Brett reviews the epic 50th Anniversary Special episode 'The Day of the Doctor'...
It's the day every fan of Doctor Who has waited 50 years for. Many thought it would never come, and many obstacles were put in its way, but today was the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who; today was the Day of the Doctor!!
The amount of hype and weight of expectation for this episode was immense. Did ‘The Day of the Doctor’ live up to it? A resounding yes from me! It was perfectly crafted, with three seemingly disparate plots, in the present, the past, and on the other side of the Universe, all being brought together brilliantly into a game-changing crescendo of the past, the future and celebration.
In the present day, Clara and the Doctor are continuing their odd relationship, fresh from their first visit to Trenzalore. I was slightly surprised that time had passed, as I was expecting this to continue straight from the scene in the Doctor’s timeline. Clara’s working as a teacher, until UNIT dispatches them quite unceremoniously to the National Gallery, thanks to a summons from Queen Elizabeth I, who back in the 16th Century is having a picnic with…
The Tenth Doctor, on his travels avoiding his destiny before ‘The End of Time’, is cosying up to Elizabeth, ending up with him proposing to her, in the mistaken belief that she is actually a Zygon. Unfortunately, he has now scorned the Queen of England, and has a Zygon on his tail. Thanks to a fissure through the fabric of time, the Eleventh ends up joining the Tenth, along with Liz and her impersonator, before John Hurt’s incarnation of the Doctor also appears, having arrived there from…
Gallifrey. The last day of the Time War. The Doctor has finally got involved in the War, and declares that this is where it ends. He steals a Gallifreyan artefact (he’s got a penchant for that) known as the ‘Moment’, and departs for a moment of solitude to end the War. Inconveniently, the Moment has a conscience, who just happens to be a face from the Doctor’s future – Rose aka the Bad Wolf! In a slightly ‘Christmas Carol’ kind of way, he is offered the chance to see his future, and that’s where it gets complicated!
In what has become an Anniversary staple, we got to see multiple Doctors interacting on screen, and just like Pertwee, Troughton & Hartnell for the tenth, then with Davison added to the mix for the twentieth, the interplay between them was brilliant. Regularly mocking, competitive and sarcastic, but also brilliant together, able to combine their considerably high intellects into a peerless force. The nature of a Time Lord’s regeneration cycle meant that the two physically younger Doctors were actually more mature than John Hurt’s ‘younger’ incarnation, which also channelled Hartnell’s reaction such as mocking their dress sense, and their ‘hip’ language (timey-wimey should totes be in the Oxford dictionary). The scene where Tennant and Smith compete over who had the biggest sonic was risqué, as were many of the jokes, but just right for sending the adults giggling whilst probably flying over the heads of the kids.
Each time they do a multiple Doctor story, the reasons for bringing multiple Doctors together is going to be more and more difficult to explain without becoming repetitive or clichéd, but this was a clever and essential way of doing so. By seeing what the Doctor had become, and the toll it had taken, the conscience was aiming to make Hurt regret his actions. This didn’t happen though, as the decision is so sadly inevitable and just as the three Doctors were about to make the toughest choice together, Clara steps out from the background, and once again becomes the most important girl in the Doctor’s life, completely changing the course of his history. Her impassioned plea not to go through with it, and to find a different way, pushes the three Doctors to come up with an insane plan to freeze Gallifrey, and pull the old ‘dematerialising TARDIS whilst surrounded by Angels’ trick, resulting in the Daleks destroying themselves. Thereafter, the painting of Gallifrey Falls holds the planet in a parallel universe indefinitely.
I loved the resolution, as I was beginning to think that they would change their minds on destroying Gallifrey, it would come back this episode, and the last eight years would have basically been ret-conned. But they stand, and Gallifrey isn’t magically restored – there’s a lot more to do, as it remains missing, and this incredible eight year arc continues!
In terms of performances, John Hurt confirmed his reputation as one of the most absorbing actors of our time. His distinct gravelly voice was so commanding in the role, and he was mesmerising every time he was on screen. After the calls for a Paul McGann spin-off, and the appreciation for David Bradley’s portrayal of William Hartnell, there will surely now be calls for the return of John Hurt! Whilst not the scene stealer that Hurt was, Joanna Page also put in a great guest turn as Queen Elizabeth I combining a regal air with a common humorous edge. And having Tenant back on screen was always destined to be a success! The more edgy conversations between him and Smith on their memories of the Time War and the children who lost their lives were spellbinding.
Billie Piper returned, but not in the role we may have expected. It would have been perhaps a complication too far to bring ‘Rose’ back, but to have the ’Moment’ take her image, although slightly hackneyed, was a good way of getting her in without bringing Rose back. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see some interaction between her and Matt though, but again the complications and the emotional ramifications could have been too much to fit in successfully. In terms of the role she did play, she got to be sarcastic, yet insightful – a common trait of Gallifreyan consciences it seems, following the physical representation of the TARDIS in ‘The Doctor’s Wife’. And as for the bigger picture, I didn’t think there were any unresolved plot-holes in connection with Rose and the Bad Wolf, so was the Bad Wolf a result of the Time War all along, or was it just a convenient way of using Billie? Either way, I have no objections. As I said in my Doctor Who tribute, she was a surprising yet brilliant piece of casting critical to the success of the revival, so she deserved this moment (no pun intended!).
The complexities of the interweaving story were mind-boggling at times, and for them all to be brought together so comprehensively and logically without gaping plot holes was the mark of a fabulously talented writer. The Tower of London, the 400 year sonic screwdriver solution (although Clara bursting in and spoiling this was hilarious), the use of the paintings, and all the Doctors combining to bring about the resolution, including the first MAJOR surprise – the debut, however brief, of Peter Capaldi! I think I might have let out some sort of pointy squeaky noise/action thing at that point… Those eyes did so much in a fraction of a second, and gave a glimpse of the safe hands that the role will soon be passing into!
