The Day of the Doctor
|Production Code||50th anniversary special|
|Dates||November 23, 2013|
With Matt Smith, David Tennant. John Hurt,
Written by Steven Moffat Directed by Nick Hurran
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Faith Penhale.
|Synopsis: What really happened during the Time War?|
Zagreus, You're No Longer the Worst Anniversary Story! by Kory Stephens 10/2/14
I never thought I'd see the day I'd rate a Moffat-penned episode that low, but the day officially came and I regret nothing.
Before you all go screaming "if I could unread your post, I would!" or "Haterz gonna hate", let me be perfectly blunt and clear. I've been a Whovian for for the last seven years, since I was 17. I've watched every episode classic and new (and the many comics, novels and those magnificent audios that followed) and experience fandom's good side and its bad side (i.e. bashing Adric, some still viewing the TV Movie as "the American Abomination" and fans bashing others for not liking the current showrunner or the one before him). Not one time has any of Who make me second guess myself as a viewer the way The Day of the Doctor did.
I'll get the bad out the way.
Now, the good
But it wasn't enough to save it from flopping around like a fish out of water.
Don't take it as a anti-Moffat post, as I enjoyed most of his tenure up until this month and this past June's finale; I'm not amused by the radical changes like renumbering the Doctors. Especially to confuse those who'll might get on board in future once Peter Capaldi gets the key to the TARDIS.
The Day of the Doctor has taken the No. 1 spot after Terrance Dicks' The Eight Doctors and John Peel's Dalek novels (War and Legacy) as Doctor Who stories I pretend never happened. Criticize/insult me all you like, but that's the way it is....
Ten months on....
Ten months on since the so-called 50th Anniversary still haunts and irks my soul to no end of how poorly handled it was by a showrunner I used to praise for the fact that he was thinking less like a Hollywood marketing exective and more like a fan. But even before April of 2013, looks and words can be decieving. Prior to the late March/early April news, I like many were excited about the 50th and what we were hoping for to have all the surviving Doctors interact with the New Who ones taking on a greater evil. Alas, it didn't turn out to be the case...
Around the start of April, we learned of David Tennant and Billie Piper's return plus the inclusion of John Hurt in tow. At first, I was thinking it may have been an April's Fool joke to leave out Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann. But as the summer came and Steven Moffat's statement about not making it a fan-fest made me wonder what on Earth's going on? Then came the Hurt reveal (though the leaked DVD release of Series 7B gave it away in advance shortly before Name of the Doctor's airdate). Until the reveal, I was fully convinced he was playing a Gideon-Crane-like character who somehow wound up believing and acting like the Doctor ala Nick Briggs' character of the same name from the 2001 8th Doctor audio Minuet in Hell (I actually would've welcomed that; seriously). Instead, the reveal was that he was a incarnation between 8th (McGann) and 9th (Christopher Eccleston). WHY?
That was my exact response. In a fandom where fanon belief of Ian and Barbara married after their return home got canonized, what happened to 8th's time in the war? Why was there a need for an inbetween Doctor for the Last Great Time War? For the last several years, it was believed by fandom that the 8th Doctor fought in it and was the one who ended it, wiping out both Daleks and Time Lords alike. Even various spin-off media managed to either hint at it or showed the road to it. In 2008, IDW's The Forgotten showcased a scene with the 8th that took place during the Time War and the following year Mary's Story from Big Finish's The Company of Friends showcased a wartorn disgruntled 8th (and his younger pre-Charley self). At Armageddon 2010 in New Zealand, Paul McGann inveiled his new 8th Doctor outfit (which had mixed reviews but grew positive overtime), which became finalized by the BBC to be 8th's look for Big Finish's widly successful Dark Eyes (and its following sequels), which had more hints of the Time War and his increased discontent for the Daleks in the wake of the deaths of his companions Lucie Miller, Tamsin Drew and his great-grandson Alex Campbell; Susan and David's only child. Then came the Night of the Doctor mini-sode where everyone punched the air to see Paul McGann return (and in new digs)... only to see him rebuke the War rather than fight the very creatures that took away said companions and great-grandchild as well as give up his incarnation by drinking a "Warrior" elixor from the Sisterhood of Karn to become a "War Doctor". In one interview, Moffat said he didn't believe 8th to be the Time War Doctor because he "didn't fit the idea" and would never commit genocide.
This is where I call bull. If the 8th wasn't the type then why were there hints from Big Finish prior to the 50th? Why did Tony Lee show the 8th in the War if he didn't want to fight in it and why were most of fandom convinced of his involvement for so long? Moffat's logic doesn't compute with the characterization in Dark Eyes and Dark Eyes 2. It spits in the face of not only the said references but a huge spit in the face to Big Finish and more importantly McGann. It makes the changes to the 8th worthless and rendering the deaths of Lucie, Tamsin and Alex pointless as if they were killed off for nothing. In the BBC Books, 8th had to blow up Gallifrey to thwart Faction Paradox. He didn't need to go to the Sisters (who somehow gained regeneration when they want nothing to do with all things Rassilon) to change into a warrior to defeat the Grandfather Paradox. Even if Eccleston was unavailable (due both to filming Thor: The Dark World and Moffat was unable to get Joe Aherne to direct instead of Nick Hurran) to be War/9, Moffat could've still kicked the War role to McGann as it gels in tune with his current characterization in the recent audios. 8th shouldn't have to be a deserter just so he could maintain the perception of a children's hero; its doesn't make a dog lick of sense. It may make sense to, say, the 5th's charcterization on TV but not the 8th's.
As great an actor John Hurt is, I just don't see a need for an hidden incarnation. Especially one who was promoted as Warrior in vain of Kalendorf from Dalek Empire when what we actually got was a retread of Peter Cushing's cinematic (and 100% Human) "Dr Who". That was what came out in the final product: In my early immediate review of Day, I stated that Hurt was the New Who generations's Richard Hurndall but it appears more than just that the more I think about it. He wasn't a warrior at all; just a cuddly, depressed old man who really didn't break the "promise" the 11th gave Clara. Further, when he had the dilemma of killing everyone to end the war, I honestly felt nothing, because I didn't know who this person was. Moffat sure enjoys making a huge deal about things only for the payoff to come flat like a soda (i.e. River Song and later Time of the Doctor). Adding insult to injury is the repercussions of the insert (and counting Meta-Crisis 10th), which was part of Moffat's plan to solve the regeneration limit just so he could be hailed a hero to fandom at large so the next showrunner who comes after him won't. Instead of solving it, it bolloxed it up in story and in merchandising. It also makes the whole "11th's the 13th and final incarnation" relevations flat and pointless when we know of Peter Capaldi named as 12th plus makes for a sloppy Christmas Special story to resolve (or lack there of) all loose end only to tangle them up in knots. Hurt served his purpose as the band-aid. There's no need for more appearances on screen nor in all of the spin-off material, regardless of a recent lone novel.
Another thing that bugs me about Day was how the children of Gallifrey through the eyes and words of Clara were used as emotion fodder to the audience to sell them on why what the Doctor did was wrong; why he has to be the Man Who Wouldn't. With the said first destruction, the children never factored into it since the planet wound up in the corner of the 8th Doctor's mind, so they turned out safe along with the rest of the Time Lords. It became clear with the music, the kids became fodder for emotional manipulation. I just couldn't bring myself to showing this special to my girlfriend's children. "The Man Who Wouldn't"... this dreck began with the 10th Doctor era as part of how the Doctor should be presented yet ignored the many thing he had to do sometimes like blowing up Skaro, shooting an Ogron or manipulate his companions on an occasion (i.e. 2nd in Evil of the Daleks) or more (i.e. 7th). Heroes do make tough choices sometime; that's what Moffat and before him RTD forgot outright. Even the choices they don't like and the results of the choices. By snatching away the tough decisions and consequences, what good is a hero and his story if he just avoids them and rewrites history just because it's fashionable? Even moreso is actually showing the Time War itself when we all know it wouldn't be done justice either on screen or in print. The War was presented by Moffat as a run-of-the-mill Star Wars shootout rather than the endless batch of "what ifs" we'd been accustomed to. It really didn't need to be seen. I'll give props for changing the outcome but not the manipulation that lead to it. Even the Moment's appearance as Rose fanned the flames of the eighth anniversary charges against the special and are well justified. It wouldn't hurt Moffat to have the moment appear in the form of Susan or Romana to silence the critics but chose not to out of disrespect to the 42 out of the program's 50 year history. Not even RTD would've resorted to this or snubbed McGann and co. at the expense of boosting his ego.
