I'm going to write two reviews; one written after my first watch, and one written after my second watch, and both will be on this blog entry. It'll be interesting, for me if no one else, to see how my opinion changes, if at all.
There is more to this opinion - but basically, I was disappointed.
I spent the whole episode waiting for it to pick up, waiting for a big, dramatic moment - and nothing happened. It's a hell of a lot of story, but to me it feels like they only chose to show us the boring bits of this epic battle. We saw a few explosions later on - but explosions don't make action or excitement. Especially when they happen rapidly, in the tiny space of Christmas village. The whole setting felt too claustrophobic, too dark. The tone of the episode jumped from Star Wars to arc wrapping to the Fiftieth Anniversary Part II to oh we're regenerating Matt now to oh - he has a new cycle. There was too much happening, with all the focus on the wrong bits.
I could make a list including the things I didn't like.. but I won't. Personally, I just felt let down. Matt should have been given so much more. The episode had some wonderful moments as an homage to his era, and it was great that the arcs were tied up. The Five Doctors reference was arguably the best thing about the episode, and Matt blowing up the Daleks was really quite epic. But all of these good moments were surrounded by mediocre plot and a slow pace. The constant jumping back and forward to Earth felt like a poor parody of The Parting of the Ways. The Daleks had suddenly become the main bad guys for no apparent reason and the whole episode just felt all over the place. My second viewing might change that. I think the first time I was distracted by how slow the episode was going.
The arcs, when resolved, were done in quite a boring way. There was lots of sitting and talking, which wasn't enough to accompany the few stand out, touching moments. People didn't like The Rings of Akhaten because the pace was all over the place - well at least that had a properly big ending. That's what this episode needed. It attempted to emulate the ending of Akhaten (even to the song) - but Matt's speech wasn't quite enough. It didn't help that I'd heard three of his lines before he regenerated already, and that was on Twitter, not even a spoiler site.
I loved that the Time Lords were behind the cracks - that was great. But - the scary Silence Will Fall voice in Series 5 once again came to nothing. The episode so nearly picked up to good moments, only to drop every single time.
I feel disappointed for Matt. I hope he loved it, and enjoyed it, and the episode really did feel like a goodbye to Matt Smith the actor. But it didn't feel like a goodbye to the Eleventh Doctor, or any Doctor.. at all.
Lots of people have used the word 'rushed', but then changed their mind the second time. I might do that. Cos I felt the rush, the episode did change and jump far too much, an extension of the idea that there was too much story.
My Dad said that the episode ended with a 'whimper' not a 'bang'. I have to say, I agree. It was good for Matt - but not for the Doctor, and I wanted so so much more from the episode.
(I could go on to criticise the rubbish characterisation of Tasha Lem and some other things, but I better leave it there.)
Just before I go - a couple of things about the last five minutes. They were beautiful. I have watched those twice already (sorry, cheated), but Matt's speech was really touching. Capaldi's arrival was less sudden second time, and much better second time. But the first time I saw it I was so dragged down in 'oh is that it?' that it didn't have quite the necessary impact.
SECOND WATCH AND OTHER THOUGHTS
So, the second watch is done and... I have mixed feelings.
I shared those mixed feelings with Twitter as I watched, mainly treating it as my notepad so I didn't forget all the points I thought of. I'm going to use what I said to piece together my review here.
The first nine minutes are good. They're a good, standard set up for a Christmas episode and they loosely promise that some good stuff is coming up. Of course, it doesn't really. The Papal Mainframe is probably the first sign of things being a bit not good, in terms of the episode. Tasha Lem seems to be written as a replacement for River Song (she was meant to be in it, apparently) but if this is the case, then it appears barely any of the dialogue was changed from character to character. And if this wasn't the case - then that's worse, because it proves that female characters have to be flirty, if written by Steven Moffat. (Though he did make two exceptions with Kate Stewart and Osgood in the Fiftieth, which must have been written on a really good day.)
So, the Papal Mainframe turn up, just missing the Star Wars soundtrack they need to complete the space-opera-epic look they're going for. The idea of the Space Church is really good - but it feels a bit weird. It feels as if we're meant to know loads about it... and we don't. Or we've forgotten. The Silence's purpose makes a lot of sense - but then the menace that they have in their Series Six story has been lost completely. When they appeared in this episode I felt a thrill - I really quite like the Silence. But they were wasted. An episode just about them would have made a lot more sense. As I said before - who said the Daleks were suddenly the big bad guys? This Doctor's hardly faced them - and what happened to the redesigned Daleks?! It annoys me that out of all the things Moffat has listened to from fans - he chose one that's had just as much divided opinion as a lot of his era has.
A story with the Weeping Angels would have worked too, as they, although slightly overused now, are probably the closest to Matt's main bad guys.
It was good to see the crack in the wall back, but the revelation scenes still felt slow. The problem is that the action in the episode, however many times I watch it, will still be slow, uneventful and not quite right. I pointed out on Twitter that "in between when the Doctor leaves Dalek-Tasha Lem and leaves in the
TARDIS was the perfect place for action and a plot". The action needed to happen here - and instead we cut to a scene on the TARDIS (which the episode implies is still on the planet, although we know it's on the Papal Mainframe ship). This episode is really a huge story with all the boring bits shown. "Boring" is a tad unfair, and some moments (eg The Drunk Giraffe, and the scenes with Barnable) were good first time and better second time. But opportunities for this huge battle we were meant to have were missed. The setting feels wrong for that, and for the whole arc.
It still feels, even though I'm (believe it or not) a bit more positive about the episode, as if Matt's arc and era haven't got what they deserve.
"The last 10 minutes are the best," I said on Twitter, "Just a shame the action and excitement, or indeed emotion, weren't at that level throughout." That sums it up pretty much. Matt's proper regeneration moment is stunning, if again slightly oppressed by the setting, which is too dark and too claustrophobic. Yet at the same time - it's too nice. There's no menace in this episode.
Ultimately, I don't know what I'd give the episode out of ten. It was possibly the only episode of New Who I've watched that I've felt bored through on the first watch. I completely tuned out when Handles (who I'm not as fond of as everyone else seems to be) died. The second time I made myself watch that scene - and Matt is good in it, of course, but I can't remember much about it. The episode is just a bit too all over the place and still a bit too slow.
I hope that Capaldi is written good, not lazily. I have my fingers crossed, very tightly.
The Time of the Doctor is never going to be near one of my favourites, but then The End of Time and The Parting of the Ways aren't either. People often say that opening episodes are the hardest to write - well, maybe it's the endings.
PS The episode really needed the Doctor to be young all the way through and in tweed, so it properly felt like the Eleventh Doctor was leaving.