Sunday, July 6, 2014

"The Time of the Doctor"

A new one in each issue, only £14.99 a week.
"The Sixty Minute Televisual Crime of the Doctor." Ugh. Why do I do this to myself? Well, it took me over six months to muster up the effort to sit through the 2013 New Who Christmas Special again and here we are at review time. This is a weird episode, because not only is it the aforementioned Christmas instalment but it is also Matt Smith's final feature as the Doctor. The Christmas references are fairly perfunctory, but they are nonetheless as present and pointless as ever. We begin with a Moffat favourite from Series 7: an introductory voiceover. Do you know how many times real Doctor Who did voiceovers? As far as I'm aware, precisely once, in the first episode of "The Deadly Assassin." That was the first story to be entirely set on Gallifrey - although we had seen it previously in Part 10 of "The War Games" and in cutaways during "The Three Doctors" - and it was a big deal. It was, as it were, an event. These days every other episode is an "event" or a "blockbuster," which is to say they're dusting off some costumes or stretching the CGI budget, so I suppose I should hardly be surprised. It doesn't make the use of voiceovers any less inept, in my opinion. This reveals some message heard throughout the universe which brings ships from all the various Doctor Who aliens to circle around in orbit. That is to say, it's basically the same scenario as "The Pandorica Opens" from Series 5, Matt Smith's first series. Is Moffat trying to show how we've come full circle, or could he just not be arsed with a new idea? I'll leave that one up to you.
"I'm just... just fixing a Dalek eyestalk..."
Moffat has not abandoned his penchant for obnoxious twee twaddle, however, and the Doctor, arriving on the scene, is described as "The Man Who Stayed For Christmas." I think the cringe will break my face. He shows up in some area that's obviously a Dalek ship waving a Dalek eye stalk around saying he's come in peace. He also wears a cloak for no discernible reason. The Daleks show up feeling cross and he neatly teleports away, complaining to a damaged Cyberman head attached to the TARDIS console that it needs to be more careful where it sends him. I'm not sure why he hadn't figured that out himself, but in actual fact it's just pure, senseless time wasting for the sake of a joke. The TARDIS phone rings and Smithy sets up a long winded subplot with the Cyberman head involving the need to remind him to make it start ringing inside again rather than in the dummy box on the outside, which I suppose is an effort to justify that pointless set piece in the Anniversary Special where he was hanging from the ship in mid air. Back on Earth in the present day Clara implores the Doctor to impersonate her boyfriend at Christmas dinner. He goes into full on Leslie Phillips mode exclaiming "ding dong!" and telling her that he "may be a bit rusty in some areas." It's mildly amusing but it's also crass and unnecessary. Clara's accent slips as usual when she tells him to "shoot oop" and Murray Gold's "silly" theme starts playing so that we don't accidentally think the scene is serious. The Doctor makes one more expedition to a nearby ship with his Cyber-head: it's of course a Cyberman ship, and the joke from the beginning gets repeated. As openings go, it's a load of directionless pointless waffle indicative of the already obvious fact that the people making this thing have no idea what to do with it. The titles roll.
"Dad, why don't you tell us the story of the time you
got a face transplant and aged twenty years in eight?"
So Clara has a few random family members around: a grandmother who says pointless things, a nonspecific lady and a man who is apparently her father. I guess they had to recast because last time we saw her father he looked like he was Clara's only slightly older brother. Clara enters the TARDIS to discover the Smith strutting around in the nip because he's "going to Church." This doesn't get explained for a while. He uses some holographic device to project clothes into Clara's mind, scares her family by pratting about in front of them, as they can't see his holographic clothes, spanks Clara on the bum to fulfil the "boyfriend" role and helps Clara with the turkey by sticking it in the time engines or something in the TARDIS. Struggling to fill sixty minutes are we, Moffat? We also get a bit of casual racism when Clara attributes the Doctor's nudity to him being "Swedish". Then the Doctor and Clara piss off back to the planet, relatively arbitrarily as far as I can tell. Although all of the Doctor's biggest enemies are there, none of them seem to especially mind the TARDIS in their midst, even despite the Doctor repeatedly boarding their vehicles with bits of their dead kin. The planet is conveniently "shielded" which stops them from investigating the message, but Handles the Cyber-head reckons the planet is Gallifrey. Well that was quick, wasn't it? Guess we've wrapped up the new plot arc established in the previous episode already! The Doctor of course doesn't believe it, although he doesn't propose any way of checking.