Then there's the early segments of the special with the Zygons and Queen Elizabeth I. Many a female and LGBT viewer were fuming mad at Moffat for the potrayal of the Virgin Queen as just another stock female character who falls for the Doctor. What makes it more cringeworthy is that Moffat chose to adapt the infamous line about her from The End of Time. The posts on the Oh No They Didn't! Live Journal really showed discontent for Moffat's blatant sexism that shows up in his writing - and frankly, I now understand and see it. Until 2013, I overlooked the sexism because I was still content with stories that didn't feel like written by commitee via Hollywood exectuives (*cough*RTD*cough*) to reach the lowest common denominator. But even with having a new showrunner who wasn't about character over plot came at a price and the sexism is that price. Not even a special guest appearance from Tom Baker and a cameo from the now incumbent Doctor Capaldi is enough to mask what's wrong with it.
Now, like Nostalgia Critic regarding Man of Steel, I understand what some folks loved about this special but I just don't love or like it in any capacity. I meant what I said in my earlier review that Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman deserve better, as did and does McGann, McCoy, C. Baker, Davison and fans old and new. If this special was what we'd looked forward to since 2005, then I think Lorainne Heggessey shouldn't have bothered reviving this show and I say this as young man who first watch Who via SyFy when they had the rights to show it prior to BBC America taking the lead.
So there you have it: the full, no-holds-barred Reviewer's cut of Day of the Doctor. I know it won't change minds (you know who you are) but at least take everything typed into deep thinking and consideration.
The Hurt Doctor by Hugh Sturgess 20/3/14
All the caveats I mentioned in my review of Name of the Doctor apply here with twice as much force, but I loved it.
You might say that the best fiftieth anniversary story is the one that only exists in our heads, where everything is as we want it, even if that means something different to every one of us ("I wanted it to be the first Doctor and Peter Cushing teaming up with Matt Smith to stop a Dalek-Cyberman alliance from taking over the galaxy while the Chumbies kill EVERYONE!"). Making the problem even worse is the divide between the Old and New Series. Focus too much on the old and the blockbuster worldwide event for BBC's flagship show would rely on a bunch of creaky old character actors no one can remember. Focus too much on the new and it will be accused on pandering to new fans and denying its heritage. Whether you think Day of the Doctor finds a happy medium probably says more about what you personally wanted from the episode rather than a bias in the episode itself. In what I think is this story's greatest achievement, Moffat doesn't merely weight the two "halves" of the programme equally, he actually makes that division central to the drama.
Day of the Doctor pays homage to the programme in all its different forms. There are more different incarnations of the show itself than its lead character, and a fiftieth anniversary would have to be a showcase of all the elements that have made the series so long-lived. Not specific characters or monsters or planets, but its storytelling, its intelligence, its humour, its humanism. Day of the Doctor manages to include Doctor Who's most distinctive feature, chopping and changing genre like fancy dress: contemporary Earth where everyday objects are subverted (call it the plastic daffodil effect); alien invasion; a trip into history; space opera; timey-wimey anti-logic; screwball comedy with the Doctors (and the two Elizabeths); then tragedy. Normally, this happens between episodes, not several times in the middle of one. Moffat is showing off, but this is perfectly appropriate. Even the most curmudgeonly anti-cool critics would have to admit that a celebration of fifty years of Doctor Who is an appropriate time to demonstrate that Doctor Who is better than any other show.
I have to confess that I actively hoped for an absence of returning characters from the old series. I had no problem whatsoever with the thought of a twenty-first-century-heavy story. If more than one Doctor was going to feature, then let it be Tennant, I thought, and I'd be fine with only Smithy. What I wanted, above all, was a great story, one that was important to the series as it exists now, that moved the programme along in an appreciable way. I wouldn't have batted an eyelid at a story with River Song, the Silence and Trenzalore. Moffat, I reasoned, was not the kind of writer simply to churn out a piece of anniversary hack-work like The Five Doctors. Imagine my delight as Moffat strongly hinted at the brave (and, I flatter myself, clever) choice to produce a lean story free from old companions and Doctors, that would be, as he put it, the most important day in the Doctor's life. This is a stripped-down anniversary: no Captain Jack, no Master, no old companions at all. Moffat doesn't even let Billie Piper slide back into the comfortable shoe that is Rose Tyler, and instead makes her the angel on the Doctor's shoulder, with a posher accent to boot. (Which occasionally falters; witness her delivery of "If I ever develop an ego, you've got the zhob.") Moffat stands the idea of a reunion story on its head with John Hurt's Doctor, a "returning" character who has never appeared before.
Moffat has confirmed that had Eccleston agreed to appear, he would have taken the role actually filled by John Hurt. In that case, Eccleston's recalcitrance led to a much more thematically rich story. Hurt isn't the ninth Doctor played by a different actor. Eccleston was the first of the New Series Doctors. He was the first to shock us with his modern, colloquial dialogue, his sexualisation, his post-war trauma. Hurt, on the other hand, is the last of the Old Series Doctors. Throughout the story, he's commenting on his successors in the way you'd expect the old Doctors to ("Is there a lot of this in the future?"). He nearly goes over the line into authorial smart-arsery by picking on Smith's use of "timey-wimey", but the line is redeemed immediately by Tennant's deadpan reply ("I've no idea where he picks that stuff up") and later by "It'll help pass the timey-wimey."
This contrast almost canonises something that had hitherto been only a fan theory. "What made you so ashamed of being a grown-up?", Hurt demands of his older selves, which tellingly prompts another discussion about how bad it was to destroy Gallifrey. Why else does the New Series Doctor speak so differently to the first eight (or nine) but as a deliberate effort to differentiate himself from his past? The Doctor with the most distinctive, least Doctorish speech is the ninth (that is, Eccleston - Moffat's insistence that the numbering scheme remains the same is handy here) - the one for whom the Time War and his role in it is most recent. Moffat has hinted previously that the Doctor now hates himself: in Amy's Choice, the Doctor realises that the Dream Lord is a distillation of his darker impulses because "only one person in the universe hates me as much as you do", and Let's Kill Hitler humourously seconded that, with the Doctor dismissing a holographic avatar of himself with the demand that the TARDIS show him "someone I like". The New Series Doctor's refusal to accept the Hurt incarnation as the Doctor is really anger at all his previous selves, who failed to prevent the events that forced him to destroy Gallifrey. (The tragedy is sharper if you entertain the fan theory that the eight-year-old pre-Doctor saw John Hurt when he looked into the Untempered Schism - hence his decision to "run away".)
The Hurt Doctor's storyline isn't so much grappling with his decision to destroy the Time Lords and the Daleks together and call the Time War a draw, but the deep-seated fan debate over whether the New Series is a worthy successor to Old Skool Who. Hurt swings one way and then the other. "I don't know who you are, either of you," Hurt tells his older selves. "I haven't the faintest idea." But at the climax he denies that he is the Doctor and suggests that his successors are "the Doctor [he] could never be": "Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame." His future selves return the favour by saying that he is the Doctor "more than anyone else". Not merely does the old series (in the form of Hurt) accept the new, but the hip, cool, sleek new series (in the forms of Tennant and Smith) also accepts its goofy, slightly embarrassing father. Hurt's half-seen regeneration into Eccleston isn't (only) an expression of Moffat's fannish completism, but another symbolic link between the two series. The Moment shows Hurt the man the Time War will turn him into - that is, the Doctor we know in the New Series. The heart of the story is the reconciliation of the old series with the new. The Doctors literally join hands over the event that separates them: the destruction of Gallifrey. Hurt's costume - half-eighth, half-ninth - is that in fashion terms.
Would the putative Ecclestonian Day of the Doctor have portrayed him as he was in 2005? It's a fascinating question. If yes, then we would have lost this subtext. His alternation between gloominess and exaggerated cheerfulness is surely a product of his trauma from destroying Gallifrey, so would he have been rather different to his original performance? It's certainly not the case that Moffat has found-and-replaced Eccleston with Hurt. It's a completely different story as a result.
