In an uncomfortably glossy resolution that hastily concludes Matt Smith’s tenure as British Television’s beloved Mr Fix It, Steven Moffat presents The Time of the Doctor. Last month’s 50th Anniversary was a rewarding, fan-pleasing romp with the triptych of Doctors saving Gallifrey in a rousing climax. It’s a shame then that Steven Moffat appears to have written The Time of the Doctor first – a bland non-adventure that sees the tremendous Smith hobble clumsily off stage left.
Opening on a mysterious planet surrounded by the Doctor’s greatest enemies, the Time Lord’s interest is sparked as he is pulled into a centuries long conflict. There’s a riddle amidst the madness as Tasha Lem (Orla Brady) appears to belong to some greater plot apparently having met the Doctor before. A short rehash of the River Song mystery, it’s an entirely needless inclusion and one that seems to mistake the Time Lord for some sexy lothario – one who seems ever at odds with Moffat’s winding drivel. It feels like the writer is too close to his hero, too much of a fan to write him with any grace in grand episodes like this and you can’t help but feel a subdued, claustrophobic episode might have been more effective.
From the off, Moffat throws in every needlessly quirky trick to give the illusion of spectacle and as the Time Lord ages hundreds of years in mere seconds, it’s all a bit of a stretch. With nods back to the time cracks seen in Smith’s first outing, the episode sets out to resolve many of the plot threads crudely delayed until now. Scarcely explored like many of the other features of the episode (see a one line nod to the Silence’s real identity) these threads are hastily brushed over and like the Scream-esque villains, they are instantly forgettable.
30 minutes in, or at least what feels like it, the Doctor is finally confronted by the revelation that the planet is actually Trenzalore – the place where he will die. This should be the moment the meandering episode gathers pace yet it is undone by the revelation being included in the episode’s promo. In fact, most of what we see belongs in the trailer and the 50 minutes before the inevitable regeneration seem uneasily tacked on. For all the apparent grandeur, it all seems a little rushed, indelicate and imprecise.
At one point the beyond tertiary Clara (played by the ever soapy Jenna Coleman) is catapulted from the TARDIS a-la Rose in ‘Bad Wolf’ later returning to the Doctor only to again be sent back by the rapidly aging peace-keeper. Her separation is not some tragic divide but a fortunate gasp for air. As Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) steps in for an emotional final bow, the current companion seems even more derogatory and there’s a hope that Peter Capaldi will bid her an immediate fuckity-bye.
Stepping into the thick of it, his doctor has the power to undo the increasingly ubiquitous wormholes in the series. Frantically directed and written, and with little on the inside, the series is tumbling through the time vortex flapping its arms around in some lengthy, albeit empty exposition. And while Smith’s final moments create an emotional flair to a fantastic regeneration which we, like he, will never forget, it is a wholly undeserved finale to a typically dizzying non-adventure. Moffat has once again let the timey-wimey go right to his pen.
Whilst David Tennant’s grand finale created some of the finest Doctor Who moments, Matt Smith’s last episode leaves a disappointingly sour aftertaste. A reheated Christmas dinner spinning endlessly in a worn-out microwave, the episode, like its star, peters-out but there’s the hope that a new star might have the power to reverse the polarity.