The Episode (3.5/5)
Regeneration episodes are one of the most expected elements of Doctor Who. In the series most iconic premise The Doctor having grown weak, or succumbing to severe injury will change from one incarnation to another in order to preserve his life. There have been a handful of classic regeneration episodes over the years including the 9th Doctor episode Parting of the Ways, the Fifth Doctor episode the Caves of Androzani, The Fourth Doctor in Logopolis, and the Second in the War Games (not taking into account a potential Season 6b). However, a good many of the episodes have been less than stellar or just simply OK. Jon Pertwee's swan song Planet of the Spiders was an overlong piece of cheese TV, that while good is not Doctor Who at it's most classic, and David Tennant's finale the End of Time 1 and 2 seemed like kitchen sink Doctor Who where everything was thrown into the mix that was expected at the time, including an all too over dramatic end for the 10th himself.
So where does Time of the Doctor, Matt Smith's regeneration fit into this spectrum of regeneration episodes. I feel like it falls somewhere in between the hamfistedness of the End of Time, and something more like the Tenth Planet (First Doctor's last serial) or Logopolis. It is an episode that has sort of the kitchen sink elements of the End of Time with the narrative cramming in hundreds of years of the Doctor's life in what is essentially an action montage sequence with the Doctor taking on a rogues gallery of his most famous villains as he ages from a youthful appearing 11th Doctor to a feeble old Timelord on his last legs. I felt the End of Time crammed two much into 2 hours, and Time of the Doctor feels similarly overstuffed, maybe moreso because of the shorter running time than End of Time.
The Time of the Doctor sees the Eleventh Doctor in the village of Christmas on Trenzalore (where his grave will one day be located). The planet, and in turn the village is under siege by constant attacks. The village of Christmas apparently has a truth field surrounding it, and his enemies do not wish him to speak the answer to the question "Doctor Who?" and in turn spend hundreds of years attempting to take down the Doctor and the town. The battle reaches a climax point when this incarnation has grown naturally old over the hundreds of years attempts to fight off the Daleks one last time.
Time of the Doctor shows the Doctor having recently discovered that he is not the 11th incarnation, but the dreaded 13th, and therefore will die permanently when this life expires. While this makes for an interesting premise, I do not feel like much was done with it in the end. When he announces this revelation to Clara toward the episodes end, it feels more like he simply accepts it with no dramatic tension leading up to it. Also, his many battles show a very clever Doctor simply fighting his way through them without any serious thread, only after hundreds of years do the Daleks present a credible threat to him. And while I did enjoy the episode, I found it almost too hyper in it's pacing more like a music video than a long form television episode.
That being said the episode does a number of things right. First, even though the battles offer no dramatic tension, it is fun in a Destroy All Monsters sort of way to see the Doctor take on this many villains in one madcap episode. The performances from Smith and Jenna Louise Coleman (Clara) are in top form, and they really bounce well off of each other. The design of the village, and the villains (including a wooden Cyberman) are truly top notch. Also, while the regeneration continues the new series tradition of standing, and blowing up with golden energy, the final moments of this Doctors life, and truly handled beautifully. Smith is given quite a tear jerking monologue that is a great capper to his era. When the 12th Doctor appears he immediately feels like fresh air has entered the TARDIS, and is ready to start anew.
BBC Worldwide has presented Doctor Who: Time of the Doctor in an immaculate 1:78:1 transfer preserving the OAR of the broadcast. Time of the Doctor similar to the other Smith-era Blu-ray editions looks absolutely crisp on this Blu-ray with colors coming through nicely, black levels being inky and deep, and fine detail being exceptional.
The audio is similarly impressive with a DTS-HD 5.1 track in English. The dialogue, music, and effects are quite audible, and mixed very well. I did not detect any instances of pops, cracks, or hissing on the track.
The Time of the Doctor Blu-ray kicks off with a behind the scenes look at the making of the episode. We are also given a Matt Smith retrospective entitled Farewell to Matt Smith, and finally Tales of the TARDIS a featurette containing interviews of the living Doctors about their time on the show.
Not Doctor Who's best regeneration episode, but certainly far from the worst (Time and the Rani). Time of the Doctor is an absolutely madcap rush of an episode, and is quite enjoyable in that regard. The A/V looks exceptional, and the extras offer a nice accompanement of the episode. RECOMMENDED