50th Anniversary Specials (Jul 1 - Jul 3)

July 1: "The Night of the Doctor" / An Adventure in Space and Time
July 2: "The Last Day" / "The Day of the Doctor" / "The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot"
July 3: "The Time of the Doctor"



July 1: "The Night of the Doctor" / An Adventure in Space and Time

"I'm a doctor -- but probably not the one you're expecting."
("The Night of the Doctor") ©BBC
"The Name of the Doctor" aired in May 2013, and since then fandom had been getting a steady stream of hints about what the 50th anniversary would bring, and as we got closer we got more things: nine missing Troughton episodes were officially returned in October, while Big Finish released their celebration audio story with the first eight (yes, eight!) Doctors, The Light at the End, a month early in late October.  But the best surprise was on 14 November, when the BBC released a 7-minute episode called "The Night of the Doctor", featuring Paul McGann (Paul McGann!) and chronicling his final moments as the eighth Doctor.

Even now, this episode maintains its power.  The sheer thrill of seeing McGann back in the role on screen cannot be understated, and (possibly because he'd been playing the eighth Doctor on audio for the last 12 years) he emphatically is the Doctor here, incredibly confident and self-assured, with a touch of wry humor ("Where are we going?" Cass asks.  "Back of the ship," the Doctor replies.  "Why?" Cass wonders.  "Because the front crashes first, think it through," the Doctor says).  McGann is so incredibly right in the role that it's little wonder a "bring back the eighth Doctor" campaign began after this was released.  And even when he's dying, he's still just as mesmerizing, and frankly better here than he was in the TV Movie.

The eighth Doctor regenerates. ("The Night of the Doctor")
©BBC
But because this is meant to tie in to the upcoming 50th anniversary special, we're concerned not so much with the eighth Doctor's life but with his death and rebirth into a "warrior": the War Doctor (as the credits call him).  We're shown a Doctor who's been running away from the Time War that's begun -- "It's not my war.  I will have no part of it" -- and who ends up dying as a result of his running, only to be brought back to life temporarily by the Sisterhood of Karn (last seen in The Brain of Morbius -- or "Sisters of the Flame" / "The Vengeance of Morbius", if you're someone who'd been following the McGann audios).  It's one of the sisters, Ohila, who convinces him that he must intervene in the War.  "I would rather die [than fight in the War]," the Doctor tells Ohila.  "You're dead already," she responds.  "How many more will you let join you?"  And so we see the end of the eighth Doctor and the beginning of the War Doctor, the one who will fight in the Time War.  "Physician, heal thyself," McGann says, and then changes into a young John Hurt (a clever move, as it shows just how long the Time War has lasted, given how Hurt looks in "The Day of the Doctor").  And pleasingly for Big Finish fans, as the eighth Doctor dies he recites the names of (some of) his audio companions ("Charley, C'rizz, Lucie, Tamsin, Molly.250  Friends, companions I've known, I salute you"), thus granting them more official status.  (One might say they've become part of the canon, except Doctor Who doesn't have an official canon -- still, televised works are generally held as more unimpeachably "true" than other works, so this was rather thrilling to those fans.251)

It was a thrill just seeing McGann back on screen in the role, and that alone might have been worthwhile.  The fact that Steven Moffat gave him such a good script, economical yet bursting with character, makes things better than anyone could have possibly hoped.  "The Night of the Doctor" is utterly fabulous.

But before we get to the 50th anniversary special there's that docudrama to view: An Adventure in Space and Time, which aired on 21 November, two days before "The Day of the Doctor".  It's the story of how Doctor Who came to be, from its beginnings with Sydney Newman to William Hartnell's final episode on the show.  Writer/executive producer Mark Gatiss has provided us with a dramatization of that time, so naturally it's not as accurate as a documentary would be (for instance, script editor David Whitaker is completely missing from this version, his contributions having been rolled into Adventure's rendition of Mervyn Pinfield).  So if you're looking for a strictly factual account of Doctor Who's origins, this probably won't be what you want.

