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 from a position in orbit down to the planet's surface. 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, at least in terms of continuing an engaging plot with tense challenges and advancements. The protagonists don't seem to have anything truly productive to do after this point. We end up looping through scenes of padding and themes that Moffat has repeated many times elsewhere, until he sweeps the entire mess away with a very arbitrary device. Some of these 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.
Part of the problem is a simple inability to decide who the main antagonist is today. Moffat piles on Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, Weeping Angels, Silents, and a bizarrely militarized "church", plus mentions of Terileptils and Slitheen that don't make sense without further explanation, yet none of these "villains" manage to sustain an interesting threat beyond one or two scenes. It's the same mistake he made back in "The Pandorica Opens" (story no. 217): everyone has a cameo, but no one has much of anything to do.
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. We know the Doctor and Clara make a return trip to the church satellite with the TARDIS, but the cameras fail to show us where they parked it on arrival, so when the time comes for an escape, we don't really know where they need to run. Getting there could be a suitable challenge for engaging action, but the story just leaves it out and cuts to them in the console room..... but where is the TARDIS really? Suddenly the Doctor disappears. Did he walk out the door or teleport? Clara walks out and finds herself in England, while the TARDIS pops off and finds the Doctor on the alien planet again. What the hell? Are we to infer that the sonic screwdriver, once plugged into the console, gave a time-delayed command to dematerialize after the Doctor had nipped out the door, taking Clara back to Earth and staying just long enough for her to step out the door before coming back? The camera is slow to reveal to us where she is as she steps out, but surely she would see what's outside long before that. And was she really expecting to take that turkey anywhere else than back to her hungry expectant elders in England? Okay sure, this all supports the drama of him secretly dumping her (and for the second time in this half of the story), but who cares? A: it's not clever because it breaks all the rules as we know them to physically logically achieve this, and B: more importantly you'd think such attempts at cleverness would be used to maybe tackle the main challenge and resolve the differences between all the antagonistic forces instead of wasting time and emotion on all these continually bogus goodbyes.
It's also hard to judge the quality of many of the big answers that we get, mostly because it's been so long since the corresponding questions were fresh in our minds and of interest to us. Maybe it does make better sense if one can watch all of Smith's era in one run over a few weeks. Stretching it out over four years has dissipated its pull significantly.
It is good that the story takes place mostly on and above an alien planet. In fact, we learn we've been here before quite recently - this is Trenzalore, which has an ominous role in the Doctor's personal future history. Sadly, the place actually had much more atmosphere before it became Christmas incarnate - for no other apparent reason than the fact that Matt Smith's finale here is a story intended for first broadcast in Britain at Christmas. 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.
But we're left with an alien planet with very little alien culture on it to explore. It's all cookie-cutter Earth stuff, quickly cut and pasted together here. Supposedly this planet has a very short day compared to a long night.... I'm assuming all year round, and only at this particular point on the surface. So why would Earthlings colonize this spot instead of a more temperate or tropical location? Visual effects people didn't put much thought into the visual of the sunrise either. If the sun came straight up, perpendicular to the horizon, as seen in this tale, you should be able to expect a day equally as long as the night as it rises "in the east" and sets "in the west". For a 13-minute day plus a MUCH longer night, the sun needs to rise in the south-southeast, traveling almost along the horizon before quickly arcing back down and setting in the south-southwest. Or, if you really want to create something unusual with crazy planetary orbits, periods of rotation on one or more axes, or even multiple suns or other points of light within the star system, exploring all that would be a much more interesting use of screentime and something that we should definitely get.
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, while Tasha Lem is the only character that they and the audience need to really figure out. 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 should be shown to age a lot via make-up 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. You want to feel that the time during which all that ageing takes place is full of the usual TARDIS-traveling adventures, and that when Matt Smith is 55 years old or so and comes back for the 75th Anniversary Special, his adventure can easily squeeze into the space just before this one. Instead, Moffat traps such a Doctor in a boring bit of story padding that lasts for centuries, while he repeats the old pair-of-people-out-of-sync routine with the Doctor and Clara, as he has done with others in "The Eleventh Hour", "The Girl in the Fireplace", "A Christmas Carol", and elsewhere. David Tennant's finale "The End of Time" plotted the idea much better, but just missed out on the make-up and the actual acknowledgement of the age numerically.
