Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor (UK - DVD R2)
Do the Wilson Bros take great delight in seeing Matt Smith leave Doctor Who...?
Picture it - early January, 2009. Doctor Who fans were holding their collective breath waiting for the announcement of David Tennant's replacement. One of us was on the last leg of a VERY long train journey and was unable to see the special episode of Doctor Who Confidential that was going to name the successor to the hugely successful Tennant. The weary train-traveller was informed of the choice via a text from his sibling, with the succinct message reading as follows:
"Matt Smith. 26. Fuck."
Since his somewhat shaky start after being unveiled ( “too young“, “too posh“, “looks like Frankenstein's Monster“, etc), Smith was able to eventually win over most of David Tennant's acolytes and went on to become more popular in America than even Tennant himself. All things must come to an end and Christmas Day 2013 saw Matt Smith leave the show, would it be with a bang or a whimper...?
Thousands of alien ships are orbiting an unknown planet, which is the origin of an untranslatable message being beamed across space; back on Earth, it's Christmas and Clara (Jenna Coleman) is hoping that The Doctor will appear and meet her family. The intergalactic message could hold the key to the fate of The Doctor's home planet and will cost him dearly in the process...
It has to be said that the 50th anniversary episode, The Day of the Doctor, was going to be a tough story to top. In many ways The Time of the Doctor was doomed to fail, but it still manages to entertain, even if there is a strange combination of cramming in too much story into too short a running time and also having long, languid stretches that do little to help the story being told. As Star Wars fans, we like to refer to this curious phenomenon as The Prequels Syndrome.
There is a sense that Steven Moffat was trying to wrap up as many elements as possible and tie up as many loose ends that have been left untied during the Matt Smith era. The Silents pop up and try to do something a little more deep and meaningful that had previously been seen - or were they merely included to justify having Character Options produce them in the new scale? The Weeping Angels are back in a cursory manner, but it's still cool to see them for possibly one last time. The mysterious crack that first appeared in Matt Smith's opening story is back and Moffat has finally managed to weave it into the greater scheme of things in a manner that would impress J Michael Straczynski himself.
A big problem with this story is that the Siege of Trenzalore - a key piece in this tale - is that it takes up just over half of the running time, with some fairly long stretches of not much happening where other aspects of the story are just glossed over in a manner. Some of this stretches do allow for some interesting and mature musings on the nature of life and death, but you do feel that a final Doctor story should be more action-packed and exciting... hold on – Planet of the Spiders... Logopolis... The Ultmate Foe... Bugger. Scratch that.
Ultimately, the Siege of Trenzalore comes down to an aged Doctor battling the Daleks – cue lots of shots of everyone's favourite condiment vessels being blown apart and an FX budget that would have BBC accountants have a stroke reading the budget breakdown. There are some impressive visuals throughout The Time of The Doctor; hardcore American sci-fi fans have been taking the piss out of New-Who's effects for a long time, with “early nineties CGI” being a commonly-used barb; the inside of the expansive Papal Mainframe is fairly awesome to look at, not to mention the cornucopia of alien spacecraft that have converged above the mysterious planet.
Clara Oswin is sent back home in the TARDIS in a similar manner that saw Rose Tyler returned to her own place and time, both instances saw a grave catastrophe occur and the end results saw The Doctor regenerate. Needless to say that in both instances, the companion's love of The Doctor saw them both defy orders and join him in his hour of need, though with Clara it happens twice.
At one point, The Doctor sarcastically sniffs that the TARDIS doesn't work by remote control; if this is the case, then what was that funny gadget that Patrick Troughton's Doctor have at the end of The Five Doctors? Speaking of the 20th anniversary story, it was cool to hear Matt Smith mention The Death Zone. There is also a possible call-back to William Hartnell's story, The War Machines, as a wooden Cyberman - and later, the Daleks - declares “The Doctor is required!” - given Moffat's love of the name “Doctor Who”, we're surprised that he didn't use the proper quote from the Hartnell story.
