Time of the Doctor: Death of a Plotline and Other Thoughts

If you don’t want spoilers, don’t read.  I would say if you want warning, go ahead and read, but even the worst review in the world is not going to keep a Whovian from an episode, much less a regeneration episode.

And it’s not the worst review I could give…

I had more than a little trepidation about the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary episode, Day of the Doctor.  I feared showrunner Steven Moffat would be overly interested in convoluted “cleverness” and good story writing would suffer.

And then I saw Night of the Doctor, which was absolutely brilliant. That gave me real hope.

And then I saw Day of the Doctor, and I was thrilled with it. Well written, entertaining, containing just enough of the silly bits that always come with reunion stories, and smart. This is the stuff that originally put Moffat on everyone’s radar.

Time of the Doctor Weeping Angels in Snow

Snow Angels? (c)BBC

So, now I’ve finished Time of the Doctor, and I have a few questions:

  • What happened to the Weeping Angels? Did they just get bored with their whole mission on Trenzalore and sod off?
  • Why were the Angels laying in the snow in the first place (besides creating what Moffat undoubtedly thought was a cool scene)?
  • When the Doctor manages to translate the message broadcasting from the rift, why was it a requirement that the translation be broadcast as well? (I do desperately want to give them props for bringing up the Gallifreyan disk that the Doctor received in the Five Doctors thirty years ago, but they made it a plot point without understandable reference for anyone who has not seen that episode. They used to make such lovely references without confusing the newbies.)
  • Since the Time Lords were inquiring of the Doctor whether it was safe for them to re-emerge, which seems remarkably mature of them, why did they do it with a message broadcast across the entire universe that inspired fear in all who heard it even though no one could decipher it?
  • how did the Doctor fight off invaders of Trenzalore for 300+ years. The Doctor fights his adversaries at distinct moments in time. I’m having a lot of trouble envisioning him keeping back continual invasions. I don’t need a play-by-play, but I do need something more than the-Doctor-is-very-clever.
  • Why the hell did the prophecy include the “fall of the eleventh” if this Doctor is really number 13? I’d be prepared to accept “well, no one knows about the two extra incarnations” except the Daleks know the Doctor is on his thirteenth incarnation. If your prophet is even less informed than a Dalek, get a better prophet.
Doctor and the Silnce - Time of the Doctor

The Doctor teams up with the Silence, here leading them. Unfortunately, he must be thinking he’s walking alone. (c)BBC (DoctorWhoTV)

The Church of the Papal Mainframe / Silence

This entire plot-line, which has dominated Smith’s time as the Doctor, has only been increasingly frustrating. As it has gotten more and more complicated, it has made less and less sense. And this episode just encourages that tendency.

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When this plot started, the Time Lords were removed from space and time. The plot happening now simply could not have happened. The Doctor radically changed time, including his own time-stream, in Day of the Doctor. So how can the Church have been acting against this moment all this time? Now, you could argue that the change to the time-stream changed the purpose of the Church, but that’s a rather sloppy approach to plot writing. It also implies this plot was totally unconsidered when the Silence plot was started, which I believe 100%, but you shouldn’t advertise that quite so loudly.

I give up.  What the hell is the green thing?  My best guess is the worst Alpha Centauri ever, but he/she didn't have hair.  Or a necklace, or basically anything I see here other than green skin and one eye. (c)BBC

I give up. What the hell is the green thing? My best guess is the worst Alpha Centauri ever, but he/she didn’t have hair. Or a necklace, or basically anything I see here other than green skin and one eye. (c)BBC

So this unlikely broadcast goes out, and the Church is luckily one of the first on the scene, and somehow they figure out it’s the Time Lords. How? Because there are bits of the Gallifreyan language in the broadcast. Does me throwing a couple words of French into my sentences make me French? And is me being French even a reasonable consideration when the entire universe believes France to be removed from time and space? That point (about Time Lords, not the French) was underscored several times in earlier episodes.

And so, knowing this, the Church went after the Doctor time and again (in the last couple seasons), to keep from answering The First Question, which is:

“…the oldest question in the universe, hidden in plain sight”. It was the organising principle for the religious movement known as the Silence, who believed that “silence will/must fall when the Question is asked”. Accordingly, they called themselves the “Academy of the Question”.

