Hit the jump for spoilers.
This episode featured the Doctor using his final regeneration to act as the protector of a town called Christmas on the planet of Trenzalore. He’s stationed himself there because it’s the location of the final crack in the universe, and the lost Time Lords on Gallifrey have reached out to communicate through it—which means every single Doctor Who nasty that can hear it has shown up to take a shot at the Time Lords if and when they appear.
The Doctor stays there, aging and aging, refusing to let the Time Lords back in and trying to protect Christmas as the rogues gallery gets more and more creative in its attempts to kill him. Eventually, as he is about to die, Clara manages to plead with the other Time Lords through the crack so that they’ll give him more regenerations. Some really gangbusters regeneration business and a surprise Karen Gillan cameo later, we’re left with a Clara, a Capaldi, and a crashing TARDIS. Well, the last is Christmas business as usual, right?
Oh, also, Clara was there the whole damn time, being characteristically unremarkable. Most of her role involved standing over there while the Doctor did something important and getting tricked into the old “We’re in danger? Here, companion, go fix something in the TARDIS—it totally won’t transport you back to the safety of your time period!” trick not just once but twice. God. That is hateful of me, but she just doesn’t do anything for me as a companion or a character. Also, thanks a lot for confirming that she fancies the Doctor: I really was dying for another companion with a crush.
In general, I have a lot of the same feelings about this episode as I did about the 50th Special. Half of it was pretty touching or brilliant, and the other half of it was confusing, stupid, and/or insulting.
As far as brilliant parts go, it was highly impressive of Moffat that he managed to retcon all of the weird, busy, “complex” bullshit from the previous three seasons into something resembling a storyline. (I refuse at this point in my life to give him the credit due to someone who actually planned all that out, because if it had all been planned out I doubt the buildup would have been as sloppy.) As retcons go, it was pretty great. I’m glad the Time Lords aren’t back yet. Moffat seems to have realized the ramifications of hitting a literal big red reset button, and so has given the Doctor some reservations about getting his planet back instantly. I’m honestly glad the Doctor has compunctions about bringing back Gallifrey, even if this episode made it extra tied up in the freaking ‘Doctor’s true name’ nonsense that Moffat will not let go of.
Matt’s regeneration scene was sweet, although I thought the hallucination thing was a little much. It’s not something I’ve seen happen with regenerations before, but I guess getting a whole new set of regenerations hasn’t happened either. The goodbye between Eleven and Amy was also nice, but I thought it’d have been better if it had been with young Amelia rather than grown-up Amy. Amelia always seemed to represent the same sort of good childlike fun this Doctor embraced; plus, the Doctor had already said goodbye to Amy so many times in the previous seasons. And Matt’s final speech was touching, even if it seemed more like he was directly addressing the fans and Clara just happened to be there.
I found many parts of the episode touching and sweet, from the Doctor making (or fixing) toys for the kids of Christmas, to the idea of the Doctor settling down to age and do what he can as he loses steam over the years, to the really crushing scene where he faces down the Daleks one last time with no plan or hope to spare. This seems to prove to me that Moffat still has that “The Doctor Dances” ability to really tug at your heartstrings, and only serves to disappoint me more when he does stupid stuff.
And on the topic of stupid stuff, let get me started on Tasha Lem. Augh. She is the flirtatious Moffat woman trope given breath, and I just wanted to roll my eyes every time she appeared on the screen. Moffat has already skewed the Doctor’s sexuality, which used to fall around demisexuality, into overdrive (because, remember, asexuals are boring), and it’s apparently required now that each episode must have a new ostensibly powerful woman who is really after the Doctor’s D. Tasha should have been an interesting character as the female head of a galaxy-wide religion that we’ve only ever heard alluded to; instead, we get another Doctor-obsessed vixen who is fridged or at least semi-fridged for the Doctor’s manpain. I don’t even want to think about that utterly unfounded and ridiculous line about how Clara was a “real woman” and Tasha wasn’t, because weakness or something. Fun fact, Moffat: real women come in all sorts of models. There are cowardly women and powerful women and women who make bad choices and you don’t get to use your male proxy to tell us what makes a “real” one, because all of them are real. I don’t even know why it had to be about gender—if he wanted to snipe at Tasha, couldn’t he have said “Now that’s true strength” or “Now that’s loyalty” or something that didn’t unnecessarily create a weird dichotomy between the only major female characters?
I also really hated the Doctor’s dig at Tasha’s religion at the end. It seemed downright vitriolic, and the Doctor has never hated religion that way. He doesn’t seem to subscribe to any himself, but he has always been respectful of other peoples’ religions. His rageful comment was both out of character and an unnecessary addition to the disdain for Tasha that he showed throughout the episode.
All in all, I definitely enjoyed a lot of this episode. I just wish that the female characters hadn’t been bland, boring cut-outs of what Moffat knows how to write, and that instead of investing in overly neat retcons once every few years, Moffat would try his hand at actually writing a series-long arc that makes fucking sense to begin with. That said, I’m looking forward to Capaldi’s run as… whatever number he is… and wish him the best of luck with the role.