In fact, the story is structured slightly oddly.  Ostensibly this is meant to be focused on William Hartnell -- we open on him and appear to be exploring his memories -- but as he wasn't there at the beginning, we shift to the viewpoint of Verity Lambert, Doctor Who's first producer and the BBC's first female producer.  That's not exactly a problem, as Lambert's story is just as interesting as Hartnell's, but there is a sense sometimes that they're unsure which storyline to be following, and there's no obvious moment where they intertwine satisfactorily.  This wouldn't necessarily be an issue if it weren't for the fact that Lambert disappears before the end of the story (having left shortly after season 3 began), leaving Hartnell to wrap things up for the last 20 minutes or so, which does lend things an uneven feel.

Waris Hussein, Verity Lambert, and Sydney Newman butter up
William Hartnell. (An Adventure in Space and Time) ©BBC
But what An Adventure in Space and Time excels at is in the portrayal of these people and their relationships.  What's impressive is not only how closely many of the people here resemble their real-life counterparts (Jemma Powell is particularly impressive in her resemblance, both in appearance and voice, to Jacqueline Hill), but how they imbue their characters with real energy.  David Bradley is incredible as William Hartnell, as he approaches the part initially with reluctance and then with increasing fervour, as he finds a role worth doing -- only for it to be taken away from him.  Brian Cox gives us a great performance as Sydney Newman, brought in to the BBC to shake things up, while Jessica Raine and Sacha Dhawan do an excellent job as Lambert and Doctor Who's first director Waris Hussein, railing against the "old boys' club" atmosphere of the BBC.  It's these performances that give you a real sense of what things must have been like, and while the story pulls pretty hard on the "odds stacked against the series" card, their performances anchor things and stop it from getting too silly or twee.

Nevertheless, ultimately it's David Bradley who does the best job here.  You really get a feel for how much this meant for Hartnell, and while it does occasionally feel like Bradley sometimes leaned a little too heavily on Hartnell's only surviving TV interview (in which he's just been taken off Doctor Who and is currently in a pantomime that is by all accounts a disaster), which makes him seem a little more angry and embittered than he perhaps was (you can compare it to the recently recovered portion of Hartnell's Desert Island Discs interview, when he's far happier), this is balanced by the human qualities he brings to the role: I defy you not to well up a bit as he tells his wife that he's agreed to leave the show, only to break down, declaring that he doesn't want to go.  It's a hell of a moment that really makes you feel for Hartnell, and Bradley does an incredible job with it.  There's also the moment where he's shooting his final scene, and he pauses, imagining the future of the show, and we get a small cameo from Matt Smith, looking incredibly humbled and honored to be carrying on the tradition that Hartnell began.  It's another moving scene that everyone does a great job of selling.

And this is what makes An Adventure in Space and Time a success; it brings us closer to the people behind Doctor Who, to show us what it was like then.  It also gives us a deeper appreciation for William Hartnell, the original Dr. Who, who is as much a key reason for the show's popularity as the Daleks were.  It might not be accurate, but it hardly matters; this is the origin story of Doctor Who retold in the show's 50th year, and as a celebration of its beginnings you'd be hard-pressed to find a better, more entertaining tale.



July 2: "The Last Day" / "The Day of the Doctor" / "The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot"

"The Last Day" is another prequel miniepisode, showing us a (very) small glimpse of what happened just before the Daleks attacked Arcadia, on the last day of the Time War (hence the title).  It's, frankly, not terribly exciting -- it lets us know that the Time Lord soldiers were confident nothing could get through their "sky trenches" to attack them, and of course they were wrong, and er, that's it.  It's told from a first-person perspective, and that person is exterminated in the opening salvo.  But as a taste of what's to come, it works well enough, I suppose.

And now it's time for the main event: the 50th anniversary special, "The Day of the Doctor", broadcast 50 years to the day after Doctor Who debuted, and emphatically designed to be an Event -- to that end, this was simultaneously broadcast in 94 countries (and even shown in some theatres252, in 3D!) and set a Guinness World Record as a result.  And as is tradition with these sorts of anniversary specials (Silver Nemesis excepted), we're presented with a multi-Doctor story -- but not just any multi-Doctor story.  After eight years of hints and references and little more, Steven Moffat takes us back to the darkest day of the Doctor's life and into the Time War, to the final day when he wiped out both the Daleks and the Time Lords.

