Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Doctor is Dead; Long Live the Doctor: An Overanalysis of "The Time of the Doctor"

Not what I expected the severed head of a Cyberman to be.
Regeneration episodes are desperate.  The Doctor, more or less, dies.  So it has to be a story that is at least partially about defeat.  The Doctor saves the day, but at the cost of his own life.  The Doctor, therefore, is usually in an extra-desperate situation, because that's the kind of situation where he's likely to die.  It's something you don't get in most shows:  a hero that is, at least partially, defeated every few years.  Superman died once.  Imagine if Superman died every few years!

But Steven Moffat has never been one to follow past patterns, and so he decided to do something that had never been done before.  For the first time in the history of Doctor Who...the Doctor's very death itself was his victory, not his defeat.

I have some friends (from the now defunct 900 Year Diary) who like to criticize a lot of things as "Deus Ex Machinas."  I've heard these same friends of mine use those three words for tons of Doctor Who episodes, as well as other things like Dexter.   They use it so often, I'm starting to think they don't know what those words mean.  So, in the spirit of Inigo Montoya, I'd like to explain that this phrase might not mean what you think it means. From
1.   (in ancient Greek and Roman drama) a god introduced into a play to resolve the entanglements of the plot.
2.  any artificial or improbable device resolving the difficulties of a plot.
The key point of a Deus Ex Machina is that it has to be introduced at the time that it resolves the plot.  Otherwise, it's been set up already, and not only is it not a Deus Ex Machina, there's really no reason to even complain about it.  The Doctor-Donna is a Deus Ex Machina.  The Time Lords were not.  The Time Lords were in the episode from the very beginning, and not just because they were necessary to save the day at the end of the episode.  The Time Lords were necessary to the plot of this entire episode.  It couldn't have happened without them.  As for their power to hand out more regenerations, while it may have been rude for Moffat not to re-explain this to those who have never seen the classic series, it doesn't change the fact that the Time Lords' ability to hand out new regeneration cycles was established already in "The Five Doctors."  So nothing about it was a Deus Ex Machina.

Now, were there holes in the plot?  Yes.  The regeneration energy does seem to be a little more destructive than it was before "The End of Time," and I always took the destruction in "The End of Time" to be due to him releasing the radiation he absorbed.  But you could explain that away in a million ways, including it being some sort of help that the Time Lords gave him or the side effect of it being such a long time since the last regeneration, or it being a by-product of it being his first of a new cycle of regenerations.  The thing that would have been a little more satisfying to me is if Clara saved the day by giving the Time Lords the Doctor's true name, which she should know!  I thought that was going to be the solution, and it would have been much neater, and might have shut some people up to boot.  Of course, that would have brought the Time Lords right back into a battle with the Daleks, and then everything that happened in "The Day of the Doctor" would have been for nothing.

It might also seem unsatisfying that Gallifrey wasn't released from the crack in the end.  For a moment, I thought maybe the Doctor had fought this whole war for nothing.  But really, that's not the case.  Had any of the Doctor's enemies gotten to the planet, they could have gone through the crack and destroyed Gallifrey at its most vulnerable.  The Doctor didn't succeed in bringing Gallifrey back in this episode, but he did keep it hidden and protected to be found another day.  That's still a big victory.

But even if you weren't satisfied with how the end of the episode resolved the situation set up in the beginning of the episode, how about the way that this whole episode resolved all of the Matt Smith era?  Because it did that very well.  I was completely wrong about why the Doctor's name was dangerous to say.  I never imagined that it would be a situation in which the Doctor would want to say his own name.  It proved that Moffat had taken the 50th Anniversary special into account when he started writing "The Eleventh Hour."  Everything has been planned for the past 4 years, and that became glaringly obvious.

Except for the fucking cot!  Moffat promised to solve all of the mysteries.  He even solved the mystery of what was behind Door 11 (I still like my friend Gary's theory about Adric better).  But not the cot!  What the hell was the deal with the cot?  Did he forget about it?  Because it's still dangling out there, waiting to be solved, Steven!

It became clear that, while Moffat had the idea for this episode from the beginning of the 11th Doctor era, he never intended it to be the Christmas Special.  But I think he did a good job of making it Christmassy.  Setting it in a town where it's Christmas all the time may have seemed a little forced, but at least it was better than "The End of Time" where someone has to suddenly remember every 20-30 minutes or so "Oh yeah, we haven't mentioned for a while that it's Christmas."

The Silence, my favorite villains, return and we find...that they are nothing like what we thought they were.  Really, they were priests.  Priests!  I had my best Doctor Who nightmares ever about priests!  I guess, as a former Catholic, that's strangely appropriate.