Two hearts, thirteen lives, four bollocks.
A huge ship appears, which the Doctor reveals to be the "Papal Mainframe" which I believe was mentioned back in "A Good Man Goes To War" - and yes, I really am embarrassed to remember that. Some woman's gigantic hologram face appears on the side and beckons the Doctor over. It turns out that this "Papal Mainframe" ship is the one "shielding" the planet. Why don't the Daleks or someone blow them up then? Don't they have those giant planet cracker missiles from the Asylum episode? I shudder to recall it. Inside the ship we meet the "Mother Superious," a character named "Tasha Lem" aka the narrator of the opening and the hologram face on the ship, whose role seems to be "River Song substitute." She flirts with the Doctor, calling him "babes" among other things. The flirty dialogue is utterly wretched. Clara has to use some hologram thing too to project clothes onto her because "You can't go to Church with your clothes on." Why? It's never explained - it's just an excuse for Moffat to get everyone to say "naked" a bunch of times and probably because he wants to imagine Jenna Coleman with her kit off. Imagine if back in '63 you'd told Bill Hartnell that in fifty years time the character he pioneered would be pratting around talking about being naked in a space church. He'd spit his gin halfway across the publican's house. Smithy describes Clara as his "associate," struggling for some reason to say that she's his friend. Why? Is it meant to imply that he carries a bit of a torch for her or something? Urgh. Tasha Lem says she has "confidential matters" to discuss with the Doctor, heavily implying that they're making Clara stand out in the corridor while they bone in her room. The Doctor scoffs at Clara for suggesting to this effect, but the connotation's still the same: he treats Clara like a dick and as if she doesn't matter. I don't have much interest in Clara, but this bit really irritates me because it seems so out of character. It's all part of Moffat's annoying portrayal of the Doctor as this lying, secret-keeping anti-hero who always turns out to be a good guy in the end. While the Smith and Tasha Lem chinwag in her puritanical sex dungeon Clara gets menaced by a familiar figure: oh look, it's a Silent from Series 6. Long time no see. Turns out they work for the Church, I guess, and not the other way around.
"Steven said he likes them shaved."
Tasha Lem claims that the message from the planet is causing "fear" among the other species present, which seems awfully convenient, almost as convenient as the Church people getting there first to "shield" the planet. Nonetheless she's concerned about the possibility of conflict breaking out. There's some pointless waffle about the Doctor handing over his TARDIS key before he and Clara, all Silents forgotten, teleport down to the planet. It's cold on the surface so the Doctor essentially grabs and rubs his naked companion for warmth before Weeping Angels start grabbing them from the snow. It really is a Moffat-stravaganza. The Angels supposedly "must have got past Tasha's shield." That's also very convenient. How? Do they use ships, or do they just fly through space like the Fungi from Yuggoth? It doesn't matter because the Doctor reveals he's wearing a wig, whips out another TARDIS key and summons the TARDIS. Apart from a short moment later, that's the entire pointless cameo of the Angels. The scene where they actually appear from the snow is also clumsily shot and incoherent. The Doctor decides he needs to search for "The Mysterious Message." It's a phrase he likes, and it does have a ring to it. Baldness surprisingly works for him too - I believe he had to shave his head for a film role. With the TARDIS they head for the town where they spill the beans about themselves to a few locals due to a "truth field." Among other things this causes Clara to fess up that "I really fancy-" someone, presumably the Doctor. The New Who female companion is attracted to the Doctor? Zero points for originality Moffat, and besides, we've danced around this nonsense already. When they ask if the inability to lie makes anything difficult, the local woman replies "not at all" while the man remarks "yes." I don't even want to contemplate what's being implied there, although I expect it's Moffat's usual insane gender dynamics. Clara wonders how the town can be called "Christmas" but the Doctor retorts that the same could be asked of Easter Island. Well, it's called that because Jacob Roggeveen found it on Easter Sunday. What's the excuse for this alien town on some planet in deep space? Then again it's implied to be a human colony.