More specifically, the Silence believed that “…on the Fields of Trenzalore, at the fall of the Eleventh, when no living creature can speak falsely or fail to answer, a question will be asked — a question that must never ever be answered: “Doctor who?” (Tardis Data Core)

I’m going to ignore how the Church could have concluded the answer to “Doctor who?”  would convince hiding Time Lords it was safe to come out. I’m also going to ignore why this would be “the oldest question in the universe.”

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No, lets stick with what the Church has done so far to keep the Question from being answered. It didn’t merely try to kill the Doctor. It kidnapped one of his companions, stole her baby, and trained it to be an assassin programmed to kill the Doctor against her will.

Couldn’t it have at least tried just asking  the Doctor to not answer the question? Which, incidentally, he never does because he agrees that the emergence of the Time Lords at this  time would lead to another great war.

The Regeneration

Sylvester McCoy in Colin Baker wig

Yup, totally fooled us.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Colin Baker was fired, not given a regeneration episode, and then asked to film a quick regeneration scene. Baker told the BBC to stuff it. (c)BBC

The Time of the Doctor presents the third worst regeneration scene ever, following:

  • Matt Smith regenerating from David Tennant after Tennant gets a regeneration vacation allowing him to visit all his friends before suffering what is normally an instantaneous process.
  • The absolute worst, Sylvester McCoy regenerating from Sylvester McCoy wearing a Colin Baker wig.

First, the fact that his regenerations are all used up is nonsense. OK, we’ve added John Hurt’s incarnation. Totally legit, but counting Tennant twice is just silly, particularly since Steven Moffat originally said that was totally not going to count.

Second, regenerations coming out of the sky was an almost literal deux ex machina. Lots of people have suggested the regeneration problem would be fixed by the Time Lords giving the Doctor a new set of regenerations the same way they did for the Master during the Time War. But the Time Lords aren’t really around at the moment, so they have to stick a hand out of a crack in the universe.

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They were so smart in the way the brought back the Master in Utopia.  I was really hoping for something similarly well thought out here.

Really, Moffat? You wanted so desperately to address this issue now (rather than at the end of Peter Capaldi’s run), and that’s what you did with it? 15 seconds of Clara begging, a crack in the sky, regeneration pixie dust, and Time Lords take their ball and go home?

And if Time Lords can do this, why don’t they do it all the time?

They’ve horribly aged the Doctor by this point, so we get a few final moments with Matt Smith out of his aging make up (in case we forgot what he looked like, I suppose). And then he vanishes off-screen, and Capaldi stumbles into the shot.

Are you kidding me? Is this like a classic Jekyll and Hyde film where one actor falls behind a desk and the other stands up? Doctor Who wasn’t even doing regenerations like that in the 1960s.

And then his moment with imaginary Amy. Why-oh-why does the Doctor continue to fixate on his female companions, other than creepiness? The Doctor had another long-running companion, but Rory’s nowhere to be seen.  But, no, it’s only Amy, and the Doctor looks at her as if she was a long-lost girlfriend.

Peter Capaldi is 55.  I really hope the romantic angle gets nixed this time around, particularly if it’s with yet another 20-year-old.

The Time Lords

I do actually applaud them for not yet bringing back the Time Lords.  When the possibility was introduced in Day of the Doctor, I looked forward to it perhaps being an overarching plot-line for next season.  I really did not want them to pop it out in the middle of a single episode that was already dedicated to so many other things.

7 comments

  • Dani

    I’m not really a Dr. Who fan (I just don’t watch TV), but I know enough of the culture to watch an episode here and there. Our friends are big Dr. Who fans and we sat after Christmas dinner last night to watch the Xmas special. I found it utterly confusing for pretty much every point you put here. So I guess I can take some solace that a hardcore Dr. Who fan found it rather…weak! 😉

    Happy Boxing Day!

