissies.
3) Can the Doctor encounter himself again? Please?
Answer: Time will tell.
4) Does this mean that John Hurt’s Warrior Doctor is really the 8th? 8.5th? Watch and find out.
Answer: Yes. Well, Nine. Well, 8.5.
5) I find myself very sad that Matt Smith is leaving the show. Eleven really grew on me. He truly is a madman in a box, and it seems that each of the new doctors has upped the energy of the previous one. What will Twelve be like? That’s the ultimate question.
Answer: Hopefully as wibbly wobbly timey wimey as his predecessors!
1) Is Tasha Lem really River Song? I mean, she knows how to fly the TARDIS, is inexplicably flirtatious with the Doctor, and they didn’t fail to mention the Doctor’s marriage to River, never fully resolved. She may have died at some point – but did the Time Lords save her too?
2) Does the new regeneration, given to him rather than ingrained in him, mean Twelve, 13.2, or whatever Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is, that his brain has been addled in the process?
3) Will Clara adjust? Rose adjusted just fine (hubba hubba), but Clara’s love for the Doctor is strictly platonic. She is the second revival companion to follow the Doctor into a new regeneration/leading man.
4) Will Gallifrey reemerge?
Doctor Who and show runner Steven Moffat just breathed new life into the show while simultaneously offering a sentimental if confusing parting journey for Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor. Though there are criticisms that the show’s serial arcs were bloated and complicated over the course of Mr. Smith’s stay, no one can say that his Doctor isn’t uniquely his. This viewer will always remember when the Doctor was him too and enjoyed the overarching stories, even as the new Doctor’s look, feel, and tone will bring about whole new questions.
Doctor Who’s series 8 premiere is not expected to occur until August 2014 (the British have super irregular filming schedules). I also believe I read a report that renewals for two series (8 and 9) are in the pipeline. Long months waiting for Twelve’s incarnation to begin are now in progress.