The Time of the Doctor has all the tell tale signs of a Doctor Who episode under the tutelage of show runner Steven Moffat. It's thrilling, clever, funny, and very entertaining, yet crammed with too much stuff, overly referential, and ultimately rather shallow.
On a small, isolated planet a mysterious message is being beamed across all of time and space. Outside the planet are hundreds of alien ships (including most of the Doctor’s enemies) all desperately trying to determine what the message says. The Papal Mainframe, led by Tasha Lem - an old friend of the Doctor - is protecting the planet with a force field.
After accidentally materializing inside both a Dalek and Cyberman ship, and visiting Clara’s family on Christmas in his birthday suit, the Doctor lands on the planet, discovers it is Trenzalore (where he saw his own gravestone in “The Name of the Doctor”) and that the message is coming from a crack in the universe (similar to the cracks in the universe first seen in “The Eleventh Hour” and thought to have been eliminated when the universe was rebooted in “The Big Bang.”) The message, having been translated by Handles - a modified Cyberman head that the Doctor has picked up somewhere - reads “Doctor Who?" Which you will recall was the ‘first question’ as seen in “The Wedding of River Song.” The Doctor decides this question is coming from the now-rescued Time Lords who are trapped in a pocket universe (which was seen in “The Day of the Doctor.”)
As you can tell Moffat is busy filling the episode with seemingly every reference from his reign as show runner as he possibly can. If The Doctor answers the question, the Time Lords will be released into the real universe but will immediately be attacked by all of the enemies waiting about the planet. Wanting to avoid another Time War, the Doctor instead creates an endless stalemate by protecting the planet (in a town called Christmas) and keeping the Time Lords in the pocket universe.
Twice he tricks Clara into returning home to keep her safe while he protects Christmas and the universe for 300 years. For inexplicable reasons, the Doctor begins to grow old. Perhaps that’s because he has regenerated for the last time and will eventually die as this incarnation (though that doesn’t explain why he didn’t look any older while hanging around the skies for hundreds of years in Victorian England.) I won’t give any more of the plot away, though a lot more happens (The Doctor wins! And lives! And regenerates!) Too much really. The entire episode is just filled with stuff, stuff, and more stuff that one hardly has a chance to breathe, much less take it all in. All the stuff has very little time to develop, making it feel like a bunch of clever things thrown at the wall. All because this is the very last Matt Smith episode and Christmas to boot, and we want it all, dammit. Actual meaningful plot development can take a hike.
Case in point: the whole Clara at home business is cute and fun, but completely inessential. The whole plot point seems to exist because it's a Christmas episode and there needed to be something Christmas-y in it (having a town called Christmas just isn’t enough) and they still haven’t exactly figured out what to do with Clara. But in an episode that’s already got Daleks, Cybermen, The Silence, The Angels, a possible return of the other Time Lords, and a new regeneration, Clara’s family is just too much. Even The Angels, the best of the new monsters, are superfluous, only existing for a few minutes (and to serve as a quick joke - having them stopped by putting a mirror in front of them.) They could have cut about a third of the plot points, fleshed out what's left, and had a really terrific episode.
Moffat’s always seemed like he cares more about being clever, and manipulative of the audience's emotions than he does about developing really good stories. I’ve liked his turn as show runner far more than many of the haters out there. Indeed, I still love the show and deeply enjoy nearly every episode. The Time of the Doctor was, in fact, quite enjoyable. I laughed, I cried, I…well, I perhaps didn’t sit on the edge of my seat with excitement, but I did scoot at least halfway there.
Matt Smith was terrific as always, and it was a nice send-off to the Eleventh Doctor, just not a great one. The Time of the Doctor contained a lot of the things that make Doctor Who a really wonderful show, but also it's recent tendency to sacrifice story for clever moments that play to the fans.
The Blu-ray is encoded 1080p with a 16:9 ratio. Oddly, my copy notes it's only special feature is that it “may not be in high definition.” Whether that’s due to this being a review copy or something else, I don’t know. I also don’t have the ability to tell if it is true high definition or not. I can say it looks very good, very sleek with bright colors and dark blacks. The sound likewise is good, and there's enough action to give your sound system a very nice work out.
Extras include thee medium length features. The first, Behind the Lens, is a nice look behind the scenes of the episode. The next, Tales from the TARDIS, features interviews with most of the surviving actors who have played The Doctor (with a noticeably absent Christopher Eccleston) and a number of his companions. It's a lovely retrospective on the show full of interesting stories. The last is a farewell to Matt Smith full of all the emotional goodbyes you would expect.