Warning, there be spoilers ahead...
And so, in typical trumpeted fanfare and a teary eye, Matt Smith dissolves into history. And look, part of me - a substantial part of me - wants to be happy with his exit. I really wish it had brought a tear to my eye and I'd gone along for the ride, satisfied. Unfortunately, Smith's exit was stained with flaws that have followed him for the full length of his run. Smith did everything he could, and I genuinely believe he was an above average Doctor. But Steven Moffatt, now into his fourth year of show-running, continues to be a disappointment.
This is made all the more irritating by the evidence that Steven Moffat is quite clearly a genius, and should be celebrated as one of television's greatest writers. In stand-alone sparks, such as Blink or the Day of the Doctor 50th anniversary special, Moffat proves himself to be Doctor Who's greatest creative asset. It makes complete sense he should be running the show. Unfortunately, the grind of episodic television has seen him relax into some sloppy writing. None more so than what was evident in The Time of the Doctor.
Ultimately, it was my close friend and fellow nerd Lucas Stibbard who I believe articulated it best. He reminded me that regeneration episodes should not be an emotional goodbye to the current Doctor. In almost all of the classic episodes, they never were. A Doctor's exit is best served understated, and if at all possible surprisingly. The show is so bleedingly aware of it's huge international audience and fangirl status, that it's constant meta commentary (he BREAKS THE FOURTH WALL ON HIS LAST LINE FOR F*CK'S SAKE!), ultimately means the story is crippled. Smith's exit was so full of itself that story was sacrificed at every turn: rules were made flexible, the structure lagged, and there was a whole lot of dithering. And for all that, it didn't really feel like it was a true Doctor exit.
What makes the Doctor so heroic is that he unquestioningly lays down his life for others, without a second thought. Matt Smith's exit was punctuated by a 300 year internal debate: after all this time, surely the Doctor has earned the right to run away and save himself. The Doctor wouldn't ever seriously consider this option, even though 10th's regeneration teased it, but then, of course, went and sacrificed himself anyway. 11 effectively cheated death. He was unhappy to go. He went because he was forced to. And he wasn't pleased. Then, a crack opened up in the sky because Clara whispered into a wall, and apparently after 300 years the Time Lords were convinced to completely change their minds, and offer him a second chance. It was an unsatisfying and uncharacteristic end.
Many will remember Matt Smith for his goofiness, and his eternal string of 'cute' gags. But the naked and bald gags here just came over as weird, and slightly mis-placed. I was never a fan of this deliberately daggy humour in the 11th incarnation, but it's brought in so many fans that it's hard to argue with. I can only hope that Capaldi brings in some of the darker, sharper, quicker wit of Baker or Tenant.
The episode cleverly tied up a number of Moffat sub-plots in a satisfying way. Goodness knows how many of these were actually planned. Did he really, as far back as 11th's birth, know the full weight of the crack in the wall? If he did, then his ambitiously large-scope is simultaneously a stroke of genius and a deep flaw, as the full weight of Moffat's vision sometimes caused the very foundations of the show to creak with strain.
The episode caps off an insane year for Moffat: this episode, the 50th anniversary special, the completion of the 7th season of the show, and the third season of Sherlock. Too much work for a very talented man, I would think. I would hazard a guess I'm one of the countless hardcore fans who have gone off recent episodes, but it's interminably difficult to argue against the legions of fans that Moffat's reign has welcomed into following the show. I'll continue to grumble, but I've got to admit - 2013 was an awesome year to be a Doctor Who fan, and that's in no small part thanks to Smith and Moffat.
See ya Smithy. As you underline so emphatically, you will not be forgotten.