Lest you think that that's an awfully BBC Wales-centric premise to base a 50th anniversary special on, it should be noted that "The Day of the Doctor" does an excellent job of encompassing the entire history of the programme.  It starts with an abbreviated version of the Hartnell title sequence (although they've superimposed DOCTOR WHO on top right as it's about to spell DOCTOR OHO) and leads into a policeman walking past a sign directing you to the junkyard in Totter's Lane (reminiscent of the opening shot of "An Unearthly Child") as we pan over to Coal Hill School (Chairman of the Governors: I. Chesterton; Headmaster: W. Coburn253), where Clara is now a teacher.  There are lots of loving little references to the past scattered throughout this story, but none of them require a degree in Doctor Who to understand -- they're just little extras for those who catch them.

The War, eleventh, and tenth Doctors are surrounded by Queen
Elizabeth I's guards. ("The Day of the Doctor") ©BBC
No, the main plot is focused on the actions of this new, unknown Doctor between McGann and Eccleston, as he decides to put an end to the Time War with the aid of a special weapon called the Moment (which was first referenced in passing in The End of Time) -- except the Moment has a conscience and can talk to the War Doctor, taking the form of Rose Tyler/Bad Wolf to do so.  This is frankly a really clever way to get Billie Piper in this special without cheapening Rose's departure(s), even if it means she doesn't end up interacting with David Tennant at all.  But Piper is very good as the Moment, matching the fun and mystery that the script asks for with ease.  And it's the Moment who provides the reason for a multi-Doctor story, as she wants to show the War Doctor the sort of man he'll become if he goes through with destroying them all, which leads to the War Doctor encountering the tenth and eleventh Doctors in 16th-century England, where the tenth Doctor is tracking down a Zygon (finally, another Zygon story!) who he believes to be Queen Elizabeth I (finally, a chance to explain the Doctor's comment about Queen Elizabeth in The End of Time -- as well as presumably the reason she was angry with him in "The Shakespeare Code").

It's clear that Steven Moffat is using The Three Doctors as a guide, both of what to do and what to avoid, and the result is very entertaining.  Moffat gently pokes fun at the Doctors (there are the quips about "Sandshoes" and "Dick Van Dyke" from Matt Smith about the tenth Doctor, while David Tennant gets in "Chinny" and comments about John Hurt's "posh gravelly" voice), which is much like the bickering between Troughton and Pertwee, but he also is smart enough to rein it in -- so while the tenth and eleventh Doctors toss little barbs back and forth, they seem to generally get along quite well (as opposed to the second and third Doctors).

Of course, because this is a Steven Moffat story, we get a nice complex story (albeit not ludicrously so) involving Zygons and stasis cubes and multiple time zones, as the Moment shows the War Doctor the man he's become, and how that decision influenced him.  And so while we're dealing with Zygons plotting to take over the planet, and Kate Stewart and her aides McGillop and Osgood (who became a fan favorite) trying to stop them, the focus never really leaves the Doctors themselves.  When the Zygons and UNIT are in the Black Archive (ooh, a Sarah Jane Adventures reference!), locked in a stalemate as a nuclear bomb threatens to go off and blow up London (on account of the Black Archive -- which has now been moved to the Tower of London -- having all sorts of stuff the Zygons could use to conquer the planet (as well as lots of references to previous Doctors, companions, and stories)), the three Doctors refuse to let Kate Stewart go through with it.  "You're about to murder millions of people," the War Doctor says.  "To save billions," Kate replies.  "How many times have you made that calculation?"  "Once," the eleventh Doctor replies.  "Turned me into the man I am now."  "You tell yourself it's justified, but it's a lie," the tenth Doctor chimes in.  "Because what I did that day was wrong.  Just wrong."  "And, because I got it wrong," the eleventh Doctor finishes, "I'm going to make you get it right."  There's some stuff with removing the memories of the Zygons and the humans (so they don't know who's who), but the focus is squarely on the Doctor.  (Actually, this is the one glaring flaw with "The Day of the Doctor": because we're focused so much on the Doctor, they never go back and show us what the results of the Zygon/human negotiations are.  Not even a quick line of dialogue to establish things went OK.)  The War Doctor watches his future selves maneuver in the Black Archive, while Clara talks to him.  "The Doctor, my, my Doctor, he's always talking about the day he did it," Clara says.  (Er, he is?  Not in anything we've seen...)  "The day he wiped out the Time Lords to stop the war. ... He regrets it.  I see it in his eyes every day.  He'd do anything to change it."  "Including saving all these people," the War Doctor replies.  "How many worlds has his regret saved, do you think?"  And that's when he's sure he's made the right decision, to end the Time War by using the Moment.

