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DOCTOR WHO Review: The Time of the Doctor (SPOILERS!)

That’s that, then, is it? The Doctor is gone, long live the Doctor. I’m sure “The Time of the Doctor” isn’t what most people thought it would be, and it might leave a percentage of fandom cold, but from where I’m sitting, next to my mom’s Christmas tree after a festive and joyful day, I can’t think of a better way for the Eleventh Doctor to end his tenure that began a week shy of four years ago when a 20-something goofball checked in to see if he had all his appendages, if he was a girl, and if he was ginger. There were lots of loose ends for writer Steven Moffat to tie up, but somehow he did it. Again, whether or you think he did a good job of it is another matter. I’ll say this, though: it had no potions or physics-defying not-deaths. Matt Smith got to be the hero he always was and go out with class.

As I said before, Moffat had a lot to do, what with us still not knowing how the Doctor ended up on Trenzalore, why the first question was the first question, why “silence will fall,” and how he could get around those pesky regenerations. It’s as though Moff creates problems just so he has to solve them, like he has a split personality when he writes. Granted, a lot of the problems stemmed from Series 6, which is easily my least favorite, and the least focused. It may seem like a hand wave the way things ended up, but it’s actually very clever (if easy), and it cleans the slate rather nicely for the next fellow. More on that later.

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So, “The Time of the Doctor” is all about inevitability, fate if you will. We know, even if the characters don’t, that Smith is leaving the show and Peter Capaldi is taking over, but the whole of the series has been about changing the future. If “The Day of the Doctor” taught us nothing, it’s that not only can time be rewritten, but popular fan wisdom as well. If you don’t like the music, change the station; If you don’t like the future, make a new one. How does the Doctor reconcile not wanting to die, but knowing he must? The truth? He doesn’t, but that’s where friends come in, yet again.

After being tricked into going to Trenzalore by the Church of the Papal Mainframe, the Doctor finds in the perpetually truthful town of Christmas the crack in the fabric of the universe, the very same crack he faced before and made “The Big Bang” happen, only this time it’s a question being asked by a long-forgotten, and long-destroyed, world: Gallifrey. They need to know the Doctor is who he says he is, and so ask the question to which the Doctor cannot lie in order to come back into this reality. However, for him to bring the Time Lords back will mean the re-igniting of the Time War, with the Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, Weeping Angels, and even the Terileptils (who get name-checked) all waiting to make it happen. The Doctor knows he can’t abandon these people, and the Papal Mainframe instigate silence to make sure he doesn’t speak the name. He sends Clara back to her home in the TARDIS and spends the next 300 years foiling every plot and attempt to attack the good people of Christmas, Trenzalore.

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It’s this action that is the perfect farewell to the Eleventh Doctor. He’s the Doctor, more than any other, who has run away and not wanted to be tied to any one place or time. Remember how bent out of shape he got in “The Power of Three” after just a couple of days? So here is he, the Doctor who wouldn’t stay still, who lived many hundreds of years more than we’ve ever seen onscreen, compelled to stay put to save each and every life he can. He isn’t pissed off that he has so much more to do in this form; this is his last form, and he’s going to save every single person he possibly can, even if that’s only in one place. He’s always had a scheme or two, but this time it’s just him standing in between innocents and death. Finally, it’s Clara, who finds her way back to him for a third time, who is able to save him by beseeching the Time Lords from through the crack. And it works, because who else can eventually free them?

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There’s tons of other stuff worth mentioning here before I get to the final scene, so here we go: I love that the Doctor makes friends with a Cyberman’s head. Adorable. I love how well Moffat writes Clara, and how well Jenna Coleman plays her. She’s the most compelling companion in ages. I love how everybody in Christmas draws pictures of their hero and celebrates him. I love how they figured out a way around Matt having shaved his head. Genius. I didn’t much care for the nudity joke, especially because it didn’t seem to matter beyond the initial joke, but it didn’t spoil things too much. I loved the puppet show with the Monoid puppet. I loved seeing old, senile Eleven, muttering to himself. And most of all, I loved seeing Matt Smith being Matt Smith.

