There were some wonderful moments in The Time of the Doctor – notably between Jemma Coleman and Smith – but it really did feel as if someone had said to Steven Moffat, “We need a clean slate for Mr Capaldi when he arrives – can you deal with all of this before Matt goes please?” The crack in the universe, the Silents (they’re what, now? I’m not at all the latest answer tracks with everything said so far), the Weeping Angels, the Daleks not knowing who the Doctor is, the exploding TARDIS, “Silence will fall”… everything was brought up, given a comment or two, and then mostly dismissed. (At least we didn’t get the return of River Song…) The idea of a truth field wasn’t followed through as much as it could have been, and the principle that “the Doctor lies” should be allowed to vanish along with the obsession with fezzes and bowties.
Paul McGann’s Doctor also became caught up in a society’s problems and spent hundreds of years there (in the audio Orbis), and while it’s a neat idea – as is the Doctor aging visibly – it did feel as if time was distorting: we know from The Day… that Smith’s Doctor has been around for a long time already, so three hundred more years shouldn’t have had so obvious an effect. At least we didn’t get the farewell tour that blighted the end of The End of Time, and the regeneration, when it finally did happen, was enough of a shock to elicit a gasp.
It’s not fair to try to judge Capaldi’s Doctor based on the next few seconds – although no doubt everyone will have fixed opinions by the time his first proper episode rolls around next year – but perhaps regenerating from the older Matt into Capaldi would have been a more interesting effect (and certainly it felt as if that was what was going to happen).
The core idea – that the Doctor takes up residence somewhere because by moving on he will allow war to break out, and risking his last life to defend it – was a strong one. It’s a shame too much else had to be added on.
Verdict: With strong links back to The Eleventh Hour, Matt Smith’s farewell performance as the Doctor didn’t disappoint, even if the episode in which it was given wasn’t his strongest and definitely suffered in comparison with the heights of The Day of the Doctor. 7/10