Matt Smith seems to be giving this one his all, really throwing himself into the role with even more gusto than he usually gives it; what makes this performance a stand-out one is that there is a long stretch where he is portraying an elderly version of his Doctor. With the aid of some pretty convincing prosthetic make-up, Smith really sells the idea that he is an old man. Smith's final old-age make-up job is more convincing than most, looking like a cross between Nick Nolte and Richard Harris, not to mention hair looking not too far removed from William Hartnell's Doctor. There have been many who have described his Doctor as being "an old man trapped inside a young man's body" and this is certainly true, but Smith goes the extra mile here and presents a perfectly credible portrayal of a man who is nearly at the end of his present life and (apart from Hartnell's Doctor) is the only incarnation to have (almost) passed away due to old-age.
Speaking of Mr Smith, much was made in the run-up to this story about the fact that he had had a haircut, due to his appearance in the forthcoming film How To Catch A Monster; Smith was seen in costume and character at the Doctor Who Proms with a seriously short haircut and many complained that he really didn't look right. Then he appeared in specially-filmed promotional bits and pieces for the Christmas Special, with a rug that looked silly. The hair-hat he donned for Time of the Doctor wasn't too bad, but Steven Moffat decided to address the whole wig issue in the story, by having Smith lift off the wig to reveal a completely bald head underneath, then it was never spoken of again. It was a clever moved that brushed aside a trivial matter that had gained a ridiculous amount of traction as Christmas loomed. Smith also gets to lose more than just his hair in one scene, which has him appearing as naked as Sylvester McCoy jumping out of a sack during his Ken Campbell Roadshow days. The decision to remove his clothes during his final story must have come after watching Sarah Sutton's striptease swansong, Terminus. This at least gives the teenage fangirls one last chance to squee before not watching the "creepy old guy".
The regeneration wasn't as nauseatingly mawkish as the last one - it comes close, but falls short of that gross act televisual masturbation. Having a surprise cameo from someone who was also wearing a wig was exactly that - a surprise - but it's in vaguely in keeping with hallucinatory cameos from former companions during eighties regenerations. Having Matt Smith suddenly revert to his usual appearance after spending around half of the show in various stages of age make-up is a little jarring and almost undermines what has gone before. It also appears as though Moffat has decided to try and dispense with the uniform Christ-like pose that New-Who Doctors have endured, eschewing that for a lightening fast change that sees Smith exit and Peter Capaldi enter at breakneck speed. Capaldi's scene is brief, but very amusing as he puts his stamp on the role and has a belter of a question to ask in such a fraught situation.
Murray Gold's overbearing music score continues to underline the dramatic moments in a heavy-handed manner that can be likened to a greasy suppository for the emotionally constipated; he underscores the light comedic interplay between Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman with playful woodwind and a “boom-BOOM-boom-BOOM” percussion that became trite through overuse by Danny Elfman a good decade or so ago. Gold even manages to incorporate a 633 Squadron-like motif for the Papal Mainfame.
What is it with New-Who and the reliance upon really trite sound effects for alarms? Back in Rose, the impending destruction of the department store where Miss Tyler worked was signalled with something akin to a klaxon from The Generation Game and here, the warning sound that alerted the Sontarons to their cover being blown sounds suspiciously like the alarm heard whenever a landline telephone has been left off the hook. Despite these minor niggles, The Time of the Doctor is something to sit back and enjoy.
The picture quality on this standard-definition DVD is surprisingly good, with a nice amount of image detail that at times borders on an HD look. Colours are nicely rendered, from the brownish hues of the town of Christmas, to the vibrant reds and greens of the interiors of the Papal Mainframe, it looks most pleasing to the eye.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is fun and enveloping, with plenty of activity from the subwoofer and lots of ambient spot effects coming out of the rear speakers - the announcements from the Dalek spaceship nicely incorporates both aspects. Listening to this in 5.1 is a great experience.
A Christmas Carol: Matt Smith's first Christmas special has been thrown in for your delectation. An intergalactic star-liner is plunging toward certain doom above the surface of a planet that is covered by a mysterious cloud-layer that is interfering with the controls of the liner. Onboard is honeymooning couple Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darville), who try and help regain control of the vessel. A distress call to The Doctor (Matt Smith) is sent out, but he is unable to help directly, as appealing to the good nature of the man who controls the all-encompassing clouds is an impossibility.
Instead, The Doctor travels back in time to when Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon) was a young, optimistic boy and effectively haunt him in order to get him to change his ways so it will be possible for him to show a little humanity and prevent the liner from being destroyed and save the lives of its four thousand passengers...