The benefits of ageing the Doctor just prior to regenerating him also seem to be cancelled out as Moffat then de-ages Smith for his final scene. It depletes the jeopardy of his having aged in the first place, grates against logic just for the convenience of Smith's look as he does his final scene, and makes it look as though the face-changing part of the regeneration process has depleted his youth and vitality instead of restoring much of it as it should. Tom Baker's spine isn't repaired until he becomes Peter Davison. Davison's toxaemia welts don't vanish until he becomes Colin Baker. It's important to the process's logic and believability.
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 and inevitable end and change, 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. Smith's Doctor seems really lame for having over 300 years to tackle the main challenge and not even being able to come up with an entertaining attempt at a solution. The ending is instead Clara begging the unseen Time Lords for help, while they (or someone/something) provide the final fix from off-screen. Very disappointing.
And the mechanics of how that fixes the problem also grates against so many of the precedents on this show and on so much of what we want to believe is true in this Whoniverse. Firstly, regeneration is implausible enough in having enough energy to completely reconfigure a humanoid-sized life form fairly instantaneously, but we've often seen it occur fairly harmlessly and in a self-contained manner. Suddenly, now there's enough energy to spare to wipe out whole armadas in orbit from a planet's surface. All I can think is: VERY sloppy writing. Can open, worms everywhere.
Plus, there's so much that feels so wrong with the Doctor not being able to regenerate naturally all by himself in this one. He makes clear his belief that he's not actually the eleventh Doctor but the thirteenth, at the end of his natural cycle. Firstly, I'm not sure what that cycle should mean to any Gallifreyan, if they can collectively decide to somehow give any particular individual an extension. The classic series wasn't watertight on this point either, as various portions of "The Five Doctors" feature logical inconsistency as well when considered together.
But do any fans really want to invest in Moffat's renumbering of the Doctor's lives here? The more I think about "The Day of the Doctor", the more I believe it really should have been Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor on screen most of the time beside Tennant and Smith, for maximum fan satisfaction. Instead, it seems that Moffat is trying to rush ahead to prove that he knows the franchise needs to give the Doctor more than thirteen lives, and that it should come up with some kind of unnatural device for doing so, and he wants to be the guy who writes it. Well, he hasn't done a very good job of it at all here.... in fact this is about as lame as it could be.
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 Matt Smith as the thirteenth Doctor, the Christmas cracker poem is a very strong nudge and wink to the audience that he is still really only the eleventh, and that Peter Capaldi will be the twelfth. Also, the behind-the-scenes material continues to be very firm and consistent in naming Tennant as the tenth Doctor, Smith as the eleventh, and Capaldi as the twelfth. Moffat also reminded us of Doctor 12.5 - the Valeyard - back in "The Name of the Doctor", whose creation has not been forthcoming yet, furthering the idea that Matt Smith's Doctor is not as far along as he believes himself to be. 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 creation of the Valeyard? According to what we learned from the Master, the Valeyard should come after Peter Capaldi, while the next true Doctor after Capaldi will indeed be the final "natural" one.
Indeed, as the second half of this story played out, I grew impatient with it and just wanted to cut to a bit of 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. Capaldi seems to like to rest his visage in an angry/stern expression, stemming from the eyebrows and the easy baring of teeth, which may be something he needs to conquer to win viewers over. Still, the jury deliberately remains out and open to his new interpretation until he's got an adventure or two under his belt. Of past Doctors, I think only Tennant and Colin Baker managed to really be impressive in their cameos at the end of another Doctor's adventure, and since I wasn't impartial when Colin debuted, only Tennant actually excited me.
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 Smith to Peter Capaldi is not that exciting, especially if Capaldi has to pretend to be Doctor 14 instead of 12. Uggh.
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. Tom Baker's building-site stories are here again, but with new details and insights into what was going on emotionally. 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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