Fifty years of Doctor Who came to an end yesterday. Fifty years of running from responsibility, from authority, from his past; The Doctor hasn’t stopped running since he stole that Type 40 TARDIS and took off. And now, beginning with these next 50 years, The Doctor finally knows where he’s running to: home.
Steven Moffat promised the 50th anniversary special would forever alter the course of Doctor Who, and for once, The Moff wasn’t lying.
There’s a precedent in Doctor Who to celebrate its milestones with big, flashy anniversary specials. Episodes where all the stops are pulled out and the hype machine goes into overdrive. A staple of these specials is having a problem so large it’ll require more than one Doctor to solve. This has been done with moderate success in the past, but those episodes are typically only all right with the true allure lying in the multi-Doctor angle.
“The Day of the Doctor“, however, brings on the multi-Doctor interactions as well a satisfying episode in an anniversary special that may finally live up to all the hype.
In what is a common Doctor Who story structure we begin with three separate plots – figures disappearing from paintings in The National Gallery, Zygons in Elizabethan England, and Gallifrey during the Time War, moments before its destruction. All of which don’t appear related until The Doctor, or Doctors arrives on the scene.
After these three events in spacetime are established The Doctors rather quickly begin jumping from one to another; we aren’t kept waiting for the big moment when Ten and Eleven meet. Unlike, say, the 25th anniversary special, The Five Doctors, where the Doctors are kept mostly apart until the end, Ten, Eleven, and the War Doctor work as a team for much of the episode.
If the allure of an anniversary special lies in multiple Doctors, then those Doctors interacting should be a bulk of the episode. “The Day of the Doctor” gets this, even at one point simply taking all three Doctors and throwing them in a room together. Watching Ten and Eleven exchanging barbs and compliments is the joy of this episode. David Tennant and Matt Smith play off one another wonderfully, and their Doctors are delightful to watch in tandem.
Right away it’s obvious Eleven is jealous of Ten, who really does comes off as the cooler of the two. In contrast to Ten, Eleven is gangly and awkward, though he does try hard to impress. They’re antagonistic, but still bond over shared personality quirks. And when trapped together in that room, when they really get to go at one another, it’s apparent how much darker Eleven really is. “The man who regrets and the man who forgets.” Ten’s regret fueled his hope, but Eleven struggles with carrying on.
Through their teamwork, Ten and Eleven put the humans and Zygons on the track towards peace, or at least some sort of negotiation that will, by the fact of neither party knowing which side their own, be acceptable to all. It’s a truly Doctor-like resolution for a problem, something so clever yet so simple only The Doctor, or Doctors could conceive it. It’s his favorite kind of resolution, the kind where everybody, or at least most, live.
In some ways, Ten and Eleven remind me of Doctors Two and Three in The Three Doctors, just less constantly at odds with one another. John Hurt as The War Doctor fills the role of the First Doctor, who had to keep order while the Second and Third bickered. In fact, I recall Moffat saying something like, the Doctor you’d most want back for the 50th would be William Hartnell, the First Doctor, but since you can’t get him you get the next best thing, and that’s John Hurt.
Hurt is spectacular as the War Doctor. He’s very much needed to balance out the youthful energy of both Ten and Eleven, and he manages to bring all those years and past Doctors with him even though he’s completely new to the series. It’s a marvelous performance, one a lesser actor never could have achieved.
Acting like the Ghost of Doctors Future, Billie Piper as The Moment was, I’ll admit, a bit of a letdown. If she was never going to be playing Rose as she was travelling with The Doctor, then I guess this makes as much sense as any other explanation they’d have made for her showing up again from that parallel universe. Piper was funny and fabulous, worked well with Hurt, and even if her performance was heavily reminiscent of Idris, I really enjoyed her as The Moment’s consciousness.
