This year's "Doctor Who" Christmas special, “The Time of the Doctor,” is Matt Smith's final episode of “Who” after three seasons and two — well, three (four?) — companions, and our first chance to hear the voice of the new Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi.
As expected, there are tears and the inevitable comparisons to previous regenerations (less painful than Ten, more startling than Nine). Before that, though, we find out the meaning of the Prophecy, the origin of the Silence, and a reappearance of faces (and cracks) from Smith's first episode.
A mysterious signal emanating from a town called Christmas endlessly repeating the question “Doctor who?” sparks a war involving many of the Doctor's old enemies, including the Cybermen and the Daleks. Of course, the Doctor tasks himself with protecting the town. A town on the planet of Tranzalore, where someday the Doctor's tomb will be.
He has help from the Church of the Papal Mainframe until the meaning of the message is discovered: The Time Lords — trapped in an alternate universe after the events of “The Day of the Doctor” — are trying to return. The Crack (which was closed, but is still weak like “scar tissue”) is the Time Lords' planet Gallifrey trying to come back into the universe. All they're waiting for is the Doctor to say his true name (by creating a “truth field” around the Crack) so they know it's safe to return.
But since that return would reignite the Time War (that would likely destroy all of reality), the Church dedicates itself to preventing him from saying his name, thus creating the Church of the Silence — so that the question will never, ever be answered.
So the Doctor spends the next several hundred years fighting off Daleks, Cybermen (including a cleverly low-tech wooden Cyberman), and the Silence (the creepy Munch-like aliens who, it turns out, are just confessional priests). Since Time Lords can only regenerate twelve times (including the “War Doctor” from “Day” and a re-regeneration during the Tenth Doctor's tenure), he can't just come back with a young new face.
Not without the help of the Time Lords. Clara's impassioned plea (“His name is the Doctor: all the name he needs, everything you need to know about him. And if you love him — and you should — help him. Help him.”) convinces them not only to retreat and prevent another Time War, but to send through energy to allow the Doctor to regenerate again.
And so we follow a trail of strewn clothes (and a half-eaten bowl of fish fingers and custard) through the TARDIS where Clara gets to say goodbye to this incarnation of the Doctor. Amy Pond returns (in his mind): “Raggedy man… good night.” His last words: “I will always remember when the Doctor was me.”
The iconic bow tie drops to the floor, and, in a flash, he's Peter Capaldi and the TARDIS is careening out of control. Classic Doctor. “Just one question,” says the new Doctor. “Do you happen to know how to fly this thing?” And that's all we get until Season 8.
It's a beautiful and emotional send-off for Matt Smith, and a fantastic start for Capaldi. Not every question has been answered; of course, we'll probably never learn the Doctor's true name, and his tomb is not yet on Tranzalore. But the Twelfth Doctor will certainly have his hands full bringing back Gallifrey without restarting the Time War. Allons-y!