There is a spoiler warning, as is probably expected. It is perhaps worth establishing a few ground rules before going on to review this episode, which should put some of the further criticisms into a more acceptable context. Moffat was never going to do Matt Smith justice in his final outing. After a 50th Anniversary special of near-epic proportions, it would be near-impossible to rival such scale only a month or so later. Yes, there were faults – quite a number in fact – but Smith still got his chance to shine, as a sad, old alien passing onto the next life. That shot of the bowtie falling to the floor echoed with thousands of heartstrings being plucked across the world.
There were issues with the pacing, again, as expected, but the show slowed when it needed to, especially as the aged Doctor sat around reflecting on his former lives. The ‘fight’ scenes were quick and almost kaleidoscopic, yet they needed no embellishment, acting merely as the backdrop to a lonely time traveller living out the last of his days, staying for Christmas rather than seeing it, and the universe, subjected to the Time War once more. That said, the show gave its millions of viewers very little chance to breath. Even as a tear-jerking performance was pulled off, quickly an orchestral overload would draw us back to the arriving Daleks and what would be Smith’s final scene. The mixing itself was terrible – dialogue was often unintelligible, (‘Did he say kidneys?’) and this marred some incredible displays by Smith.
Coleman was given a surprisingly large part for Smith’s final performance, and carried it off relatively well. There may have been sobbing, running and hasty monologues to cracks in walls, but that’s no different to a large bulk of what Moffat has incorporated into the previous three seasons. Orla Brady’s saucy space nun was more enthralling than most characters but seemed like the Moff’s ham-fisted attempt to create a strong, independent female presence through her overcoming of the Dalek recoding – (‘That is a woman!’). It seemed relatively contrived however it is interpreted.
The plot was complex, but when isn’t it? In fact compared to some earlier episodes, among them The Big Bang or The God Complex, the majority of the episode seemed to tick along relatively well. A little more time to the origins of The Silence may have come in handy, but having these plot points nailed down slightly more firmly (though how exactly do you blow up a TARDIS?) was a satisfying way to round off Smith’s tenure as well as bring the last few years of the show full circle.
Karen Gillan’s brief and wigged cameo helped bring a greater sense of closure, as once more we see the Doctor calmly regenerate in the TARDIS control room. For a few seconds there was the expectation that Capaldi’s tones would be booming out from the Clock Tower as the Dalek forces are decimated, but this was not to be. A wonderful monologue, that gave Smith the chance not to have to say his goodbyes in the midst of regeneration energy and exploding Dalek ships, seemed to leave everyone satisfied – sure, we were going to miss him, but at least we had a great time together. It was the greatest break up speech possible.
And then in the blink of an eye we had Capaldi – a wild eyed, hoarse Capaldi. Smith’s Doctor promised he would never forget, yet that is the first thing the 12th (or 13th or 14th?) Doctor did – in effect ‘forgetting’ everything (including how to fly the TARDIS), may have been quite a fun premise but generates a lot of uncertainty, eagerly leaving audiences awaiting what is sure to be the time of a very different Doctor.
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