John Hurt is magnificent. For an actor who complained about memorising all the technobabble, he gives as good as he gets. Occasionally he stumbles over an explanation, but that's all flummery. His performance is defined by juggling the two sides of his character: the Doctor's funny, bemused, quizzical side and his serious, haunted side. Initially, his creased, haggard face, neck like a turkey's and gravelly, fragile voice seem suited only to the war-weary, exhausted veteran of the initial battle scene, but Hurt is just as good at the comic by-play. (His voice crinkles up like Grandpa Simpson when he says "They get younger all the time.") Moffat is intentionally writing him as the anti-Doctor, or rather the anti-modern-Doctor, one who sits and thinks rather than bounces around and gabbles. Compared to the differences between Tennant and Smith, Hurt's is a different kind of Doctor altogether, but compared to Hartnell or Pertwee he's a clear blood relation. (How easy is it to imagine Pertwee spluttering "Granddad?!" as Hurt does?) I loved that. We can't have the real Eleven Doctors, but we can have a kind of composite.
In fact, he's too much like the other Doctors in a way. He doesn't seem like the Doctor who renounced his name and became a blood-soaked warrior. He seems like a nice old man. Maybe he's slipping back into a Doctorish role now that he's out of the Time War - his expression when he first arrives in the sixteenth century is gleeful - but it misses the opportunity to show us a Doctor stripped of what makes him Doctorish. Given that Moffat's regular Doctor is sometimes barely Doctorish, you'd think that this would be easy for him, but Moffat is too much of a romantic to portray his hero in such dark colours. Pace Lawrence Miles, Moffat doesn't deify the Doctor to "absorb [fangirls'] love-vibrations" vicariously, but because he's vibrating with love for our Time Lord too. In interviews, Moffat claims that he decided to save Gallifrey because the Doctor would never do something as nasty as destroy it (and kill all the children!!!).
The creation of the Hurt Doctor sutures away the unpleasantness of destroying Gallifrey, makes it safe by attributing it all to an alter ego who can act out in ways the Doctor can't. And even then, Moffat can't go through with it. Russell T Davies is seen as the light-hearted, jokey one and Moffat as the dark, mature one, but it was Davies who had the Doctor "fighting on the frontlines" of the Time War. Davies imagined the Doctor (or reimagined him) as a man of peace forced to fight ankle-deep in blood for centuries before finally failing on all fronts and committing genocide twice to save the universe. The first five years of the New Series show the Doctor as a broken, traumatised veteran trying to come to terms with what he did. Moffat dropped that theme when he took over, and it was about time too (everything there was to say about it had been said), but Day of the Doctor shows that he was never comfortable with it in the first place. Strangely, given his love for the fifth Doctor, Moffat sees the Doctor as a wish-fulfilment character, who always finds "another way", no matter the situation.
Like the Silence and the death of the Doctor (both in Utah and on Trenzalore), it's another of Moffat's great ideas to which he never does justice. As Mike Morris perceptively notes in his review of Night of the Doctor, the Moffat era's approach to "arcs" has been a game of bait and switch. Oh, you thought The Big Bang would resolve everything? Nooooooo, here come the Silence! A Good Man Goes to War isn't the resolution you're looking for, nor is The Wedding of River Song. Who exactly are the Silence? Never mind, Trenzalore's the ticket! The Name of the Doctor pulls the trick three times in forty-five minutes: the question of the title is plucked out of sight by Moffat the Magician and Trenzalore is substituted in its place, and then shazam! It's the secret of Clara, which is in turn pulled out from beneath us by the revelation of the Hurt Doctor. The Moffat era has been satisfaction deferred, constantly piling up unanswered questions by distracting us with a new shiny object. It's worked, at least for this reviewer, but it just increased the magnitude of the final task to resolve it all. The explanation of River Song shows that when Moffat is held down and forced to tie up his loose ends, the result is haphazard and improvised. (River tidies up loose ends with the blanket statement that she lies about everything.) Day of the Doctor escapes this fate by not engaging with the ongoing threads, but eventually the plates come crashing down in Time of the Doctor and the unresolved story-lines collide with a grisly off-camera crunch.
David Tennant is back, of course, and what I think is interesting is that Moffat is passing judgement on his era too. Basically, he's sending him up. The Doctor famous for his romancing and speechifying is seen here being molested by not one but two Virgin Queens and he delivers the Voyage of the Damned "I'm a Time Lord" speech to a rabbit. "That is not the Queen of England, that's an alien duplicate!", he declaims melodramatically. It's really rubbing the foibles and cliches of the Davies era in the viewers' faces - which is exactly how the war Doctor is feeling. He wants to see what the Time War turned him into, and he's confronted with a self-important horn-dog and a clownish man-child. It is the story's task to demonstrate that Tennant and Smith measure up to the Doctors who came before them. Tennant's role suffers somewhat because he is the least necessary of the three Doctors. It's Hurt's Doctor who thinks of how to use the sonic screwdriver to get them out of the cell, and how to get themselves into the Black Archive. Tennant gets to deliver the dialogue explaining their plan at the climax, but the idea seems to be Hurt's and Smith's. He's virtually comic relief. Given that his appearance in this story comes between The Waters of Mars and The End of Time, his experience as the Time Lord Victorious could have been an opportunity to show another way that the Time War has damaged him, but there's nothing of that in this performance. (For one thing, the prospect of changing his own personal history would surely have bad associations for him post-Adelaide.) That's OK, because part of the fun of an anniversary is simply seeing old Doctors slipping back into the role. His characterisation is so broad as to be a piss-take, but it works. The smug arching of his eyebrows at the end of the story is hilarious.
It's the fiftieth anniversary, so it's time for continuity!
The Time War battle scenes look great, by which I mean they look expensive and manage to be exciting despite basically being just explosions and laser bolts. I like Arcadia finally being explained after all these years, and as a city rather than a planet like we all expected. It wasn't a question begging to be answered, but it links the story with Doomsday, and by extension all those Time War references all the way back to Rose. The retcon that fingers the Time War for the destruction of the Zygon homeworld does the same.
However, the battle scenes look just like... battle scenes. Again, RTD had the better idea. Davies's Time War was a conflict so hellish that the dead were literally returned to life again and again to fight the good fight. The End of Time references that idea, along with the monstrous Horde of Travesties and the intriguing Nightmare Child. Moffat's Time War is just an ordinary space-war. The "sky trenches" encapsulate the portrayal: it's like a normal war, but in the sky. The man who is famous for his paradoxes and timey-wimey shenanigans gives us Star Wars instead. I'm going to cross my fingers and suggest that the lasers-and-explosions are stand-ins for temporal tussling beyond the comprehension of mere mortals like the audience. It only looks like an ordinary war, because that's the only way we can understand it. Nevertheless, when RTD has a cooler sci-fi idea than you, you must try harder.
Having UNIT (and Brigadier-surrogate Kate Stewart) in the fiftieth anniversary is sweet, but I also like the misdirection. Not merely is the Zygon thread of the story ultimately unimportant, the Zygons barely qualify as villains. There isn't even an obligatory killing-of-bit-part to show us that the Zygons mean business. While the resolution to the Zygon story is clever, it's undermined by the whacking great flaw in the scenario. Kate and Zygon-Kate yell conflicting orders at the nuclear countdown, but why don't the Zygons simply kill or incapacitate Kate (as they did when they assumed her form) and not have to worry about her countermanding their orders? For that matter, why didn't the humans go armed in the first place, thus eliminating the need to, y'know, blow up London to stop three pretty lame aliens? "This is not a decision you will ever be able to live with!" the tenth Doctor declaims at a woman about to blow herself to radioactive smithereens. UNIT's Black Archive takes the X-Files side of the series a little too far, maxing out every government-conspiracy and sinister-secret cliche in the genre. (Though apparently it's actually introduced in a Sarah Jane episode? Either way, I think I've seen enough of it.) Startlingly, the Black Archive contains a photo of Sara Kingdom with an eye-patch-wearing (!) Mike Yates. I await the Gary Russell PDA in which the first Doctor, Steven and Sara try to escape from the Daleks' Master Plan by travelling to the parallel universe seen in Inferno. On a similar note, I loved the version of The Raft of the Medusa in the Under Gallery in which all the figures are Cybermen.
The episode also canonises a fan theory about what the Doctor remembers of multi-incarnation team-ups, and almost canonises a broader theory about memory and time travel (Hurt and Tennant will forget what happened because the "time streams are out of synch", in other words, they have been taken out of the lives they should have had). And why is the I.M. Foreman sign in the first shot right next to Coal Hill School? Because Interference in canonical and the junkyard was really a time-travelling psychic circus! Also, I've been rereading Campaign, and I noticed this description of a painting Cliff finds during his exploration of the TARDIS: "like looking out of a window at a fragment of someone's life." It's a stasis cube!
