No sooner had Doctor Who writer Steven Moffat finished the anniversary special, he had to write yet another high-pressure episode: write out Matt Smith! Bring in Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor! Wrap up all outstanding plot threads from the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure! Be a festive Christmas special too!
I imagine the Doctor himself would struggle with that to-do list. So, how did mere mortal Moffat do? Spoilers follow as ever, watch on iPlayer if need be.
Mr Smith Goes To Oblivion
To be honest, the sheer length of the to-do list is where the episode struggles. Trying to do all that stuff in a single hour, along with cramming in an actual plot, leaves us with a slightly rushed-feeling special which hits many of its moments nicely but as a whole, feels a lot like a heavily abridged two-parter.
Starting with what worked, though: Matt Smith has always been good, he is excellent in most of this, even when acting through aging make-up – especially enjoyed that final scene in his “classic” form at the end. The character scenes in the second half are well-played, and the cameo from Karen Gillan was a good way to tip the hat without being superflouous. Also enjoyed the tweaking of the regeneration process, even if I’d have liked a longer moment with the new Doctor.
The story brought together a lot of Steven Moffat’s plots in a clever way, I’m pleased to see all that dealt with so we can move on to new material for Capaldi. The Trenzalore/“Doctor Who?” story came together neatly, in a way that resolved most of Moffat’s loose ends if you listened to the dialogue carefully enough. Liked the use of the Daleks as well.
So this is Christmas?
Still, the sheer mass of material led to a first half largely devoted to exposition, and lots of important plot points skipped over in montages. I’m not necessarily saying this made them hard to follow, just that we maybe didn’t feel them as we should’ve. The Christmas elements felt superfluous too, and the storyline oddly reliant on old material for a whole-family holiday special.
Taken as the final event in an ongoing story, a “series finale” to the last few years of Matt Smith episodes, it comes out better, but I imagine casual festive non-fans might’ve struggled with why they should care. And while I’m doing negatives, Clara remains a thin character. Jenna Coleman’s likeability is a good start, but they’ve gotta get her a stronger personality. At least they’re giving her a family.
Still, I’m not a non-fan and remained engaged in Moffat’s ongoing plot, so was up for seeing how he wrapped it up. Along with Smith’s performance, that was plenty for me – I enjoyed myself, especially in the latter half, but I can imagine a two-part version of this which would’ve been amazing rather than merely enjoyable.
And goodbye Matt Smith – you were a brilliantly energetic, weird-yet-loveable young-old Doctor. It’s a shame you didn’t have a total undisputed classic to go out on, but Day of the Doctor was only one episode ago and most people liked that. Next up (in autumn, I believe) – it’s Capaldi time!