That leads to the most emotional part of the episode, as the Moment allows the tenth and eleventh Doctors access to the Time War, to meet with the War Doctor.  "All those years, burying you in my memory," the tenth Doctor tells him.  "Pretending you didn't exist," the eleventh Doctor adds.  "Keeping you a secret, even from myself."  "Pretending you weren't the Doctor, when you were the Doctor more than anybody else," the tenth Doctor says, while the eleventh finishes the thought: "You were the Doctor on the day it wasn't possible to get it right."  The three Doctors are ready to take responsibility (again, for two of them) for ending the Time War, but happily, gloriously, Clara convinces them that there's another way, that destroying everyone isn't the right way to go about it:
CLARA: You told me the name you chose was a promise.  What was the promise?
TENTH DOCTOR: Never cruel or cowardly.
WAR DOCTOR: Never give up, never give in.
TENTH DOCTOR: You're not actually suggesting that we change our own personal history?
ELEVENTH DOCTOR: We change history all the time.  I'm suggesting far worse.
WAR DOCTOR: What, exactly?
ELEVENTH DOCTOR: Gentlemen, I have had four hundred years to think about this.  I've changed my mind.
"No, sir; all thirteen!" ("The Day of the Doctor") ©BBC
So we go from a tragic moment to a punch-the-air one, as the Doctor comes up with a mad scheme to save Gallifrey, by enlisting the help of all his other selves to shift Gallifrey into a pocket universe, with little cameos from all the other Doctors (including the upcoming twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi, in an incredibly thrilling shot -- a bona fide future Doctor!) as they come together to save their home from the Daleks and from the Time War.  It's a fantastic scene, watching all the old Doctors in their TARDISes, working the controls and working together to save Gallifrey, even if they don't know for sure if their plan will work.  (As the War Doctor later says, "I don't suppose we'll know if we actually succeeded.  But at worst, we failed doing the right thing, as opposed to succeeding in doing the wrong.")  It's definitely a retcon, but it's a welcome retcon; there was always a slight sense that it was out of character for the Doctor to have destroyed the Time Lords in the War, and for it to be revealed that he did in fact find another way is wonderful.  And Moffat gets to have his cake and eat it too, by saying that because this is a multi-Doctor story, none of the earlier Doctors will remember what's happened (as seems to be the case in multi-Doctor stories, in order for things like, say, a traitorous Borusa in The Five Doctors to be a surprise, even though three Doctors before Davison saw it happen) -- so although they saved Gallifrey, they'll think they destroyed it, and thus we don't have to suddenly say that the last seven years didn't happen the way we saw them happen.  It's a really lovely move.

The War Doctor regenerates. ("The Day of the Doctor") ©BBC
Of course, the success of this story isn't just the script.  One of the better surprises about "The Day of the Doctor" is John Hurt's War Doctor.  They'd been spending a lot of the time building up the War Doctor as a dangerous man -- Paul McGann calls for a warrior as he regenerates, while Matt Smith is clearly ashamed of the actions he went through when he fought in the Time War.  The general impression is of a dark, almost villainous persona, and so it's a real pleasure to find just how likeable this previously unknown Doctor is.  John Hurt plays him as someone with rough edges but still, at heart, decidedly the Doctor.  And Moffat uses the War Doctor to stand in as a sort of surrogate for Doctors One through Eight, to pass comments on how things have changed since the 20th century version.  "Am I having a mid-life crisis?" he asks upon seeing his future selves.  "Why are you pointing your screwdrivers like that?" he adds.  "They're scientific instruments, not water pistols."  There are also sly comments about things like "timey-wimey" and the increased amount of kissing.  "Is there a lot of this in the future?" the War Doctor asks while watching Queen Elizabeth plant a very enthusiastic kiss on her new husband, the tenth Doctor.  "It does start to happen, yeah," the eleventh Doctor replies.  But by the end, the War Doctor has come to accept his future selves as much as his future selves have come to accept him (and just in time for him to regenerate, now that the Time War is over), and we get the sense that this is indeed the same show that began fifty years earlier.  It may change, but it's still the same at heart.