Now, for the final scene. It was perhaps the most important thing to me that “The Time of the Doctor” did two things: 1) make sense on its own terms without being too complicated (which it did about 80%), and 2) to allow the Eleventh Doctor to go out with dignity and both appreciate the sadness of leaving without casting a pall over the new. The second passed with flying colors. Smith returned to his young self in order to say goodbye to Clara, but he also sees the first face his face saw with a surprise appearance by Karen Gillan. It was a bit hokum, but still really nice. Then, the Eleventh Doctor says his final words, and they aren’t “I don’t want to go;” they’re his (and Smith’s and Moffat’s) way of saying that remembering THIS Doctor shouldn’t mean casting aspersions on any other Doctor and that each incarnation is as important as the last or the next. It was classy, exactly as classy as the Eleventh Doctor (but the Thirteenth Form) always was.

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I don’t know about you all, but the Eleventh Doctor was MY Doctor, and I will of course always remember the time when the Doctor was he. BUT! We get our first, very fleeting glimpse of the next Doctor, Peter Capaldi, who is just as intense and strange as we probably expected. He knows the color of his kidneys and doesn’t know how to fly the TARDIS, so we’re definitely going to have a lot to get used to, but we have plenty of time to make peace with our goodbyes to Matt Smith before we officially say hello to Peter Capaldi. Thanks for everything, Mr. Smith. You were splendid. Until our paths cross again in the 60th Anniversary Special in 2023, Geronimo!

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82 comments

  • Definatly a gut wrenching episode. I like the fact that The Doctor grew old and died instead of dying young. He saved a lot of people in that time. I also loved Peter Capaldi’s face after he changed, he looked at Clara like he was studying a new species.
    I cried as Matt left, laughed when Peter began, and now cry again as I wait for almost a year to properly meet the new Doctor.

  • This may sound like a dumb question, but did you get the sense that Tasha Lem was somehow channelling River Song? She talked with him like she was, he referred to her bottling up a psychopath in her for all her life, and she knew how to fly the TARDIS.

  • I have mixed feelings about this. I started liking a lot more 11th when Clara came up to the mix. I agree with you that she is an amazing companion that doesn’t have the princess in distress thing going on. However, everything about this episode felt so fast-paced. There was a lot going on and explained really fast. I guess I was expecting something more emotional. And The Doctor didn’t seem to have trouble with any of his enemies even though they were a lot. But I guess that’s the trouble of packing everything in an hour. Oh well, all in all, I will miss ol Chinny. He was one of the most fun Doctors to watch at least to me. Geronimo raggedy man and welcome colored kidneys (I really hope this is not what we start to mention Capaldi with)

  • Interesting review Kyle. For me, I look back at Russel T. Davies’ “End of Time” and see a clear, linear exciting adventure which hinged on the “4 knocks” prophecy that was cleverly introduced earlier in the season and culminated perfectly at the end of the episode with an emotional and satisfying end to 10’s story. By comparison, Moffat’s style of churning several confusing twists into an episode, many of which are resolved through a plot device that often contradicts a previously established rule, grows tiresome and frustrating.

    Moffat’s writing in Season 5 was excellent. Great stories, lots of humor, and just the right amount of mind-bending complexity weaving throughout the season ending in the almost perfect 2-part Big Bang episode. Since then, it almost seems that Moffat has been desperately trying to outdo himself with each finale, as if it’s more important to be clever and pack in multiple levels of complexity than it is to just have a simple linear adventure. In the end, its really the story thats most important. Unfortunately for me, it’s almost becoming a chore to keep up with the story and logic in many of Moffat’s recent episodes. I think I’m not alone in hoping Moffat lets up the reins a bit and lets some other writers try their hand at the big story arcs in season 8 and beyond.

  • I loved how he took the bowtie off BEFORE the regeneration. As if to say “Only Matt can wear the bowtie! (Since it was Matt’s recommendation to use in the first place!)

  • @Lisa:

    Tasha was part of the Papal Mainframe.

    Where was River’s final resting place? A library computer, you say? How interesting.

    She also doesn’t do aging, which indicates something’s up with her.

    Is she River? Is she something else entirely? Who knows.

  • Lisa: I got that impression, too! There were some broad hints that she was channeling River. This is the most we’ve seen the Doctor comfortably flirt and snog with anyone other than River. I don’t know how she’d fit into River’s timeline, though.