And even though Moffat has stripped down the celebration to be as accessible as possible (no old companions, etc), there are still some joyous kisses to the past. Perhaps it's precisely their rarity that makes them so sweet. The opening credits (which, I have to say, I predicted). The glimpse of the twelfth Doctor. And, of course, the old man in the gallery. Despite his best efforts to spoil it beforehand, Tom Baker's cameo still sent a chill down my spine. That instantly recognisable voice, those sad, boggling eyes, the exaggerated mannerisms. He's different enough from the fourth Doctor of old to remove any doubt, should any remain, that he was always playing Tom Baker first and the Doctor second. Moffat-the-fan might have been tempted to have Sylvester McCoy, the most secretive of Doctors, or Paul McGann, but Moffat-the-producer realised that the public doesn't remember any of the living old-skool Doctors except for Baker. Baker isn't simply "one of the Doctors", he is the Doctor. He's a mythical figure, a whirl of vivid, high-contrast features - teeth and curls - and his appearance here is like a visitation from an Old Testament prophet.
The other kind of continuity, visual continuity, is rather more shaky. I don't know whether it's something to do with filming for 3D, but the visual continuity is appalling. I don't normally notice that kind of thing, but here it's unavoidable. Tiny glitches between shots throw themselves out at the viewer. The first meeting of the Doctors is marred by Tennant and Smith standing a different distance apart depending on which angle the camera is shooting. When Doctor Ten kisses Elizabeth at the wedding ceremony, his collar is flipped up in one shot and then is neatly down in the next. At the climax, the Doctors places their hands over each other's on the big red button, then suddenly only their fingertips are touching the button, and this is mere moments before Tennant's hair becomes more manageable between shots.
The episode has just the right tone for it to be Palaeo-Who fannish and yet not bewildering to the millions who haven't watched the original series. The climax, in which thirteen Doctors from across time and space unite to descend on Gallifrey in a swarm of police boxes, is more like comic-book epics like Crisis on Infinite Earths than anything else on TV, which is why is works so well. Comics work in a different way to TV or film - you don't need great characterisation or even a logically coherent storyline (see Grant Morrison's Final Crisis, and I'm being only 50% facetious). How did the three Doctors find each and every one of their past incarnations and convince them to help? How do they keep working on the calculations "all their lives" when they all (presumably) forgot about saving Gallifrey just like the Hurt and tenth Doctors? Who cares! It's not a "mythic" moment, not really. It's a comic book moment, and I love it for that.
As for the series-changing resolution, I liked it. It doesn't really alter the day-to-day nature of the series, unless a long-term character arc is in the planning. Like the revelation of the Hurt Doctor, it's the perfect non-change change, since it is a huge, rule-rewriting, reverberating change that will, in practice, have no consequences whatsoever. (Time of the Doctor, I think, will be the last time we hear of it for a long while.) The ending is great, though: "I have a new destination." Moffat promised us a story that genuinely changed the direction of the series. He was telling the truth, in a very metaphorical way - rather than running away from home, as he's been for fifty years, now the Doctor is loosely running towards it - but even though the direct impact is small, it fulfils the requirement that this isn't just a particularly long and expensive episode, but an episode that changes the series. I hope that this really is the last of the Time War, that Moffat keeps the writers from dredging up the Doctor's war guilt again in the future. That would really do justice to The Day of the Doctor.
A Review by E. John Winner 24/7/14
Note 1: Although what would constitute "spoilers" for this story has been splashed all over the internet, I will refrain from using revealing specifics; but certainly, if you haven't seen this episode by this writing (you may have been in solitary confinement?), you should take a look at it ASAP.
Note 2: While I don't discuss them here, two minisodes must be considered prologue to this story, the absolutely wonderful The Night of the Doctor, and the much less than wonderful (too Star Wars like for me) The Last Day. You should definitely see those as well. Now, on to our review:
Both The Name of the Doctor and this episode reveal the central gift - and problem - Steven Moffat brings to the series. Moffat is what is known in the entertainment industry as an "ideas man." He is capable of really big conceptual innovations. When these innovations come pre-packed with a story, he can then produce a wonderful episode. A Christmas Carol is a marvelous show, one of the best in the Doctor's 50 years. It is clearly an attempt to lace Dickens' classic narrative with elements from Mary Poppins. Indeed, that would be "The Concept", in Hollywood terms: "Mary Poppins Meets Charles Dickens". But Dickens brings with him a complete story, as does Mary Poppins, and Moffat then takes these story elements, revises them in a timey-wimey sort of way, and comes up with a most satisfying narrative that works extremely well as a one-off adventure requiring no lingering story-arc soap-operatics.
But what happens when "The Concept" either doesn't carry with it a story by any implication, or implies a story that for whatever reason Moffat decides not to tell, or to tell only incompletely? Clara Oswald, the girl who "was born to save the Doctor" - well, that is her concept, obviously, and should imply some sort of story (how was such a birth accomplished, who was involved, who made that decision?), but it turned out to be a story untold. By the end of The Name of the Doctor, this concept is all we really have of her (and not one that I particularly care for).
Fortunately, in writing The Day of the Doctor, Moffat was confronted with several concepts he simply had to include in order to please fans of several generations. One of these concepts, that of the Time War, carried with it implicit possible story-lines, with implicit alternative resolutions. I have read critics of the show expressing disappointment with the resolution that Moffat chose for the story he developed, but in truth it is a wise choice. Many fans (like me) have become quite bored with the whole Time War guilt trip the Doctor has suffered for now eight years, as well as with the "Last of the Time Lords" gestalt that has the Doctor function as some lonely divinity. It is time for the Doctor to become a mere citizen of the universe, a hero and not a god. Moffat has made that possible, and hopefully will carry through with it.
Interlaced with the central drama concerning the Time War, is a story that any fan of the Classic Series could have plotted - which is a good thing; this 50th celebration is for the fans. The Elizabethan section of that story is wonderfully reminiscent of many of the pseudo-historicals of the Classic Series (Masque of Mandragora or The Androids of Tara, for examples), while the contemporary segment moves to a New Series stand-off that RTD would love - the best of both fan worlds, surely. And of course the story involves the Zygons, a well-remembered monster of the Classic era, as revised (as capable of moral choice) in the now-BBC-canonical Eighth Doctor audio adventures. I can't think of an adventure more completely Who.
The question is, are these two stories handled well and brought through to conclusion in a satisfying way? Perhaps quibbling, but - not entirely. One problem with "ideas men" is that they know where they are headed (revelation of the big concept) but aren't always sure how to get there. As with almost every episode in the Moffat era, the conclusions to both stories are rushed. We hardly notice it with the Zygon storyline (its final countdown obscuring this), but it is glaringly obvious in the Time War resolution. None of the Doctors figures it out for us - that is, they don't reason through the predicament or its choices. Instead it comes to them in a flash of revelation - the Big Concept - and what follows is a flurry of motion, and multiple TARDISes flying about, and big explosions and - done.
Oh well; I suppose we're stuck with that as long as Moffat runs the show. However, after the near disaster that was The Name of the Doctor, The Day of the Doctor successfully salvages the Doctor's reputation as a hero adventuring in stories concerning time and space.
There were other ideas fans demanded that were successfully incorporated into the program - classic monster, check; Piper and Tennent, check; multiple Doctors, check; alien invasions, check; classic Doctor, check - Let's pause at that one. Most fans were pleased by the coda at the end which included the appearance of one of our favorite Doctors from the Classic Series. Some expressed annoyance and bewilderment. I personally was delighted. As to the question of how he could be both a Classic Doctor and "the Curator," all I can say is, go back to The Five Doctors and pay attention. And that also brings up what was the best aspect of this episode. As an aniversary special, The Day of the Doctor had to compete with The Five Doctors and The Three Doctors, using New Series resources and problematics. Despite certain flaws, I think it succeded surprisingly well.
I am still wary of Steven Moffat's future plans for the series. He has too much invested in it and too many problems with simple narrative structure. But he has pulled off a remarkable comeback in this episode and given the Doctor a future with real possibilities. We'll have to see how well he can realize them.
How disappointing... by Flynn Sullivan 5/3/15
Well, with a title like that, what could go wrong? The Day of the Doctor was the first Doctor Who story I watched in real-time (after catching up with the Ninth-Eleventh Doctor's eras) and so, I was all hyped for it.
The end result: I liked it at first, then I started thinking, and now I'm just miserable.