Despite the obvious over-familiarity of the storyline, there are some nice scenes that show jumping back and forward in time, illustrating just how Sardick became so black-hearted and the attempts made by The Doctor to change him.
Where this story comes unglued a little is the inclusion of an airborne aquatic adversary; when watching the thing on-screen, certain members of the audience must have imagined that Steven Moffat must have watched the Young Ones episode Flood and heard Adrian Edmonson exclaim "that's just the most completely brilliant thing I've ever seen - a flying shark!" and thought "hmm - that gives me an idea..". Dickens himself at one point during the writing of his tale of Ebenezer Scrooge's redemption "it's good, but it needs a silly monster in it somewhere", but ultimately decided against it. The flying sharks add a touch of menace to it that kids will enjoy, but adults - particularly those familiar with the original Dickens story - will find it an unnecessary distraction. A Christmas Carol is a fun enough romp, with a dazzling turn from guest star Michael Gambon and some very impressive visual effects. Fans of Dickens (or just of A Christmas Carol in whatever previous form it may have taken) will possibly be wondering why yet another variation has been produced.
The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe: The second - and lousy - Matt Smith Christmas special is also included - bet you can't believe your luck. It is 1938 and Madge Arwell (Clare Skinner) has taken her two children, Lily (Holly Earl) and Cyril (Maurice Cole) to a relative's expansive house in Dorset after hearing that her husband Reg (Alexander Armstrong) was killed when his Lancaster Bomber was shot down over the English channel. Madge wants to give her children one last great Christmas before breaking the news to them that their father is not going to be coming home. With The Doctor (Matt Smith) masquerading as the caretaker of the house, the Atwells are in for an unforgettable Christmas...
The story isn't a bad one, but it is something that seems far removed from Doctor Who; the kids venture through a magical portal into a snowy forest on an alien world and the youngsters encounter the humanoid tree-like creatures, with The Doctor and Madge in tow; our favourite Time Lord seems to be jogging behind the action in story terms, rather than being at the front. Still, you have to hand it to Moffat in his ability to weave an environmental message about deforestation and acid rain into a Christmas story.
Matt Smith is as good as ever, but the sidelining of his character weakens The Doctor and events seem to happen around him, rather than being the prime-mover. Smith injects his usual amount of professor-like enthusiasm and provides bucket-loads of chemistry between him and the two young guest actors; the scenes between these three are the highlight of this particular episode and this chemistry helps paper over some of the other problems with the story.
The trend that has been around for a while on Doctor Who - casting comedians and/or comedy actors in dramatic roles - seems to have paid off reasonably well this time, as Clare Skinner (usually seen on the BBC's Outnumbered) is very good as the heartbroken mother who shields her children from an awful truth just for them to have one last happy Christmas together before childhood innocence has to be shattered. Bill Bailey (Black Books) and Arabella Weir (The Fast Show) also appear, but their appearances are comparatively brief.
The two young actors in this special, Maurice Cole and Holly Earl are pretty good, even though their characters are basically just loosely altered versions of the Pevensie kids from that certain popular series of CS Lewis books.
Steven Moffat's The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances story (which was great, we hasten to add) had The Doctor exclaiming at the end of the story "just for once, everybody lives!" - Moffat appears to have taken this to heart, as nobody seems to snuff it much in Doctor Who since he took over the reigns. There has been times when we have felt like yelling "just for once, will somebody fucking-well die?" at the screen. People die all the time - people used to die in Doctor Who fairly frequently, including companions; remember when many fans rejoiced at the death of Adric? We certainly do. Remember when Katarina was blown out of the airlock whilst an aghast Peter Purves looked on? We have seen the recon. Remember when Peri met her demise at the hands of Lord Kiv? Uh, scratch that one - but you get what we're driving at. Having a ridiculously fairytale ending where the supposedly "dead" dad avoids a watery grave is pretty hard to swallow, especially when the groundwork had been laid for the rest of the family to deal with the situation and move on. The Torchwood series, Miracle Day, had the interesting premise of what would happen if the population of Earth suddenly lost the ability to die - well if Matt Smith's Doctor stays on this planet for long enough, we'll probably get to find out...