The Curator and the eleventh Doctor discuss the true title of
the painting. ("The Day of the Doctor") ©BBC
That's definitely one of the better surprises, but the best surprise might be after the other Doctors left, and we're left alone in the gallery with the eleventh Doctor as he looks upon the Time Lord painting No More, aka Gallifrey Falls -- only for the Curator to enter, played by none other than fourth Doctor Tom Baker.  It's strongly hinted that the Curator is in fact a future Doctor ("I never forget a face," the Doctor says.  "I know you don't," the Curator replies.  "And in years to come, you might find yourself revisiting a few.  But just the old favourites, eh?"  And then later, the Curator remarks, "I can only tell you what I would do if I were you.  Oh, if I were you.  Oh, perhaps I was you, of course.  Or perhaps you are me"), but with enough wiggle room to keep things vague.  This also launches the series into its next phase, as the Curator confirms that they were successful and that Gallifrey is still out there, waiting for the Doctor to find it.  It's a gorgeous cameo and a genuine pleasure to see Tom Baker on the show again, even if he looks older.254  His voice still sounds as fantastic as ever, and he's so good at delivering enigmatic dialogue that you wish he could have stayed a little longer.

None of this, of course, even begins to touch on how great it is to see David Tennant back in the role like he'd never left, or how fun it is to see Jemma Redgrave back as Kate Stewart, or just how good Jenna Coleman (now having officially dropped the "Louise" from her professional name) is in the presence of these strong actors -- it's nice to see Clara finally starting to develop, now that she's no longer the Impossible Girl, and her interactions with John Hurt in particular are really very good indeed.  And we've barely touched on the Zygons, looking as wonderfully horrible as ever (although I still think I like the Terror of the Zygons shapeshifting effect better, even if this one is more "realistic").  But the fact is that "The Day of the Doctor" is packed full of glorious moments.

All the Doctors together. ("The Day of the Doctor") ©BBC
As a celebration of fifty years, "The Day of the Doctor" is a great success.  Steven Moffat has provided a sterling plot that is full of thrills and fun, but it never strays too far in one direction or the other.  This is very well balanced story.  I can't comment on how it must have appeared to more casual viewers (although it seems like it's been designed with them at least partially in mind), but to me it's utterly magnificent.  It's not just an exercise in nostalgia, although there is some of that on display: "The Day of the Doctor" is careful to keep looking ahead, to recognize that while the past has been good, the future is just as bright.  It's a good choice that's emblematic of this whole production.  "The Day of the Doctor" hits all the right notes, and it's hard to imagine a better way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the best show ever made.

Oh, but the party's not over yet.  You might have noticed that not every surviving Doctor appeared in "The Day of the Doctor" beyond old footage.  But fear not, for Peter Davison has a special treat in store for us: "The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot".

It's a fake documentary (a mockumentary, if you will) chronicling the efforts of the classic Doctors to be a part of the 50th anniversary special, and writer/director Davison has taken a particular delight in gently mocking the three main Doctors involved with this -- Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy -- as they try desperately to become involved.  So Davison can't interest his kids in his non-involvement, Colin Baker is holding on to past glories as the Doctor while bringing up his stint on the reality show I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!, and Sylvester McCoy won't shut up about being cast in The Hobbit.  There are lots of good gags in this and a huge number of cameos, including Steven Moffat continually ignoring the classic Doctors' calls and David Tennant propping a door open so that his father-in-law will stop calling him.  I also really like the bit where John Barrowman is "outed" as having a wife and kids, so he's willing to drive the three of them to Cardiff in exchange for their silence.

Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, and Peter Davison come up with a
plan. ("The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot") ©BBC
It's only half an hour long, but it's full of genuinely funny moments.  My particular favorite might be how, as they wander around Cardiff, early '80s Doctor Who music plays, but when they enter the studios at Roath Lock it suddenly switches to modern Murray Gold music -- and the three of them stop and step back outside to make sure they're not imagining things.  But there are also moments like the three of them complaining about the new TARDIS set ("What the heck are those things?" Sylvester asks, referring to the three spinning circles above the time rotor.  "Have they turned it into a helicopter?"), or Steven Moffat being awoken from a dream of swirling companions (just like the regeneration in The Caves of Androzani) by Matthew Waterhouse ("It's me, isn't it? (giant explosion)  Now I'll never know if I was right!"), or the utterly marvelous scene between Peter Jackson and Ian McKellen, after Sylvester has abandoned The Hobbit in favor of Doctor Who ("Ian.  There's a problem with Sylvester," Peter Jackson says.  "Sylvester... who?" Ian replies, mystified).  And, of course, the fabulous cameo from Russell T Davies, where he attempts to beg his way onto "The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot", exactly the way the three of them were trying to beg their way onto "The Day of the Doctor" ("I could have a great catchphrase, like, my catchphrase could be 'Quel dommage!'  Like, 'Quel dommage, Davros!'").

It's a great piece, and it's still available on the BBC website to view (since, if you're like me and living in Region 1, you for some unfathomable reason never got a release of the 50th Anniversary Collector's Edition boxset and so never got a chance to buy this on home media (all right, except for the Complete Matt Smith Years boxset -- but that still doesn't include everything on the other set)), so if you haven't watched it, you really really should.  "The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot" is the perfect end to the 50th anniversary celebrations.



July 3: "The Time of the Doctor"

Now this is a cause for celebration: "The Time of the Doctor" is Doctor Who's 800th episode.  And, somewhat less celebratorily, it's also Matt Smith's final story.

This is the 2013 Christmas special, and the first story in the wake of "The Day of the Doctor", but while that episode spent a good deal of time dealing not just with the BBC Wales run but with little moments from all fifty years, "The Time of the Doctor" is concerned specifically with the Matt Smith era, with wrapping up most of the plotlines and questions that have been dangling since series 5.

(Incidentally, what does the title "The Time of the Doctor" actually mean?  Why is this the time of the Doctor?  The more I think about it the less clear it becomes to me...)

So, the plotlines.  This episode includes stuff about the TARDIS blowing up, about the cracks in time, about Madame Kovarian and about the Fall of the Eleventh at Trenzalore.  But it's still a Christmas special, so we start with some Christmas shenanigans involving Clara and her family coming over for Christmas dinner, with Clara making up an imaginary boyfriend and needing the Doctor to help bail her out.  There're also some awfully silly jokes about nudity thrown in for good measure, while we wait for the plot to get going.  Fortunately it doesn't take too long, and soon we're dealing with coded messages and lots of alien species and the Church of the Papal Mainframe (as run by Mother Superious Tasha Lem), while the Doctor investigates the source of the message being broadcast across creation, the one that Handles (the Cyber-head that the Doctor's been carting around) says is apparently from Gallifrey -- which leads to a town called Christmas, surrounded by a truth field that prevents people from lying (presumably to fulfill the bit of the "prophecy" about how "no living creature can speak falsely, or fail to answer").  And the Doctor traces the source of the message to a crack in time, from outside this universe, and uses the Seal of the High Council (the one the third Doctor took from the Master in The Five Doctors -- the same story where the High Council offered the Master a new regeneration cycle; is Steven Moffat subtly reminding us of this?) to translate the message, which is the Time Lords asking "Doctor who?" so that when they get the answer they'll know it's safe to come back through into this universe.  Except that's the question that leads to silence falling on the Fields of Trenzalore and the Fall of the Eleventh.  So far this has been shaping up to be quite the epic finale, as the Doctor finally confronts his destiny.

