Saturday, December 28, 2013

Doctor Who Christmas Special 2013: The Time Of The Doctor

Well, the Doctor Who 2013 Christmas Special has come and gone, and once again we have a brand new Doctor!

When David Tennant left the show back in 2010 I thought there was no way anyone would ever possibly be able to replace him. Fortunately I was wrong about that. Matt Smith won me over by the end of his first episode.

Smith was the youngest actor to ever take over the part, but even though he was only 27 when he started, he had a certain "old soul" quality about him. He really could make you believe he was a thousand years old.

The show didn't just get a new actor when Smith took over-- everything changed. He got a new companion, a redesigned TARDIS (interior and exterior) and a new opening sequence. We even got a brand new showrunner in Steven Moffat.

Most fans (myself included) were very excited when Moffat took over. He'd penned some of the series' most memorable and clever episodes (especially Blink) and everyone was anxious to see what he'd bring to the series on a week to week basis.

Unfortunately Moffat's tenure on the show has been very uneven. He's pumped out some amazing episodes (A Good Man Goes To War), but he's written just as many clinkers (the abysmal and nonsensical The Angels Take Manhattan).

Moffat's work tends to be long on style, but short on substance and logic. He also has an annoying tendency to make every episode somehow involve a threat to the entire universe. You can't blow up all of reality every week, Steven. It gets boring after a while. I kind of miss the days when the Doctor just arrived at a planet and saved a city or even one person. Every episode doesn't have to concern the fate of the entire universe. 

He also has a tendency to set up huge, important questions and then resolve them years later in such a rushed and offhanded manner that you're not even sure he answered them at all.

Hopefully he'll fare better when he starts writing new Doctor Peter Capaldi's storylines.

So how was the episode? Pretty good! I liked it for the most part. It was a good sendoff for Matt Smith and the Eleventh Doctor. 

There was a lot going on in the episode; maybe even too much. Many nagging questions were answered, but in true Moffat fashion, they were dealt with in the quickest, most offhanded way possible, as if he was trying to wrap up everything as quickly as possible.



• Jaysis, another "Blank Of The Doctor" title. That makes three in a row now. Enough with these already, Moffat.

• This Special is officially the 800th episode of Doctor Who! 800 episodes! Can you believe it? Not many shows can make that claim.

I really liked "Handles," the disembodied Cyberman head. Too bad he didn't stick around. He'd have made a fun character for the Doctor to interact with when Clara's not on board.

• When the Daleks appear at the beginning of the episode, we see they're all of the Russell T. Davies-era type. I wonder why they're not the Paradigm Daleks introduced in Victory Of The Daleks? We haven't seen any of that variety for quite some time. 

Most fanboys weren't happy with the look of the Paradigm strain, calling them "Skittles Daleks." Did fandom manage to whine them out of existence?

• Who the hell were those people at Clara's Christmas dinner? Is that supposed to be her family? Since when? Last I knew she was nanny-ing for the Maitland family and their two horrible kids Artie and Angie. 

We know Clara's mom died years ago, but her dad is still alive. So I guess that's her dad at Christmas dinner? So who's the woman? His girlfriend? New wife? Who knows? I know for damn sure we've never seen her Gran before.

Their introduction was very abrupt and disorienting in a story already crowded with concepts and events, and made me think maybe I'd missed some episodes.

• Loved the "naked Doctor" being introduced to Clara's family.

• When the Papal Mainframe arrives, why does it sound exactly like the foghorn of the Starship Titanic from the Voyage Of The Damned Christmas Special? For a few seconds I thought it was the Titanic. I mean they brought back pretty much everything else from the past few years, why not dredge that up as well?

• All the various races orbiting the planet was a little too much like the Enemies Of The Doctor Alliance from The Pandorica Opens.

• Man, Steven Moffat just cannot let go of the Weeping Angels, can he? They were extremely scary and effective during their first appearance in Blink, but have become less and less so with every subsequent appearance. It's well past time they were put out to pasture. 

Not to mention the fact that their appearance here was totally superfluous, and seemed tacked on just so he could include them one more time. You could have cut out every one of their scenes and not hurt the storyline one bit.

• So the Doctor goes back to Trenzalore, the place where he dies. Or died. It's all very confusing.

I kind of thought we'd wrapped up the whole Trenzalore thing in The Name Of The Doctor, but yet here we are again. And this special seems to have crapped all over that episode, apparently rendering it moot.

If Moffat is going to keep stepping all over his own story lines and render them obsolete just a few months after they air, it makes me wonder why I'm bothering to watch.

