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Doctor Who Christmas Special Review: The Time of The Doctor (Is Up)


This was it. Your last Smithmas. 

Normally, Susana does our Doctor Who recaps but, and I don’t know if you’re aware, recaps are a lot of work. So, since it was Christmas, she decided to take a break. And since DW recaps are her thing, I’m here with a review instead. All kinds of spoilers ahead.

We knew we were going to say goodbye to Matt Smith’s Doctor in the Christmas special but it was a surprise to see how that played out. We’re back on Trenzalore, the planet previously said to be the Doctor’s last resting place (perhaps it kind of is, in a way), and we pick up threads from the 50th anniversary special. The Time Lords are trying to peek through a crack (not just any old crack) in the universe, proving the events of the 5oth did, in fact, save Gallifrey from being destroyed. Well, there went the mystery most of us thought would be a major theme in Peter Capaldi’s run. All of the Doctor’s worst enemies are surrounding Trenzalore (though we only spy The Silence, Daleks, Cybermen, and Weeping Angels). Preventing them all from entering the planet’s atmosphere is Tasha Lem, Mother Superious of the Papal Mainframe. But don’t worry about her name or title because it basically amounts to nothing in the scheme of things.

Viewers of the last few seasons of Doctor Who should probably be used to that by now, and there’s certainly no shortage of hand-waving/we don’t have time/want to bother explaining this to you, stuff in the episode. Clara asks the Doctor to pretend to be her boyfriend, but it’s revealed here she would like that to be real (There’s a story idea we haven’t seen on Doctor Who before!). She starts to say she fancies him when they realize they can only tell the truth on Christmas. At her family’s Christmas celebration on Earth, we’re introduced to Clara’s adorable grandmother and…her Aunt? Her dad’s girlfriend? She’s not important enough to be introduced properly it would seem. And then there’s the moment Clara meets the Silence for the first time. I guess she’s never seen footage of the moon landing? Otherwise she would have attacked it. Also, why did she remember the Silence the second time she saw it? That undermines their entire purpose. As to the crack? “Hey, remember that thing we already closed the door on seasons ago? We’re going to now act like that’s not done because there was no other way to get us out of this whole regeneration mess. Ok?” And where did that Cyberman head? I don’t know. Perhaps worst of all was the casual comment the Doctor made claiming he has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Has he actually been diagnosed with OCD? I don’t know, HA HA, aren’t mental disorders quirky?

Anyway, long story short, all we need to know is Tasha the one in charge. But she’s not really respected as much by the Doctor, or respected at all. Yes, after the Doctor forcefully kissed in-a-relationship/lesbian Jenny in “The Crimson Horror,” something many were rightfully outraged about, he assaults Tasha in the same way. She responds with a very Fifth Element “never without my permission” type of response and everyone just moves on. The Doctor has many faults, can we not have one of them be sexual predator? Some might say that’s a leap, but just imagine if you witnessed a man stealing kisses from women on the street. The cops would be called.

Let’s jump ahead. After discovering Gallifrey is within his grasp, the Doctor realizes he still can’t save them. At least not in this way or at this time. Instead, he chooses to stay with the people of Christmas town, protecting them from all sorts of attacks…for 300 years. That was the surprise. Realizing he was in a stalemate, the Doctor chooses to save this small community and actually take true joy in growing old. Of course that means ditching Clara (not once, but twice) because much like I’ve come to realize, she may be the “Impossible Girl,” but she really doesn’t have much impact in the grand scheme. Sure, she has “saved” the Doctor constantly, but we still haven’t been given enough in her episodes to really warrant her important. And that’s reiterated towards the end of this tale.

Smith’s Doctor goes on to explain what fandom has been saying for months, just in case viewers aren’t clear on the number of regenerations which have been used. Ok, uh huh, with you so far. And thanks to Clara giving the Time Lords a little nudge, the 11th doesn’t have to die-die on Trenzalore. It’s not quite clear how much regeneration energy the Time Lords gave him but I’m gonna guess it was more than just one regenerations worth. “Love from Gallifrey, boys,” would have been a great last line for Smith, but as it turns out, there was more to do. Yes, the world was saved, Gallifrey is lost for another long while (or maybe Capaldi will find it in his first full episode, you never know) but there were emotions to exploit!

I’ll be honest, I got a bit teary near the end of the episode, but I imagine that’s what they were thinking when they decided to bring back Karen Gillan as Amy Pond one more time. What I’m sure they weren’t thinking was that some viewers might be crying because they remembered how good the show was at the start of Smith’s run and what it looks like now. As they dropped bow ties and other items in an orgy of nostalgia I couldn’t help think, “For a guy [Steven Moffat] who goes on at length about looking to the future, he sure does like revisiting the past.” Harkening back to a good number of 11’s memories is simply for the viewer’s sake and serves no purpose in furthering the story or saying anything about the character of the Doctor. It’s literally, “hey, remember all the fun we had together!” And wasn’t that what the Matt Smith special airing beforehand was for?

Looking at the big picture, the episode reads like a big pat on the back. Guys, did you know? EVERYTHING HAS BEEN LEADING TO THIS. All those stories we’ve told matter all the more because we threw them together and tied a big bow on them for the Christmas special! If you ask me, it’s a cheap ploy. Smith created something unique with his Doctor the last few years, and to harken back to his entire run instead of letting him stand on his own one last time was disappointing to this fan.

The question asked in the episode was “Doctor who?” but I have an alternate one. What is Doctor Who? Is it “The Doctor Show,” or is it a story about a magical man traveling through time and space, making friends and enemies along the way? If this episode is any indication, the series is about this one man who is so goddamn special everyone must love him and sacrifice even the most precious things so he might survive. Why must everything always be life-changing? Why can’t we just have fun once in a while?

How about that regeneration though? BAM! CAPALDI! I liked it, and I’m excited to learn about the new Doctor. I’d be more excited if I could learn about him under a different showrunner. But we shall see.

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Jill Pantozzi is a pop-culture journalist and host who writes about all things nerdy and beyond! She’s Editor in Chief of the geek girl culture site The Mary Sue (Abrams Media Network), and hosts her own blog “Has Boobs, Reads Comics” ( She co-hosts the Crazy Sexy Geeks podcast along with superhero historian Alan Kistler, contributed to a book of essays titled “Chicks Read Comics,” (Mad Norwegian Press) and had her first comic book story in the IDW anthology, “Womanthology.” In 2012, she was featured on National Geographic’s "Comic Store Heroes," a documentary on the lives of comic book fans and the following year she was one of many Batman fans profiled in the documentary, "Legends of the Knight."