Well, goodbye, Matt Smith. You were wonderful, but sadly I can’t say that it’s been a pleasure.
Not only was last night’s Doctor Who episode, Time of the Doctor, a Christmas special, it was also a farewell to Doctor 11 (or 13, apparently). Unlike Steven Moffat and his horrendous script, I won’t meander around aimlessly in search of a point for an hour. I’ll just get right to it: the episode was an absolute mess that served neither as a fitting goodbye to our most recent Time Lord, nor as a particularly good Christmas episode.
Since my gripes are many, I’ll skate right over last night’s horrific sexism, because frankly it was so blatant and so teeth-grindingly awful that I don’t feel like giving Moffat the satisfaction of hearing me whine. Suffice to say he likes pushing fangirl buttons and telling them to get out of his Boys Only clubhouse. So let’s just not. Because I could go on and on about the fact that every woman (and some men) in Moffat’s era wants to hop on the Doctor’s sonic screw driver with more frequency and desperation than in the David Tennant era when the Doctor looked like David Tennant.
I won’t talk about the fact that Clara’s plot centered around her needing a boyfriend for Christmas, or cooking a turkey, or confessing her crush on the Doctor. Or the fact that she got cruelly ditched twice for no discernible reason and was only important when she was either helping the Doctor or crying over losing him.
I’m definitely not going to talk about the head of the military Silence church trying to sleep with the Doctor on an alter bed. Or — and this isn’t sexist, but it was weird — why everyone needs to be naked to enter army Silence church. Talk about a half-cocked Chekov’s gun that just blew smoke.
And let’s definitely not discuss Amy coming down the steps of the TARDIS to caress the Doctor’s face in a sexually charged moment that should’ve just been sweet.
No. Thankfully we’re not doing that.
Instead, let’s focus on the fact that the Christmas special this year was an episode all about the death of the show’s lead character, and yet once again Steven Moffat appears to be terrified of actually pulling the trigger.
A lot of Moffat fans kept claiming that those of us who were critical of his writing for the last three years would look like real fools when all the pieces of the puzzle during Matt Smith’s era finally came together and Moffat’s spectacular and brilliant long game would finally be revealed.
To be fair, Moffat did try to make that happen, but he did so in the messiest and most confusing way imaginable. There was no moment last night where I got that old heart-pounding sense of anticipation that the Davies era regularly instilled in me. Remember when Captain Jack turned out to be the Face of Boe, or the Master returned? Or that hand in a jar at Torchwood wound up being the Doctor’s hand from the Christmas special? That was some long game brilliance. Those were carefully-laid and well-executed plans.
This felt slap-dash and hastily cobbled together. And, frankly, most of the “reveals” seemed more like Moffat found a way to force together two puzzle pieces that didn’t fit but looked roughly correct. So the army church from the Season 5 Weeping Angels episode use the Silence as confessional priests and that’s why you don’t remember them after you look away? Okay. That makes a basic and logical kind of sense. Do I believe that it was planned from the start? Absolutely not. Because when did the Doctor find out that that’s what the Silence were for and that they were working with the church? Were we, the audience, ever told that? But even on a simple fan service level, did that revelation feel remotely interesting or cool? Not really. And the cracks in space were created by the Time Lords, or is it that the Time Lords are just trying to get through now that they’re there? I’m pretty sure it’s the latter, right? But the Silence aka. Army Church blew up the TARDIS to stop the Doctor from getting to Trenzalore where the real crack is? Or was blowing up the TARDIS what caused the crack? And so does the Doctor not die at Trenzalore anymore? Or is it that he does die, and it’s simply the 11th/13th Doctor who’s housed there? Does that make sense, if he doesn’t lose his TARDIS?
If the answer to all of these questions was clear last night, I must have missed it.
But by far my biggest problem was the lack of death. Let’s side-step the regeneration for a moment to talk about the 600-year war of Trenzalore that apparently did not make that much of an impact on this small town whose population did not manage to get wiped out despite the fact that it was typically The Doctor and the Silence Priests vs. countless daleks and Cybermen. Or that we literally never saw a single person in the town die. Did they die? Were we even told that anyone had been killed in this SIX. HUNDRED. YEAR. WAR? Even if we were told that there had been casualties, we didn’t see them and we certainly didn’t feel them. If you’re going to write a war, write a damn war.
Finally, whether or not you liked his run as the Doctor, I think we can all agree that Matt Smith deserved better than that. Hanging out in a town for 600 years, rapidly ageing (for some reason, even though he did not rapidly age after his last 300-year time jump back in Season 6), having the Time Lords (who, if you recall from the Tennant era went insane and are basically evil, but not anymore I guess) give him all of their lives (?). And then they chose not to come back to their own Universe, and instead gave the Doctor the power of Regeneration Lazer Arms that kill the Dalek overlord ship and a few other enemies? Beyond the fact of “What the fuck was that,” surely if the Time Lords had this ability, they could have and should have used it during the Time War, no?
Then the regeneration itself was confusingly drawn out so that Matt Smith can get one final bow in his normal face. It’s nice to see Matt looking like Matt, rather than a Party City version of William Hartnell, but I think it still brings home the inescapable fact that Moffat is afraid of writing death. There’s a ridiculous irony in the youngest-ever Doctor dying of old age. And maybe I’m sadistic, but I enjoy watching the Doctor die and explode into his next form. Here, the Doctor lazer arms his enemies, uses a hologram to restore his face to factory settings and then apparently dies of old age and blinks into Peter Capaldi.
That was not a death. That was not a regeneration. That was even weaker and more indulgent than David Tennant going on a world tour of all of his companions after getting radiation poisoning, but at the very least it did serve as one long final bow — both to Tennant and to showrunner Davies. So it was fitting, even if it was a little over the top. This didn’t even feel like a bow, even though Moffat gave Smith a heavy-handed speech about how much he’ll miss himself even though he changes and doesn’t change. Both Eccleston and Tennant got similar speeches, but they were made tragic and brilliant by the fact that they were clearly dying. Matt Smith was standing there looking completely fine, like he was just about to head off on a long trip.
So here’s to hoping that Capaldi will be a stronger captain of this ship. He’s a great actor with arguably more gravitas and certainly more experience than Smith. Maybe the real issue is that Smith, as good as he is, simply isn’t a lead and never quite had what it took to lead a show. Maybe. Because at the moment I think I’m ready to go on a long trip away from this show as well. Mostly I’m worried that everything I really liked about this show is gone — dead and buried and replaced by sexist, meaningless, heartless and feckless nonsense.