Warning: this review contains spoilers. And it also doesn’t make any sense if you haven’t seen the episode. Or the series. If you don’t watch Doctor Who, or if you haven’t seen “The Time of the Doctor” yet, go back. I mean it.
To start this off: I am not mad at Steven Moffat. I remember all the cool episodes he wrote for Doctor Who, I remember Sherlock and Coupling and Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death and hell, even Press Gang. But sometimes I can’t help but feel that he’s bitten off a bit more than he can actually chew. Some episodes of Doctor Who are sheer brilliance and they make me jump around in excitement and shout “This! This is Doctor Who, dammit!” while others make me nearly apologize to people.
There might be something about Doctor Who and that show’s writers. They all try so damned hard, you can feel it. They know they’re making history. They don’t want to ruin it. They want it to be Epic. And sometimes Epic means ‘Bad Wolf’ with its subtle hints all over the place and that wonderful ‘the drums, the never-ending drums’ (saying nothing of ‘don’t even blink’)… while at other times we get Jesus!Doctor resurrected by good thoughts from the whole of humanity or something like that.
That being said… I liked the way in which “The Time of the Doctor” started. I really did. My buddy Linda said she was really disappointed with the episode, but I couldn’t see it: Clara was having Christmas dinner with her family, the Doctor was off investigating a mystery with a Cyberman’s head by his side… Sure, all sorts of alien ships gathered around a planet had the potential for corny plots, but it wouldn’t be like that, right? Right? Wrong.
Problem number one: too many things. The Cyberman’s head. The Church of the Silence. Clara’s family. Time Lords. The answer to the crack in the universe (what’s behind it). The answer to what caused the crack in the universe. Weeping angels. Supposed nudity. Tasha. Tasha flirting with the Doctor. The fact that the Doctor is at his thirteenth incarnation. Do I go on?
Look, I don’t mind a lot of details in my stories. I’m a fan of details! But too many things thrown in at the same time make things messy. And do you know why? Because of Problem number two.
Problem number two: Rushing. Ruuuuuuuuuushhhiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing. Was I supposed to feel sad at the Cyberman’s head dying? Because I didn’t. Do you know why? Because he was introduced this episode and got five minutes of screen time, at most. I know that the Doctor spent hundreds of years with it, but… no. I can’t bring myself to care.
What about the answer to the crack in the universe? It’s just thrown in there! Seriously, I was very curious about that, but the show went all “Yeah, it’s because we tried to blow up your TARDIS so you wouldn’t get here, and the Time Lords are on the other side.” Really? It sounds like something Moffat thought up after a day of pondering how to write this episode. There’s nothing much leading up to this.
Problem number three: forgotten plot threads. We were led to believe there’s something very scary on the other side of the message. But Time Lords? What the hell, are they chanting that message in Tolkien’s orc language for ominousness? Also, the Weeping Angels. You know they’re there because they have fans. There isn’t much of a reason for them to be there otherwise. You get a scare, you think you know where all this is going… and then the Weeping Angels vanish.
The truth field is another problem of the sort: it serves very little purpose except having the Doctor tell the truth a few times. Why’s it there? In-universe, not story-wise, I mean. Story-wise it’s there to further the plot. But why the hell would the presence of the Time Lords create a truth field?
Problem number four: running gags outstaying their welcome. You know them – Doctor Who, Doctor Who? Yes, we know! It’s the bloody name of the show! Move on!
Or the thing about the Doctor snogging people. He’s doing it with everyone these days – it’s gotten to the point where if I were a random sexy woman in the Doctor’s world, my expectations of Doctor-snogs would be at about 50%.
Problem number five: cheap storytelling. The narrator’s voice is meant to be magic and stuff, but it really kind of isn’t. I suppose this might be more of a director-thing than a writer-thing, but it doesn’t work so well. We don’t really get sucked into the Doctor’s life and aging process because it’s all too fast (see problem number two). I understand 60 minutes aren’t enough to really show everything you want to show, but here’s an alternate way of doing it: no narrator’s voice. Follow Clara, follow her back home, then she puts the key in the TARDIS and flies back. When she gets there, the Doctor is old. We felt that just a minute passed, too. We can empathize with Clara much more than we can with him. Yes, we miss the part with the Doctor kicking ass with that ‘reversed polarity’ thing, but maybe that time is best spent elsewhere? Eh, whatever. There are many ways of telling a story. I’ve already gone too far with the speculation here.
Also, the Time Lords are calling to the Doctor through the time crack? As my friend Linda pointed out, we’ve kind of heard that one before, but they were doing it to the Master, with the sound of drums. Except it worked better in that episode.
To sum it up: I’m sorry to see the Time Lords show up again so fast. We didn’t get to wish for them for too long. We didn’t get any buildup. They’ve technically been there since the fifth series (or the first, if you think about it), but now they’re up and kicking as if they knew that everything was fresh for the Doctor, that he’d only just saved them and it’s time to pop back into his life.
The whole episode is rushed and it answers questions in what I feel to be unsatisfying ways. Moffat seems to want to cram the world into an episode sometimes, but it doesn’t always work. Several things seem to not be very well thought through.
The most disappointing part, to me, is that I feel that it all started in a good, fun way.