  • My first Doctor was Tom Baker and then I didn’t see it again until Paul McGann. I was thrilled when Christopher brought him back and was sad that he only stayed a year. Then came David and he became “MY” Doctor of the new batch.
    It took me a long time to adjust to Matt Smith, but I finally did, and I think he did a fine job. This was a perfectly fitting and great end for 11. I look forward to Peter’s doctor.

  • Probably going to be hated for this – but not to broken up to see Matt go. This send-off was probably my least favorite and I felt a bit rushed through the episode. Though if I’m honest, Matt was never “My Doctor”so my opinion may be coloured a bit. I will say, his final scene with Clara and Amy did give me feels. Glad to see Peter Capaldi taking it on.

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    I also loved that he took is bow tie off before he regenerated. That to me is how I KNEW it was the end.

    “The End of Time” was everything that this episode was not, and I don’t mean that in a good way at all. I will reiterate – “classy.”

    I don’t think Tasha and River are meant to be the same person at all, I just think the Doctor likes being around women like that, especially ones in positions of authority. Not sad River wasn’t in this episode because she had such a great sendoff in “The Name of the Doctor.”

  • I’m going to get this out there to start, Matt Smith is MY Doctor, eccentric, hilarious, youthful but with the weight of age and history, pathos, and just plain insanity. I enjoyed the entirety of Matt’s run, thanks solely to him. Sure sometimes the writing let him down, but Matt was always a class act, always the stand out best thing in every episode. You”d always have a laugh and he’d always make you shed a tear.

    Having said this, I didn’t care much for the Time of the Doctor. I loved the first half, the fake boyfriend, the cooking turkey and dealing with the cyber men at the same time, the bald head because he got bored, all classic Matt Doctor stuff that had me giggling and guffawing. Then came the town of Christmas and the episode ground to a halt. The momentum stopped, there was no sense of urgency, there was ‘the VoiceOver explaining what happened over the next 300 years’ aka the laziest form of storytelling (I know it does kind of fit into the fairy tale nature of Matt Smith’s tenure, but it just seemed lazy). Then we got dues ex machina after dues ex machina, the cop gifting of another set of regenerations (personally I would have preferred it if he’d had another set all along from way back when River gifted him her regeneration powers).

    Then came the knock out blow, the regeneration, Matt’s final goodbye was a great goodbye that I’ll admit did put a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat. But the actual regeneration seemed to happen to quickly almost like Moffatt had been told to trim down the whole episode by about 30 seconds.

    Finally, the twist of the knife, the excitement of the casting of Capaldi was replaced with what can only be described as an ‘oh crap, this show is doomed moment’, (and I know I shouldn’t judge him based on 30 seconds of screen time), but I literally loathed every second of Capaldi’s Doctor. It all seemed so forced, so unnatural, it just didn’t work. And it also dawned on me from the second we saw Clara’s reaction, they are actively shunning a good portion of their fan base. Matt was the Doctor who finally broke the US proper main stream. He was young unconventionally attractive and an incredibly active Doctor, key ingredients for the modern primary demographic. Little boys could feel like they were the Doctor, young girls wanted to be WITH the Doctor. Casting an older Doctor, although not inherently a bad thing to many a Doctor Who fan may actually end up alienating the masses. And what’s worse, for every other regeneration the incoming Doctor felt right at home from second 1 on screen, but here I just feel like he’s trying to outdo Matt, and it comes across not as eccentric, quirky or like a mad man in a box, instead it comes across as someone trying too hard to be the quirkiest person in the room. The kidney gag to me fell flat, the lack of knowledge on how to fly the Tardis made me actually slap my forehead. And my general Capaldi excitement has been replaced with sheer dread. I really hope, beyond all hope that I’m wrong (and I’m sure I will be), but from here things aren’t looking good.

  • I liked RTD’s era but *HATED* “The end of time”.
    Season 5 was awesome., but I reckon things tapered off a bit until the 2nd half of Season 7. I’ve recently re-watched all of nu-who, and I feel it bears up my opinion.

    RTD knew how to set up a cliffhanger, but could NOT resolve things in a satisfactory way (often employing a reset button). There are exceptions – “Midnight” was atypical and awesome.
    The Moff, I agree, seems very preoccupied with being zing-y and clever, sometimes at the expense of the story, but in my estimation, carries it off successfully more often than RTD did… (still utilising a reset button).