Behind the Lens: This is a 12 minute look at the making of Time of the Doctor, with contributions from the cast and crew during the production of this Christmas special. This is standard, predictable stuff, with the Smith and Coleman amusingly mucking around in front of the camera and plenty of peeks under the production skirt, including the revelation that the wooden Cyberman was played by a woman and various other bits and pieces like that. Steven Moffat waxes pretentious on the subject of regeneration and the obvious emotional connotations that leaving the show would have on Matt Smith (the most interesting part of this piece of PR fluff is footage of the read-through, where Smith actually breaks down as the final words come from his lips). Everyone gets emotional at the end, including Moffat himself and there is some interesting footage of the production wrapping, including one final photo-call and Matt Smith being given a sonic screwdriver by the crew. What IS curious about this mini-documentary is that although it’s narrated by a guy with a British accent, some of the phrasing is distinctly American (i.e. “holiday season” instead of “Christmas” and “sore” instead of “angry”). Never mind.
Tales From the TARDIS: This is a 43 minute potted look at Doctor Who as a whole, with contribution from most of the living Doctors. Produced by BBC Worldwide/BBC America for US consumption, this from the series that brought you [/]The Doctors Revisited[/I], complete with same opening credits and music, along with the same British narration. Opening with footage of Matt Smith recounting his first day on-set (with some accompanying images of his first scene on Doctor Who), this allows the Classic Doctors to recount some of their well-worn anecdotes for what could quite possibly be the last time for one or two of them, including Colin Baker’s disgust at having to wear such a ghastly outfit and Tom Baker’s pre- Who building site adventures (which Baker delivers - as ever - with a wonderful twinkle in his eye)
The gorgeous Freema Agyeman appears to light up the screen, along with contributions from people from every era of the show (with the exception of the Paul McGann era) and there are amusing stories aplenty, not to mention an examination of the popularity of the Daleks. Tales From the TARDIS may be one step up from PR fluff, but it’s entertaining and has some wonderfully amusing anecdotes from the world of Doctor Who.
Farewell to Matt Smith: The youngest ever actor cast to play The Doctor gets anAmerican TV-produced documentary that bids him a fond goodbye. Alex Kingston take the narration reigns and provides a bubbly tone to what could have been distinctly funereal piece about the end of a very significant era of Doctor Who. It runs for 43 minutes ,although Kingston says that it's an hour - that's US TV for you.
With contributions from members of the cast and crew, along with some dodgy contributions from American fans, this is yet another example of a documentary being produced to generate interest in a forthcoming programme (presumably, Time of the Doctor); still, there’s some fun to be had, with Kingston appearing on camera to say that when filming her first story with Matt Smith, they had to perform a stunt together and she accidentally kneed him in the cobblers, with footage of the incident played to confirm her story.
As avid viewers of The Hotel Inspector, it was interesting to hear the library music that is so often used in that particular series pops up here. The aspect of rabid US fandom is touched upon, with copious clips of Smith and his fellow co-stars making public appearances on the other side of the (Amelia) pond and having to confront oestrogen-fuelled hoards, along with some examples of the fan artwork that the aforementioned oestrogen-fuelled hoards produced (though it’s more than likely that they had to be VERY careful which ones they chose to illustrate this particular niche on American television).
The 50th anniversary special is covered, with interview footage from some of the participants, but there is nothing from Smith’s last story, but there is an upbeat wrap-up, with Smith being optimistic about the future of the show and there are plenty of glowing testimonials from colleagues and fans. People who love Matt Smith will certainly enjoy this look back at his time in the TARDIS.
Matt Smith bows out of Doctor Who in an episode that is fairly worthy of a last Doctor story; plenty of money has been thrown at it and Steven Moffat has even thrown the kitchen sink into the story to ensure that most will enjoy it.
We were initially harsh on the casting of Smith, but our view softened somewhat during his time on the show; Smith’s vibrant take on The Doctor has brought a legion of new fans in America and has ensured that the world’s longest-running science-fiction series will continue to run for some time to come - for that, we (along with many others) are most grateful.
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 20th January 2014
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Extras: A Christmas Carol, The Doctor The Widow & The Wardrobe, The Snowmen, Farewell to Matt Smith, Behind-the-Scenes
Easter Egg: No
Director: Jamie Payne
Cast: Matt Smith, Jenna Coleman, Peter Capaldi
Length: 60 minutes
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