The Doctor regenerated thrice in 2013, and, unfortunately, the third time was not as good as the previous two.
This year’s Christmas present from the BBC was the 800th episode of Doctor Who, The Time of the Doctor. The monumental episode saw the conclusion of the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure and the start of the Twelfth’s. Steven Moffat had promised that this episode would tie together the loose ends from Matt Smith’s run as the Doctor, and while it explained some things, there was still quite a bit left unresolved. The Eleventh Doctor’s exit was much like his entrance—a mediocre episode that has a great ending.
In what now seems to be Steven Moffat’s modus opperendi, the episode begins in the middle of an adventure, making the audience feel disoriented and wonder if they missed something. The Doctor (as well as a plethora of alien races) is unable to land the TARDIS and in orbit around a shielded planet that is transmitting a coded message. After a quick pop back to the present day to pick up Clara from a Christmas party and a visit to the Church of the Papal Mainframe in order to slip past the shield, the duo land on the planet’s surface.
Upon landing, they set out in search of the source of the message. Through a humorous exchange between a local couple, the Doctor and Clara learn that they are in the midst of a truth field, which makes it impossible for them to lie. They head to a clock tower after they discover that it is the source of both the message and the truth field. Once inside, they learn that the crack from Series 5 has returned, and it is transmitting the message and truth field.
In a flashback to “The God Complex,” we finally learn what the Doctor saw in the room containing his greatest fear: the crack. Apparently, we are supposed to believe that the return of the crack is what he fears most. Not only is this an unsatisfactory answer, but also this is just not true. It has often been alluded to that his biggest fear is himself (typically embodied by the War Doctor).
On the other side of the crack is Gallifrey, and the Time Lords are trying to use it to break back into our universe. Using a disc adorned with the Seal of Rassilon, the Doctor translates the message . . . which makes one wonder why he is unable to understand a message in Gallifreyan without a translator when it is his native language. He then discovers that the message is the much-alluded-to question, “Doctor Who,” and that the planet they have landed on is Trenzalore. The prophesy told by Dorium in Series 6 is finally coming true.
Since the Time Lords are trapped in another universe, they want to make sure they are breaking back into their own universe. The question is asking the Doctor to say his true name, and the truth field is there to confirm that it is truly him. If he says his real name, then the Time Lords will discover that they have found the right place to return. So, it turns out that one of my theories came to be mostly true when I said his name would unlock the Time War and release the Time Lords; however, the method in which it comes about in this episode has some problems. The first of which is that until he decodes the message, the Doctor has no reason to know what the consequences of saying his name will do, yet for the last several years he has been dreading what in his mind would be a very mundane answer. The other major problem is from a narrative standpoint. Two episodes ago in “The Name of the Doctor,” the Great Intelligence needed the Doctor’s name to break into his tomb on Trenzalore. Using his name to unlock two unrelated entrances on the same planet is just obnoxious.
Through a bit of muddled exposition, we learn that the Doctor must stay on Trenzalore, locked in a stalemate. If he were to leave, then the hordes of races would destroy the planet in order to prevent the question from being answered and the Time Lords returning, and if they would just destroy the planet, he would have enough time with his dying breath to speak his name and release the Time Lords. On the other hand, if he were to let the Time Lords through, they would be met by the forces in orbit around the planet, and the Time War would begin again.
Realizing there was not much more he could do, the Doctor tricks Clara into returning to home on Earth and stays to defend Trenzalore for centuries. This then causes a bit of a continuity problem, since the Great Intelligence described the battle of Trenzalore as a minor skirmish, yet we now know it lasted centuries. The benefit of this, however, is that since he was there for so long, we see the Eleventh Doctor grow to old age, which means that Steven Moffat created a brilliant loophole to allow Matt Smith to return to the show. Just like the Meta-Crisis Doctor, there is now a legitimate reason to explain an older version of this iteration. No matter how old Matt Smith gets, he can reprise his role by simply saying he was taken from his timestream during his time on Trenzalore.
