The Doctor whisks Clara away to a magical world for Christmas, but fails to realise he's walked into the deadliest of traps. Surrounded by his enemies, and on his final life, The Doctor makes one last stand: For Eleven's hour is over now, and the clock is striking twelve's... Spoilers, of course, beyond the cut!
If there are any comparisons to be made with The Time of The Doctor, it will be with the last regeneration story we witnessed, The End of Time. In retrospect, it's quite remarkable just how similar David Tennant's swan song is mirrored in Matt Smiths - both are weighed under by the ominous, threatening shadow of their previous legacies, and in ways, both falter because of it. Whilst The End of Time's overwrought, bloated script stretched its way over two bumper episodes, The Time of The Doctor flusters with its big ideas and hurriedly plot dumps in a desperate attempt to pack it all in just 60 minutes. In away, it's very symbolic of their respective Doctors. We have Ten, unable to let go of himself and fighting as long as possible - referenced in Moffat's cheeky line regarding his vanity to Clara - and we have Eleven, blasting off at a mile a minute with cool ideas and big speeches... even if you failed to quite catch a bit in the process.
It would perhaps be too cruel to crucify Steven Moffat for this though - after all, there is something a little self-indulgent in the regeneration of a Doctor. It has to reflect upon their whole era as much as it looks to the future, and that is no small task. Despite the wild pacing issues and the relative 'nothingness' of the plot, on the whole Moffat succeeds in giving us a whirlwind tour of The Eleventh Doctor era, answering many of the long standing questions put forward across his time on the show. We learn of the Silence's true origin, the genetically enhanced evangelists of the Papal Mainframe. We learn that Madame Kovarian was a religious breakoff, intent on ending the long and bitter war of Trenzalore, blowing up the TARDIS in the process - and perhaps most shockingly, we learn of the cracks in the universe not only being back, but having been a call of Gallifrey, tied off in its pocket universe since the Anniversary Special, and rather poetically, a call throughout the Eleventh Doctor's life.
However, for all these answered questions, the actual plot of The Time of The Doctor itself doesn't really quite hold up to the rest of the storytelling-sewing going on in the background. The carnival of Monsters never feels quite justified, outside of a 'wouldn't it be cool *if*' moment, and the laboured, repeated use of voice over montages to pass time reflects the relatively cramped nature of the script and its ideas battling against the time frame - especially when it comes to the manner of The Doctor's renewed regenerative cycle (which I must admit, as a gift from Gallifrey for having saved him, was rather touching, ending this 'trilogy' of Name, Day and Time as a singular arc) delivered in a bit of a deus ex machina moment. These issues persist throughout, and bring the episode very close to falling flat on its face at points. To draw the comparisons to The End of Time again, if any story deserved to be played out in two parts, The Time of The Doctor is it. With that extra time to breathe, it might not have felt so rushed, and Moffat might have had the chance to explain things a little deeper. But in a way, that's The Eleventh Doctor, isn't it? A bit rushed, not quite coming together as a whole but bursting with big ideas. It's perhaps not the best way to symbolise his legacy, but here we are.
Matt Smith shines in his final outing as The Doctor. It's a whizz through his greatest hits if you will, from humour to grandiose speechery, to his magical capacity to make your lip quiver with a glance of his eyes. A particular highlight for me has to be the 'death' of Handles, The Doctor's Cyberman companion during the first 300 years of his stay in the Town named Christmas. Only Matt could make you feel raw emotion and heartbreak for a plastic cyberhead and some flickering lights, but he does it - the devastation in his eyes as he looks up to Clara is palpable, and it's one of the reasons I'll miss him in the role. There's not quite a Doctor capable of conveying so much with a simple glance like Mr. Smith is. But in all honestly, he's not the star of the show here: Jenna Coleman is. Like Matt, she's so good with her eyes, conveying every little thing in a glance. Although cast aside in favour of The Doctor at times - arguably appropriate for a regeneration story - when it falls on her to hit the emotional beats required, she does it. It's often seen by fans that Clara has had a bit of a maligned story so far, trapped by the 'Impossible Girl' arc, and I'd be inclined to believe that too - but Jenna Coleman herself deserves applause for making the most of that material and nailing it, every time. Here's to more from Clara Oswald, free of narrative constraints, in Series 8. She deserves it!
Finally, we come to the big moment. For a while, I thought we would be cheated out of something 'proper', with Matt in old-man makeup going out in a big deus ex machina of a CGI effect to blast away The Daleks as Gallifrey gives him his new regenerative cycle - but I'm so glad we were fooled. The final TARDIS scene is a masterpiece. Moffat truly shines in moments like these - like RTD before him, he is a master of writing the moment, rather than the big picture in these 'big ticket' episodes, more often than not - where the poetry of his writing works, rising above the timey-wimey grandiose plotting, and Matt runs with it in delivering a touching, beautiful pre-regeneration speech. And then, there was this...
Look. You know me by now. I'm a sap. Of course I was in tears. I didn't expect it, but Karen Gillan's cameo for one last time was perfect for The Eleventh Doctor's sendoff. It had shades of Five calling out for Adric in The Caves of Androzani, and I loved the subtle foreshadowing of having Amelia's theme play earlier in the episode, when The Doctor chats to the red-headed Barnable outside the TARDIS. The Eleventh Doctor is intrinsically tied to Amy Pond, and in a way, so are Matt and Karen, his exit merely writing on the wall when she announced her own departure - and for one last time, he gets to see her. Raggedy Man, Goodnight. Oh, the tears, they won't stop!
And thus ends the era of Matt Smith. It's been a long, bumpy road for the Eleventh Doctor, as benefited by some brilliant writers as he was constrained by scheduling and filming problems, but above all of that Matt Smith has done so very much for Doctor Who in the past three years. Stepping into the shoes of an iconic character in the longest of shadows from his predecessor, there were many people quick to count this young new Doctor out after the glory days of David Tennant catapulting the show to the huge success it had become - but Matt never bowed to that pressure. In the face of those seemingly insurmountable odds, he delivered a remarkable incarnation of our favourite Time Lord, and arguably pushed the show to further heights, capturing an audience not just on his home turf, but also being The Doctor that truly saw Doctor Who crack America and the world. A new Doctor for a generation of youngsters and their tumblrs and their gifs and their whatnots to celebrate, a Doctor for the modern age - and yet at the same time one intimately intertwined with kisses to Doctors past, moreso than any of his predecessors. But beyond the outside success of the show, Matt's true legacy will be a Doctor that was impossibly old and yet totally youthful, a Doctor that was wise as he was a fool, charmingly alluring and yet totally awkward.
The Madman and his box - there's simply no better way to describe his era.
Thank you for being The Doctor, Mr. Smith. It was our pleasure. But there's a new man now, with new kidneys and no clue as to fly the TARDIS! Men change, and no one knows that more than our Doctor. Here's all our love to long ago, and hello to the future...
... It's going to be spectacular.