So here we are, at the purported endgame (one can only hope) to a storyline that’s been spinning along for three seasons now. The problem with storylines that last an entire season or more is, what if your storyline is just a bunch of boiled nonsense? In Steven Moffat’s individual stories under Davies’ reign, he often played with non-linear time and cause-and-effect. “Timey-wimey” started as an actual attempt to explain a convoluted by sensible temporal relationship before becoming phlogiston. When he took over in series five he was allowed to go nuts with these concepts, but with no one to nail it all down it turned out that the dots didn’t connect, or the picture wasn’t quite clear, or the dots weren’t actually dots in the first place. And the promise of “Blink” turned into the reality of a three-season long version of “Trial of a Time Lord”. Think about it: I’m really not exaggerating here.
It’s frustrated me, to say the least, over these past few seasons. The longer this mess has gone on, the less this show has resembled one I have an affinity for. It kept getting bigger, louder, and dumber as it went on, with the emphasis solely on “awesome” instead of any substance. Doctor Who, in my opinion, has a tone and a feel to it that should be different from the usual American stuff like Battlestar Galactica, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the dumber, post-season-three years), or any number of splodey-awesomesauce stuff that CGI now makes affordable, but this is exactly what Doctor Who now feels like to me. With Moffat we’re given companions we’re told are incredible and memorable without them doing anything particularly incredible or memorable. River Song shows up as a fait accompli, given that she is someone the Doctor falls in love with (or at least marries) and ergo we never have to make her character earn this. Clara is treated like the biggest mystery the Doctor has ever seen and we just shrug and accept it because come on, what else can a writer possibly do to make the viewer care about yet another young girl?
I was originally going to prepare myself for this episode. I was going to actually re-watch the entire Silence/Trenzalore sequence to have another crack (ha!) at this storyline. It was going to be The Eleventh Hour, Time of the Angels, Flesh and Stone, The Pandorica Opens, The Big Bang, The Impossible Astronaut, Day of the Moon, A Good Man Goes to War, Let’s Kill Hitler, The Wedding of River Song, and The Name of the Doctor. But I couldn’t do it. I got through the first one and the thought of re-watching all that junk killed the idea in its Gallifreyan crib. Add “The Doctor’s Daughter” and you’re close to a full list of NuWho episodes I hate the most. Also, I had to download all of those because I don’t own any DVDs after the Tennant specials; the thought of even wanting to re-watch any of this being repellent to me.
Before I go on, let me talk about this episode, this “Time of the Doctor” thing, in particular, even though I really don’t have much to say about it. There will be spoilers galore without my usual spoiler thing because who even cares anymore.
So a planet starts pinging “all of space and time” (because nothing less will do these days) with an indecipherable message that strikes fear into all races who hear it, who then converge on the planet. So far, so good. The message turns out to be, literally, “Doctor Who?” for reasons that will become clear later on, though they’re not the reasons the show stated. According to the show it’s because it’s the Time Lords yelling from another universe through the crack created by the TARDIS explosion from season five which was engineered by a breakoff sect of some religion headed by Madame Kovarian from season six in order to prevent the Doctor from speaking his name into the crack and thus assuring the Time Lords they have the right guy so they can come back through the crack and start the Time War all over again. See, now it all makes sense. Only the Doctor doesn’t speak his name into the crack, instead he does what he always does when he’s mad at the show, he stays put and does nothing (and this too will be explained in time.) For 300 years he stays in this town, which is called Christmas so there you go, you have a Holiday special, so shut up and listen to my tale of Moffattian Wonder, and becomes a kindly old Santa Claus like guy who fixes toys and barns and occasionally defeats wooden cybermen because wooden monsters are a credible threat to any society that hasn’t yet mastered, say, fire. Eventually he’s about to die but Clara and the woman we just met but have been told exactly how we should feel about her (she is, after all, the one entrusted to deliver the information dump I only slightly summarized above) show up and Clara says “It’s the Doctor and you don’t need to know his real name, just love him!” to the crack and the Time Lords give him a new cycle of regenerations through the crack and the regeneration energy destroys the Dalek ship because it’s high time someone around here got glowy with energy. Then: Peter Capaldi. The end.
So the Grand Guignol that started way back with a crack on Amy’s wall is now all wrapped up as neatly as I imagined it would be. Now we know what all that mess was about, I suppose. The TARDIS was blown up by the Silence (somehow). Madame Kovarian created River Song as “the ultimate assassin” because when your canvas is “all of space and time” nothing less than the ultimate assassin or the perfect prison will do. The Doctor’s name turns out to be…unimportant. Matt Smith’s Doctor dies from…getting tired of being the Doctor.
This last bit is apt because of my theory. The Eleventh Doctor saga is not one of the Doctor encountering mysterious beings seeking to manipulate his very destiny, but, quite simply, the story of the Doctor discovering he is a character on a television show. It’s a perfect explanation. He accepts everything that happens because he knows someone else is writing a script. He’s certain that there are things which, once written, can never be changed. He’s incurious about the exploding TARDIS and the mysterious child from Day of the Moon because he knows they’ll get around to them eventually. The message the Time Lords send is “Doctor Who?” and they’ll know that only he will recognize it because he’s the only one who’s aware that it’s the title of the show he’s on. And when he gets mad because the writers take away Amy or tell him he has to leave and make room for Peter Capaldi, he does the one thing he can do: nothing. He stays put, stops being the Doctor, and doesn’t go on interesting adventures in order to punish the show. I’m only surprised that, just before regenerating, he didn’t turn toward the camera and say, “Merry Christmas, viewers at home!” or somesuch.
So what is the Matt Smith legacy? For me, not a lot. A handful of good episodes amid a lot of junk. Almost no memorable characters, enemies, or events. Anything that might have been a good thing was pummeled into the ground repeatedly until I just didn’t care anymore.
Russell Davies was right; the memory does cheat. When one thinks of Tom Baker one remembers The Robots of Death, The Seeds of Doom, Genesis of the Daleks, not Nightmare of Eden, The Android Invasion, or Meglos. There’s plenty of dumb cack in the previous eras as well. I don’t know why some of it I can take and this current load I can’t. Maybe it’s because I expect more now, because it’s not a kids’ show with a tiny budget doing the best it can. I can’t imagine a show being given the attention and adulation this current show has and then saying, “thanks!” and in return delivering a pile of nothing like “The Name of the Doctor”.
I didn’t hate Smith’s Doctor, though I got tired of him quickly, same as nearly everything else in his run. I wish he’d had better material to work with. I wish he’d given us some truly memorable moments, cleverly fought some great villains. Instead, since everything around him seemed so half baked, he did as well.
I’m sorry I’ve been so awful about the show. I’ll certainly give Capaldi a try, and I’m hoping the train has not already departed.