    We could argue as to which is more objectionable- a bit of technobabble, or a bit old deus ex machina (sometimes combine the two with some sonic action thrown in!). I feel that people like to have the endings of stories as well crafted as the beginnings. Even if the narrative tools are the same, the usages between the two writers are different.

    I may be in the minority, but while David Tennant, seems to be an exceptionally nice fella IRL, I just didn’t like the era of the tenth Doctor (actually the eleventh + twelfth) nearly AS much as I like the era of the eleventh (thirteenth). Basically, the storytelling/acting is of a different flavour, and I prefer the more recent storytelling. Again, not to say 2006 – 2009 was a waste of time or anything- I just preferred Matt Smith’s Doctor. Especially coupled with Clara- A companion whose dialogue seems deeper than “what zing-y line can I say?”. Although she has those as well.

    “Time of the Doctor”, is a little rushed in places, but the goodbye is not a LOTR/End of Time ending fest. The Doctor’s goodbye speech is AWESOME. And Capaldi is intriguing as all hell. Didn’t like his first words. Moffatt forcing some quirk onto an actor who does not need it.

    I LOVE Doctor Who. ALL of Doctor who. 1963 to just now.
    I’m real glad that Moffatt squared away everything, so Capaldi’s stories don’t have quite so many hangovers from previous times.

  • I’ve like Matt Smith immensely as a doctor, he’s not my favourite, but he’s been great. Unfortunately, I’ve found the last couple of season’s stories have really sucked. I think it’s how problems on the scale of the universe are solved almost magically without any kind of precedenve or related logic. It’s like God itself pops in for each episode to clean up the mess.

  • I miss the old TV-play shows more and more. The build up to a regeneration seems unnecessary, knowing a year ahead that the Doctor is going to regenerate, and the endings leading up to the regenerations in the new series just go on and on, and are so much fan-service. I like it better when something happens to the Doctor to cause him to die, and he lies down and might see a few companions, and changes, without so much fuss. Leave the drama for the confused new guy.

  • After sleeping on it, here is my quicky review:

    It was a bad episode. For a story that tried to cram in every single reference to the past 3 seasons in a frantic attempt to tie up loose ends, one would think that Moffat would have actually paid attention to what he was doing. By having it set on Trenzalor as being the big final battle, he was clearly calling back to just a couple episodes ago with the whole Impossible Girl story line. However, by him not dying and them not doing *ANYTHING* to sync it up with the previous story, there was no time scar body. Hence Clara as the Impossible Girl (whom was called such by the Doctor in this very episode) could never have existed, which pretty much invalidates her entire story arch.

    The role of the head of the Church of the Mainframe being given to a newly introduced character seemed very out of place with all of the references being made about her. It seemed very clear to me that this role was written for River Song (flying the Tardis, the Doctor’s comment about fighting your inner psycho, the fact that the whole Church is the Church of the *MAINFRAME*, which is where River Song was deposited, the old flirting, etc). Moffat claimed that he would consider bringing Kingston back when the story called for it, and this role just SCREAMED River Song, yet she never appeared.

    Why did Handles have to broadcast what the message was saying in the first place? Its not like he put some sort of filter on the actual source of the message, the Doctor just gave him a decoding algorithm. He should have been perfectly capable of reading the message and just saying it out loud. He didn’t have to tell the entire universe what it said. Sure, it was necessary for the plot, but when your entire plot requires someone to carry the idiot ball, its time to rethink your plot.

    Additionally, Moffat utterly wasted what is perhaps the greatest story point in all of Doctor Who, how the Doctor bypasses the 12 regeneration limit, with complete disdain by handwaving it away with all of 5 seconds of dialog. There was so much that could have been done there, so much that should have been done there. There was a good season’s worth of plot that they could have gotten out of that, and it was all reduced to Clara wishing really, really hard. Which doesn’t even really make sense, she goes on a speech about how if the Time Lords loved the Doctor they should help him. Every time we’ve seen the Time Lords relationship with the Doctor in NuWho, they’ve thought he was a dangerous lunatic at best. They were only using him as a way to get back into this universe, why would they seal up the crack and stop trying just because the Doctor needed some extra lives?