    -D

    • Oh, gosh yes. If you aren’t familiar with the Church and the Silence I can see how baffling it would be. That I’m OK with. It’s reasonable to assume people watching have also seen recent episodes. No show can fully re-explain itself every episode (although lots of shows are now making good use of “previously on…”). But even with that knowledge, I still found it baffling.

      There are plenty of good episodes! Don’t give up on it! I still have high hopes for the new Doctor. I find everything associated with the Silence to be a mess, and it was a prominent part of Smith’s seasons. Everything suggests that plot-line is now done, and new Doctors are generally kind of plot resets. I expect they will start fresh with Capaldi, and hope they will give us more Eccleston- and Tennant-like stories this time.

  • Griffin

    I can answer a couple of your questions. The Doctor put mirrors in front of the Weeping Angels. They couldn’t move, because they always saw themselves.

    As for why they were there in the first place… I think they didn’t have a reason to move until someone came by. The Doctor and Clara just happened to be the first 2 people by that area.

    The puppet monster was a Monoid from The Ark, a 1st Doctor story.

    Did the Doctor just keep the Great Seal of Rassilon in his pockets for all these centuries?

    I’m mixed on the regeneration scene. Although I liked the emotional impact of seeing Matt Smith remove his bow tie and say goodbye to Amy, it didn’t make sense. He should have regenerated on the top of the bell tower. He should have mentioned Rory too.

    Overall, the last Matt Smith episode was like the last Battlestar Galactica episode. It was emotionally satisfying as I watched it, but less satisfying overall when I mull over it.

    • Somehow I totally missed the mirrors. No, really, not even ringing bells now that you’ve said it. I’ll just take your word for it. I was tired yesterday.

      Oh, Monoids! Hurrah! Thank you! It looked vaguely familiar but, as stated above, the best I could come up with was Alpha Centauri.

      I’m mostly OK with the Doctor just randomly having it in his pocket. He always has random things in his pockets. And it was a very nice nostalgic reference.

      I agree that I react to it similarly to the end of BSG, but I didn’t find the BSG ending emotionally satisfying either. 😉

    • I’ve conferred with the hubby, and he doesn’t remember mirrors either. I got nuthin’

      Edit: I wonder if it happened just after a commercial and it got lost in fast forwarding.

  • On the regen limit, you said “Totally legit, but counting Tennant twice is just silly, particularly since Steven Moffat originally said that was totally not going to count.” It was my initial impression that the double regen was Tom Baker’s, not Tennant’s. But that was just an initial impression, would be glad for discussion thereon.

    Also, there was the comment that there had been a schism within the Church that led to Melody Pond’s babynapping. Thus there were TWO factions working against each other. this did make sense, especially seeing how organizations similar to The Church of the Papal Mainframe / Silence have a tendency of working in our real world.

    Re. the two instances of extended regeneration you mention: in life sometimes death comes quickly and unanticipated. Sometimes it comes slowly and like an old friend. It doesn’t bother me that sometimes the Doctor’s regeneration was foreseen and gave him time to “settle accounts”. But what was with the herky jerky now you see him now you don’t regeneration scene shown here???? As you said even 50 years ago they did it better than this.

    Overall, however, not particularly impressed with the overarching story line myself either.

    • Here ya go:

      “Steven Moffat has confirmed that Matt Smith is Doctor Who’s 13th Doctor.

      Smith is generally regarded as the show’s 11th Time Lord, but the introduction of John Hurt’s ‘War Doctor’ and David Tennant’s aborted regeneration in 2008 episode ‘The Stolen Earth’ means that he is in fact the 13th and final incarnation.”

      http://www.digitalspy.com/british-tv/s7/doctor-who/news/a536819/doctor-who-matt-smith-is-the-13th-doctor-says-steven-moffat.html#ixzz2oeYws6NU

      I have some vague recollection of it being mentioned in the episode as well, but I could be totally imagining that.

      As for a schism…there’s still the fact that neither side just sat down for tea with the Doctor and said “please.” 😉 Couldn’t they have at least tried that before moving on to the baby-stealing phase?

      Yes, I have an absolute hate-on for the entire Silence/Melody Pond/River Song plot. I make no apologies. I had to read Wikipedia to understand how it ended, and then I had to explain it to my husband.

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