The Doctor gets ready to face the Daleks for the final time.
("The Time of the Doctor") ©BBC
But then the story takes an odd left turn, as Clara is tricked into going back home, leaving the Doctor behind to defend the town of Christmas from everyone who wants to ensure the Time Lords never return.  Up to this point it had been a fairly standard action epic, but now it becomes more like a fairy tale, as we're told of the Doctor's efforts, repelling any invaders while helping out where he can -- something he does for 300 years, while waiting for the TARDIS to come back from dropping Clara off.  It's curious just how quickly this story shifts gears; at the time it was rather jarring, but familiarity has made it a little smoother.  It also probably doesn't help that there seems to be a bit of padding: Clara is sent away and then comes back three hundred years later, has a quick conversation with the Doctor establishing that he can only regenerate twelve times and that this current body is number thirteen, so this will actually be the end for him, and then is tricked again into going back home, so that she can have a conversation with her family and then head back one more time, to see the Doctor as even older, as for him it's something like 500 years after the last time he saw her (judging by comments in the next episode that he's over 2000 years old at that point).  It is a nice little fairy tale story, though; the scenes of the Doctor partying with the villagers are rather lovely, and they do a good job of making this all seem magical.  And so when Clara begs the Time Lords to help the Doctor, it does seem like a natural extension of what's gone on before, rather than some arbitrary deus ex machina designed to keep the show going.

Matt Smith regenerates into Peter Capaldi. ("The Time of the
Doctor") ©BBC
Ultimately, however, this episode is leading to one thing: the end of Matt Smith's Doctor.  Smith does a great job as the Doctor, defending the town from the various alien cameo threats, but it's really quite lovely to see him happy at the end -- clearly he loves the town of Christmas ("Hey, after all these years, I've finally found somewhere that needs me to stick around," he tells Clara at one point), and Smith is very good at letting that joyous side through.  He's also quite good as the aged Doctor, delighted to see Clara again after all this time and willing to face the Daleks for one final confrontation -- except, because of Clara's plea, the Time Lords grant him a new regeneration cycle, which he uses to save the town and keep on living.  That, of course, leads to Matt Smith's final moments, as he ages himself back to how he was before he came to Trenzalore ("This is just the reset," the Doctor says by way of explanation.  "A whole new regeneration cycle") and prepares himself for the end of this body -- something he faces with calm acceptance (in contrast with the previous regeneration255).  "We all change, when you think about it," the Doctor tells Clara.  "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.  I will not forget one line of this.  Not one day.  I swear.  I will always remember when the Doctor was me."  (This is probably meant to be the Doctor's final words, but technically his last word is, "Hey," as he starts to reassure Clara right before he regenerates.)  Then there's the beautiful moment where he imagines seeing Amy again (fun fact: Matt Smith is wearing a wig in this story (as you probably noticed from the bald scene), but so is Karen Gillan, she having recently shaved her head for her role in Guardians of the Galaxy), and then it's time to go.  It's a different regeneration from how they've been doing them, though; while we still get the glowing orange dust streaming out, instead of the usual slow morph between the two actors we get a whip-quick change, as the Doctor throws his head back and then is instantly Peter Capaldi.  (This appears to have been a creative decision, rather than a logistical one related to, say, actor availability.)  The twelfth Doctor has finally arrived (even if his first lines here are incredibly nonsensical)...

So it's a bit of a strange beast, "The Time of the Doctor"; instead of an action-packed epic we get something more whimsical, more storybook.  This does mean that this episode is often quite uneven in tone, but ultimately it does work; there's enough here that's interesting and well done to outweigh any concerns about consistency.  If there is in fact one problem, it's that the resolution of so many plot threads does mean that some of them feel less consequential than we might have thought -- the revelation of the relationship between the Church and the Silents, for instance, is almost thrown away in favor of other business.  But at the end, "The Time of the Doctor" is still a generally satisfactory and entertaining end to the Matt Smith era.

This is therefore farewell to Matt Smith, the youngest actor to date to play the part, and it's safe to say that (despite the initial rumblings of misgivings from people before they'd, y'know, actually seen him in the role) they made the right decision to cast him.  From day one he has simply been the Doctor, and you really did get the sense of an old man in a young man's body.  Smith had some very big shoes to fill, following on from David Tennant's phenomenally popular portrayal, but he took the part and emphatically made it his own, in a way that was recognizably his but still the same character.  Full of energy and joy and life, the eleventh Doctor was a whirlwind of activity with equal parts steel and child-like glee.  Matt Smith made his mark on the role in a big way, and through his abilities and those of Steven Moffat's, secured the future of a show that was initially uncertain if it could survive the departures of both Tennant and showrunner Russell T Davies.  During Matt Smith's Doctor, the series not only survived but thrived, and a very large part of the credit goes to Smith.  Simply wonderful.

