“You can’t change history if you’re part of it.”
…but you can, it turns out, with a sprinkling of Gallifrey dust.
SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.
This year’s Doctor Who Christmas Special, long-awaited for the very good reason that it is Matt Smith’s last episode, takes place on a planet with a rather familiar name.
No, it’s not Gallifrey, despite what the Cyberman head says.
It is, in fact, our old friend Trenzalore. As in, “the day we went to Trenzalore”. As in, “Silence will fall upon the fields of Trenzalore”. As in, the place where the Doctor’s grave is. Oh, and there’s a town called Christmas there, where no-one can ever tell a lie.
Sounds awesome, right? All those old loose threads being tied up. The Great Questions of Eleven being answered, finally. On paper (or e-paper), The Time of the Doctor looks like the best episode yet.
Well, I don’t know what went wrong, but something did. It turns out that the mysterious message summoning all the races of the universe to Trenzalore is a message from Gallifrey, apparently removed from this universe by the events of The Day of the Doctor (I don’t remember anyone mentioning this before; it’s almost as if Steven Moffat is just making it up as he goes along), essentially checking the Doctor’s identity (and somehow deducing from that that it is safe to enter the universe, through some leap of logic inaccessible to non-Time Lords) using the old chestnut, “Doctor who?”
Har har. It wasn’t funny the first three times, and it isn’t funny now.
It transpires, however, that if the question is answered and the Time Lords return, the Time War will break out anew, because of all the aliens besieging Trenzalore, and everything will be BAD. So, of course, the Doctor has a Moral Dilemma which keeps him on Trenzalore for three hundred years, for reasons which seem extremely contrived.
This does not seem like a well-thought-out plan given that the Time Lords are supposed to be the most intelligent beings since God.
And…that’s it. Eleven’s last ever episode turns out to be, basically, him stuck on Trenzalore, unable to break the siege, growing old, fighting the occasional alien idiotic enough to attack Christmas, and having some hologram-related banter with Clara. Those loose threads…well, they do get tied up, sort of, but it’s nowhere near as grand, as epic, as troubling as the years of build-up suggest it should be. Yet again, it feels like Moffat and his team have written themselves into a corner and are scrambling desperately for some answers, any answers, however unsatisfying they may be.
Admittedly, there’s a rather good bit at the end, where the Time Lords graciously provide the Doctor with the regeneration energy to a) magically defeat all the aliens, and b) become the Twelfth Doctor, to the accompaniment of a clock striking twelve (nice touch) and, delightfully, the theme from The Rings of Akhaten (“let the cloak of light/Cling to your bones”). Unfortunately, Moffat cannot resist the temptation to add a last, tedious five-minute speech to what is already a rather strung-out regeneration scene and a disastrously mispaced episode.
But when we do finally meet Twelve, for the obligatory thirty-second cameo, it’s almost worth the wait. I have a good feeling about Capaldi. Let’s hope Twelve is better than Eleven.