The problem is that this is a great flick. It's one of the best ever produced under Moffat, it looks absolutely splendid (those scenes in the barn I could just watch for the visuals alone), the acting is top-notch, and it's uplifting and celebratory. That just makes the issues hurt so much more.
As much as fans told me to let it go, I just can't. I think of it every single time I watch this episode... where's the time lock? Where is all that stuff that the Tenth Doctor said was kept away by the time-lock? Wasn't the Moment used to envelope the whole war, not just one planet? How can the Twelfth Doctor even exist before the timelines were changed? Where's the "time" in the Time War? So frustrating, even more so when we consider what happened in Listen (if two-way travel between past Gallifrey and present is possible, why did they never notice all those universe reboots?).
Also, it just feels too easy. If you look at the Ninth Doctor's behavior in Series 1, it's absolutely heartbreaking and tells of a greater tale that's completely at odds with the War Doctor here. Speaking of which, the War Doctor is little more than Richard Hurndall 2.0. Had they used Paul McGann (whose Doctor is certainly not incapable of pushing the button), it would've made the occasion that much more special.
Even the Tom Baker cameo (which again, makes no sense unless time can predict it's going to be altered) is basically a "it'll be all right in the end", which is certainly not what I want to know. I want to know I'll never know.
The UNIT story involving the Zygons felt very odd... why the Zygons? I understand they are popular, but they have a very B-movie feel about them. Having the Daleks use the paintings as a backup plan to escape the War would've been pretty cool (yes, that story has been done before in a way, but not like this) even if they are overused by now. Still, it's a story about a conflict between the Daleks and the Time Lords. Making them a threat this time wouldn't have frustrated the fans, not this time.
And the Time Lords... using the children as a reason not do what's necessary is sheer manipulation. I'm surprised Clara was even let anywhere near the Moment. It should've been a decision the Doctors made on their own. Plus, is it really a good idea of accusing a martyr (he's basically dooming his own soul and conscience to spare the universe)?
That Time Lord general was far too silly. It seemed every one of his lines was made ultra dramatic. It made him seem over-the-top, especially when compared to Timothy Dalton's Rassilon. Plus, whatever happened to the evil Time Lords? It was just the High Council who were mad? That's a letdown.
I've warmed to the War Doctor's TARDIS a bit, but it's still a bizarre mix of the 1989 and 2005 TARDISes. I would've liked a line about the desktop getting glitched.
John Hurt's portrayal of the War Doctor as a kind of cross between Santa Claus and the Wizard of Oz (a nice old man trapped somewhere) is just hideously wrong. He's not a war veteran! I'll tell you what he is, thick! I mean, not getting why his future selves fear him? And all that melodramatic "I don't know who you are" stuff? Ugh.
It's things like that that make me miss the wonderful aspects, such as...
Matt Smith and David Tennant (that new hairdo is much better than what he used to have as the Tenth Doctor).
A likable UNIT (it's a miracle!)
The aforementioned techincal aspects.
Some really awesome jokes and winks to the past. I think the "We're confusing the polarity!" part was the coolest DW can ever get. So kudos there.
Overall, I'd like to misquote the Eleventh Doctor on this one: "The good things don't always soften the bad ones, but vice versa the bad things don't always spoil the good things or make them unimportant. And this definitely added to the pile of good things."
"Blow out the candle, I will burn again tomorrow" by Thomas Cookson
The 50th Anniversary tasked Moffat with penning a story that expressed his love of Doctor Who. But, as his infamous 1995 TSV interview demonstrates, one's never sure where Moffat's love of Classic Who ends and his deep-seated shame about it begins.
This anniversary special almost perfectly articulates Moffat's confused ambivalence. Demonstrating his love for the show and his shame for it, particularly in the indigestible snideness with which this largely excludes the classic Doctors, making it primarily a New Who celebration.
This chance may never come again for the classic series' older surviving actors. I mean, the Time War provided the perfect setting to bring back McGann, Romana and Susan. Yet Moffat went out his way to exclude them and even replaces McGann with John Hurt's Doctor, crowbarred into the past numbering sequence and usurping McGann's role in a TV story he'd always deserved.
In The Name of the Doctor, it seemed Hurt's 'broken promise' was him destroying the very people he was meant to save. But then Night of the Doctor outright suggests even trying to save them was a betrayal.
After McGann's promised vengeance against the Daleks in To The Death, the idea he'd 'rather die' than help Gallifrey fight the Daleks to save the universe just doesn't add up. If McGann fighting the war is 'uncomfortable' to envision, all the more reason to use him.
The idea you can pick and choose which Doctor would or wouldn't, somehow presupposes the Time War gave him the luxury of a choice.
If Hurt was created because McGann couldn't plausibly destroy Gallifrey, then this story's happy ending invalidates any reason for Hurt's existence, suggesting Moffat hadn't thought this through and was making his retcon up as he went along.
The 1960's title sequence and opening at Coal Hill School serve a patronising, brief homage to An Unearthly Child, which is ultimately superficial because we never revisit any actual actors from that episode, even given the perfect setting to revisit Ian or Susan.
Then the TARDIS gets airlifted, forcing the Doctor to dangle prattishly from it without reason. In regards 'kisses to the past', homaging Dragonfire's cliffhanger wasn't what I had in mind.
The Doctor's led into the Curator's archive. This would've been a good time to show Tom Baker watching secretly in the background, raising our intrigue over who he is. An escaped painting? A Zygon? The Fourth Doctor? Thus his later reveal would actually be a pay-off rather than an indigestible info-dump.
The dimensionally transcendental Gallifrey Falls painting serves a neat, genius framing device. Depicting the Time War here was a big seller. Making this a cinematic event that promised something truly unprecedented. Since this depicts the war's final days, I think Hurt's conception gets excused in the belief Moffat probably could've written McGann developing into a hardened, brutalised warrior during the war, if he'd a miniseries to hand. Since he didn't, perhaps this needed an old-school actor who could conjure and articulate the Doctor's brutalized weariness and penance with a look.
The battle scene is brilliant and captures lightning in a bottle. Hurt's wisely kept shadowed, emphasising his scarred, tormented anonymity, living in darkness. His red-hued TARDIS landing in the centre of hell, announcing a saviour, but not the Doctor.
His blasting 'No More' into the wall is some brilliant, emotive visual storytelling, as is his superior chess-mastership, ensnaring the Daleks. The practical effects and Dalek miniatures are used to well-timed effect. The Daleks threatening children is a manipulative moment for sure, but I was absolutely punching the air when the TARDIS totalled them.
However, it's also overkill. You can't really beat children in mortal danger as terrifying stakes go, and ultimately afterwards the stakes flounder.
It still seems wrong that we're following a stranger in Hurt's Doctor, rather than a familiar past Doctor. On the other hand, since he's introduced as a Doctor we're still getting to know, we feel we're watching his story unfold as something current and linear, rather than as a ghostly revisitation of past events or a plugging of a gap.
Resultantly, his dilemma and Gallifrey's pressing fate felt real. Perhaps because of the substituted Doctor and the variant tone, it felt the outcome could go either way. This Doctor could doom Gallifrey or save it. As though there can be new consequences to the Time War. Moffat makes the events feel immediate for each incarnation, so we're with each Doctor, like the three Picards in All Good Things.
Personally, I'd have had Hurt's Doctor contemplate his decision by reading diary entries on his past Dalek encounters, with Tom, Peter, Colin and Sylvester providing narrations. That way this could've been a more substantial anniversary event. I couldn't fathom why Moffat included so many needless characters to deliberately leave no room for any of Classic Who's cast. It's as though Moffat would rather be writing something else.
Only someone who slated all classic Doctors as flubbing egocentric hacks would wilfully exclude them to the point of having Hurt substitute them. Perhaps Moffat couldn't bear to pay tribute to the real Classic Series, but only to his imagined superior version that was cast the way he wished. I hated Moffat for this and almost hated the story too.
Then I realized something I'd missed here that challenged me. It fought me back, stood its ground, making it clear it absolutely belonged here in Billie Piper's fierce, beguiling performance. It was the story's beating heart. The Moment, the sentient doomsday device that foresees its own use and the Doctor's subsequent guilt. Far from a dirty indiscriminate device of destruction, it's a beautiful compassionate being designed to save the Doctor's soul. Like Idris, her entire perception is timey-wimey. It makes viewer sense she adopts Rose's form, familiar only to the Doctor's future. The surreal interplay between Hurt and Piper held my interest at where this was going. She's an ideal framing device to bring these three Doctors' stories together.