The various nods and tributes all felt perfectly placed – the black and white classic intro, the policeman at 76 Totters Lane, fezes, the fourth Doctor’s scarf, the Omega Arsenal, the admission from Matt that he lies about his age, the TARDIS roundels, the dislike of the TARDIS redecoration, the past companion pictures, ‘I don’t want to go’, and many more I haven’t listed. However the best one was undoubtedly the show-stealing appearance of Tom Baker. As the talk of the curator started, I admit I was expecting Capaldi at that point, but Tom was a much better choice! Perhaps he regrets his refusal to appear in the twentieth anniversary, and this was his redemption for that, and a perfect tribute to the past, choosing to utilise the most popular classic Doctor. All things considered, I think they found the perfect balance. Moffatt said this episode was for the worldwide ‘popular’ audience, not the die-hard Whovians, and it certainly came across that way. Along with the surprise present of ‘The Night of the Doctor’ to satisfy us, there should be no complaints about self-indulgence, which pop-ups from multiple past characters could have resulted in.
Tom Baker’s appearance did highlight the biggest disappointment of the episode for me – the lack of Christopher Eccleston. Whilst it had been vehemently denied by both Moffat and Eccleston in the run-up, the adage that ‘Moffat lies’ has already been proven true on multiple occasions, so when the regeneration energy started glowing around Hurt, I thought that it may be true again here, but alas not. I understand his principles were against a return, but a single scene and first line in his new body would have been all that was needed. It also rules out the possibility of an episode in the future coming back to Hurt to show his regeneration, ala the long awaited McGann scene we got recently, and thanks to some snazzy CGI trickery, Eccleston’s image could clearly be seen coming through, ruling out any conspiracies that Eccleton didn’t follow Hurt. I hope one day Chris can resolve his differences with the BBC and follow Tom Baker’s lead and return for at least one more appearance.
Speaking of Hurt’s regeneration, was it old age/exhaustion that caused it? I feel like I missed something there, particularly as he regenerated into a younger less grizzled version of himself in ‘The Night of the Doctor’, the implication being that the War aged him. But if he only got involved for one day, what caused the dramatic aging…? If anyone can explain or wishes to theorise then please do! And as for further theorising, what has happened to the numbering of the Doctors? We knew coming in that Hurt was definitely the same man, but not the Doctor, Moffat said as much. But following the resolution, Hurt proved himself to be a definitive Doctor, so is Matt Smith now officially the twelfth Doctor!? Peter Capaldi said thirteen, i.e. the final incarnation! This means that Moffat will be exploring the regeneration limit during the Capaldi era, and I’m personally convinced that the solution has already been revealed, we just don’t have a clue how yet! I’m going a bit off-topic, but it’s relevant nonetheless!
In terms of the effects, they went spectacularly all-out on creating the Time War and Gallifrey – impressive enough watching in HD at home, but as I watched it at my local cinema in 3D it felt like you were there! When Star Wars 7 is inevitably released in 3D, they’ll have a hell of a job to create a space battle so immersive yet feeling so natural. This wasn’t gimmicky 3D, it was subtle flakes of debris falling off the screen, the impressive depth of field, the total immersion into the battle. Along with the feeling of being amongst the fandom, I didn’t regret paying to see it at the pictures at all, and any future big screen showings – I’m there! The use of the Daleks was pitched just right. As THE iconic villains of the last 50 years, they had to be there and the depiction of the Time War was a completely justifiable way of getting them in without it just being for the sake of it. They didn’t overshadow the episode or anyone in it though, despite their fantastic depiction with the best Dalek effects we’ve ever seen.
There was also no expense spared in the depiction of the Zygons. I’ve loved the Zygons since I first saw ‘Terror...’ on video when I was a kid, and like many, I’ve clamoured for their return since then, and they didn’t disappoint. The transformation of Kate into a Zygon was grotesque, and their rasping voice was as terrifying as ever. Unfortunately, I feel like they left the situation in the Black Archive glaringly unresolved, and we’re left to assume that they came up with the peace treaty. This may be as a result of time constraints, but surely it’s a perfect set-up for a future sequel of sorts, as there are three Zygons unaware of their own true nature – although the Osgood’s seem to know. For this to have any impact, this needs to come soon, so considering Christmas looks like it’s going to take place on Trenzalore, they need to be looking at it for one of Capaldi’s first stories. It’s also a no-brainer to give the Zygons an episode to themselves – it was amazing to see them, but they were just one of many amazing moments (I really need to find a thesaurus; I’m genuinely not trying to make this many ‘moment’ puns!)
Ultimately celebratory, the darker stuff was rightly kept for another time (Christmas by the looks of it), the ending was a proper feel-good moment, and the image of the twelve Doctors standing together will undoubtedly go down as an iconic image in years to come. I love that they listed ALL the Doctors in the credits, I love all the references to the past and the previous anniversary specials. I love that the resolution points the show in a new direction, as the Doctor now goes on the hunt for Gallifrey. The regeneration limit is now on the horizon, which I think will bring a brilliant dynamic to the Doctor’s personality and actions as the possibility of permanent death becomes foremost in his mind. Celebrating the past 50 years, and establishing a new direction for the show, ‘The Day of the Doctor’ achieved everything it set out to do, and was an unqualified success! I could go on and on, but I’ll leave it by saying well done and thank you to all involved. The countdown now starts to the 100th anniversary, but until then… Onwards, to Trenzalore!!!