Day of the Doctor
A story that has been waiting to be told since Doctor Who returned to TV screens in 2005 is the story of the Time War. It was slowly revealed that Gallifrey, the home to the Time Lords who had exiled the Doctor those many years back were no more, having perished in a massive battle with the Daleks. The ripples of the Time War could be seen in the first four series of the new program, with lots of hints but no real closure. After taking over as show-runner, Steven Moffat scoffed at the notion of exploring the Time War as unnecessary and seemed annoyed that anyone would want to see that story expanded upon.
Fast-forward to the 50th anniversary and the Time War became the perfect material for the celebratory adventure, and it would also explain why the Doctor was so different, why he was so childish and what he sacrificed during his darkest hour. It also gave fandom a new Doctor, bumping up the existing incarnations and making Smith the 12th, not the 11th Doctor (much to the surprise of many).
But was it any good?
Even though it is the longest lasting program of its kind on television, to date there have been very few anniversary stories for Doctor Who. There was the 10th anniversary Three Doctors, the 20th anniversary The Five Doctors and the 25th anniversary Silver Nemesis (yes, there was a 30th special, but it was so bad most fans ignore it). These stories have been celebrations of the longevity of the program but in the case of the Three and Five Doctors, they have also been jolly good times for the actors to team up and share the screen. The stories brought back old monsters and new ones, but were thin on plot on places. They are stories to watch with a glass of sherry. In the case of Silver Nemesis… it’s anyone’s guess what that was all about (though Ace does wear a fez and the mystery of the Doctor’s name comes up a lot).
In this case, the celebration is mainly one of the BBC Wales iteration of the program, reaching back to 2005. Since Chris Eccleston was not returning, this meant that the only real camaraderie for previous Doctors would be enjoyed by David Tennant and Matt Smith. Seeing as how these two actors are arguably the most popular Doctors among current fans there is no real loss here. Yes, I had dreams of seeing Baker-McGann on screen (somehow) all teaming up but that was unreasonable of me (though we actually did get this).
Opening with the 1963 version of the credits is a nice touch, the slow pan by Coal Hill School is even nicer and then the story takes a deviation into something about paintings, Zygons and Queen Elizabeth. Never mind, see what I wrote about the other specials? The running around and monster fighting is just an excuse to get multiple incarnations together. Smith and Tennant are magnificent on screen and really spark off each other very well. As many readers of this blog may recall, I am not a fan of Tennant, so the fact that I was not urged to kick in the screen when he came on is a plus.
The other angle of this story is the War Doctor, a character who was introduced in last series’ Name of the Doctor to the confusion of many. Played by John Hurt, this incarnation was said by some to not count in the program and perhaps he was the Valeyard or something. He raised more questions than anything else. Battle weary and ragged, this incarnation was shown to be born out of necessity on Karn when the Eighth Doctor realized he could not fight a war. It was the War Doctor who destroyed Gallifrey, an act that plagued the Doctor through his next three incarnations and affected his character and demeanor. This act, in short, made the modern version of the Doctor.
It was absolutely hilarious to see Hurt’s Doctor interacting with his other selves, at first mistaking them for companions. His banter made my curmudgeony heart warm as he barked at the two young Doctors, asking why they acted like children and why they kept pointing their sonic screwdrivers at people like squirt guns. The triple dose of the Doctor was nothing short of magical. Which is great because the story was rather thin.
I know that Moffat had no interest in showing the Time War and if I knew he was going to present it as a low budget version of Starship Troopers I would have agreed. Watching twenty extras chase their kids around a very small warzone while Daleks failed to shoot anyone was not what I was expecting when I imagined the Time War. In any case, the angry and desperate War Doctor made these sequences sing for me. Crashing the TARDIS through a squad of Daleks was brilliant.
I have no love for Billie Piper. Rose overstayed her welcome and seeing her back for this story did not fill me with happiness. The revelation that she was not playing Rose but instead the interactive AI of the incredibly complicated super weapon called The Moment made things easier… but she is still rubbish. Ah well. She wasn’t in it much.
In sharp contrast Jenna Coleman shined as Clara. Her chemistry with Smith gets better all the time and I will be sad to see that go. Using her character as not only as a clever and resourceful companion but also a sympathetic reminder of the Doctor’s ingenuity was a very inspired decision and made up for her lack of activity in this story.
The conclusion, in which the Doctor rewrote his own history, saved Gallifrey and gave him a new path in life that doesn’t have to lead to his tomb on Tranzalore was a very very impressive trick made all the better with the inclusion of the 13th (yes, 13th) Doctor, Peter Capaldi … or just his eyes anyway. A massive explosive resolution in which every incarnation wrenched the time stream into a new order was a very fine treat… one that has been a long time coming from Moffat who has been slipping in the past few years.
I have been watching Doctor Who for a very very long time. How long? It was on something called a UHF channel and recorded on these things called video cassettes. If I wanted to know about a story not shown by my local PBS station I bought a novelization and read it. None of this streaming TV nonsense. It was hard work being a Whovian. Even our toys were rubbish with Daleks that couldn’t move and a Davro with two arms. Even when it is good, I have to admit that I begrudgingly watch the new series. It’s just not the same (and I know it shouldn’t be the same). That said, this was a sterling way to honor the legacy of Doctor Who and pave the way forward for a new direction (right, Moffat???).
Day of the Doctor was by no means perfect (much of it was just a silly run around and the Zygons were very un-Zygon-like for my taste) but neither was the Three Doctors or the Five Doctors. But it was a fun adventure that I am sure made fans old and new happy.
Seeing Tom Baker make that surprise appearance at the end was the icing for me. For all of my love for the past Doctors, he is the ambassador of Doctor Who for me as he was the first one I saw. His scene, albeit a brief one, was poignant and lovely. I had very low expectations, but this pleasantly surprised me.
I was lucky enough to find a cinema playing the Day of the Doctor (for free!) and afterwards I interviewed some of my fellow attendees to see what they thought and got some interesting reactions…
Please excuse my goofy laugh.