Clara returns to Trenzalore to see an elderly Doctor who is nearing the end of his life and has no more regenerations remaining. As the Daleks break through the shield, the Doctor climbs to the top of the clock tower to confront them, and Clara faces the crack to plead with the Time Lords. She tells them that his true name is irrelevant, he is the Doctor, and he needs their help. Their response comes in the form of a glowing tendril that flies out before the crack seals up. When it reaches the Doctor, he gains an explosive burst of regeneration energy he uses to destroy the invading Dalek fleet. The Doctor explains that he has been granted a new regeneration cycle, so it seems pretty safe to assume that this means he has another twelve regenerations.
As the dust settles Clara runs to the TARDIS to find the Doctor preparing to regenerate. After enjoying one last meal of fish fingers and custard, he gives a soliloquy regarding his time as the Eleventh Doctor and his ominous regeneration. His previous counterpart had a similar speech in which he stated that regeneration is like dying and another man sauntering off in his place, which never really rang true for me. The Eleventh Doctor’s speech worked much better. He said, “We all change. When you think about it, we’re all different people, all through our lives, and that’s okay. That’s good, you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this—not one day. I swear, I will always remember when the Doctor was me.” This then leads into a hallucinated visit by both the young and old Amy Ponds accompanied by the instrumental version of “Wake Up” from “The Rings of Akhaten,” and while the lyrics were not present this time around, their message of death and rebirth were certainly felt. In his final moments as the Eleventh Doctor, he removes his signature bow tie before transforming into the Twelfth.
The episode did resolve some of the loose ends over the past several years; however, most of it was hastily accomplished by exposition-heavy dialogue. We now know the origin of the Silence, the cause of the TARDIS exploding, what transpired at Trenzalore, and everything surrounding the question. The answers all felt rather unrewarding—not that the answers were unsatisfactory, but just the haphazard method in which they were dispensed. When it was finally revealed who River Song was, there was weight to that resolution – it meant something – whereas these just felt more like inconsequential side notes. The exception to this is the explanation for the Doctor regenerating past the previously established limit. Instead of characters just describing a resolution, it came as the deus ex machina during the climax and actually mattered to the plot.
Worse than the mediocre answers were the things that did not even get addressed. We still have no idea how the Doctor and Clara escaped from his timestream in the cliffhanger ending of “The Name of the Doctor.” Also, why did River help the Great Intelligence enter the timestream, which caused the cliffhanger in the first place? In “The Day of the Doctor,” Kate Stewart alluded to Clara’s previous encounter with UNIT that she cannot remember, and we still have no knowledge about (and along the same lines, she also mentioned that Captain Jack had some sort of unseen run-in with UNIT). We also have no idea how the Headless Monks, the unfinished TARDISes (from “The Lodger” and “Day of the Moon”), and Omega references are related to anything.
Even worse than these are the new plot holes caused by this episode that I highly doubt will ever be resolved. When Clara answers the Time Lords, they did not technically get the answer to their question; however, they still got the actual answer they were looking for. She did not give them his real name, but their true intention was to discover if they had found the correct universe to return to, and her answer gave them the answer. What is preventing the Time Lords from returning now that they have their answer? Also, this episode established that the Doctor had used up his final regeneration in “The End of Time, yet in “The Angels Take Manhattan” he used a regeneration to heal River’s broken wrist. Another major flaw was that by the Time Lords rescuing the Doctor, they created a major paradox, and while the time travel rules in Doctor Who allow for some wiggle room, that does not include one’s own timeline. If the Doctor does not die on Trenzalore, then the Great Intelligence and Clara do not enter his timestream, which means that he never meets Clara, and this entire last season was erased! What is this, Doctor Who or Dallas?
Overall, the episode just made me look forward to a change in direction for the show. I only hope it is the right direction.