The message is coming from a sort of Church Hall type building in town, and inside the Doctor discovers another blast from the not especially distant past, a Time Crack of Series 5 fame. We get flashbacks to 2010 when New Who was briefly good. We also get this as the explanation for what was in the Doctor's room in "The God Complex." Was this really his greatest fear? The Doctor claims that the crack is still there because "the scar tissue remains, a structural weakness" in the universe. Doesn't this contradict the ending of "The Big Bang" which basically said that the cracks never existed? Maybe when Amy "remembered" the Doctor back into reality that ipso facto remembered the cracks too. Who knows. Someone's trying to send a message through the "weakest point" of the universe, along with the truth field, which explains why Handles the Head thought it was Gallifrey: the Time Lords are on the other side of the crack. In an unexpected reference to "The Five Doctors" the Smith whips out the Seal of the High Council which Pertwee took from Ainley in the Death Zone and Handles uses it to translate the message. There's a weird pointless bit where the head describes the message as a "request for information" and the Doctor fumes "Why can't you just say it's a question?" Why does it matter? Anyway the question is our "oldest question": so old that it dates back to ancient Who history, or rather "Let's Kill Hitler" of a few years ago, and because the Time Lords are sending it through "all time and space" that explains why it's so old. The question of course is "Doctor who" which is shown being played in this ridiculous drawn out fashion in the Dalek ships and so on: "Doctor whoooo?" I thought the explanation had something to do with John Hurt back in the Anniversary Special and "The Name of the Doctor" but apparently not. So the Time Lords want the Doctor to say his name so they know it's safe to come through. Why would they do it in such a contrived way, yet broadcast everywhere so everyone could hear it? Of course if they return the "Time War will begin again" blah blah blah so it doesn't seem like a good idea. The floating disembodied head of Tasha Lem reveals that the planet on which they're standing is Trenzalore, aka the site of the Doctor's supposed final battle, the ruins of which were seen in "The Name of the Doctor." But they're concerned that "The Time War will begin anew." Does Moffat keep having to riff on RTD's crap ideas? Clara gets sent home while Tasha Lem starts spouting off pseudo-medieval sounding dialogue like "This world will burn" and "The Siege of Trenzalore is now begun." The Doctor gets riled at Handles for being too specific. Why does he never tell any of these plums off with all the bollocks they spew constantly?
"Mark and I came up with a new setting for the Sonic.
It's going to make writing Series 8 much easier."

Tasha Lem declares that the Church's top priority is now "Silence," an overly elaborate way of saying preventing the Doctor from saying his name, which he seemingly doesn't want to do anyway. Ridiculously, the other Church soldiers all start chanting "Silence will fall." I guess that explains that catch phrase then. She goes back to narrating about how the Doctor defended the town from the alien interlopers trying to stop him from saying his name. He doesn't want to say his name because he knows the time isn't ripe for the Time Lords to return, so why doesn't he just leave? I suppose the Daleks or whoever might just blow up the innocent town to be on the safe side. Defending the town involves a handful of tokenistic attacks, like a couple of comedy Sontarans in an invisible car, an Angel getting trapped in front of a mirror (what if someone covers it?) and a very plastic-looking wooden cyberman designed to sell action figures. I googled it and yes, there is a wooden Cyberman toy. Arbitrarily it seems, sometimes the Church blows stuff up and sometimes the Doctor blows stuff up. When the Church blows up the Sontarans it declares that "the relevant afterlives have been notified." When I heard this I realised what I was hearing was basically a poor imitation of Douglas Adams humour. Oddly enough, in the extras on one of the Tom Baker DVDs from the Graham Williams era Moffat suggests that Adams wasn't the best choice of script editor at that time, which is probably true. I can't help but think from this, though, that if he'd been Executive Producer he'd probably be Moffat's idol. Anyway this is Moffat Who so we have to have a kid. The kid rings a bell and Matt Smith emerges with some latex wrinkles on his face and some toys for the children. He convinces the wooden Cyberman to blow itself up by telling it he's used the sonic screwdriver on it, but of course in New Who it doesn't work on wood. What about the truth field then? Who knows. We get some more montage stuff of the Doctor partying with the locals. In the background there's a weird Punch and Judy show featuring a puppet of a Monoid, referencing classic Hartnell serial "The Ark," an early story to feature a time-skip. That served a narrative purpose, and "The Ark" is generally not considered one of the greats of Doctor Who. Here the time skip seems relatively pointless, but I'm led to believe, as I've stated elsewhere, that it's what Moffat does when he's struggling to write.