Rose’s reappearance is more about The Doctor than it is Rose, and in that way it’s nothing but fan service included to bait us. But since I’ll take what I can get, I appreciate the fact Rose obviously affected The Doctor so strongly she resonates back through his regenerations and is the form chosen for a Doctor who has yet to meet her. Too bad he won’t remember her when he does. And yes, I’m taking one line of this review to complain about there being absolutely no Ten/Rose anything, but I’m an adult and can understand this special was never going to give me everything I wanted.
Playing companion to three Doctors, Jenna Coleman is more at ease in her role much in the same way Clara seems more at ease with Eleven since the whole “impossible girl” thing was resolved. She’s integral to the final resolution and, as companions have time and time again, she sends The Doctor down the path he needs to go.
“Waste no time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” – Marcus Aurelius
Since we learned of it, the Time War and The Doctor’s actions in ending of it, have been a messy and confusing event. One that isn’t necessarily made any clearer by “The Day of the Doctor.” The internet is already rampant with folks pointing out all the ways in which the final resolution of Gallifrey being hidden away in a pocket universe causing the Daleks to destroy each other doesn’t make any sense or work with already established facts, like the Time Lords being giant dicks who deserved what they got. But I don’t care about any of that, and neither did Moffat, obviously.
“The Day of the Doctor” was about the War Doctor’s retribution. About Ten and Eleven coming to terms with that horrible decision. And then thanks to Clara, remembering that being The Doctor means finding the way to save as many lives as possible. The Doctor never would have sacrificed all those children just to stop a never-ending war between the Daleks and Time Lords in the same way he wouldn’t let Kate Lethbridge Stewart destroy London in order to save the Earth.
Moffat gives us the way for The Doctor to finally save his home, save Gallifrey, and he does it in the most spectacular way, involving all 13 Doctors. That’s right, 13, everyone from Hartnell to Peter Capaldi, who’s momentary glare has me more excited for the the future of Who than anything!
Is it perfect? Hell no. But it’s really no messier than Russel T. Davies bringing the Time Lords back in The End of Time. Each showrunner will put their mark on Doctor Who, and where RTD took things as far as to have The Doctor fully justified for running away from his own people, Moffat has given him a reason to go back.
Gallifrey Falls No More.
I’m not saying there won’t be repercussions for Gallifrey somehow surviving, especially if the Time Lords are as arrogant and power hungry as we were led to believe. And perhaps we’ll begin seeing some of that this Christmas Special, where the teaser is leading me to believe Trenzalore has meant the Fall of the Eleventh all long, not where The Doctor finally dies. He can’t die, how else will he live long enough to retire and regenerate into an older Tom Baker! At least that’s how I understood that most unexpected and amazing of cameos.
“The Day of the Doctor” was most definitely a success. It isn’t flawless, I’m sure I could nitpick some more and make this review longer than it already is, but I found the 50th anniversary special to be extremely satisfying. It hit all the marks it needed: multiple Doctors, references galore to the character’s and series’ long history, and laid out a clear and wholly different direction for Doctor Who to embark on for another 50 years.
Final, unorganized list observations:
-Hartnell Era credits, Clara working at Coal Hill School, policemen walking past Totter’s Lane sign, War Doctor’s final words the same as the First’s, “This body is wearing a little thin.” All great references to Who‘s beginning.
-Speaking of, it looks like Christopher Eccelston‘s face is super imposed over Hurt’s for the regeneration.
-Lots of action: Eleven hanging from the TARDIS, War Doctor crashing TARDIS through Daleks, all three Doctors in unison blasting a Dalek with their sonic screwdrivers
-Does the sonic screwdriver now have a setting for wood?
-Lots of great quotes: “Some days, you could just walk passed a fez.” “Timey-Wimey?” “I have no idea where he picks that stuff up.” “Are you capable of talking without flapping your hands about!?”
-Same software, different case… or face.
-I’ve missed Tennant’s squeaky voice.
-“I don’t want to go.” They really had to go there, didn’t they? Funny enough, in An Adventure in Space and Time, David Bradley says the same line as Hartnell when’s fired from Doctor Who.