Dec. 27th, 2013

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Spoilers ahead for the most recent episodes of "Doctor Who."

"The Time of the Doctor" was the swan song for the Eleventh Doctor played by Matt Smith, so it's a good time to look back and take stock of the last three years of "Doctor Who" before we move into the Peter Capaldi era. 2010 brought a lot of changes to the show - a new Doctor, a new Companion in Amy Pond, and most importantly a new showrunner in Sthephen Moffat, who took over for Russell Davies. A lot of people have been disappointed in Moffat's tenure, since he was known for very strong single episodes in previous series, and he hasn't been responsible for many installments on the same level since. However, I don't think he was any better or worse that Russell Davies overall, though his strengths and weaknesses were different.

The biggest difference was that the over-arching plots got more convoluted, built on iffy logic and a lot of timey-wimey bluster that didn't really hold up if you looked at it too hard. The storylines with River Song, the Pandorica, the Doctor's death, and the Silence all had interesting concepts, but the execution was always a little lacking in dramatic heft. While Russell Davies often hit the emotional notes too hard, Moffat was often a little too cerebral. River Song, for instance, was an intriguing idea for a character, but she never quite came off as charismatic or as engaging as the creators wanted her to be. Fortunately, Companions Amy and Rory managed to supply the human element in spades for the first two years, and I was sorry to see them go. Clara, their replacement, has a lot of potential but hasn't been developed much beyond "The Impossible Girl."

On the other hand, this approach has removed a lot of what I didn't like about the Davies' tenure with the Tenth Doctor, namely the romantic feelings that developed with two of his three companions and the whole "Doctor as Walking God Complex" elements that cropped up so often. The Eleventh Doctor still retains a little of the ego, but his notoriety doesn't feel like something that really defines him, and he's much more sensible than his predecessor, at one point insisting that the Ponds stop traveling with him because he knows that it's going to end badly (which it does). I also liked that Matt Smith's take on the character was more eccentric and alien and he often felt older than either David Tennant or Christopher Eccleston in the role. His performance didn't result in the same emotional fireworks, but then he didn't need them. His final scenes in "The Time of the Doctor" were exactly what they needed to be.

The budget and the viewer numbers went down after Smith's first year, which was noticeable. However, I don't think it had much impact on the show. It certainly didn't feel like the "Doctor Who" universe got any smaller. I especially got attached to recurring alien characters like Madame Vastra and Strax, who I hope we'll get to see more of someday. One thing I especially appreciated about the Moffat episodes was that he wasn't afraid of time. Lots of time passed between episodes and within episodes. We got to see roughly three hundred years elapse from the Eleventh Doctor's first appearance to the last one, and another three hundred years in the last episode itself. We got to see years and years of the Ponds' marriage elapse, and one of my favorite episodes of this run was the Doctor having an extended stay with them over several months while he solved a mystery.

I've seen very mixed reactions to "The Time of the Doctor," but I thought it was a fitting way for him to go out. This time the tables are turned and it's Clara who sees The Doctor age and change the way he's had to watch so many people do the same. And he's not a god or a savior in this story, but one fierce protector of one small town, who has finally been forced to stop running away from his problems. As usual the plot contrivances to the get the Doctor into that situation were easily picked apart, but once you got to the heart of the matter, it was hard to care.

And while the Eleventh Doctor certainly had his ups and downs, this three-year run brought us the Van Gogh episode and the TARDIS becoming a real girl, and Stormageddon, and fish fingers in custard, and a fiftieth anniversary special that was well worth waiting for. I kept finding reasons to keep watching, and I'll keep watching when Peter Capaldi takes over as the Twelfth Doctor in a few months.

I already miss Matt Smith though. It felt like he came and went awfully quick.



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