Saturday, 8 March 2014

"The Time of the Doctor"

All too soon, it seems, the saga of the Eleventh Doctor comes to an end, such a short while after celebrating the seeming immortality of the character. In fact, one of the things "The Time of the Doctor" is about is confronting the inevitable fact that the grave waits for all of us, even the Doctor. However, this is not the main aim of the story. Neither is the fact that it pretty much ties up all the loose ends in what can loosely be termed the Eleventh Doctor's Arc. The story is about how this silly man can be the greatest warrior and the greatest hero the universe has ever seen.

A mysterious coded message broadcasting to all of space and time has attracted some of the most fearsome armies in the universe to a seemingly innocuous planet. When the Doctor decodes the message, it reveals a question that he has been running from all his life emanating from a crack in the Universe he vainly hoped he had left behind him. A question whose answer could rip the cosmos apart – for it is the Time Lords who ask it and the planet is Trenzalore and, with the Daleks closing in, the Time War could start again. It is here that we meet the oft-mentioned Papal Mainframe, led by Tasha Lem, the 'Mother Superious'. The way in which the layers of Steven Moffat's additions to the Doctor Who mythos finally integrate is joyful – the Silence is a religious order of the Papal Mainframe that was formed to stop the Doctor answering the question, with some chapters breaking off and actually declaring war on the Doctor – all the while unknowing that they are being groomed to become a bridgehead for the Doctor's greatest enemies to finish what they started.

This all seems to indicate a grim story of siege and attrition – yet all two of the three principal characters want to do is celebrate Christmas. Throughout the story, Clara is cooking the Turkey for Christmas dinner with the Oswalds, whom we finally meet in the 'present day'. Although Clara's family do not register as well as they could, this is not true of Ms Oswald herself. Clara is put through the wringer more than she has ever done and Jenna Coleman's performance is delightful and very moving, from her faking her romantic relationship with the Doctor to demonstrating the strength of their real one. Supporting the regulars is the fantastic Orla Brady as Tasha, making us instantly feel that she is an integral part of the Doctor’s life, despite only just having met her. Moffat manages to garnish the story with his trademark humour, juggling the varying moods perfectly. He is helped by a stellar production, with vast fleets of starships, wooden Cybermen and the beauty of a day that lasts minutes. Jamie Payne brings all of this to life with style in another excellent outing in the director's chair.

The Doctor celebrates Christmas in a different way – for Christmas is the name of the town on Trenzalore where the TARDIS materialises. The Doctor will protect Christmas, but not by using its inhabitants as soldiers. When Moffat inherited the role of showrunner, the Doctor was a man who was haunted by the belief that he had committed genocide against his own people. The events of "The Day of the Doctor" removed that burden from his past and now, "The Time of the Doctor" removes another burden from his future. Trenzalore promised a battlefield strewn with the graves of those who died defending the planet. What the Doctor does is defend the people as well as the place; now the graves are those of the people who were saved by the Doctor. The people of Christmas love their saviour, a man who can fix young Barnable's toys whilst holding off the greatest army in the universe. Believing this to be his final life, the Doctor is allowed to retire as only he can, saving the universe and, approaching the end of his second millennium (probably) he looks very much like he did twelve lives ago. However, as has been said before, even the universe cannot bear to be without the Doctor.

Anchoring all of this is the final regular performance in the title role by a man who confounded all initial expectations and exceeded all subsequent ones. Matt Smith inherited the role from a man who made it his own in a way no-one else had done for 30 years – and managed to inhabit the role completely in less than an hour. The youngest actor to play the Doctor managed to make him feel like the oldest, which is reflected in the way he meets his end – his predecessor didn't want to go. He knows what is inevitable, although his successor will not get the bow tie. As I have said before, Peter Capaldi is a phenomenal actor and he immediately makes an impression. But the raggedy man with the big chin will never be forgotten...

NEXT:  "Deep Breath"