This thus brings an end to the handful of specials comprising the 50th anniversary (all right, "The Time of the Doctor" isn't really part of that, but it was part of the 50th Anniversary Collector's Edition, so that's good enough for me), which have done a good job of closing one chapter of the series' history while preparing the way for the next.  In the hands of Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat, the future looks pretty bright indeed.









Footnotes

250 Here's the Spotter's Guide for the eighth Doctor companions mentioned here:
  • Charlotte "Charley" Pollard was an upper-class Edwardian "adventuress" (her term) who traveled with the eighth Doctor for 28 audio stories (plus a Companion Chronicle), from 2001's Storm Warning to 2007's The Girl Who Never Was.  (She then went on to become a sixth Doctor companion, but now is not the time to get into that.)  She was played by India Fisher.
  • C'rizz was an alien Eutermesan from a parallel universe (the Divergent Universe) who could change his skin color (a super-cheap effect on audio!) and traveled with the Doctor and Charley.  He lasted for 14 stories, from 2004's The Creed of the Kromon to 2007's Absolution.  He was played by Conrad Westmaas.
  • Lucie Miller was from 21st-century Blackpool, placed in the care of the eighth Doctor as part of a Time Lord witness protection program (yes, really).  She appeared in four series of specially-commissioned-by-the-BBC audio adventures, from 2007's Blood of the Daleks to 2011's To the Death.  She was played by Sheridan Smith.
  • Tamsin Drew was an actress from Dulwich who auditioned for the role of the Doctor's new companion, appearing in seven stories, from 2010's Situation Vacant to 2011's To the Death.  She was played by Niky Wardley.
  • Molly O'Sullivan was a nurse stationed in France during World War I, who had unusually dark eyes.  She appeared in the four Dark Eyes boxsets, from 2012 to 2015, and was played by Ruth Bradley.
251 So here's a can of worms opened.  "The Night of the Doctor" marks the first overt reference to anything from the non-televised material in televised Doctor Who, which led to tedious conversations about whether this meant all of Big Finish counted or just specifically stories involving the characters mentioned here.  There were discussions about why he didn't recall other companions (say, Fitz Kreiner from the BBC's Eighth Doctor Adventures novel series or Destrii from Doctor Who Magazine's comic strip), ranging from "he only remembered the ones he let down" (which doesn't actually work if you examine it) to "only the audios count, and he only remembered those companions" (although even this leaves out companions like Mary Shelley, and Samson and Gemma (to name companions who were around at the time of writing "The Night of the Doctor" -- Moffat can be forgiven for not knowing about people like Liv Chenka)).  This discussion hinges on one's definition of canon (of which, as already noted, there's no official version for the show), but if you believe it means that the audios count and the other stuff doesn't, you have to deal with 2009's The Company of Friends, which is an eighth Doctor audio anthology that includes a companion from the books (Fitz) and one from the DWM comic (Izzy), and so the whole thing spirals out from there (how do you decide what to count and what to leave out?) and you can see why people should just deal with the stuff they personally think is canon and let everyone else sort it out for themselves.
252 The US showings were all on Monday, where it took in $4.8 million and was the number two screening that day (just behind the second Hunger Games film).  When you take into consideration that a large number of those tickets were bought by people who'd seen the broadcast two days earlier, the feat becomes more impressive.
253 I wonder why they didn't go with A. Coburn (after the late Anthony Coburn, the first writer for the series) -- perhaps it had something to do with the rights battle between the BBC and his son over ownership of things like the TARDIS.
254 It probably didn't help that they smuggled him in early in the morning (to avoid ruining the surprise), and that he apparently already wasn't feeling 100% when he shot this scene, which makes him perhaps look older than he actually is.
255 Although to be fair, the eleventh Doctor was around for something like 1100 years, while the tenth Doctor was around for, er, seven, so you can see why Ten wasn't ready to go.