• A town called Christmas? Oy. Did anyone else feel they added that little detail just to make the special seem more, er... Christmassy?

• The town of Christmas is surrounded by a truth field, to align with the prophecy of The Silence: 

"On the fields of Trenzalore, at the fall of the eleventh, when no living creature can speak falsely or fail to answer, a Question will be asked, a question that must never, ever be answered."
• Speaking of the truth field, it seems like Moffat doesn't quite understand how one should work. When the Doctor meets a couple on the streets of Christmas, they ask him his name and he uncontrollably blurts out an encapsulated version of his life history.

It's a truth field, not a "spout every fact about yourself field." Shouldn't it have just have made him say "Hello! I'm the Doctor!" Or better yet, he should have answered with his true name and the universe would have been destroyed right then. You should only be compelled to reveal your innermost, darkest secrets if someone asks about them.

I will admit that this is some pretty hardcore nitpicking, but it crops up a lot in sci-fi and I thought it was worth a mention.

• Handles can't translate the message that's coming through the crack in the universe, so the Doctor attaches the Seal Of The Time Lord High Council (which contains some sort of translation circuitry) to his head to help. The Doctor says he nicked the Seal from the Master.

And guess what? That's exactly what happened! The Doctor did take the Seal from the Master way back in 1985's The Five Doctors. Well done!

• You may be wondering what was up with the bizarre scene in which the Doctor whips off his wig to reveal he's completely bald underneath. Well... it's because he's wearing a wig and is completely bald underneath.

Earlier this year Matt Smith shaved his head for the film How To Catch A Monster, directed by dreamy heart throb Ryan Gosling. Unfortunately his hair hadn't grown back to its old length when filming of the Christmas Special began, so he had to wear a wig. Apparently Steven Moffat thought it would be hilarious to write this into the script.

At the end of the episode when the Doctor hallucinates Amy Pond, Karen Gillan is also wearing a wig. She shaved her head as well for her part in the upcoming Guardians Of The Galaxy film from Marvel. Weird. This episode is a regular wig-fest!

• For a year or more now I've been complaining about Steven Moffat's penchant for sticking the "Doctor who?" joke into every script he writes. You know the one-- someone asks the Doctor his name, he says he's the Doctor, and then the other person says, "Doctor who?" It was funny the first forty seven times he did it, but now it's a bit grating. I even joked that I was going to start charging him a $100 penalty every time he used the joke from now on.

Would that were true! I'd be a frakin' millionaire by now. Handles translates the mysterious message to be the oldest question in the universe-- "Doctor who?" Groan! And then it's repeated a good two or three hundred times throughout the episode.

• The Doctor meets up with his old friend Tasha Lem, the Mother Superious Of The Papal Mainframe. They seem to be on quite friendly terms as she shamelessly flirts with him throughout the episode.

Some fans are wondering if Tasha Lem is some incarnation of River Song. It does seem like a possibility. She does have a lot of River-like qualities about her. She even knows how to fly the TARDIS, knowledge that River has as well. 

Not to mention that this is a Steven Moffat episode, and he created the character and is absolutely, hopelessly in love with her.

It almost makes me wonder if River Song was supposed to be in the episode and Alex Kingston wasn't available so Moffat just rewrote the part slightly.

• Speaking of the Papal Mainframe, the first time it was ever mentioned (back in A Good Man Goes To War) I naturally assumed they were implying that the Pope is a computer in the future. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be no such thing, and the leader of the church is really a sexy woman. I guess the words "papal" and "mainframe" must have different meanings in England.

• For several years now Moffat (I know, I'm being pretty hard on him here) has been writing episodes that contain little prophecies and nursery rhymes that refer to the "Fall Of The Eleventh" and such.

But now we find out in no uncertain terms that the Eleventh Doctor isn't actually the eleventh, but the Thirteenth. According to the Doctor, the War Doctor counted as a regeneration (just one he doesn't talk about) and the Tenth Doctor's "sort of" regeneration in The End Of Time counted as well (even though at the time the Tenth Doctor said it didn't).

If this doesn't convince you that Steven Moffat is just making things up as he goes along, nothing will.

• Great confusion seems to surround the question of how (and even if) Time Lords age. In The Wedding Of River Song, the Eleventh Doctor goes on a "farewell tour" to avoid his predestined death at Lake Silencio. Despite the fact that his tour lasts approximately 200 years, he doesn't appear to age a day.

