Extras for this story on the 1-episode DVD volume include:
Asylum of the Christmas DoctorOn closer inspection, the first 26 minutes are actually working well enough, with the Doctor and Clara somewhat focused on a journey of exploration. It culminates with some big answers and revelations for the Matt Smith era, and at this point it feels as if this has the potential to be a really great story. But.... it seems Moffat really doesn't know where to go from here. Some of the later scenes contain little gems, wonderful moments, and additional answers, but as a whole, the final 38 minutes feel like over-hyped stagnation and sloppiness.... which can easily become the feeling that one takes away after watching the entire thing.
The nuts and bolts of each challenge also become unnecessarily vague and abstract. Any time a character supposedly solves a problem, it fails to feel clever since we can't really make much sense out of what they are doing, or which other obstacles will actually continue to present a significant challenge to their goals.
It is good that the story takes place mostly on and above an alien planet. Sadly, the place's atmosphere is sabotaged. Christmas really does intrude in this story, and could have / should have been left out in an ideal world. Still, its presence here is handled better than in many other tales on this show.
Another disappointment is the fact that the cast of relevant characters is so small in this story. The Doctor and Clara are the only real standouts in this one. Previous classic stories would have whole mysteries devoted to sorting out the relationships between various characters, but such depth seems to be escaping most of the writers of New Millennium Who. It is also a real head-scratcher to see an all-new cast thrown at us for Clara's family. Doesn't pluck any nostalgic threads.
Ageing for Breathing RoomI had advocated that each Doctor's age be relevantly tackled in certain ways just prior to regeneration, to emphasize that he does indeed live a long life and that the process restores his physical youth each time. Moffat indulges in an attempt at that here, but really doesn't do it well within the story. There's much more to be said about that, but it involves spoilers, so I'll save it for the in-depth analysis version of this review.
Still, I think we should give this story a point or two for its sentiments, as there are a lot of really nice speeches about ageing-related themes, all of which are superbly performed by the actors. Even while I pick at the logic and connection between various aspects of content in this story, the actual pieces of content that we get are mostly good. The subject matter is all palatable and tasteful enough, and frankly much less frivolous than many early sections of "The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe".
Sadly, this story's climax and ending are nowhere near as good as that of "Widow/Wardrobe" in terms of making sense and holding up.
I don't want to take away from the production members, because they do an amazing job of filling the screen with emotion, the actors giving charismatic performances, the design and effects people producing amazing visuals, Murray Gold and his orchestral team pulling out all the stops to let the score rise to the occasion. But I'm still reluctant to invest my emotions here, because part of me knows this wasn't a worthy narrative to conclude this Doctor's reign.
Of course, misperception could once again be the series' best option for correcting this mistake. Is Moffat already planning for it? Curiously, while all the serious dialogue in the story points to one interpretation of events, there's also a Christmas cracker poem in here (almost an insignificant throwaway moment) which is a very strong nudge and wink to the audience that a very different, more classical interpretation is also okay. Also, the substantial behind-the-scenes material continues to be very firm and consistent in supporting the Christmas cracker poem and not the main dialogue. And so we're left with a bizarre duality regarding this piece of the mythology. I'm just not sure there was any merit in the substantial effort it took to create this confusion in the first place. Will this misperception be crucial to the show as it moves forward into new stories in future years?
Indeed, as the second half of this story played out, I grew impatient with it and just wanted to cut to a bit of Peter Capaldi already and see what he would be like. As usual, it's hard to get a good impression from such a tiny half-mad moment. Still, the jury deliberately remains out and open to his new interpretation until he's got an adventure or two under his belt.
What might have really excited me here is if the head writer slash show runner regenerated from Steven Moffat into someone else. I think my interest in following Moffat's take on this show is waning. Moffat has convinced himself that Doctor Who is not science fiction, and then writes episodes that seem determined to prove such an insult to the show's loyal core sci-fi fans. I'd love to see a head writer take over who says that Doctor Who is the BEST SCIENCE FICTION format out there, and writes stories to prove THAT point. By comparison, a switch from Matt Smith to Peter Capaldi is not that exciting.
Pile on the Extras....It is perhaps unfair to judge the DVD as a product based solely on the strengths of the main feature. It also comes bundled with so many worthy interview documentaries that are pretty much worth the price of the disc alone, more than doubling its total running time. ...Not that you'd want to miss Smith's finale, but perhaps the documentaries offer even more in terms of enjoyable repeat-viewing value. Most surviving Doctors are interviewed, plus some critical companions, so no matter who your favourite is, there's good new stuff. Smith and Tennant are interviewed together simultaneously, for a good portion of the "Farewell to Matt Smith" documentary, and bounce off of each other quite entertainingly. And so on.....
Potentially one of the best bits is the apparent role reversal since the ComiCon 2012 event where Smith accused Moffat of knowing things and then smiling with the power to withhold them. Now here, Smith leads a dazed and confused "Moff" around the set (tongue-in-cheek I think), with neither of them appearing too sure of what he does on the show. Moffat plays the role well, and it seems appropriate payoff for the state of the narrative in "The Time of the Doctor". It also says, "Hey, it's just a show, and we've all had good fun..." which is healthy and worth remembering.
For the record, the U.K. versions also have Matt Smith's three previous Christmas specials included on a second disc, which is kind of pointless since most fans will already have them in their collection. North American versions have seen fit to just stick with the one story and its documentaries.
This story has become available on DVD and Blu-ray.
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