Truly, a lot of the stuff about the Papal Mainframe and the Anglican Marines was really confusing before this episode.  In "The Time of Angels"/"Flesh and Stone," they not only seem to be helping the Doctor, but are participating in the punishment of the woman who killed him.  Then, in "A Good Man Goes to War," they are fighting against him and supporting those that created the woman who killed the Doctor.  This was easily explained away in one line "The Kovarian chapter broke away."  Simple, yet satisfying, explanation.  Most of the events of Season 5 and 6 were the result of one small sect within the Papal Mainframe going rogue and trying to stop the Doctor by going back in his timeline.  It's unclear, though, why this sect was referred to, in the Tesselecta's computer, as "The Silence," where Tasha Lem, in narration, referred to the creatures themselves as "The Silence."  The naming is super confusing now.  So let's just call the creatures "The Silence," call that sect "The Kovarian Chapter," and assume that the Tesselecta was just talking out of its ass.

Most of the spoilers that I knew about that had been printed in the Sun turned out to be accurate, which means somebody is a huge dick and really did tell all the plot points to a newspaper, which actually had the nerve to print the damn things.  Why would someone do that?  That's not journalism.  That's just being a douche.  The only spoiler that I know that they got wrong was that they said the Doctor would lose a leg before he regenerated, which would have been extra dark.  The spoilers also claimed that the episode would take place over 300 years.  That was partially true.  The first time we checked back in with the Doctor, 300 years had passed.  But who knows how many years had passed for him at the end.  It could have been another 300, 500, maybe even 1,000.  My guess is that the Doctor is now around 2000 years old, making the 11th Doctor the longest living regeneration the Doctor has ever had.

And it confirmed that the Doctor can age within a regeneration.  I mean, we already knew this to an extent, as the 1st Doctor couldn't have been born looking like William Hartnell.  But we've never seen him significantly age within the same regeneration.  But there's one big advantage that this gives us, and, as the guy who had to write and cast the 50th Anniversary special, I'm sure that Moffat did this intentionally:  Matt Smith can now be brought back for future specials no matter how old he is when the special airs.  For the 75th Anniversary Special, for example, they can simply bring him back and his increased age can be chalked up to him being taken from a point in his own timeline during "The Time of the Doctor."  Was it a little bit of a cop out to reset the Doctor to a younger version of himself for his final speech?  Sure.  But didn't we all want to see that anyway?  And I thought it was cool that a very old 11th Doctor looked a lot like the 1st Doctor.

The cameo from Amy was awesome and unexpected.  Two actors wearing wigs because they shaved their heads for other roles stood across from each other: one with a believable wig, the other with a very fake looking one.  But there was one thing about that brief cameo that bothered me, and that's the weird way that the Doctor and Amy touched each other.  It looked like they were going to kiss each other.  Russel T. Davies did away with Jonathan Nathan-Turner's classic series "no hanky-panky in the TARDIS" rule by bringing the Doctor and Rose together.  This angered a lot of the classic series fans, as well as some of the actors from the classic series.  Colin Baker said at this year's Denver Comic Con, he didn't believe the Doctor and his companion should even notice that they're of different genders.  Moffat has done a nice job of kind of playing both sides.  Amy and the Doctor had romantic overtones, but they had to do more with Amy's fear of commitment than any real romantic feelings towards the Doctor.  Amy ended up with Rory, as she was always supposed to.  Even Clara's attraction to the Doctor, which was brought to further light in this episode, is a fleeting thing we know will never come to anything, especially now that she'll be opposite Peter Capaldi's Doctor.  (Somehow, I don't think any young twentysomethings are going to be kissing Peter Capaldi on this show.)  So the way that the Doctor and Amy touched each other in that scene seemed just...inappropriate.  I would have preferred a good, tight, friendly hug between them.

Were there flaws in it?  Yes.  After the episode, I had a debate (which I alluded to above) with some friends from The 900 Year Diary who I almost never agree with.  They loved "The Name of the Doctor," where I hated it (although it's still growing on me).  I loved "The Big Bang," where they found that to be (surprise) a Deus Ex Machina.  (We all liked "The Day of the Doctor," though.)  They pointed out some things to me that I had to admit they were right about.  But, to be honest, not one of those things popped into my head during the episode.  The flaws didn't get in the way of my enjoying my favorite Doctor's last episode.  And, unlike them and some other people, I had no complaints about the episode's pacing.  Moffat hooked me in with his typical hyper-imaginative and complex plot (and the mental image of Clara naked), and kept me hanging on through to the end with the 11th Doctor's greatest speech ever:
“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 got to keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.”
And then, we were given the greatest Christmas present of all:  Peter Capaldi's first few lines as the Doctor!  They weren't much, but they were enough for us to see how much fun he's going to be.  Was it my favorite episode?  My favorite 11th Doctor episode?  My favorite Christmas Special?  No on all accounts.  But it was one hell of an episode, nonetheless.

So may I wish you a Merry Christmas, and a wonderful new Regeneration!

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