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Doctor Who: Matt Smith's final episode - Digital Spy review

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"Doctor Who has never ever come as close to doing as well as it is right now. So much of that is down to Matt - he is the Doctor." - Steven Moffat, November 2013.

Matt Smith as The Doctor in the Doctor Who Christmas Special

© BBC / Adrian Rogers


Doctor Who is, for the most part, about the monsters – the threat of the week, the Big Bad, the narrative's driving force. 'The Time of the Doctor' – much like its immediate predecessor 'The Day of the Doctor' – is very much a story about the show's central character and it's anchored by one magnificent lead performance. Everything else – from the monsters, to the guest cast, to the festive frolics – is window dressing.

With this singular focus, you might expect this Christmas special to be a streamlined beast, a smooth ride, yet the nature of Steven Moffat's labyrinthine storytelling means that 'The Time of the Doctor' has a lot to accomplish.

It's impressive that, in 60 minutes, Moffat succeeds in wrapping up the Matt Smith era of Doctor Who – practically every major plot point left unresolved over the past four years is touched upon, whether it forms a crucial part of the story – as with the cracks – or is only addressed in passing – the motives behind the Silence's first attempt on the Doctor's life.

The Silence in the Doctor Who Christmas special: 'The Time of the Doctor'

© BBC Worldwide/Adrian Rogers


Where Doctor Who's showrunner falters slightly is in constructing an adventure story around all the box-ticking and ultimately 'The Time of the Doctor' is perhaps not as emotionally affecting as it should be.

With so much going on, the whole thing feels a bit breathless and we're zipping from Earth to Trenzalore and back again so abruptly that moments which should be powerful have only a few seconds to sink in before we're off to the next bit of incident.

Yet despite its breathless nature, 'The Time of the Doctor' is at times curiously repetitive – Clara being abandoned by the Doctor has less of an impact second time round and the same can be said for the second time we return to Trenzalore to discover an aged Doctor.

If each moment had only been played out once, they'd have held a little more power and might have given this rapid-fire episode the breathing space it so badly needed.

Doctor Who - 'The Time of the Doctor'

© BBC


Efforts to humanise Clara also feel well-intentioned but rushed. In the wake of the Impossible Girl arc, she has to stop being a plot point and become a real, living human person and while there's steps being taken in the right direction – handing her a job in the 50th special, a proper family here – the few brief scenes we get with a genial dad, snippy step-mother and nostalgic grandmother feel a little half-hearted.

Jenna Coleman herself is dependably excellent though – though the Clara character has at times been written far more generically than Amy ever was, Coleman brings heaps of personality and she's equally fantastic whether delivering zingers dashing about the TARDIS or emoting to a crack in a wall.

Matt Smith steals the show though – and quite right too. While 'The Time of the Doctor' has its flaws, Smith's final turn on Doctor Who is one of his very finest – perhaps even his absolute best. A brilliant comic, he's wonderfully funny in the opening scenes, bantering away with his cybernetic pet Handles, but absolutely delivers when the story delves into deeper, darker territory.

Doctor Who - 'The Time of the Doctor'

© BBC


The 11th Doctor has always felt like an old man in a young man's body and, here, as the face finally comes to match the soul, Smith pulls it off – you might question the wisdom of placing your lead in heavy prosthetics for much of his final hurrah, but the 31-year-old succeeds in the difficult task of doing 'old man acting' without it ever feeling cheap or false.

Smith's regeneration scene too is a thing of beauty – like David Tennant before him, Smith gets to break the fourth wall, just a little, in his extended final monologue. From Clara's reaction to Amy's cameo to his wonderful last words, it's perfect.

Matt Smith as The Doctor in the Doctor Who Christmas special: 'The Time of the Doctor'

© BBC Worldwide/Adrian Rogers


'The Time of the Doctor' is a case of the parts being greater than the whole. It has great scenes – standout moments - rather than being a great episode. As a culmination of Matt Smith's four years with Doctor Who, it works – on a narrative level, this hour-long episode satisfies and leaves only a few threads tantalisingly hanging for the Capaldi era.

As a drama, it's a little slapdash – a combination of a breakneck pace and a repetitive story structure robbing many key moments of their power.

But the whole thing works thanks to a superlative lead performance that helps gloss over any cracks – no pun intended. 'The Time of the Doctor' reminds us one final time what an absolutely terrific actor Matt Smith is and what a loss his departure will be for the series.

So long Matt and thanks – we'll always remember when you were the Doctor.

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