    And lets not forget, the town of Christmas burned. All of Trenzalor burned. The Doctor took out *ONE* measly dalek ship with his regeneration. Surely there must have been more up there. If there wasn’t a full fleet up there by the end, the Doctor would have just said his name, brought back the Time Lords, and let them wipe out a few straggler daleks and call it a day. Even if we assume the Time Lords stopped transmitting the signal, you’ve still got a pissed off dalek fleet overhead, and the Doctor just jumped in his Tardis and flew off. That planet is toast.

    Just for good measure, I think it also needs to be asked “Why does the Doctor keep taking off and flying the Tardis in the middle of a regeneration?” Every time he does that, he crashes and bad things happen. Is there a reason why he didn’t just stay outside and sit there like a good boy until the process was done? He knows he gets addled after a regeneration, he references that fact pretty much every time he regenerates, so why does he keep doing so under pretty much the worst self imposed situation he can?

  • Everything seemed rush and too complex. I did not care for the town of Christmas. There was no emotional connection to me. I argued this point with my brother and he said “that is what makes Doctor Who amazing. He cares for every town and person and they are all important.” I just feel like as a viewer this i kind of a cop-out. We met one character from Christmas who they showed in two scenes from the town and then they passed half of the 11ths life in a voice-over. We saw no real connection between Matt Smith and the town. The regeneration scene inside of the TARDIS saved this episode for me. It was AMAZING. Clara’s face when she saw the Doctor walking down the steps was the first moment i have loved Clara as a companion. Let me channel Balin and say “There is one i could follow. There is one I could call companion.” I felt she was kind of overshadowed by the return of Pond but I enjoyed that as well. Wish they could have added one more look from Clara once she sees Matt with his hand raised in the empty air, where she accepts that he has grown old and demented and it is time for him to regenerate. As to Matt Smith’s final speech. THE FEELS!!! Perfect goodbye from the 11th and when he dropped the bow-tie, i felt like time stopped. Great symbolism for the passing of the torch. Then all of a sudden BAM, here comes Capaldi. Loved the quick regeneration. Maybe it was because the 11th was so accepting of the next doctor that the regeneration occurred so fast. Capaldi’s kidney line was lost on me but he looks like a mad professor. Hopefully, we get to see Capaldi be River Song’s doctor. He has to give her a screwdriver before The Silence in The Library episodes and that hasnt happened yet. Also, she made remarks about Matt and David looking young. Either way, can’t wait to see more Capaldi.

  • I agree and disagree on a number of factors. I was not impressed with Jenna’s performance – or maybe I should say the way she was written. The entire breadth of her companionship she’s being sassy, confident, and a fun companion. However, in this last episode she became a lovesick puppy pining over Matt Smith channeling (in a bad way) Rose Tyler in her attempts to “never send me away” and remain with the doctor forever. It was so different from her character that I felt like we were watching someone completely new and hated her part in the show. However, i thought Matt’s send off was brilliant (LOVED the bowtie and seeing Amelia Pond – their relationship was one of the best of any Doctor).

  • One of the best reviews out there. You helped me answer a few things which were not clear to me. The episode was very rushed. I only wish it was a 2 parter.

  • The End of Time was a mediocre episode, but it absolutely had a wonderful send off for David Tennant’s doctor – sacrificing himself to save a single beloved character and then giving the audience one last time with all of his companions. That points up the problem with the Time of the Doctor. The Moff writes great comedy, and he resolved the all too many loose ends brilliantly. Did anyone predict the crack was what eleven saw in the God Complex, but in retrospect it makes complete sense. Moffet even explained why Eleven is the enemy of the Papal army at Demons Run but a hero to the army in the Time of the Angels.

    I also enjoy the Moff’s convoluted plotting. However, the problem with the Time of the Doctor was it did feel rushed and the plot (although not the episode, if that makes any sense) did lack emotional payoff. We feel a stronger connection to the Tenth saving a single character than the Eleventh saving a planet over the course of 300 or 900 years, whatever it is. It’s possible Moffet had originally planned to sprinkle some of the explanations throughout Series 8 with a slow build up to the siege on Tranzelore, but needed to rush it due to Matt Smith’s decision to leave now.

    That said, Matt Smith was brilliant, and this really was about saying goodbye to him. The Capaldi introduction did not rank with the Matt Smith introduction, but I’ve no doubt his casting was the correct decision. (Well maybe just a smidge of doubt.)