Tennant's story involving mad Queen Elizabeth and Zygon doppelgangers provides welcome and needed levity to events. It's Moffat's usual comedy about neurotic women but outrageously done enough to hit the funny spot. Nicely contrasting how Tennant and Queenie are merely sowing their lordy oats, whilst the Moment's love goes beyond physical.
The Doctors get brought together by a time-travelling fez, then rounded up and put in a dungeon. The interplay between them is brilliant, with Tennant and Smith's entertaining double-act and elder statesman Hurt remarking on these unpardonable youths.
Matt Smith's coldly pragmatic Doctor is impatient with Tennant's counterproductive sentimentality and retorts "What'd be the point?", demonstrating their contrast.
They go from discussing Gallifrey's infant death toll, to being overjoyed when forming the sonic screwdriver solution and make it all feel natural. Clara's arrival was perfect comic timing.
But it feels wrong having Hurt presented as part of an established Three Doctors-redux ensemble when he hasn't earned the privilege. He's a stranger, carrying no history or nostalgia to us.
We then witness Kate confronting the Zygons. This was thrilling at the time, but incredibly moronic in hindsight. How does the threat of three Zygons constitute nuking London entirely? Here the story feels less than the sum of its parts and more like two half-baked stories clumsily stitched together.
Nonetheless, the three Doctors' entrance behind a crashing Dalek was cool, as was their bloodless solution. There's then a lovely moment Clara deduces Hurt's secret, that he hasn't pressed the button yet. "Your eyes. You're so much younger"
Inevitably Hurt's choice gets revisited, but this time with intervention from his future selves. At first they come to share and divide the burden, but they can't press the switch. Tennant's forgiveness of Hurt even redeems his prior appalling treatment of Wilf.
The Moment has been protecting Hurt, his heart, soul and conscience. She's the perfect antithesis of a Dalek. A weapon of love. One only the most desperate and hopeless would reach for. Not knowing that by taking her into their hands, she'd discreetly sow in them hope and redemption whether they wanted it or not, regardless how impossible the odds.
That binary opposition really works and perhaps wouldn't with McGann's romantic incarnation, who'd more likely embrace her promised hope immediately. He'd be no challenge to her. Perhaps Hurt had to play the lonely old pariah, excluded by shame even from his other selves, believing himself beyond love or hope. But she loves him nonetheless, although plays devious in her interactions with him, knowing he'll only respond to confrontation. Ultimately, the Time Lords' most feared weapon was their most compassionate. The Moment brought them together for this. The timey-wimey makes sense.
This is Moffat's heartfelt expression of love for the show's inspiration of being a morally better person. The Doctor turning himself into a devastating weapon only to reveal it's one he never had to use. It may not be the perfect tribute to the classic years, but it perfectly encapsulates why it was worth bringing back.
Together they form the spearhead to save Gallifrey. Then more past Doctors in their TARDISes amass around Gallifrey. Then the scene lost me. I couldn't savour the spliced footage of old Doctors, because part of me just wanted them over with before they could inevitably compromise the suspension of disbelief. They're so obviously pre-recorded that I could barely believe any immediate present involvement or interaction to the events onscreen. They're just predictable, hologramatic substitutes. McGann at least deserved new filmed footage here. It was too much at once. It got scant explanation and was just terribly overblown and silly.
Fans theorised that each TARDIS took their Doctor 'where he needed to go'. Perhaps more plausibly, it was the Moment that brought them, but the story never states this. Had we seen Billie merging with the TARDIS, Hartnell struggling to control it and Eleven's telepathic cube materialising to instruct him, it'd make sense.
I'm not sure I like the undoing of Gallifrey's destruction. Partly because the War Doctor's teased, dark secret now has no payoff but a bloodless nothing. Hurt was an ordinary Doctor after all. It's possibly emotionally cathartic or sacreligious, entering an art piece and turning the grim figure in the portrait into a more jubilant figure freed of burden.
However, seeing threatened children did nonetheless make me root for the Doctors to save Gallifrey. Maybe we'd seen enough war pain in Hurt's eyes already and likewise Smith losing the Ponds. Maybe he deserves one happy ending. Maybe were Gallifrey destroyed, it would've tarnished the celebratory atmosphere. Maybe a less cheery, sugary outcome could've had the screen fade to white mid-action, leaving it ambiguous whether they saved Gallifrey or not. Also, something feels wrong when the big climactic alliance of Doctors feels tacked on and jarringly out of place, as though this anniversary story only remembered to be one in its last ten minutes.
Matt's Doctor then meets the Curator, revealed as his future self, who'll somehow one day readopt his fourth body. This clunky idea of 'picking favourites' probably would've been made more lucid by referencing Romana, "Like a certain Time Lady you once knew". I wanted to savour Tom's poignant performance but I couldn't make sense of its crypticness. It was too much to process. I was too conscious of Moffat's sloppy author's fiat here.
But gradually those fanservice sequences settled into permanent, solid magic moments for me. The ending erased the divide between Classic and New Who, making every Doctor part of the event restoring Gallifrey. Almost suggesting that, in the in-fiction universe, Classic Who never ended and continued letting new actors take the mantle after McGann.
The Moment and the 'No More' sequence is what elevates this beyond just disposable feelgood fluff.
Considering this story in isolation, I can imagine and appreciate it perfectly completing a Doctor Who time capsule for future prosperity, alongside An Unearthly Child, The Daleks, Web of Fear, The War Games, Inferno, Genesis of the Daleks, City of Death, The Five Doctors and Remembrance of the Daleks. That's the highest compliment I can pay it.
A Review by Donna Bratley 4/9/19
I'm not sentimental: I won't blindly rave over the big anniversary special even if it hangs together better than its predecessors and is filled with the grand moments (no pun intended) and quotable lines I expect in a Moffat script. It has three strong leads, an engaging companion and Billie Piper not being Rose Tyler. It salves the Doctor's future conscience and restores Gallifrey (kind of). To a fan who flinched from The Last of the Time Lords committing double genocide, that should be a good thing.
Yet it's a paradox. The righting of a wrong diminishes what went before. And the best thing about the episode is also, if not the worst (John Hurt's performance sees to that), by far the hardest to accept. Not because of the frankly tedious numbering debate - I have more pressing preoccupations, thank you - but because the War Doctor is so completely superfluous.
I can see why the part was written with Christopher Eccleston's tortured Time Lord in mind. In retrospect, The Day of the Doctor makes sense of his entire characterisation. And I sympathise with Moffat's unwillingness to drop his narrative structure when the Ninth Doctor chose (unsurprisingly) not to reappear.
No: my problem, which increases with every Big Finish audio I hear, is that the writer indulged his passion for toying with the show's mythology instead of simply begging Eccleston's predecessor to take his place.
I seem to remember an interview in which the writer protested the impossibility of seeing Paul McGann's romantic, innocent adventurer morph into the desperate man who destroyed two vast civilisations. What absolute twaddle!
Events change people: it's got to be the same for Time Lords. As a Big Finish fan (he must be, to have name-checked those companions in the minisode), Moffat knows as well as anyone that McGann's Doctor had already changed and the actor does "dark" and "tortured" magnificently. For a long-time fan (the ones he's so often accused of pandering to), what greater emotional kick could there be than seeing a familiar face (and there were enough to choose from) hovering over that overly dramatic big red button?
Hurt's craggy, dramatic weight does rather make his two co-leads look like lightweight boys. But he's an anomaly. A Doctor who isn't. And while I'm the first to defend any writer's freedom to meddle with the mythos (anything's better than letting it ossify), the creation of the War Doctor smacks of self-indulgence, knocking the self-contained universe of Who off its axis for the sake of it.
On the other hand: how can I object to a Doctor Who adventure that starts with the original titles and grounds us at a Coal Hill School with a certain I. Chesterton as Chair of the board of Governors?
Or one that gleefully sends up the lothario reputation of the Tenth Doctor? Tennant's era hasn't aged well, and, while that's not the actor's fault, I take great amusement in seeing those parts of his era that always irritated me given the more irreverent Moffat treatment. Of course the Virgin Queen (the cartoon version, at least) is going to fall at his feet. That's what women do, isn't it? Of course he's going to snog someone (or something). He's the sex-god incarnation, remember?