Personally I'd sue the surgeon.
The Doctor tells the little kids "cool is not cool." I guess that's kind of giving them a good message to not succumb to peer pressure? Then he asks one of the kids "How's your father's barn," which sounds deeply euphemistic, especially when the kid replies that they've "fixed the leak." Then the TARDIS reappears with Clara still clinging on. The kid asks the Doctor if he's leaving and he doesn't say anything. Much like the earlier moment it's cod-dramatic nonsense where the Doctor refuses to be straightforward purely for the sake of forcing the sentiments. In the hall, there are cheesy things like drawings of the Doctor with "I love you" written on them and stuff. The Doctor takes Clara up to the roof so they can witness the brief daylight. We get a vaguely poignant conversational scene here, although the best bit, and saying it's "best" is stretching the friendship by a terrific margin, is when the Cyberman head reminds the Doctor about the telephone and then carks it. The Doctor replies, "Thank you, Handles, and well done." Despite being a touch drawn out, it's simple and effective enough. Why couldn't it be more like this? Smithy tells Clara that he sent her away because it was that or bury her, and reveals that he has no regenerations left because of the newly revealed John Hurt incarnation and the fact that Tennant regenerated twice: he had "vanity issues." Yeah, and shit writing issues. Basically Moffat's using all this as an excuse to be the one to answer the regeneration limit question, having played hell with the numbering: suddenly Eccly is the tenth incarnation of the character, Tennant the eleventh and the twelfth, and Smith is the thirteenth! Good grief. People are still arguing about this on the internet, some people trying to seem like clever clogs by calling Smithy things like "Thirteen" and "The Thirteenth Doctor." The Doctor reminds Clara of the cemetery from "The Name of the Doctor" and how this is where he dies. He's sticking around to save lives, but despite three hundred years fixing toys he can't seem to figure out a way to save his own. Incidentally, his wrinkly face makeup doesn't match his non-wrinkly neck.
It was a really sour lemon drop.
Tasha Lem summons him to the Church ship. Moffat's arbitrary kid, "Barnable," is hanging around at the TARDIS. His very brief conversations with the Doctor don't do much to add any additional pathos to the narrative. Lots of cheesy "ooh ooh ooh" background choral warbling comes in as well. It turns out the Silents are "confessional priests" genetically engineered to be forgettable. So they're human, then? In Tasha Lem's sex chamber the Doctor discovers that the events of Series 5 and 6 were caused by the "Kovarian Chapter" of the Church breaking away and going back in time to try to stop anything happening. They blew up the TARDIS and caused the cracks in the universe. How, precisely, did they blow up the TARDIS? Did someone go inside? We'll probably never know unless Moffat deigns to tell us in an interview or something. Heaven forbid it ever get revealed in a timely fashion during the actual programme. I've seen a video from a convention where Matt Smith tries and fails to explain it, deciding that we ought to just "blame the Daleks." Matt Smith always seems like a good sort. He really wasn't best served by the writing during his tenure. So it's all explained away as a "destiny trap," or, to put it more accurately, an ontological paradox where the effect is also the cause: the efforts of the Silence to prevent the cracks in time were the very actions which created them. There are also some offhand remarks about River but I'm buggered as to how all that mess fits together. It's a hurried explanation for everything that happened which only goes to show how muddled Series 6 in particular was. Tasha Lem reveals that the Church was attacked by the Daleks and they've all been turned into Dalek puppets: "I died in this room screaming your name." It's typical Moffat weirdness and a reiteration of the Angel Bob thing from Series 5. How do I remember all this shite? The Doctor gets all cranky about Tasha Lem being taken over, but who cares? I don't know who she is. The Daleks burst in and reveal that despite losing their memories of him back in "Asylum of the Daleks" they recovered all the necessary information from Tasha Lem, so that whole thing's just been repealed instantly. The Daleks don't want the Doctor to answer the question. Wouldn't they want to have a big old war? Isnt' that what Daleks do? Besides, as has been established, the Doctor doesn't want to say his name either! I don't know.
