I think it’s fair to say that the 50th Anniversary season has kicked off with a vengeance now, with a new title sequence (with the return of the Doctor’s face at long last), a new arrangement of the title theme, and a new mystery for the Doctor to pursue.
This is one of the strongest Christmas specials for a long time: it’s filled with humour and drama, there’s a strong villain for the Doctor to face off against, and a potential origin for a classic series foe – throwing countless spin-off novels off course, and adding yet another factor into the UNIT dating controversy.
It also has ramifications for the rest of the series. You don’t need to know what happened in Asylum of the Daleks for this to work, but obviously some of Clara’s phrasing starts to register with those aware of the earlier story.
The scenes where Clara follows the Doctor and investigates the TARDIS are a great reintroduction to some of the key concepts of the series, and the reveal of the new interior, with its debts to the original Peter Brachaki design, works well. The Great Detective, Jenny and Strax have important roles to play, but never overshadow the relationship between the Doctor and Clara.
Parents might be excused for wondering what the obsession is with killing characters off this Christmas – following the death of Arthur in Merlin on Christmas Eve – but in this case, it’s not at all what it seems. Throughout the episode, we see the Doctor starting to re-engage with the world; the ending has a re-energised Time Lord off to investigate what the universe is playing at this time.
Verdict: An entertaining hour rebooting the show, and promising much for 2013. 8/10