His successor remains an overenthusiastic puppy, and, while I adore puppies (prefer animals to humans in general), it's not a personification of the ancient, incredibly dangerous Gallifreyan traveller I enjoy. Smith is allowed to shine in the quieter moments - reflecting on the painting for instance - but too often he's garrulous and goofy, overly fond of his gimmicky bloody hat. I get that millions find it charming. I'm just not one of them.
The War Doctor is a step too far, but the moment Hurt growled his perfect dismissal of the sonic-wavers (one of those lines I'll never fail to laugh at), he was the Doctor. And I like the concept of the Moment - one of Moffat's cleverer ideas, a sentient weapon that's determined not to be used. And I'm just glad it wasn't really Rose ruddy Tyler again...
UNIT's appearance is true to tiresome type. They're likeable individuals in a hapless organisation. Osgood's overdone fangirling grates ("the Doctor will save us, the Doctor will save us" is the most cringe-inducing line Moffat could have given Ingrid Oliver), but Kate and Malcolm are engaging, and the discreet wave at the old dating conundrum raises a smile. The direction is pacey and confident, and the single Zygon transformation we're shown is satisfactorily gruesome. They're probably one plot strand too many, but at least they're an entertaining one.
It's all played with conviction - even that deliberately ridiculous Queen Bess with a trace of her ancestors' Welsh accent, despite never having set foot there in her life. Joanna Page is playing a cardboard cutout, and she knows it. That's probably what makes her woeful "characterisation" bearable to a history geek... And Moffat got in the real Elizabeth's most famous declaration - albeit with a twist. Wonderful.
His scripts never lack for one-liners, but substance can be a problem. Cramming in three plot strands and assorted bits of fan service, he produces a generally underpowered story that creaks beneath their weight. I'll forgive him a great deal for those glimpses of every incarnation, including eyebrow-raising peek into the "future". I hoped for a Capaldi moment - still shrieked when I got it.
I shrieked again when a familiar fruity voice piped up in the final moments. OK, Tom did his best to ruin the surprise, but he failed. I read it online and didn't believe it. Who is the Curator? Where does he fit in? Who nose? More to the point - who cares?
The whole thing is a celebration of a mad, limitless television show that's entertained millions over half a century. Viewed in that light, as entertainment, it's a resounding success.
It just could have been so much better with a real Doctor in the War version's place.
Don't worry. I started a very long time ago. by Evan Weston 17/1/21
Talk about expectations. The Day of the Doctor is perhaps the most important episode in the history of Doctor Who. It had the unenviable task of doing justice to 50 years of television while also advancing the story significantly, juggling numerous potential retcons and welcoming in new viewers just tuning in for the 50th. Only Rose and The Eleventh Hour have had this heavy lifting to perform, and those stories came without the crushing weight of Doctor Who fandom demanding perfection at every turn. By all means, The Day of the Doctor should have been a complete failure. In a lesser writer's hands, it very well might have been.
However, all things considered, this story is an absolute marvel. The Day of the Doctor checks off just about every box possible - it tells a ripping, multi-layered story; it provides the Doctor with real character development; it makes room for the classics and honors them alongside the entirety of the new series, including heavy nods and whole chunks of plot from the Russell T. Davies era; and, most impressively, it manages to change the history of the show without retconning anything. It couldn't possibly have been perfect, and it isn't, but it is an exemplary special that holds up wonderfully as a representative of 50 years of Doctor Who.
The Day of the Doctor is basically two stories in one: the main plot (which bookends the episode) concerns itself with the conclusion of the Time War and how the Doctor ended it, while the middle section focuses on an invasion of London's National Gallery by the shape-shifting Zygons. The second narrative largely exists to reinforce the first, and it's a brilliant conceit. The War Doctor needs to see what his future holds if he uses the Moment to destroy Gallifrey and end the war, so we are walked through a standard Doctor Who plot, complete with time-travel machinations and Earth-conquering villains. The Tenth and Eleventh Doctors work together to corral the threat - which ends up thematically tying into the main story thanks to the self-destructing Black Archive - and the War Doctor understands how great they are and decides to wipe out the Time Lords and Daleks. We are then vaulted into the final thrust of the story, in which the Doctors - spurred on by the Eleventh, who has had 400 years to think it over - work together to save Gallifrey from the clutches of the Daleks.
It's thrilling stuff, and the "Christmas Carol" style works terrifically as Steven Moffat builds up the War Doctor's character and the decision he must make. The Day of the Doctor doesn't really have a main villain, and it doesn't need one, as the Doctor's impending choice creates a perfect amount of internal strife as is. He can choose to be the villain, or he can choose to be the Doctor. The central conflict of The Day of the Doctor, contrary to many of the series' bigger episodes, is one of character, and that's the special's greatest triumph. Here we have a story that is deeply important to the Doctor himself, and one of television's most enigmatic characters receives some true development for perhaps the first time in the new series.
In order to accomplish this, Moffat brings in two more versions of the Doctor to add to Matt Smith's Eleventh, and it's John Hurt's War Doctor that fares the best of the three. Hurt is absolutely extraordinary, bringing gravitas with a wry sense of humor to the most challenging role in the script. Hurt's Doctor is a fundamentally good man who has been stripped to the core, leaving only a broken, genocidal apologist behind. He's the main character for the first two-thirds of the story, taken by Billie Piper's Moment on a Ghost of Christmas Future-like run through two of his future selves (Christopher Eccleston's absence is, unfortunately, never explained on screen). It's a part that requires a lot of subtlety in order to work, as the War Doctor inhabits a moral gray area that the other two incarnations clearly do not, and it took an actor of John Hurt's stature to bring the character to life. While he's clearly replacing the Ninth Doctor in the script, the War Doctor is one of the greatest creations of Steven Moffat's career, and he's the engine that drives this episode, journeying to reclaim the name of the Doctor. He also works as a stand-in for the Classic Doctors, all of whom are either dead or too old to return to their roles but have their spirits represented through the 73 year-old Hurt.
David Tennant also makes a much-celebrated return to Doctor Who, and while many feared that he'd be playing the silly metacrisis version from The Stolen Earth/Journey's End, Moffat brought back the true Number 10. And, after all the excitement... he really doesn't do much. The Tenth Doctor is there mostly because he has to be there - what would a 50th special be without the most popular Doctor of all time? - and to provide comic relief. While I'd argue Hurt gets the funniest lines in the episode ("What are you going to do, assemble a cabinet at them?"), Tennant gets the most, and his Doctor is an absolute riot. He also gets to enjoy a few Tenth Doctor temper tantrums, and while Smith and Hurt are better dramatic actors, Tennant stands tall in the episode's more serious moments. While there's nothing the Tenth does that couldn't be incorporated into the Eleventh's role in the plot, it's still a joy and a credit to the episode to have Tennant back. His former companion is back as well, but in a different form. Piper is marvelously flirty as the interface of the Moment (arguably the best idea in the whole story; a weapon that passes judgment? Awesome), bantering with Hurt and yet guiding him through the meat of the story effortlessly. It actually made sense for her to be there, which is a triumph in itself, considering where Rose ended up at the end of the Davies era.
Matt Smith almost feels like an afterthought amongst all this hubbub, but as the incumbent Doctor, he gets a weighty role and becomes the protagonist right as the story gets really serious. Unlike Eccleston (who wasn't there long enough) or Tennant (who "got" the role almost immediately and never changed), Smith has dramatically improved as his time has gone on, and he's a marvelous ambassador for the show in The Day of the Doctor. He mopes a lot as his Doctor tries to ignore the Time War, while the Tenth keeps shoving it back in his face - maybe that's why he's here? - and eventually decides to alter the war's ending, finally coming to terms with what he believed he'd done. Smith is appropriately determined throughout the final 20 minutes, carrying the climactic sequence on Gallifrey and bringing the story to a terrific conclusion. He's also tremendously funny throughout, mostly as the butt of jokes for the other two Doctors.
My goodness, The Day of the Doctor is hilarious. It's one of the funniest episodes of Doctor Who ever, which perhaps was done in order to enhance the crowd-pleasing nature of what actually turns out to be a story steeped in the show's lore. The War Doctor's utter bafflement at the other two Doctors is the best comedic thread, but the episode's shots at the Tenth's romantic side and the Eleventh's awkwardness are great as well. Really, The Day of the Doctor is at its best when it's being meta. This is an episode that actively makes fun of Doctor Who tropes, particularly those around the Tenth Doctor ("Timey-wimey?!" "I have no idea where he picks that stuff up"). It's refreshing to see the show unafraid to poke itself from time to time, and some of the deconstructions - for instance, the Doctors having a passionate argument and then working together to escape the Tower of London, only to see Clara burst through the unlocked door - are pretty heavy.