Miracle Matt?
To get Tasha Lem out of her mind control the Doctor harasses her until she slaps him - more of Moffat thinking that female equality means showing them responding to problems with violence - and then they mack on each other because of course you can't have an important female guest star without her kissing the lead at some point. Kind of shoots any egalitarianism right between the eyes, doesn't it? The croaked line of Smith's regarding Clara, "That is a woooooman," is horrible as well. Tasha Lem conveniently blows up all the Daleks. Why are they vulnerable to their own puppets? Convenient really is the watchword of this episode. She sends the Doctor back down to Trenzalore so that the Church can continue the fight against the Daleks and the Doctor can escape. Wouldn't this mean that "The Name of the Doctor" could never happen? Then again that was pretty pointless anyway, serving only really to introduce the John Hurt incarnation. Back in the TARDIS, the turkey is done. So what? Who cares? Clara makes the Doctor promise that he won't abandon her, which he does as soppy music plays, but then he shoves some weird thing into the console, disappears, and ditches Clara in present-day Earth again. Why does Clara live in a council estate? Are teachers in the UK paid that badly? Back on Trenzalore the Doctor tells Barnable that the TARDIS is a "reminder." To rewire the phone, I suppose. We see some montage of the Doctor teaming up with the Silents to fight their enemies until everyone's pissed off except for, of course the Daleks. This conflict has united the "ancient enemies: the Doctor and the Silence." Yeah, ancient since 2011. Back at Clara's place we get some really cagey efforts with appalling dialogue as the nondescript lady - is she Clara's dad's partner or something? - waffles on and the grandmother tells a story about a time when she "wanted nothing to change." How apposite! The TARDIS instantly returns and Clara pisses off again. What was the point of that? It's being piloted by Tasha Lem, who apparently knows how to control it. She must be a stand in for River Song. She takes Clara back to Christmas town, which over nine hundred years has barely changed despite getting the shit blown out of it by the Daleks. Having been told that the Doctor "shouldn't die alone," Clara finds Smithy slathered in even more old man makeup, almost evocative (maybe if you squint and turn your head) of a bedraggled, rubbery Hartnell. One of the better lines is when the Doctor asks Clara "Were you always so young?" and she replies "No, that was you." They break open a Christmas cracker and Clara recites a cheesy "extract" of a poem (actually by Moffat) which directly ties into the Doctor's circumstances. It's clunky and heavy handed. The Doctor decides to face the music and, after briefly mistaking a young man for the little kid from centuries earlier, goes upstairs. He tells Clara that despite what he said to the boy, he doesn't have a plan. How, again, is he lying in the truth field? He says he'll "talk very fast, hope something good happens, take the credit." Sounds pretty much bang on about how New Who works. We get some very late foreshadowing when he says that he could have changed the future if the Time Lords were still around.
Only Time Lord magic can dissolve BBC (Wales) latex.
