Saturday, 11 January 2014

Matt Finish part two: Last Christmas

Out with the new, in with the old(er)

Possibly the only opportunity I'll have to post this sunrise photograph.
In a tenuous link to the Christmas special, the cloud formation
reminded me irresistibly of a Dalek saucer (see below).  No?  Just me then...

If you’ve just read the Matt Smith interview transcript in the previous post you’ll probably agree with the sentiment: “What a lovely man”.

Which makes me feel terrible for what I’m going to say next: After last year’s series, I was looking forward to seeing Matt Smith go. I realise now that the fault probably wasn’t his, (possibly the poorest set of scripts since the series’ return) but the too-short trouser-legged, hand flapping, ‘clown music’-accompanied eleventh Doctor was definitely wearing a bit thin for me. To the extent that I wondered if several scenes might have been improved by he and Clara not arriving in a cloud of quick-fire, self-adoring quips. In fact, I even began to conclude that after a stunning debut in his first season, perhaps Smith had nothing left in the tank and was simply repeating or even parodying himself. Was casting someone so young and relatively inexperienced in such a demanding role simply an unsuccessful gamble?
Then the Day of the Doctor finally arrived and I was pleasantly surprised to see Smith not only hold his own against David Tennant and John Hurt without even seeming to try (no mean feat) but also match the screen-devouring presence of Tom Baker at his most twinklingly eccentric. Elsewhere he was undeniably the Doctor without even saying a word opposite David Bradley’s astonishing Hartnell in An Adventure in Space and Time.
So what happened? Was this an aberation, or was he somehow buoyed-up by the anniversary talent surrounding him? Well, the eleventh Doctor had one chance left to prove otherwise, so I finally sat down to watch his farewell story, Time of the Doctor, with great interest…
To begin at the ending, I wasted no time in spoilering the regeneration for myself on You Tube back in December. This is something of a shameless tradition – I know the ending, I just like to welcome in the new guy with everyone else. Smith’s farewell is genuinely moving, emotion reaching its peak with an unexpected but very welcome appearance from a certain leggy redhead. And then suddenly Clara and the third Scotsman to inhabit the role are gaping at one another in amazement. Capaldi instantly owns the TARDIS console – yes, I would say that, but it’s true – even if he appears to have no idea how to pilot it.
The story itself combines a Christmas setting with an eleventh Doctor greatest hits, a fusion of regeneration story and end-of-year festive special which mainly works well.

The crack in the universe, space armada of vengeful enemies, ecclesiastical army of Silence and Fields of Trenzalore are all revisited and, to varying extents, resolved. Weeping Angels and Silents get great, scary cameos, and the Cybermen appearances are better than the whole of last year’s Nightmare in Silver episode. The Daleks continue their excellent galaxy-conquering form from The Day of the Doctor but the Sontaran ‘skit’ is unforgivable. Let Strax be comedy relief if you must, but please treat this classic monster race with a little more respect next time.

Personal gripes aside, Steven Moffat somehow finding the space amongst all this to do justice to a new, fascinating character: Mother Superious Tasha Lem, deserves credit.
And as the youngest actor to play the Doctor bows out it’s ironic that we see him inhabit the Time Lord’s body for centuries longer than anyone else. There’s a good reason for this. Moffat could have side-stepped the decades-established limit on regenerations but instead plays by this rule and turns it to the story’s advantage. Unlike the Tenth Doctor, the Time Lords have learned to believe in second chances and finally show some gratitude.
As for Smith himself, at his eleventh hour he probably gives his best performance yet. He’s certainly given plenty to do and absolutely runs with it – despite what the Doctor says at the climax, he’s still ‘got plenty’. To my surprise, I’m going to miss the ‘raggedy Doctor’.
So as we look forward to Capaldi as Doctor 12, (or is it 14, or 1:2?) it only remains to quote Matt Smith back at himself:

“Cheers, mate!”

Peter Capaldi strikes the classic 'knitting pattern' pose. 
Of course it's somewhat staged, but in terms of Doctor Who publicity pics it does have form
(see below)

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