I shouldn’t have been surprised. Any episode following the fantastically executed 50th Anniversary Special was bound to be sub-par. If I was to sum up the Christmas Special in a few words it would be this: “too much plot in too little time.”
The episode starts with promise. First, we are introduced to “the message” a signal that has been sent out across the universe, gathering everyone, especially the Eleventh Doctor’s most well known enemies, to one specific planet. Then, because the Christmas special always has to involve Christmas, the Doctor gets a call from Clara asking him to pretend to be her boyfriend for turkey dinner with her family.
During these first few scenes it seemed like they were using gimmicks, rather than just allowing Matt Smith to be the quirky Doctor we have come to know him as. For example, when exploring the ships surrounding the unknown planet the Doctor somehow manages to carry a piece of Dalek onto a Dalek ship, so he is immediately fired upon.
Then, soon after, he transports onto another ship while holding “Handles”, his Cyberman head. The ship turns out to be a ship full of Cybermen (surprise, surprise), who also fire on him. He also turns up at Clara’s family dinner wearing only hologram clothes, so to everyone but Clara he appears naked.
After they make some naked jokes and bald jokes (the Doctor now wears a Toupee), they finally decide to get going with the plot, only it never really picks up. After the message is revealed to be a call from the Time Lords lots of minor battles break out as various enemies try to prevent the Doctor from releasing them from the crack in the universe where they have been trapped.
Among the many enemies that flock towards the message, there also happens to be a friend, Tasha Lem of the Church of the Papal Mainframe. She seems to be a sort of love interest for the doctor, which was just too soon for a River Song fan like myself. Some critics have suggested that her role may have been written for River and adapted when Alex Kingston wasn’t available, but I’m assuming that’s speculation. So I want to know why they had to introduce Tasha Lem as a love interest when she was already awesome as a bad-ass mother superior? And why did they have to have Clara confess she has a wee bit of a crush on the Doctor? I mean come on, Clara! Not you too!
The crack in the universe (where the message from Gallifrey is coming from) just happens to be situated on Trenzalore. This same planet was established as the Doctor’s final resting place in “The Name of the Doctor“. Oh, and in case the episode wasn’t Christmas-y enough, the primary village on Trenzalore is called Christmas.
The Doctor quickly learns that releasing the Time Lords from the crack would mean recreating the Time War on Trenzalore, so he decides to stay and team up with the Silence to guard the villagers (and the Time Lords in their crack) from Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels, and presumably a lot of other nasty people.
He tries to send Clara back to her world so she doesn’t get caught up in the battles, but she stubbornly decides to hitch a ride back to him by clinging to the outside of the TARDIS. Having a stowaway slows down the TARDIS, so by the time it gets back the Doctor has aged considerably. Before long he tries this trick on Clara again (lying to her face in order to send her home), but eventually Tasha Lem comes to get Clara so she can be with the Doctor while he dies of old age. At this point, Clara asks the Doctor why he doesn’t just regenerate.
Apparently, Moffat decided that dealing with Trenzalore in one episode just wasn’t enough, so he thought he’d throw in the “how many regenerations can the Doctor have” debate too. Lo and behold, we find out that the Doctor actually has no more regenerations. Hmm, what a conundrum, and we only have a few minutes left to the episode. Don’t worry! Clara will just whisper a few words into the crack in the universe and the Time Lord council will decide to stop being jerks who are determined to take over the world and send out an extra regeneration for the Doctor instead. Did that ending feel like a cop-out to anyone other than me?
Ultimately, the thing that bothers me about this episode is that it was Matt Smith’s final farewell, but by trying to cram so much into one episode they took away from what could have potentially been an awesome plot. It was halfway through the episode before they stopped introducing new plot elements and tried to build on the pieces they already had. By then it was too late and it ended up leaving the audience with more questions than answers. For example, does the Doctor’s defense of Christmas mean that Trenzalore is no longer going to be the Doctor’s graveyard in the future? Will the extra regeneration that the Time Lords gave to the Doctor going be his last? And last, but not least, are they ever going to bring back River Song?
Things that made the episode still worth watching:
- I was almost worried that they were going to deny Smith the gut-wrenching kind of exit we saw with Tennant. Luckily, they didn’t, and he got in some fantastic last lines.
- It was also really powerful to have him remove his tie, since that was so key to Matt Smith’s identity as the Doctor.
- Handles is actually pretty endearing by the end
Things that make me excited to watch the new season:
- Mostly I’m just excited to see Peter Capaldi take on the role of the Doctor.