Thursday 26 December 2013

Musings on The Time of the Doctor

I must admit I came away from my initial viewing of last night's Christmas Special feeling a little underwhelmed. The negatives stayed in the mind more than the positives. That might be because there were quite a few negatives on show.
First of all there were all the loose ends that needed to be tied up. Too many going back too far in my opinion. I'm sure half of the programme went over the casual viewer's head. As such, as a Christmas Special which is supposed to appeal equally to the "We" and the "Not-We", I don't think it succeeded.
The plot The crack returned, and this time it is being used by the Time Lords to send out a message for the Doctor. Gallifrey is stuck in its pocket universe from last episode, and the Time Lords already want to come home. Problem is, their message has actually brought loads of enemies to the planet where the crack is open - which just happens to be Trenzalore (last seen two stories ago but first mentioned at the end of Series 6) where the Doctor expects to die. If the Doctor says his name, the Time Lords will return. The Papal Mainframe (Series 6 again) needs to stop this as the Time War will start up all over again. A schismatic group, lead by Madam Kovarian, breaks away to make Series 5 & 6 whilst the Doctor sends Clara back to Earth so he can protect the dozen or so Trenzaloreans from attack for several centuries. (Wasn't Tessa Peake-Jones totally wasted in this?). Most of the action takes place off screen. The TARDIS pops back to Rose Tyler's first block of flats to pick up Clara so she (and we) get an update on what is going on. The Doctor promptly sends her back to Christmas dinner once this has been achieved. On one of Clara's visits, the whole regeneration limit thing gets discussed.
The Daleks finally destroy all the other aliens (off screen) and take over the Papal Mainframe (off screen). Alex Kingston is busy making Arrow so Orla Brady's Mother Superious, Tasha Lem, takes her role.
Clara tells the Time Lords to cool it and go away for a bit longer. They take the hint and, by way of thanks to the Doctor, give him a whole new regeneration cycle through the crack. He can't blow up the TARDIS again (RTD already did that) so instead the Doctor uses his regeneration energy to blow up the Daleks. He reverts back to his younger self, to draw the thing out longer than it needed to be, then just turns into Peter Capaldi.
I mentioned story arcs the other day. I have absolutely nothing against them - but if not handled properly, as I said before, you get the tail wagging the dog. Some story telling suffers. I liked RTD's arcs, because they were subtle. Hardly anyone even noticed "Bad Wolf" until it got scrawled onto the TARDIS in the fourth episode. The Doctor didn't even comment on it until the penultimate story of Series 1. "Torchwood" references were more shoehorned into Series 2, but "Mr Saxon" was more subtle again. The odd poster, a couple of mentions of the name, and references to the forthcoming general election. Things only move up a gear from The Lazarus Experiment onwards. The arc in series 4 was a mixture of seemingly unrelated things - vanishing bees, lost planets and the Doctor-Donna. Then it was "He will knock four times...".
I sincerely hope that next year we will get some straight-forward, linear story-telling. I am also hoping that having an older Doctor will mean a more straight-forward Doctor-Companion friendship. I am thirdly hoping that we have a companion who actually travels in the TARDIS full-time. Unless it means more Sheila Reid, less domestic please.
Talking of companions, wasn't Handles just a surrogate companion - someone for the Doctor to exposit to because Clara wasn't there?
Other negatives? A bit too rushed. The monsters had no more than cameos. A wooden Cyberman just seems stupid and gimmicky - like a stone Dalek. (Still, it will keep Character Options happy). I still think it was a mistake to have Smith leave so soon after the 50th Anniversary story. Amy's journey should have ended with the Eleventh Doctor's. Capaldi didn't get the chance to make any sort of impact.

Must admit that Karen Gillan's appearance was lovely - it was more of an emotional moment than Smith's departure for me.
The very best thing in The Time of the Doctor was Smith himself. I loved his older versions. He's been a very good Doctor, often badly served. I'm glad he got some excellent material to work with last night, though the overall story just didn't quite do it for me.

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