For Doctor Who fans, the yearly Christmas special is usually a bittersweet time. Usually the writers come up with something special each year, but also, more often than not the Christmas special is the time we see one actor’s tenure as the Doctor come to an end and they use the Christmas special as a way to bring in the new incarnation of the Doctor. So, when Matt Smith announced he was done as The Doctor, and the BBC snuck glimpses of the new actor playing the Doctor, most fans assumed the Christmas Special was the end of Matt Smith’s time…and they were right. Following the 50-year anniversary special, we knew the Doctor was going through a change, so they used the Christmas special as a way to wrap up some of this incarnation’s lingering threads and retire Matt Smith’s version.
Matt Smith started as a controversial pick for the doctor. At 26 when he took on the role he was also the youngest actor playing the character, a concern expressed by Piers Wenger, head of BBC Wales, who none-the-less said that Matt Smith was “more than capable for the role.” After his premier in “The Eleventh Hour” the controversy heated up, as it always does, among Doctor Who fans. Matt Smith brought a sort of manic energy and running commentary, along with a few running gags regarding his headwear to the show that some audience members found endearing, but others found particularly grating. Moffit described Smith’s portrayal of the Doctor as “an old man in a young man’s body” and in many cases his portrayal showed a more intense need to run from his history involving Gallifrey’s destruction. Other sources praised his performance though, Martin Anderson of Shadowlocked described him as the best redesign of the Doctor since Tom Baker’s performance.
Matt Smith’s Doctor continued the growing tradition that David Tennent’s version started, he always had one companion close by, but he had a circle of friends and support as anchor for his adventures, opposed to the more solitary companions of earlier doctors. Amy Pond and Rory brought relationship chemistry to the show and allowed certain running jokes and plotlines not possible with earlier solitary companions. Amy Pond’s initial plot line, following the various cracks throughout the universe leading up to the Doctor’s first sacrifice to the Pandoricum brought Rory in and showed that the Doctor can have a companion that also has some kind of life outside of their relationship with the Doctor. That Rory and Amy’s relationship eventually resulted in River Song, their daughter, and the Doctor’s eventual wife, brought several plot threads full circle after Song’s introduction to Tennent’s 10th incarnation. Amy and Rory’s exit in “The Angels Take Manhattan” is a fan favorite, though the later released short video on Youtube that wraps up their story had a significant impact on fans of the companion couple.
(If you haven’t seen the Amy/Rory wrap up, this is it)
In the subsequent break, the 11th Doctor attempts to go into seclusion, and even his friends are unable to re-engage him in the world. It takes the intervention of a character named Clara Oswold in “The Snowmen” before the Doctor re-engages, especially when he realizes he’s encountered Clara before. Much of the following series involves him trying to figure out the role the “impossible girl” takes in his life. This search reveals a different side of the Doctor, as he deceives Clara repeatedly, and we get to see Matt Smith’s frenetic character duck questions and avoid consequences as he tries to hide why he’s so interested in the Clara character. The “Trenzalore” story answers those questions, as Clara steps into the Doctor’s own timeline in order to rescue him from a creature named “The Great Intelligence” whom is determined to turn all of the Doctor’s successes into failures. This episode also reveals the face of a mysterious “War” Doctor, whom we learn is the incarnation that caused the destruction of Gallifrey.
At the end of the regular season the BBC announced two specials featuring Matt Smith, the 50h anniversary special, and the Christmas Special. Both storylines stayed under wraps until their release, despite the massive interest from the fan base. The 50th anniversary special featured Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt coming together as incarnations of the Doctor as the War Doctor tries to make the decision whether or not to detonate the weapon that destroys Gallifrey. In a rather convoluted plot twist, Matt Smith as the Doctor reveals he’s been working on a plan to save Gallifrey for his entire life, and in a special event, all previous incarnations of the Doctor, as well as one future incarnation come together in order to save Gallifrey. This act is the most major plotline shift for the Doctor, and redirects the story in a new way. It is somewhat fitting then that after this special episode Matt Smith exited his tenure as the Doctor, so he can make way for a new series, a new Doctor, and a new drive for this ever-changing character.