‘Doctor Who’ Christmas Special Episode Recap and Review: The Time of the Doctor

Eleven’s hour is over now and the clock is striking Twelve’s on the Doctor Who Christmas special.

A hopefully brief recap, for those of you who were interested enough in the show to read a review, but not interested enough to actually watch it (which considering that the episode included a highly-publicized pivotal event in the show’s history, seems unlikely):

A small and seemingly unimportant planet is broadcasting a signal throughout time and space. No one has been able to translate it, but every major race has come to see what’s going on. Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels, you name it. All they’ve been able to gather thus far is that the signal strikes fear into the hearts of whoever hears it. Sounds like a mystery for the Doctor, if ever I heard one.

Back on Earth, it’s Christmas time! I know, try to contain your shock. Honestly, not much happens on Earth this time. What you need to know is that Clara’s mum embodies every overbearing mum stereotype and that Clara picks a stereotype of her own by being a 20-something woman who can’t cook a turkey. Thus, Clara calls the Doctor in to pretend to be her boyfriend and to have the TARDIS properly prepare the main course.

While the bird is cooking under the console (no, really. I’m not even kidding), the Doctor and Clara go back to investigate the mystery planet. Handles, a Cyberman head that the Doctor has hooked up to the console, uses the signal to identify the planet as Gallifrey. Well, that can’t be right. Before the Doctor can investigate further, he and Clara are summoned by Tasha Lem, the Mother Superious of the Papal Mainframe. The Papal Mainframe is a militant religious order (sound familiar yet?) and they’ve placed a forcefield around the planet to prevent the potential bloodshed of all the orbiting races trying to get to the surface at once. Tash sends the Doctor and Clara down with orders to investigate and report back.

What they find is a town named “Christmas,” a powerful truth field, and the very crack that first appeared in Amelia Pond’s bedroom wall. The crack is the source of the transmission. It’s a structural weakness left over from the second Big Bang and the best way for someone in another universe to communicate with this one. Using a random, handwavy piece of Time Lord technology, the Doctor has Handles finally translate the signal. It’s encoded Gallifreyan, and it’s asking the one question that must never be answered: “Doctor who?”

The theory here is that the Time Lords found the crack and are ready to come back to this universe, but they have to make sure they’ve found the right universe first, so they’re calling the one Time Lord left and asking a question that only he can answer. So, the Question that must never be answered in the place where no one can fail to tell the truth. Hey Tash! What’s this planet called again? Oh yeah, Trenzalore. Cue dramatic music.

Tash says that the Doctor cannot answer the question, as the Time Lords’ return in the middle of the millions of enemies surrounding the planet would kick off a Time War II. Of course, if he leaves the planet, he’s leaving both the town and the Time Lords vulnerable, so the Doctor tricks Clara into the TARDIS, sends her home, and settles in to permanent residency in Christmas.

Clara isn’t thrilled with the going home idea, so she takes a page from the Book of Jack Harkness (one of the few pages that isn’t NSFW, knowing Jack) and clings to the door as the TARDIS returns to the Doctor. By the time she gets there, it’s been 300 years on the planet. Clara happens to come back on the day that Handles dies and Tasha Lem summons the Doctor back up to the Papal Mainframe. Things have gone a bit awry up there, as the Daleks attacked and took over the works, including Tash’s mind. She’s a pretty tough broad, though (which the Doctor more or less says) and she fights off their influence to get the team back down to the surface. The Doctor tricks Clara back to Earth yet again, then goes back to Trenzalore to fight off the multitudes of attacking armies with the help of the Silence (evidently the Kovarian chapter was a rogue branch).

A few hundred years later, or about half an hour in Earth-time, Tasha Lem pilots the TARDIS to Clara’s flat to pick her up so that the Doctor doesn’t die his final death alone. (For those who haven’t been paying attention, Matt Smith is the final regeneration, since John Hurt was added to the pantheon and Ten II counts as a full regeneration.) There’s a rather sweet moment between Clara and the now really, really old Doctor before he goes topside to die in front of the Daleks. Clara whispers something motivational into the Crack, which results in the Time Lords somehow moving the whole Crack into the sky and gifting the Doctor with a whole new regeneration cycle. The power of his regeneration knocks out all the Dalek ships (you’d think they’d have used that handy trick during the Time War, wouldn’t you), thereby saving the entire day and Christmas, too.

The actual face-changing part of the regeneration is delayed a bit, because it’s a new cycle and because Moffat said so. Either way, it gives us a nice, long opportunity to say goodbye to Matt Smith’s Doctor. There are fish fingers and custard, a bow tie dramatically hitting the ground, and a tear-jerking hallucination of Amy Pond-Williams saying “Raggedy man, goodnight.” Then, in what can only be described as a quick muscle spasm, Matt Smith becomes Peter Capaldi, complete with new kidneys and a bit of a memory problem where the TARDIS is concerned.

It’s been challenging to create a coherent review of this episode. On the one hand, there were many wonderful, poignant moments that were played to the very hilt by all involved. On the other, it also felt like Steven Moffat used a Tumblr site to create a checklist of everything fans could want to see in this episode and threw them all in, regardless of whether or not it made sense. “Weeping Angels? People like Weeping Angels! Tricking the companion into going home? Worked for Rose Tyler. Let’s do it TWICE!”

Not that Clara was given much of an opportunity to swoop back in, Bad Wolf-style. After all, she had her shining hero moment last season, so we can just stick her with an undercooked turkey and a comedically overbearing mum this time. Throw in a little more word play about the town being named “Christmas” and no one will even care. Cool beans.

Regardless, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t all teary-eyed over the “death” of Handles or even crying like a baby during Amy’s goodnight. (In the interest of full disclosure, that particular sobfest was set off when the camera panned past a bowlful of fish fingers and custard.) The regeneration itself felt terribly abrupt, but that could just have been my own reluctance to see this particular era of Doctor Who end. The last few seasons ushered a whole new group of people into the preexisting Doctor Who fandom, and now those same people have just experienced the pain of their first regeneration. It’s okay, guys. You’ll grow to love Peter Capaldi, too. Just ask the legions of David Tennant fans.

But yes, Matt Smith. We too will always remember when the Doctor was you.

Best Quotes:

Clara: “Emergency! You’re my boyfriend.”
The Doctor: “Ding dong! Okay, brilliant! I may be a bit rusty in some areas, but I will glance at a manual.”

The Doctor: “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’ve 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.”

The Doctor: “Kidneys! I’ve got new kidneys. I don’t like the color.”

Things to Ponder:

  • So if I’ve got the wibbly-wobbliness of the timey-wime-itude correct, the entirety of season 6 took place somewhere in the middle of this episode, as far as the Church was concerned. Right?
  • What are your thoughts on the new Doctor? Do you think the super-flirtatious dynamic between the Doctor and Clara will change, now that he’s Peter Capaldi?


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  1. I liked this episode a lot, but I feel like the regeneration could have been handled much better. As for Capaldi, I’m sure he’ll be similar to the first Doctor. No more flirting with the companions. It will be interesting to see who the real fans are now that the Doctor isn’t as fangirl-palatable.

  2. Never underestimate the power of fangirling. Eccleston wasn’t exactly dreamy, but the 9th Doctor has his reams and reams of questionable fanfiction just as the 10th and 11th do.