So it’s been over a month since “The Day of the Doctor” aired and I still get pageviews on my review of it. That’s been pretty awesome, and so was that episode, a proper way to celebrate Doctor Who‘s 50th Anniversary and all that that entails while offering a thrilling story of its own, a fine showcase for current Doctor Matt Smith in his penultimate appearance.
What a shame, then, that in his final appearance in the role, he has to contend giving a great performance with a bad script that goes nowhere except at the end because it’s buried under a complicated plot that doesn’t amount to much of anything and shows what Steven Moffat, after doing SO WELL on “Day,” can do at his worst as a writer.
Again, before we go further, if you’re unfamiliar with Doctor Who, things are gonna get pretty in-depth here, so your move if you want to continue..
Okay, so we start off with a prologue establishing that an unknown blue planet, emanating a mysterious message through time and space that no one can decipher, has drawn every species in the universe (among them, Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans and so on) to it. Naturally, the Doctor (Smith) is around, but without companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman). Instead, he’s talking about all this to a random discarded Cyberman head he just bought somewhere (really, they say that) who he’s nicknamed Handles (voiced by Kayvan Novak). After popping off to Earth to fetch Clara, who briefly tries to get the Doctor to pose as her boyfriend for her family at Christmas dinner, they return to the planet, which Handles–with his full set of Cyberman databanks–identifies as Gallifrey. Given that, at the end of “Day of the Doctor,” Gallifrey was shunted off into a pocket universe, the Doctor rejects this as impossible.
He and Clara then board the ship belonging to the Church of the Papal Mainframe (a paramilitary religious order that showed up back in Season 5), who were the first to arrive. They meet the Church’s Mother Superious Tasha Lem (Orla Brady) who says that they have put up a force field preventing anyone else from destroying the planet and asks if the Doctor would like to explore it for them. Never one to back down, the Doctor agrees. He and Clara are beamed down and discover a few things: there’s a frontier town on the planet, which is permanently in winter, the town’s name is Christmas, the planet is Trenzalore (revealed previously to be the final resting place of the Doctor) and it’s covered by a truth field, meaning no one in town can lie. Oh, and the message turns out to be coming from a crack in the universe (left over from the events of season 5), and the reason no one can decipher it is because it’s in Gallifreyan, according to Handles, who translates it (broadcasting it to all ships in the process) as “Doctor who?” (The big question of season 6)
What does THAT mean? Why, it means the Time Lords, from the pocket universe, are reaching out to the Doctor, asking him to say his real name and open the crack to let Gallifrey back into the universe. Trouble is, with all those enemies up there, if Gallifrey comes back, the Time War (which, remember, nearly destroyed the entire universe and was so dangerous the Doctor was forced to seal it off from the rest of existence) will begin again, and the universe probably won’t survive.
So what does the Doctor do? Get caught up in plot mechanics more complex than what I just talked about (and that’s not even including a confusing gag about holo-projectors and the Church’s penchant for nudity) that, by the end of its 90 minutes, has somehow not only tied up the questions raised in this episode, but also explained that the Doctor has actually reached his final regeneration, found a way to get around that, introduced the long-awaited for Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and tried to tie up every mystery left hanging in Matt Smith’s run. Not surprisingly, the end result is rushed and sloppy.
I really wanted to like this episode. I really did. Instead, while the final 15 minutes were all sorts of awesome–and the 20 seconds or so Capaldi showed up tonight proved to be the crowning moment of awesome, as evidenced by everyone talking about it online–, what came before proved two things about Moffatt’s writing that I absolutely hate.
1. His habit of introducing brand new characters and concepts right out of nowhere and saying that they’ve been super important to the Doctor the WHOLE time; you just didn’t know it! The whole part with Tasha Lem is, consequently, cumbersome; it’s not Brady’s fault, but she’s not playing a character, she’s playing a plot device. This is beyond irritating: you can’t shoehorn in someone new at the last minute and expect someone to care about them when all these other threads are coming back together…which leads us into the second problem.
2. Repeatedly throughout this episode, Moffat delivered on his long-promised intent to answer every lingering question from the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure. He does, but he handwaves every single thing through dialogue and just moves on. That might be fine for him, but as somebody watching this expecting an intense payoff, I was annoyed. It was nice to get an answer to why the TARDIS blew up in Season 5, but that answer being a few snippets of dialogue over a couple scenes? Not cool. Not cool at all.
Not only that, there’s some major inconsistencies with the Silence, a villain that Moffat himself introduced. This may read as nitpicky, but on screen, it felt just irritating. Worse yet, all the various story threads just pile up on top of each other rather than intersecting nicely and evenly. There’s so much going on here that I’ve had Wikipedia open this entire time so I can keep track of what happened. For something I just saw.
All of these things, I should add, are not the fault of director Jamie Payne, who, although he’s not as deft as spectacle as some other Who directors are, is still pretty good. Nor are they the fault of Matt Smith, who is superb throughout, even if a huge chunk of the time, he’s under old man makeup. He has a long career in front of him, no doubt, and the brief gag thrown in as a reference to the fact that, due to his first big American film role in the upcoming How To Catch A Monster (directed by Ryan Gosling!), he had to shave his head, was a nice touch.
No, any problems here can be laid exclusively at Steven Moffat’s feet. I’m not saying he doesn’t know what he’s doing. It just feels like he meant to write a 2-parter, then was told he had to write one special and didn’t want to cut anything else out. It’s frustrating and aggravating, far from how I wanted my last glimpse of the Eleventh Doctor–the first Doctor who I, and most Americans, have seen go through his journey in real time–to be. But those last 20 seconds with Capaldi give me hope that things will be good. The new season doesn’t premiere until August, so we’ll have to see.