    It’s going to be a long wait. Let’s hope for some webisodes, and we will have Sherlock series 3.

  • It definately felt rushed and would’ve been nicer to see more things play out. I don’t buy the Doctor foiling attacks for 300 years. A wooden Cyberman, really? Maybe a bit too much cheese on that pizza.

    the brief flash of Capaldi seemed to be good. It was sort of like you were waiting for that moment all episode cause you knew it was coming. Would it have been better if it was a complete surprise?

  • I am a fanboy. A Whovian. A Doctor wannabe… whatever. I loved The Time of the Doctor and really every episode of the show so far. I’ve already watched tTotD three times and will watch it again tonight. That said… I have a love-hate thing with Moff. I can’t believe they are waiting almost a year to fulfill the excitement of Capaldi’s Doctor. My biggest problem with Who has always been that they can’t make episodes fast enough for me. If there were a new show every night all year long, I’d want two.

    10 was MY doctor, but I though Matt did a great job and with episodes like Vincent and the Doctor, he became one of the very bests. The thing I like most about the show is that if I miss Matt, I can watch the old shows again. Same with 10 or 9 or even my other favorites (Hartnell and Tom Baker.. I’ve seen Logopolis and the Aztecs many, many times). I just can’t wait to see the intensity and lunatic obsession that I think Capaldi will bring to the role.

    I really liked the explanation of the Silence in last nights episode. The image of Matt fighting alongside the Confession monks was awesome! I like that it was only the Kevarian sect that tried to destroy him (And in doing so, created the problem in the first place).

    Of course with Doctor Who, you have to overlook a veritable swiss cheese slice of plot holes. He knew he was going to dies on Trensalore because he saw his grave… then they changed it. But when Rory saw his grave, that was the unavoidable death of the Doctor’s best friends? What? Oh well… that’s the show. I’m not watching it was unchangeable facts. I’m watching it for a fun show that uses science and wit in place of guns. Whatever happened in the reign of 12… I’m down and always will be glued to my screen, watching an enjoying it, as long as the TARDIS makes that wheezing parking brake sound through time and space.

  • I have been processing this all night. It was not the type of emotional sendoff I wanted for this Doctor and the plot was downright confusing. I agree with everyone who says the head of the Mainframe should have been River. Or she should have been simply a computer since that’s where River lives now. Introducing this new character yet giving her so many of River’s qualities and presumed backstory. Ugh. Bad.

    I actually liked the quick voiceover letting us know that 11 spent 300 years defending the town of Christmas. He was essentially defending it from his own existence, which was kind of a nice touch. The fact that the stayed in one place, got to know people, watched children grow up, grow old and die and he didn’t run away – that is going to add a new dimension to who he is in the future.

    While the bit with Amy at the end brought the feels, as a plot point it really had no place and was so obviously a fan nod that it kind of annoyed me. So did the fish fingers and custard. Too trite.

    Capaldi’s Doctor? A man ready to move on after finally facing his demons? A Doctor ready to go on a mission to find his home? Or…

    A Time Lord gifted with a new set of regenerations with one small punishment. He doesn’t remember who he has been. Hence the “do you know how to fly this thing.”

  • @Lucal L – Smith Doctor gave River the sonic screwdriver in the Last Night short. Their last dance together for her birthday mentioned in the Library, and also when she had 2 Doctors. There is no hole to insert Capaldi Doctor, Matt Smith is her only real Doctor. Unless I’m proven wrong and somehow Capaldi is actually the older Doctor she was talking about in the Library.

  • I think him not knowing how to fly the TARDIS is just more of the same. When McCoy changed to McGann, he lost his memory for a long time, then all at once remembered who he was and everything else. I think that’s all this is. Having no memory could be a great way to show this Doctor’s guts. I imagine that conversation playing out like this “Do you know how to fly this thing?” Clara-“No!” Doctor-“Oh, well then I must be the pilot. Let’s see what this button does.” Then he takes control and pulled the Tardis away from a crash at the last moment. Plus, there was a scene from the trailer that wasn’t in the Christmas special. It showed the Tardis out maneuvering a Dalek Ship. I think that Capaldi will be an incredible pilot and will not know how he knows, but fly circles around the remaining Daleks at the start of the new season.