Would it really surprise anyone if Matt Smith just turned up at the start of the next series, waved his arms about and spouted some gobbledygook about turning himself off and on again? The whole regeneration stuff done away with in a flash and line or two of clever-clever dialogue? It really wouldn’t surprise me, which is as good a way of summing up the last four years of Doctor Who as I can think of.
We’ve been taught to distrust what we see and hear so comprehensively by Moffat’s Doctor Who that its difficult to accept any paradigm shift in the series’ universe, fictional or otherwise. I’ve considered the possibility that Peter Capaldi is simply the biggest bait-and-switch there will ever be. And while that’s patently absurd I did consider it, just for a few moments.
While it would be bold and audacious it would be perfectly in keeping with the direction the series has taken since RTD hung up his sonic pencil. The production office has told us many lies – companions and Doctors will die bring the most obvious – time and time again. While this can be irksome its generally done for good, or understandable, reasons. But there’s a greater problem the show has fostered since Tennant stopped drenching the camera in spittle: The narrative of the Eleventh Doctor is fundamentally untrustworthy. We have been lied to again and again. And the returns diminish as we wearily extrapolate the latest reasoning behind a plot being nonsensically rewritten in the last five minutes.
Complaints such as these matter, they really do, even though they’re breathlessly hand-waved away by fans who sneer at internal logic and the limits of suspending one’s disbelief. When the writer essentially turns to us and winks – and trashes plots and the investment we made in the previous 40 minutes, episode or story arc – it chips away at the shows very agency, at the empathy we can share with characters upon whom cause has no effect. Why should I worry if the Doctor dies repeatedly – as he has under both RTD and especially Moffat – when he comes back to life courtesy of a nifty turn of phrase, music swell and some glowing dust?
Arguably twas ever thus. Doctor Who has always dodged the logical results of plots through technobabble, noble self-sacrifices or ironic come-uppances. Maybe the power of love or memory is no more unreasonable than a big explosion or reversing the polarity. But the classic series never really raised the stakes in such a precipitous way. As the narrative threats pile up – the end of the universe, or reality or final death of the doctor – there has to be an equally overwrought reaction to make things better.
This has been threatening to catch up with Moffat for a while – his very own Trenzalore stalking him through his run – and tonight the turkey came home to roost. For, when the Doctor regenerated, I didn’t care.
I liked Matt Smith’s Doctor, with the obvious caveats over his excesses of arm-waving and shouting, not to mention the horribly-judged River Song arc that fitted Smith as badly as Six’s outfit matched Colin. He had lovely comic timing and was able to convey something alien, awkward and old about the character. But when it came to his swan song it didn’t hit the mark for me, not once. When I should have been welling up and bidding goodbye I was idly wondering when Capaldi was going to turn up. Which does both actors a disservice. Goodbye Matt, I thought you deserved better.
The story itself? What story? As a series of wood cuts this might have worked. Two dozen hand-carved prints – a catholic space-ship, the Silence, a wooden Cyberman, an ancient Doctor – was the perfect way to tell the story of the Eleventh Doctor succumbing to time. Over an hour of live action it seemed, to me, to be a series of things that just happened. And, like most Moffat stories, you could make equally valid arguments as to why they made perfect sense or made no sense whatsoever. On that basis they’re generally as satisfying or otherwise as a turkey dinner, depending on whether you’re a vegan or not – and a perfect summation of the first Moffat era.
There is one complete triumph here for me. Jenna Coleman as Clara is simply the most loveable, believable and – frankly – gorgeous companion the Doctor has had in many regenerations. Perhaps Lis Sladen is so revered because, particularly with Tom, Sarah and The Doctor were simply great mates. Clara is the Doctor’s best friend – and vice versa – and because he’s such an astonishing man (and because he recognises her wonderfulness in turn) they love each other, without the necessity for them to be in love with one another. I’ll miss their interaction enormously.
Smith. I can’t quite digest that he is gone. With Eccleston it was all over in a flash; with Tennant I was glad to see the back of him. Smith leaves an intriguing, somehow incomplete, after-image. Perhaps because his whole era taught us not to trust what we saw and perhaps because his last moments seemed, somehow, fluffed. It’s kinda suggested that The Eleventh Doctor had already regenerated by the time Clara catches up with him in the TARDIS – that he used a hologram just to say goodbye. Because it meant that much to him to say those final words – many of them lovely: the way that we change as we age; the breath on a mirror. Lovely sentiments but Moffat’s usually wonderful touch went awry at the crucial moment as the Doctor presumably holds on to his final seconds prior to the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it-change.
We rarely get the chance to say our farewells in the way that we plan them, or the way we’d like. Lovers, partners, friends, relatives. It made me think of a way to end it that might have delivered the emotional pay-off I wanted – and Smith deserved. In an episode replete with nods to Smith’s tenure, wouldn’t it have been apt to have one final reference to the enemies that defined it. The Doctor, moments from regeneration, changing forever, entreating Clara not to blink, lest his image vanish forever. A few more seconds of life, one last goodbye, fingers reaching out, just don’t blink. Don’t blink…
The leads – Smith’s Doctor has suffered from Moffat’s excesses – shouting and whirling and generally behaving like a bit of an idiot – and I’m not sure he was helped at all here, clad in a wig, then a bald cap, then unconvincing old make-up. But he had a few moments, notably at the end when he was allowed some quiet, sad, wistful touches that were a great example of why Smith will be so missed – and cast a long shadow. It’s hard not to believe that, as with Eccleston’s last moments, those lines were SMith’s, not the Doctor’s. Coleman, as ever, was nothing less than adorable.
Handles – Reminded me a little bit of Kroton the Cyberman.
The wooden Cyberman – A nice idea. Still, the new series has still not figured out how to make the Cyberman any good whatsoever, barring some cameos in Moffat episodes. And interesting to note that the Dalek paradigm has been quietly dropped.
Capaldi – I’ve worried about how Capaldi, who does look his age, will carry the Tennant and Smith fans along with him while avoiding the annoying tics both younger Doctors displayed. But I think he did really well here.
The weight of the Eleventh – More a list of loose ends that I suppose needed to be wrapped up than a functioning story. The Silence, the crack, the exploding TARDIS, Trenzalore, Gallifrey and the Doctor’s life-cycle all get neatly concluded.
Tasha Lem – Er, did I miss something here?
Christmassy Wistmasssy – I’d happily never see another Christmas reference in Doctor Who again
Angels – More emasculated than a male companion these days
Caves and Twins? What are you dribbling on about? GO HERE