This was a splendid way to wrap-up a fantastic year of television. And it was an even better send-off for Matt Smith’s whimsy-soaked era of Doctor Who.
Before we talk about the eagerly anticipated transition from the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) to the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi), lets take a look back at the Tenth’s (David Tennant) rather sad swan-song. I’ll be quick, don’t worry.
The Tenth Doctor represented the best run of Doctor Who since the show had left the air-waves. Fans dreaded the departure of David Tennant, who had become inseparable from the character and the series. It did not help that Matt Smith was a relative unknown, as-well as being considerably younger than any previous Doctor had been. He just seemed more like the lead singer from some alternative indie bad your hipper-than-you friends would shove down your throat. When Tennant’s Doctor declared he didn’t want to leave, shortly before regenerating into Smith, fans agreed. It was likely all down hill from here. Even the show seemed to be feeling uncertain of its own future.
Then, the Eleventh Doctor’s era begun. Looking back, it was the moment Doctor Who finally exploded into a North-American phenomenon. Sure, most every TV viewer knew the name already. It was that British show, with the blue telephone-box thingy. But young girls didn’t hang posters of the Doctor in their lockers and young boys had no idea what a Dalek was. I guess what I’m trying to say is, Doctor Who was never seen as main-stream. Not until Matt Smith.
He ended up being the ultimate gate-way Doctor. Lots of North-American fans started watching with the episode “The Eleventh Hour” and retroactively discovered Tennant and a long and rich back-catalog of seasons. I’m in that boat and I know I’m not alone.
Instead of watering down the Doctor Who formula to attract a broader audience, they decided to make Smith’s run a sort-of primer on the mythology of Who. Old villains and side-charactors who hadn’t been seen in decades were re-introduced as if for the first time, making it possible to watch old episodes without doing homework before-hand.
So, kets talk about the episode at hand…
While fans of old and new Who appreciated the many layered call-backs and surprise twists on the mythology, the story-line was just an excuse to highlight Matt Smith’s legacy on the show. His most memorable foes returned to pay tribute one last time (watching the Doctor fight beside The Silence, even for only one shot, was bad-ass, as was the Weeping Angels buried in snow– just awesome) and we got a few tidy nods to un-finished story-arc’s from previous seasons (see: the Doctor’s room in that creepy hotel). But really, it was all about saying good-bye.
One of my favourite surprises was the revelation about the planet Trensolor (I don’t care if I spelt it wrong, get over yourselves), which is the bleak place that will, one day soon, be the burial site of the Doctor; a war-torn, scared landscape with an giant, ominous tomb-stone leaning over it: the ruins of the TARDIS. The way it was set-up in previous episodes, it seemed like the most tragic place a whimsical and empathetic Doctor like the Eleventh could end up. The realization that the snowy town of Christmas – an ideal place for the Doctor to relax before his final battle – was actually Trensolor, gave me chills. You knew it had to be from the moment the episode started, just logistically, but the way he stumbled into it was so blind and unassuming felt haunting: it’s the way he starts all of his adventures, even his last.
The later revelation that the Eleventh Doctor wouldn’t die in battle, but instead died of old age, was a wonderful choice. Seeing Matt Smith in those old-age prosthetics, carving a wooden toy in a dimly-lit room full of children’s drawings, was so touching. I know it makes no sense for him to start aging visually all of a sudden, but the impact it had was enough for me to not think about it too much.
After the enemies have all been defeated and the town of Christmas is safe, the Doctor retreats back to his TARDIS to regenerate. Clara finds him after the process has only just begun. Some of Matt Smith’s dialogue here seemed very fourth-wall breaking, but appropriately so (“I won’t forget a line of this”). These Doctor-to-Doctor transitions kinda have to be fourth-wall breaking, by nature. The sentiment expressed in this one, though, was far more hopeful than the previous one had been.
I’ve got to wrap this up by talking about the Twelfth Doctor a little bit. “Get me a fucking Curly Wurly!”. Enough said.
The Doctor: “It all just disappears, doesn’t it; everything that you are, gone in a moment, like breath on a mirror. Any moment now, he’s a coming.” Clara: “Who’s coming?” The Doctor: “The Doctor…” Clara: “You– You are the Doctor.” The Doctor: “Yup– And I always will be, but times change and so must I. (…) We all change. When you think about it, we’re all different people, all through our lives. And that’s okay, that’s good. You’ve got to keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this, not one day. I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.”