Clara gives the Crack a big speech about the "question" and how "his name is the Doctor." Symbolism doesn't matter, they just want proof if it's safe to return. She argues "if you love him, and you should," they'd help him change the future. "Love him"? Seems like a really weird thing to say to the Time Lords. Up on top of the tower the giant saucer-shaped voice of Nicholas Briggs is ranting at the Doctor about regeneration but Smithy claims they "can't work up the courage" to shoot him. They're still blowing up the town, though. Then the Crack conveniently appears in the sky and shoots generic RTD-style golden Time Lord energy into the Doctor's mouth, apparently giving him new regenerations. I think that's more or less what everyone expected, that he would be given new regenerations by the Time Lords somehow. The earlier reference to "The Five Doctors" seems to be deliberately harking back to that time when the idea of new regenerations was first put forward in the show. The Doctor gives the Daleks a big spiel about how he doesn't care about rules while gobbing everywhere, perhaps in tribute to his first scene. He tells them that this regeneration, changing the ordinary sequence, is "gonna be a whopper." Have I just become completely desensitised to this kind of inane dialogue? The regeneration of course causes giant weaponisable energy beams to shoot out of the Doctor's hands which he uses to blow up the Daleks, apparently saving the day. Was there only one saucer left? What about all the reinforcements? There's loads of smoke and detritus but the town itself inexplicably survives. Clara heads for the TARDIS in pursuit of Smith. So long Christmas Town. So long Tasha Lem or whoever you were, Silence and so on. There's absolutely no resolution to them whatsoever. The Doctor ditches his Christmas costume, gets back into his generic Series 7 duds, eats fish fingers and custard, and whaddya know, reappears without makeup as his regeneration takes effect so that he can do the final scene "as is." What a surprise. He puts the TARDIS in motion, now completely forgetting the town and everything. He muses that "everything you are" instantly disappears, which reminds me of the Tennant Doctor speculating about his death, but we don't get any "I don't want to go." In fact he declares that "Times change and so must I." Then he has a vision of young Amy played by a very obvious stand-in: Caitlin Blackwood would of course be too old by now. The Doctor goes on, saying that people always change and become "different people" but need to remember who they used to be, which isn't too bad as departing sentiments go. His final words, seemingly, are "I will always remember when the Doctor was me." I probably will too, but with a great deal of ambivalence. The "wake up" music from "The Rings of Akhaten" starts blaring, an oddly coincidental reference to another episode where there was absolutely no closure on the setting or supporting cast, as a hallucinatory Karen Gillan steps down. They must both have been bald and wearing wigs for this scene because they'd both shaved their heads for American film roles. It's a predictable cameo but I don't mind. I never disliked Amy and I think the idea of him hallucinating before he dies has a kind of whimsy to it which is preferable to say, oh I don't know, going on a grand tour of every companion ever. Seeya 'round, Matt Smith. As final moments go it's not terrible, but it's not terrifically memorable either in my opinion. The best bit is his speech about change.
"Do you happen to know how to fly this thing? Or why
the fans on Facebook are so horrifyingly ageist?"
Then he lurches backwards and wahey! It's Capaldi. He complains about his kidneys and then asks Clara if she knows how to fly the TARDIS. It would have been a decent ending if they'd cut the kidneys line. The body part complaint is pretty cliché at this point. I saw a version of this with the music mixed out and it was much better. So that's the end of "The Time of the Doctor" and the end of the Smith era. As for the episode itself, well, it's not something for which I can really feel much emotion. It's padded and badly-paced, it indicates how little Moffat really cared about the arc plots and it seems a bit hubristic to solve the regeneration limit as it does. Tasha Lem is annoying, it feels like a rehash of past Moffat episodes and Clara seems like a bystander. Matt Smith is not given A-grade material for his final performance. It's just another episode to get lost to the ravages of time. To cast my gaze back over the Smith era, it really is a disappointment. Series 5 is not as good as I made it out to be at the time, but it was decent. Series 6 was, in my opinion, generally poor, and Series 7 mediocre. Series 7 also should have been two series. Matt Smith was not allowed to reach his full potential, with his character being written after Series 5 as a clownish buffoon having to move through limited and often nonsensical narratives. The whole thing is rather hollow, Moffat unrealistically convinced of his own cleverness. It's a shame, and it makes me feel much more wary about Capaldi's tenure than I would like to be, but what can I do? Watch Classic, which is to say real, Doctor Who, I guess. The idea that this is the same show is absurd. By this point the tone and style are so radically different that they almost can't be compared. The Time of the Doctor, I'm afraid to say, is really long past.

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