First off, I'm going to come right out and say it; Steven Moffat cannot write a regeneration story. It's understandable. He doesn't like endings, clearly. For all that fans moan about the characters he's killed, he's really killed not a single one. They go on, living another life. That should translate well to The Doctor himself, but it really doesn't.
Consider "The Night of the Doctor". It was an amazing episode, but only because of Paul McGann. The script was god awful, the direction pedestrian, and while it served to fill a plot hole long felt keenly by fans it did so only in the most perfunctory of fashion.
Likewise, "The Day of the Doctor" allowed the regeneration of The War Doctor to proceed with little emotional turmoil. He himself seemed to feel almost no regrets about it, leaving off on a joke about the size of Christopher Eccleston's ears.
Then we come to the last bow of Matt Smith's Doctor, the most divisive in the history of the modern show. He's arguably the most important of the Doctors to Americans, who embraced him in a way that has helped break viewing record for the series. Yet his take on the character under Steven Moffat's direction remains controversial for all the detours it has seemed to take from the Doctor we have known for a half century.
If there is a problem with "The Time of the Doctor" it's that the episode was clearly written to tie up the entirety of the Eleventh Doctor's run. Trenzalore, the cracks in the universe, the Weeping Angels, the first question, and the mystery of The Doctor's greatest fear are all addressed at blinding speed. In fact, it's probably one of the hardest episodes to follow as you're watching it simply because there is so much going on.
Not that it doesn't make sense in the long run, but it feels so rushed. Almost as if everyone was running out of time. As a Christmas special, it lacks either the self-contained magic of something like "The Doctor, The Widow, and The Wardrobe" or the epic storytelling power of "The End of Time". In fact, to remember Matt Smith's very first appearance on the program is to remember how Russell T. Davies was able to celebrate the television life of the Tenth Doctor in mere minutes than Moffat was able to in over an hour.
Part of the misstep was the way they attempted to age Matt Smith to indicate a passage of centuries as he defended a town called Christmas against a coalition army so deadly that he actually ends up allied with the Silence (That was something else... seeing The Doctor lead an attacking group of Silents into battle). It was all so very unnecessary. Matt Smith began his run as a sort of Patrick Troughton 2, but over the course of the second part of Series 8 it was impossible not to see the touch of William Hartnell's interpretation. Especially during his speech in "Rings of Akhaten".
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That was the genius of Matt Smith, whatever other faults he may have had as a Doctor. Though the youngest actor to ever hold the role, you never doubted for a second the sheer age of The Doctor. He brought the magic of that through in the slump of his shoulders, in the waver of his voice, in the tired glances he stole from under mop of unruly hair. He was impossibly old in every step, and trying to force him to physically resemble the First Doctor actually made that seem cartoonish and inefficient.
That said... it's over. It really is. Matt Smith, The Doctor I knew would eventually become my current Doctor when I started devouring every single aspect of the show two years ago is gone. In his place is a strange grey man that I will have to get to know from scratch. What will he be? Angry, wise, mad, none of the above? That's the scary thing about change. It's, well, change.
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I was worried that "The Time of the Doctor" would see Matt Smith regenerate in battle. That he would wake up in a new face with no chance to say goodbye as did the Sixth and Seventh incarnations did. I was very grateful that Eleven was able to leave a little mark on the nature of life, even a remarkable life such as that of the Lord of Time before he went, that he wasn't alone as Ten had been, and that he was visited on last time by the child that so shaped who he became.
In retrospect, I can't help but love Matt Smith as The Doctor. His depth and whimsy offered hope in the worst of times. In retrospect, I've even come to love Amelia Pond, who while frightfully aggravating loved The Doctor so much that he could never, ever again let a world exist where children cried for rescue without hope.
Would that we all cared so much, here at the closing of this year, and the closing of an era. Happy Christmas, Doctor, and good night. Happy New Year, Doctor, and welcome to what comes now.