Matt Smith’s final episode of Doctor Who was the Christmas present we were all waiting for, but were never going to be ready to receive. And as should be done with all things that we’re not ready for, let’s just jump into “The Time of the Doctor” headfirst.
There’s a planet sending out an untranslatable signal throughout the entire universe. And even though no one knows what the message means, everybody who’s anybody comes to the planet, even though the message makes everyone inexplicably afraid. Of course, everyone does not include the Doctor.
He waltzes into one of the ships, Dalek arm in hand, announcing that he’s friendly, not to worry, and asking to which species the ship belongs to and why they’re here. Unfortunately for him, the ship is chock full of Daleks. He manages to get transported back to the TARDIS before he’s annihilated, thanks to a decapitated Cyberman head he’s affectionately named – at least I’m assuming it’s affectionately – Handles. Apparently the Doctor has been popping into every ship that’s set up camp around this strange planet and asking why they’re there, and all they’ve done so far is try to kill him. Which isn’t very surprising to me. I feel like the Doctor has racked up enough enemies that going into ships blind is probably a bad idea.
And they’re all there, it seems. Daleks, Slitheen, other races I can’t spell properly. But he doesn’t know why they’re here, or why they’re there if they don’t know why they’re there. His circular thought train is derailed by a phone call that he has to take swinging outside of the TARDIS in space. He tells Handles to remind him to patch the phone through to the console later, and we get a strange little Laurel and Hardy bit about what the definition of “later” is. The phone call turns out to be Clara, who has done what we’ve all done in the terrifying face of a family gathering: invented a boyfriend. And she needs the Doctor to come to Christmas dinner and pose as him. Classic.
Unfortunately for Clara, the Doctor has the attention span of a goldfish and hangs up on her while missing the point of the phone call entirely. There’s a new ship and he needs to go interrogate them as well. Too bad he shows up to a Cyberman ship with a Cyberman head. Clara calls back and asks why they can’t be in mortal danger together; she has a point.
Clara’s Christmas is like something from my nightmares. A drunken granny. Condescending parents. Dinner catastrophe. The TARDIS shows up to rescue her, and Clara’s smile is quickly wiped away when she gets inside and discovers the Doctor is completely naked. Why is he naked? Church, of course! Everything is making so much sense so far. He doesn’t get dressed, instead projecting hologram clothes onto Clara’s visual cortex. Why not. He manages to forget that everybody else on Earth wears clothes at all times, so he goes to meet her family in the nude. Her parents are awkward and Granny is totally on board. After rushing him into the kitchen, Clara discovers that despite the fact that it has been cooking for hours, her turkey is technically raw. Luckily for her, the TARDIS has a turkey setting. While the time vortex is cooking it up, Handles has discovered new information about the planet. It’s Gallifrey.
The Doctor is understandably surprised. The planet looks nothing like Gallifrey. And even though it’s possible that the Doctor didn’t destroy it, Gallifrey still isn’t in this universe. They’re hailed by another ship called the Papal Mainframe, the ship that’s been shielding the planet from the moment it arrived, which is why all of the ships are simply orbiting instead of heading to the planet itself. The Church is kind of like a security HQ, but for the entire universe. Before the Doctor and Clara can go aboard, she has to swallow her own hologram projector, since you can’t go to Church wearing clothes. So Clara has to go and walk around in front of a bunch of strangers completely nude. Oh look, another bad dream I remember having.
It looks like the Doctor and the Mother Superius – Tasha Lem – seem to have a history, which is a little weird to watch. I’m always a little confused as to how the Doctor comes off as a ladies man in the show, mainly because of the extreme awkwardness he projects. Tasha invites them back to her chapel, which I assume is what they call rooms on the ship, and after a lot of talk about “secret matters to discuss” and eyebrow waving, Clara agrees to wait in the hall. The chapel is just a room with a bed and a bar, and the weird factor increases. While Tasha and the Doctor have some “sexual tension,” Clara’s suddenly bombarded by the Silence. But because of all the beams and walls, she keeps forgetting them. Terrified, she runs into the chapel and promptly forgets them again.
Tasha agrees to send Clara and the Doctor down to the planet, but only after the Doctor surrenders the key to the TARDIS, since she doesn’t want any technology down there. They’re beamed down in the middle of the snowy woods, and the Doctor has to hold Clara and rub her arms to keep her warm. Remember how they’re naked?
There’s a hand sticking out of a snow bank, and of course Clara has to investigate. Also of course, the second she realizes it’s stone, we all realize that everything is about to go to hell. She glances back at the Doctor and is immediately attacked, and while the Doctor tries to rescue her, a whole pack of Weeping Angels come out of the snow at them. It’s impossible to look at them all at once, and while they’re closing in, the Doctor takes the spare TARDIS key out of his wig and summons the ship around them. Apparently, a wig was the only place he could sneak a key with him, since he’s completely nude. I’m not commenting.
Once they’re both fully dressed, they head into the town, creating a flawlessly half-baked cover story as they walk up to a couple. That cover story completely breaks down when they immediately spill their guts to these strangers. There’s a truth field through the whole town coming from the tower, which means no one can lie. The couple advise them to be careful until they get used to it and inform them that the town is called Christmas. Isn’t that a happy coincidence?
While they’re popping through the town, they head into the tower first, and there the Doctor discovers the crack in the universe from Amy’s bedroom is back, this time in the tower wall. He figures out that the Time Lords are trying to get back into this universe via the weakest point: the crack. So, the planet itself isn’t Gallifreyan, just the message. The Doctor manages to decode the message, which turns out to be a question. The oldest question in the universe:
The Time Lords are asking his name because if they hear his name, they’ll know they’ve found the right universe and that it’s safe to return. But, if the Doctor and Clara give them his name, they’ll come through. Unfortunately, when Handles decoded the message, the translation was also broadcast to everyone else. The planet is surrounded by all of Gallifrey’s and the Doctor’s enemies, so if the Time Lords break through, the Time War will start again. The Doctor gives Clara a device to take back to the TARDIS, and sends her off. Tasha tries to summon the Doctor again and tells him that the actual name of the planet is Trenzalore. Oof. The last time we saw Trenzalore, it was a literal graveyard, and we discovered that when the Doctor finally visited the planet, it would mean the fall of the Eleventh. Again, oof.
Clara heads back to the TARDIS, puts the device in, and runs back out only to discover that she’s back at her apartment building. Oh, this is painfully familiar. The TARDIS starts to disappear again, but not before Clara gets her key into the lock.
Tasha tells the Doctor that he can’t answer the message, because if he does, the Time Lords will return and war will ensue. But the Doctor can’t just abandon the planet or Gallifrey, so he decides to stick around to protect it. The Papal Mainframe makes a faith change to a new cause of silence. They’ll stay near Trenzalore, ensuring that silence will fall and Trenzalore stays safe.