This review contains spoilers.
As Doctor Who kisses goodbye to its 50th anniversary year, a mysterious message draws the Doctor (Matt Smith) and his enemies to a single planet from across the universe, while back on earth Clara (Jenna Coleman) is trying to cook a turkey. Just like an over-indulgent Christmas dinner, The Time of the Doctor has all the trimmings with the entire monster toybox, hundreds of years of the Doctor’s life and major Doctor Who mythology laid out on the table. But these excesses simply result in the viewers feeling the vague dissatisfaction of being overstuffed while so much potential goodness is left wasted and untouched.
The episode darts along at a compressed, rapid-fire pace, not sparing a moment to scare, emote or develop, in case such a detour would slow down and allow the audience to comprehend the ludicrous plot. Annoying clichés of show-runner Steven Moffat’s writing run rampant, most prominently embodied in Tasha Lem (Orla Brady), a powerful, autonomous woman who is quickly revealed to be obsessively infatuated with the Doctor and struggles to stay dead for two minutes. Still, there are some nice moments scattered throughout including some very funny one liners, clever world-building and a vague attempt at closure for those who have bothered to follow Moffat’s convoluted arcs over the past three years.
But these same loyal viewers are probably the most disgruntled by the hurried dispensation of such plot points, alongside the throwaway dealing of 37-year old mythology as Smith’s doctor casually mentions he is the final incarnation. None of the characters seem to be bothered by the Doctor’s impending demise, almost as if they too had seen the Capaldi tabloid headlines. When even the characters appear disinterested in the plot it’s hard for a slightly drunken Christmas audience to care, especially when the Quality Street tin is competing for their attention.
The most significant disappointment is that Matt Smith is given a last hurrah in an episode where most of his character development takes place during a bizarre amount of off-screen years, leaving Smith having to imbue gravitas into hollow caricatures in silly prosthetics. At the very least, his final moving scene gives him the chance to show the full range of his wonderful interpretation of the Doctor, while still bordering on the right side of the divide between celebration and self-indulgence.
Peter Capaldi is introduced swiftly and fails to leave much of an impression when his few brief lines are drowned in Murray Gold’s regurgitated noise. While last month’s anniversary special The Day of the Doctor beautifully displayed what has made the show so beloved by millions over its 50 years, The Time of the Doctor demonstrates exactly what has bogged down the show over the last few. To inject new life, it wasn’t Smith’s dynamic doctor that needed changing, but the writing and production that is desperately starved of ideas and inspiration. Lets hope the show, alongside its title character, is able to regenerate.