This episode attempts to offer an explanation for this. The Doctor decides to stay on Trenzalore and protect the town of Christmas. When we see him 300 years later, he's visibly aged, appearing to be 50 or 60 years old. An unknown amount of time later, we see him again and he now looks to be 100 or more.

He explains this by saying that he's reached the end of his regeneration cycle and is on his last incarnation, hence he's now aging because he can no longer regenerate. 

That actually makes sense. Well done!

However, in The Night Of The Doctor, the Eighth Doctor regenerates into the War Doctor, who resembles a young (ish) John Hurt. Then in The Day Of The Doctor, the War Doctor has aged dramatically and appears to be 80 years old or so. 

Whoops! So we're back where we started. Confused. Time Lords may or may not visibly age, depending on the needs of the script.

• The aging makeup they used on Matt Smith was very convincing. Good job! Did you notice that near the end of the episode when he was really old he looked more than a little like the First Doctor?

• When the Doctor sends Clara away in the TARDIS, she exits in present day England and it tries to leave without her. She grabs onto its exterior as it dematerializes. It then takes the TARDIS three hundred years to get back to Trenzalore because it had to extend its external shields around her to protect her from the time stream.

Um... way, way back in Utopia, Captain Jack did the same thing-- hitched a ride on the outside of the TARDIS-- and there was no mention of extending shields or of it taking centuries to drag him along.

There may be an explanation for this. Captain Jack is immortal and can't be killed. The TARDIS probably knew this and so didn't bother to extend its shields to protect him from the time stream. Clara isn't immortal, so the TARDIS probably did its best to shield her.

• When we first met the Silents a couple seasons ago, they were agents of Madame Kavorian and were sworn to kill the Doctor before he could utter his true name and destroy the universe.

But suddenly in this episode we find out that the Silents are actually genetically altered priests of the Church, so you can confess your sins to them and then forget about it as soon as you look away. Those earlier Silents were just a renegade faction led by Madame Kavorian.

OK, first of all, this is news. Big news. Really Big News. And this incredibly important information was revealed in the most off-handed way possible; much the same way someone would say, "Toasters are for making toast." This really should have been some kind of super-sized extra long episode. There's just way too much going on.

Secondly, the idea of confessing your sins to a priest and then immediately forgetting all about it as soon as you look away makes absolutely no sense. Why do people confess? Because they've sinned and they feel guilty. So you confess to get rid of your guilt. So what would happen if you confess and immediately forget you did so as soon as you look away from the Silent Priest? You should start feeling guilty all over again.

• Way back in 1976's The Deadly Assassin, it was stated that Time Lords can only regenerate twelve times (for a total of thirteen incarnations) and after that, poof, they die.

For the past few years now certain fans have been rubbing their hands together and gleefully chortling, "They can only have two more Doctors and then they'll have to cancel the show!"

I don't get this. First of all, there's no way in hell the BBC is ever going to cancel this show while it's popular. It is a huge institution in England, and generates millions of dollars (or pounds) for the BBC. Cancellation is not going to happen because of a line uttered forty years ago in an episode.

Secondly, do these fans want the show to end? It sure sounds like it. I don't understand these people. 

Thirdly, this is Doctor Who, a show that routinely sets up rules and then blithely ignores them whenever it's convenient. To think that they wouldn't just find some simple little way around the Regeneration Limit is asinine.

And that's just what happened. The Doctor tells Clara he's really the Thirteenth and is all out of lives, she yells at the Time Lords, and they email him a brand new set of regenerations.

Thank the gods old and new. I am so freakin' glad that's over with. Now maybe we won't have to worry about it for another fifty years.

• I'm not sure why the Doctor would revert to his initial age before he regenerated, other than to give Matt Smith a chance to say goodbye as we've known him instead of under a pound of old age makeup.

• Taking off the bow tie (bow ties are cool!) before he changed was a nice touch. Sort of a "passing the torch" moment.

• When the Doctor finally does change, it happens in an instant. This is new. The past two or three regenerations we've seen have lasted for quite a long time, and we've always seen the previous Doctor's face morph into the next's. 

Is this a visual indication that he's got a new set of lives? Or is possibly a symptom of a faulty regeneration? Once he changes, the Twelfth (or is that Fourteenth?) Doctor says he doesn't know how to fly the TARDIS, so it could mean something went wrong.

On the other hand, disorientation after a regeneration is a common occurrence (the seriousness of which varies from Doctor to Doctor). Well have to wait until 2016 or whenever the hell the series starts up again to find out.

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