Another regeneration, another era over. It never gets any easier, does it? I’ll cop to being weepy while I type this, and while I expected that, I didn’t expect why I would feel this way.
So let’s talk about the Fall of the Eleventh.
Spoilers for “The Time of the Doctor” below.
In brief recap, there’s a message coming through on a planet that many races have come to investigate. On arriving, the Doctor finds a town called Christmas and the same reality crack that has been chasing him around the universe since season 5. The question being asked is in Gallifreyan, the Question that the Doctor was previously warned about: Doctor Who? The planet turns out to be Trenzalore, the place where the Doctor saw his grave in “The Name of the Doctor.”
It turns out that the Time Lords are on the other side of the crack, waiting for an answer to that question to be certain that this is their universe. If they return, the Time War will begin again because all their enemies are on the other side waiting, so the Doctor is forced to wait there and protect the people of Christmas from those enemies for hundreds of years. He has no regenerations left, and will soon die of old age. In his last stand against the Daleks (the only enemies who stay behind after all that time), Clara returns to find him on the brink of death and asks whoever lies on the other side of the crack to help the Doctor. He is given a healthy dose of Atron energy and uses some of that regenerative power to destroy that Daleks. Then he finally regenerates, after receiving an imagined goodbye from his dear Amelia Pond.
While Steven Moffat’s mythology-building has been pretty darn shaky throughout his tenure, it was shockingly rewarding how he pulled it all together in this final adventure. We finally learn who was responsible for destroying the TARDIS in Eleven’s first season, why Madame Kovarian and her specific group of Silents were after the Doctor, and why the Doctor is destined to meet his end on Trenzalore. Additionally, the importance of the question “Doctor Who?” is finally put to a better use, as it is tied to the re-emergence of the Time Lords. Suddenly the seeding of that question from “The Girl in the Fireplace” onward has a brand new relevence that feels so much more clever than it did before. The universe was trying to clue the Doctor in to the survival of his people this whole time—he just never wanted to listen.
We find out that the Silents are basically confessors, and that Kovarian’s group were rogues of a sort from a splinter sect. Their function is actually fascinating from a religious perspective, and makes them so much more than the Monster of the Season that they were before. Having them fight alongside the Doctor was an excellent touch, turning a feared enemy into comrades. The same is true of the Doctor’s cyber-head friend. It’s too bad that he (it?) hadn’t been around before because he’s a great sidekick.
But the real heart of the episode is how Eleven’s regeneration is addressed. After the epicness of the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration with all those goodbyes, many fans were concerned that Eleven’s might end up retreading a lot of the same ideas and emotions tied to a Doctor’s death. Instead, we get a real slow burn of an episode, watching the Doctor age, watching him choose to stay in one place and be a sort of village hero. He watches generations come and go, he holds the line and lets the town of Christmas get on. He repairs toys and yells at villains. He simply grows old. He spends his life on the slow path that he so often lingers over.
And it’s a beautiful way for Matt Smith’s time to come to an end. Not all fire and rage and fear, but with surity and acceptance. It is, in fact, a beautiful juxtaposition to Ten’s farewell—when Eleven gets his regeneration, he’s at peace. He’s not afraid of this mad thing that he can never control, just glad that he’s getting another shot at it. And he comes to the realization that his life is not much different from anyone else’s, that we all grow and change over time. He will remember being the Eleventh, and he carry that with him. Just as he carries all those voices with him always.
One last bowl of fish fingers and custard. One last look at little Amelia Pond running off to play. One last farewell to a Raggedy Man in a blue box.
And like a shot, Capaldi is suddenly there, and it’s just as jolting for us as it is for Clara. But he’s still the Doctor. And we’ll learn to adjust to this new voice the same way that he does.
Some odds and ends to linger over:
Slight plothole possibly: If the Time Lords hand over some Artron energy to give the Doctor another regeneration (or a whole new cycle, we’re not actually clear on that one), wouldn’t they then just come on through? They were looking for proof that this was their universe, hence the question. If they listened to Clara, that would indicate that they received the confirmation they required. Do they require a pair of helping hands to shove Gallifrey back where it belongs? Otherwise that’s a pretty big gap.
The Doctor’s “greatest fear” housed in Room Eleven from “The God Complex” is revealed to be that universe crack. Are we happy with that reveal? It doesn’t seem likely that that’s the Doctor’s greatest fear, not by a longshot. It felt a bit too package-neat and I was a little let down by that one.
Holographic clothes! Also, “I’m wearing a wig!” It was so lovely that Moffat put a shoutout in there to Matt Smith’s lack of hair, especially since fandom was so concerned when we found out that it wouldn’t grow back in time to film that special. Surprised that they didn’t make a deal out of Karen Gillan’s wig as well. (Just kidding, no one is surprised by that.) Also, the mention of Matt Smith’s poor faint eyebrows, which Tumblr is forever obssessing over.
Eleven’s grandstanding in his final speech to Daleks was such a great nod, considering that it was one aspect that was particularly unique to this Doctor—they all make speeches, but no one liked to shout down armies the same way he did.
Like Ten’s final farewell was to a young Rose on the brink of her own adventures, Eleven must say goodbye to Amelia Pond, the little girl who made him the Doctor he was. A perfect bookend to his time on the TARDIS, and the tipping point if you weren’t already sobbing at his finale.
Raggedy Man, Goodnight. We loved you well.
All right, everyone—Capaldi is coming! How are you faring after this farewell?