When the Doctor regenerates, it is a time of both sorrow and joy. We lose one Doctor, a cherished figure who has kept us thrilled and entertained through many a season, but at the same time, we gain a new one, and it opens up a whole new world of opportunities, giving us a new Doctor to meet and grow to love. These occasions are to be met with a certain level of respect and dignity for the actor passing on the role, which usually means giving them an epic sendoff.
While not all Doctors are so lucky (as much as I adore both the 7th and 8th Doctors, McCoy’s Doctor truly deserved a better end), more often than not the Doctor has had a nice send-off with each regeneration. Now that we’ve seen Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor come and go, it’s time to look at his last hurrah.
If you have not seen the episode yet, be wary reading on, as there will be spoilers. Big spoilers, the kind that would make you want to kill me twelve times just to make sure I’m not getting back up if I spoil them for you. You have been warned.
The latest Doctor Who Christmas special, “Time of the Doctor,” brings to a close the many mysteries and plot points brought up during his run. The words “Silence will fall when the question is asked” still remains true, as one might note that the first question was never actually asked the last time the Doctor was on Trenzalore. (The Great Intelligence asked the Doctor “What is your name?”, not “Doctor Who?”) and now we learn why it was so important for the Doctor to never reach Trenzalore or answer the question.
The episode itself may seem to have a pretty basic idea behind it; the Doctor has to save a town called Christmas from invading aliens, while helping Clara run a Christmas dinner with her family. But then we see the crack in the wall, from back when the Doctor first regenerated, and the question is asked. Then the Doctor has to defend the planet where he is predicted to die against all his worst enemies.
We also meet some new characters, such as a Cyberman’s reprogrammed head, named Handles. Handles is reminiscent of K-9 in some ways, and thanks to the script and Matt Smith’s performance when speaking with Handles, he (it?) became beloved to many viewers in the time we had with him. There’s also Tasha Lem of the Papal Mainframe, played by Orla Brady, who does a fine performance throughout her character’s arc.
This episode brings back many of the Doctor’s old enemies – Daleks, Cybermen, and of course, the Weeping Angels. Even the Sontarans get a nice scene, though their scene was more comedic than anything else, most likely inspired by the popularity of Strax. The Silence themselves come back, and we finally learn what their true purpose is; it actually makes a surprising amount of sense.
As such, in the 11th Doctor’s final battle, we see him pull some very clever tricks against his various foes. A Weeping Angel is quickly bested with a well-placed mirror, and the Doctor works his way around the Sonic Screwdriver’s wood weakness with some clever thinking and trickery. In the end, though, it is always the Daleks that prove the most dangerous foes of the Doctor.
Of course, who would the Doctor be without his companion? Clara Oswald may not serve the biggest role this episode, but she provides some nice emotional moments with the Doctor, and like any good companion, it is her actions that save him in the end. Admittedly, the scenes with her family were hit and miss, and her parents proved to be represented in an overly romanticized way in Clara’s flashbacks, but that’s a trick that memory pulls, though going more with them would have been nice.
Now, let’s get to the biggest part of the episode: the Doctor’s regeneration. As discussed before, Moffat has stated that the Doctor is on his last regeneration. He has confirmed that the thirteen lives/twelve regenerations limit is a natural one for Time Lords, rather than one enforced by them, as many have predicted. Apparently the regenerations River gave him were all required to save his life in “Let’s Kill Hitler,” so those didn’t count as a 1-up either. Yet the Doctor still looks death in the face, knowing that he can no longer change his face and survive.
So the Doctor grows old while fighting a war that lasts hundreds of years, with visible aging on his face until he more resembles William Hartnell’s 1st Doctor. You can see him start to go, but always remaining supporting and confident in his old age, if just for the sake of those who have come to care for him.
However, it has also been established that the Time Lords can grant extra regenerations to individuals. Yet as the last of them, the Doctor doesn’t have the means to provide himself with any extra. If only Gallifrey wasn’t destroyed… but guess who’s asking “Doctor Who?” through the cracks between universes?
This leads to a rather explosive regeneration sequence, one that shakes the planet and saves the day before his last moments as the 11th Doctor. With all that settled, we get an emotional regeneration scene, where the Doctor, young again in his last moments, sees Amy Pond in a nice cameo from Karen Gillan, similar to the 5th Doctor’s last utterance of “Adric?”
The actual transition in the regeneration, however, where we see Matt Smith fade and Peter Capaldi enter, was done so quickly it left many fans wondering how much they missed when they blinked. While I have mixed feelings about it, it’s still a fine regeneration in its own right, and mixing it up a little makes sense considering he’s got a whole new regeneration cycle. The 11th Doctor’s send-off was appropriately dramatic, with a tasteful amount of respect for his run up to this point. He left us with a nice speech, directed both at Clara, himself, and the viewers.
“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 gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all 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.”
Then we get Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor making his debut. Like with most regeneration episodes, we only get a brief taste of what he can do at the end, but it seems to be a good start. I’m looking forward to seeing him in action, now we just have to survive the long wait until his season begins.