Reviews

It's Out with the Old, in with the Older in 'Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor'

With the Doctor's many regenerations, we see our Time Lord reincarnated with different mannerisms and taste in just about everything but the almost universally garish clothing.


Doctor Who

Director: Jamie Payne
Cast: Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Orla Brady, Kayvan Novak, Barnaby Edwards, Nicholas Pegg, Nicholas Briggs, Karen Gillan
Distributor: BBC
Studio: BBC
Year: 2013
UK Release date: 2014-01-20
US Release date: 2014-03-04
Amazon

Once upon a time there was a British television show called Doctor Who that launched in 1963 and began to depict the adventures of the Doctor. The Doctor is an alien of the Time Lord species who explores the universe in a sentient spaceship/ time machine called the TARDIS (whose brilliant disguise has been stuck as an antiquated police box since, yes, 1963).

While the Doctor himself (never actually called “Doctor Who”) may have been thought of as immortal (or, at least, hard to kill), the man who originally played the part, William Hartnell, was certainly not and he had to be replaced on the show with a younger actor. Hence the concept of “Regeneration” was created, and the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton, originally intended to be merely a younger version of the original) was the first of many new incarnations of the same character with overwritten DNA, renewed youth and different mannerisms and taste in just about everything but the almost universally garish clothing.

Including Hartnell and Troughton there have been no less than 12“official” versions of the character up until this very episode, “The Time of the Doctor”, which marks the farewell of the 11th Doctor as portrayed by Matt Smith. Although “Regeneration” as a “Science” proves to be remarkably unpredictable, the trend has always been for the Doctor to be played by a younger actor and, thus, it makes the Doctor younger with each regeneration.

Matt Smith, at age 27 was the youngest actor ever to play the character. Thus it came as something of a surprise (or, at least, a question) when Peter Capaldi was announced to succeed Smith as the 12th Doctor. Capaldi was, at the time of the announcement and his first appearance, 55 years of age, the same age that Hartnell was when he originated the character.

Is this a terrible idea? Not when you’ve been watching this amazing TV show wherein anything can happen. Viewers have learned to trust in writer/ showrunner Steven Moffat who infuses this trippy sci-fi show with a wonderful amount of uproarious humor to keep even non-geeks fascinated. As to just how (and why) a 55-year-old could replace a 31-year-old and still be “younger” isn’t simply because the show is so unpredictable. The answer is in the storyline of “The Time of the Doctor” 2013’s version of the now-popular tradition of the Doctor Who Christmas Special.

The Special not only serves as an excellent episode in its own right, but also as a landmark 800th episode extravaganza, an engrossing and promising starting off point for the 12th Doctor and a fascinating and question-answering follow-up to the previous landmark episode “The Day of the Doctor”, featuring the Eleventh Doctor’s crossover with the 10th… and someone else who still remains a mystery.

As for “The Time of the Doctor” itself, the audience is treated to an incredible collective of classic and current Doctor Who villains (including the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Weeping Angels, the Silence and more) all surrounding a mysterious planet that not even the TARDIS can access. What is this mysterious planet, how does it relate to the strange town called “Christmas” (in which everyone must tell the truth), how does it link to the truth behind the Doctor’s mysterious human companion Clara “The Impossible Girl” Oswald (Jenna Coleman) and do these things relate to the true identity and past of The Doctor? And, if so… “Doctor Who?”

The current series, which revived in 2005, but shares continuity with the show that ran from 1963 through 1989 (with one TV movie appearing in 1996 to plug part of the gap) has always reveled in some miraculously modern CGI special effects which blend the futuristic look of the current show with the classic and even (unashamedly) cheesy history of the show (and trust me, kids, that’s a compliment, not an insult). “The Time of the Doctor” is no exception to this rule, as director Jamie Payne finds new and inventive ways of showcasing the classic “Ray-Gun” style of science fiction that Doctor Who has always celebrated while remaining competitive in storytelling and visuals with the top Sci-Fi shows of the current age. In fact, the show successfully exceeds most every expectation.

However, the second act of “The Time of the Doctor” does seem to lose its way to an extent and resorts to narration to fill in the blanks of the storyline with narrative explanations for why the Doctor is aging and how the hell we ever ended up with a wooden version of the Metal Menace of the Cybermen. This, coupled with the gimmicky extravaganza of yet another collective of Doctor Who villainy tends to make the episode feel occasionally contrived.

That said, true believers, when “The Time of the Doctor” is touching, it’s very touching and it works remarkably well, keeping the viewer interested and engrossed for much more than simply the explanation of how the final act (which promises to introduce Capaldi’s numero doce, as they say in Argentina). Without giving away too much (“Spoilers, sweetie!”) the actual finalé is satisfying, if somewhat overly melodramatic.

The Blu-Ray edition of this episode looks and sounds absolutely incredible and makes the purchase of the disc worth it, as opposed to merely streaming the episode on Amazon. That’s not even mentioning the bonus features. Unlike the other new-to-disc releases from the classic era, “The Time of the Doctor” is not devoid of DVD Extras. Three documentaries, “Behind the Lens”, “Tales from the TARDIS” and “Farewell to Matt Smith” are included.

As to whether any of these answer the central question of the show (“Doctor Who?”) or, at least the disturbing concept relating to the Doctor living in a town with a “Truth Field” when everyone knows that “The Doctor Lies”, all I can say is… “Spoilers, sweetie!” You’ll have to watch this one yourself. That said, the episode is well worth watching for all that it is and all that it promises.

“Doctor WHO?”

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