The work done on the show's mythology is heavy as well, as the Time War is finally given a clean resolution. The Davies era was built around the idea of the war, while the Moffat era attempted to ignore it in favor of new plots; some good, some bad. It was intriguing to see Moffat's take on the war (necessitated by Tennant's reappearance), and it was genuinely exciting to discover that nothing has been changed from the Davies stories. Some of this was a tad inelegant - having the younger Doctors simply forget the adventure was a bit lazy - but it was important to keep the continuity of Eccleston and Tennant's adventures intact, and Moffat found a way. He even provides a throwaway line to explain Rassilon's absence, as the evil President is busy bringing Gallifrey to Earth in The End of Time. The two stories can absolutely stand next to each other, and considering their overlapping subject matter, that's remarkable.
There is another plot in The Day of the Doctor, though. The Zygons are fine villains, their plan is vicious and fun, and a lot of stuff happens that connects to the main narrative, but we do spend a bit too much time fighting them and not nearly enough dealing with the Time War. The Zygon plot isn't fleshed out enough to exist as a standalone, and the episode completely forgets about it once it stops being a character-development device, but it's too fleshed out to exist solely for that purpose. We either needed 10 minutes fewer with it here, or 10 minutes more with it in a different, mid-series adventure. It's just not interesting enough to stand next to the Time War stuff going on, and when you throw in a mewling, annoying Queen Elizabeth I from Joanna Page (the only poor performance in the whole production) and tons of jumping back and forth between 1562 and 2013, things feel like they're stalling for the big finish. Were The Day of the Doctor not so important and so unexpectedly great, it could be enough to hold the episode back from an A grade.
Yet so much of the Zygon plot sets up the strong conclusion that I find it relatively easy to overlook a lot of its faults. The use of the time-stasis cubes in both narratives is terrific, and I especially like how Kate Stewart's determination to destroy London to save the world mirrors that of the War Doctor and his own planet. The resolution is set up well in advance and it's requisitely timey-wimey, with one key scene playing out within the opening five minutes and popping back up nearly an hour later. There's also Osgood, a clear homage to Doctor Who fandom, played terrifically by Ingrid Oliver, who manages to be the standout surprise of the entire affair. While there isn't quite enough Time Warring, The Day of the Doctor is never less than entertaining.
Of course, it's never more entertaining than during the incredible Time War action sequence in the first act, which stands head, shoulders, torso and stomach above any piece of production the show has ever done. Spider Daleks zooming and blasting everywhere, massive explosions, huge, pumping choral music from Murray Gold and, most importantly, flawless direction from Nick Hurran combine to create a set piece that legitimately rivals those in big-budget films. With the cinema release and the use of 3D, Doctor Who finally had the technology to bring Russell T Davies' vision to life, and the results are extraordinary. The final freezing of Gallifrey is nearly as impressive, with shots of all 13 Doctors (hello, Capaldi!) brought together across an array of flying TARDISes and exploding Dalek ships. Hurran's direction deserves particular praise: he's clearly the best man working behind the camera for the show, and his superb handling of the action sequences should get him noticed in Hollywood, where he started his career. He's probably reached a point where he doesn't have to direct television any longer.
50 years after The Unearthly Child popped up on television, The Day of the Doctor stormed into theaters across the globe, announcing Doctor Who's definitive arrival as a cultural icon of the world. It could not have done this if it were of poor quality, but Moffat, Hurran and their team managed to put together a respectful, hilarious, thrilling and touching story that pays tribute to both the classic and new series while also giving the Doctor a new direction for the future. Tom Baker's wonderful cameo as the mysterious curator brings everything together - a face from the past, playing a character from the future, sending the present on a journey home. It's a beautiful message that could only come from the minds of true fans, and it's that kind of dedication that keeps the show going strong today. I can't wait to review the 100th.
Aging As Well As Professor Kerensky by Jason A. Miller 15/3/22
As much a Doctor Who fan as I am, I've only ever seen the 50th anniversary episode twice before this week. First, on the day of its original airing, in a crowded back room of a pub on East 26th Street in Manhattan (the waiter, on my tab, distinguished me only as "Green Sweater Man"). I can't say I managed to hear everything being said on screen, what with all the cheering and crying going on in the room -- and the Tom Baker cameo had already been spoiled for me that morning -- but I walked out very happy into the cold November air. Then I saw it again a few days later at the theatrical screening, again with too much hooting and hollering for me to catch every word. After that, though, I'd only ever seen bits and pieces, like the Tom Baker scene (and that, several times). What I didn't have, though, for most of the next six years, was a sense of whether or not the thing was actually any good.
On my August 2019 flight to Amsterdam, Delta Airlines had five New Series episodes available for in flight viewing on my seat-back TV. With my kid watching The Amazing Adventures of Gumball, and my wife watching the painfully unfunny Amy Sedaris parody cooking show, I decided to watch Day of the Doctor again.
Boy, was that a disappointment.
Now, we all bring our own prejudices to the table. I'm a Classic Series guy. I love watching the Doctor unravel a plot over 90 or 150 minutes, and I love watching Tom Baker take over a scene or interact with the guest actors and threaten the villain. The New Series by and large doesn't do that, and plot is often secondary to manufactured emotional moments or repeated references to that season's Big Bad. These are observations, not criticisms, of the New Series; I just grew up with the Classic Series, and it's still the style of storytelling that I prefer.
But, as a Classic Series guy, I love The Five Doctors. Love, love, love it. I love Terrance Dicks' clever script and its revelations and detours and cameos and seeing its Doctors get together. Yes, it's a victory lap and not the greatest story ever told, but it's taut and entertaining. For me, it's the gold standard for anniversary stories.
I suspect that Steven Moffat agrees with me. Because Day of the Doctor consciously calls back to and quotes from The Five Doctors several times. It also opens with the '60s opening titles, the same way that The Five Doctors opens with a '60s clip. So it's fair to compare the two when looking to gauge quality, because one is clearly indebted to the other.
My verdict, biased though it may be, is that Day of the Doctor pales in comparison to the 20th anniversary special.
What Day is missing is an overall menace or villain. The opening minute references An Unearthly Child and Ian Chesterton and Waris Hussein and Totters' Yard and 5:15 PM and that's gorgeous. But then after that, it's a frenetic bounce to disconnected stories.
The 10th Doctor is fighting Zygons in the past and being horribly misogynistic to Queen Elizabeth I for laughs.
The War Doctor is being a force of nature and talking to Billie Piper in the desert while a couple of Time Lords in a room comment feebly on the action.
The 11th Doctor is bouncing around with Clara and UNIT trying to figure it out, with the Zygons jumping ahead to his location and the War Doctor beckoning him away.
What results is a succession of interesting scenes that make up less than the sum of their parts.
And Moffat, as he does, makes the story Clara's more than anyone else's. Which looks weird now, because it's still the Doctor's show today, while Clara is long long gone and not even in Big Finish like everyone else is. But it's Clara who solves every plot in Day of the Doctor -- outsmarting three Doctors by rescuing them from a locked dungeon, figuring out exactly what day the War Doctor was living through, and resolving the D plot -- rewriting the tragic end of the Time War. It's really Day of the Clara, if you need her.
So when all 12 Doctors -- and aren't Peter Capaldi's attack eyebrows such a great reveal? -- leap in to save the day, isn't it weird that all the other Claras don't leap in to help out?
The emotional core of the last ten minutes, after the silly Zygon stuff is cleared out, is pretty strong, nearly as well done as the confrontations in Rassilon's Tomb in The Five Doctors. The CGI work on the past Doctors isn't great, but it's a great notion. And Tom Baker runs circles around everyone else, effortlessly recapturing his mood swings and tone changes that made him the most compelling actor to play the role.
And John Hurt is phenomenal, isn't he? He's weary and determined and sad and playful, and Smith and Tennant play off of him very well.
This is a jam packed story, never sitting still (except for the Tom Baker minute), going everywhere, and doing everything, and implying that the 5th Doctor found time to bring Kamelion to the Black Archive to have him registered with UNIT, because that's the story that fandom was demanding for the previous 30 years. It's good enough, but it's no Five Doctors; it aims too high and too wide, and never quite becomes a true epic.
Moffat's novelization, on the other hand, does the story up properly. The fact that the episode exists merely to give the novelization a reason to exist? That's the real reason to watch Day of the Doctor again.