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'Doctor Who' review: Goodbye to Matt Smith's Doctor and hello to Peter Capaldi's

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"Doctor Who" fans had to say goodbye to Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor in Wednesday, Dec. 25's "The Time of the Doctor," which saw the Doctor regenerate and Peter Capaldi's official introduction to the series after his snapshot appearance in the 50th anniversary special.

"Times change, and so must I."

The theme of Christmas was right in your face in this "Doctor Who" episode, from Clara's failed family Christmas dinner – first, the Doctor was her boyfriend, then they had to cook the turkey in the TARDIS, and then she started crying at the table while her family just thought her boyfriend had broken up with her, making it all seem like a very unnecessary part of the episode – to the name of the town the Doctor spent over 300 years and grew old in, Christmas. Was it a bit too much to remind us that this was a Christmas episode? Maybe.

Going into the episode, it was hard to care about anything but how the 11th Doctor (but 13th version, as they helpfully explained during the episode), and perhaps that was the problem, at least at the beginning. It seemed like the beginning of the episode and Clara's family dinner was, in a way, in the way of that moment everyone was waiting for and knew was coming: the big regeneration. However, as the episode progressed, that changed, and perhaps it was just because there had been so much hype surrounding this episode because everyone knew what was coming.

With Smith's final episode came so many callbacks to his previous episodes, and that wasn't just limited to the familiar monsters, from the Silence to the Weeping Angels, from the Daleks (and human/Silence Daleks) to the Cybermen. It seemed like so much of the episode was just building up to his farewell, so that even if you didn't know he was regenerating, you'd probably be able to guess. There was the crack in the wall, talk of River Song, the question, Trenzalore itself, Gallifrey, and more, and it was all wrapped up with a bow on top in one satisfying Christmas episode to say goodbye to the man who had been the Doctor for three seasons.

Still, no matter what we thought about the plot itself, this was Matt Smith's episode to shine, and oh, did he. Even as the Doctor grew old, lost his "companion" Cyberman head "Handles" after all those years after he sent Clara away (reminiscent of the way the Ninth Doctor had sent Rose away), and became the man who made toys and fought the monsters in the town of Christmas, Smith still projected that same quality that has made him so good as the Doctor and so capable of winning over millions of fans after the loss of David Tennant's Doctor. He will be missed, and it will be hard to move on from his Doctor, just like it was to move on from Tennant's. But it may be a bit harder (more about that below in the snap judgment section).

"And now it's time for one last bow, like all your other selves. Eleven's hour is over now, the clock is striking twelve's."

As for the regeneration itself, it was quite spectacular, and just like it had to be after everything we've seen from Smith's Doctor. Never try to tell the Doctor the rules. "If you want my life, come and get it," he exclaimed to the Daleks before doing what the Doctor does. "We all change. When you think about it, we're all different people all through our lives, and that's okay, that's good, you gotta keep moving so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this, not one day, I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me," he said as his regeneration had started and all it was was a matter of waiting for the big moment. It was time to say goodbye to fish fingers and custard, to the bowtie, and to the Eleventh Doctor.

While Clara was the one to help move along the regeneration process after it shouldn't have been possible since the Doctor used them all up (the War Doctor and 10's regeneration without changing faces) and may have been his "impossible girl," appropriately, it was Karen Gillan's Amy who was part of the biggest emotional moment for Matt Smith's Doctor, and the fish fingers and custard and her "Raggedy man, good night," said so much more than every scene the Doctor and Clara shared all season. After all, Amy will always be the first face his Doctor's face saw, and just like it has been hard to move from Doctor to Doctor, the same can be said for the companions.

Snap judgment of Peter Capaldi's Doctor It will take some time getting used to someone else as the Doctor, as has happened each time the character has regenerated, but it was hard to really judge Capaldi's version since it was so brief (just like the change itself was) and the episode ended so suddenly. He seemed crazy (like the Doctor should be) and downright confused. "Do you happen to know how to fly this thing?" He asked Clara after declaring that he didn't like the color of his new kidneys?

Because we didn't get that long of a look at this new Doctor, and the only other thing we have to go off of is that stare of his in the 50th anniversary special, plus considering how good Matt Smith was in the role, it's probably going to be a bit harder to warm up to him, and even Clara seemed to be feeling that way since, despite having seen previous versions of the Doctors for herself, she too didn't want to see him change. That's not to say that Capaldi won't be good as the Doctor, but it's not going to be easy for him.

"Doctor Who" will return to BBC America for its eighth season with Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor. What did you think of the Christmas special, "The Time of the Doctor"?

© Meredith Jacobs 2013

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