Doctor Who turns 50: Review of Day of the Doctor

(image via skinnyglasses.tumblr.com)
(image via skinnyglasses.tumblr.com)

 

*SPOILERS, SWEET, SPOILERS!*

 

There are many days in which it is very good to be a lifelong fan and companion of Doctor Who, the mysterious, enigmatic, currently bow-tie loving hitherto last of the Time Lords but today … well, today was a very good day indeed.

For today Doctor Who, who is officially 904 years old, give or take a trip across the far reaches of space and time or too, celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first episode in the venerable and still vital franchise “The Children of Earth” which went to air on 23 November, 1963, with one of its most perfectly conceived and executed episodes ever, the much hyped and anticipated “Day of the Doctor”.

It was an anniversary special of which much was expected, and Steven Moffat, Doctor Who’s executive producer and keeper of its creative flame, did not disappoint delivering up a story that was a fitting tribute to that which has gone before while nicely re-orienting the universe in which our favourite Time Lord operates with curious joy and serious intent in equal measure, to give the show plenty of storytelling room for the future.

We were fortunate to be given not one but three Doctors in this glorious adventure which fittingly spanned many centuries from the nightmarish zero sum game of the Time Wars where the previously unknown War Doctor (John Hurt) agonised over wiping billions of people on his home planet of Gallifrey, along with Daleks surrounding it, with a galaxy eating weapon called The Moment (whose interface was happily represented by Bad Wolf-channelling Rose Tyler, played by Billie Piper) in order to save countless billions more …

… to 1562, where the Tenth Doctor (played by a very much welcome David Tennant who slipped back into his sandshoes as if he’d never left them) found himself romancing both the real Elizabeth 1 (who he married) and her Zygon replica before being locked up in The Tower of London with both his predecessor incarnation and his post self, The Eleventh Doctor …

… who kicked off proceedings, which themselves were introduced with delightfully old school Doctor Who visual and musical themes, when UNIT picked up his TARDIS, took it to London and presented him with a tantalising mystery that variously involved Fez hats, time travel portals, three types of sonic screwdrivers, Zygons, Brigadier General Lethbridge’s daughter and current head of UNIT Kate Stewart, a Black Archive of contraband and deadly devices, quips about sand shoes, and figures in landscape paintings who escaped out of their artworks, leaving shattered glass in their wake.

 

(image courtesy BBC One Twitter feed)
(image courtesy BBC One Twitter feed)

 

We were also finally able to see events often referred to in Doctor Who but never actually witnessed such as the Fall of Arcadia, the second largest of Gallifrey which proved central to the plot in many ways, and the aforementioned The Moment, a weaponised device of devastatingly destructive possibilities that comes with a conscience that implores you to think twice before you use it.

We also were able to share the spectacle of all the Doctors past, present and future – yes we even got a brief glimpse of Peter Capaldi, the incoming Twelfth Doctor – when they united in a daring plan that reset the Doctor Who universe to one in which “Gallifrey falls no more”, meaning it was not wiped out as before but lives, albeit hidden in an unknown pocket universe (all instigated by the Doctor’s current companion Clara played by Jenna Coleman who urged the Doctors to re-think the supposedly inevitable use of The Moment).

This exciting development, which itself was a reset of previous showrunner, and the man who resurrected Doctor Who from a more than decade long hiatus, Russell T Davies (interrupted only by the 1996 movie starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor) who wiped the Time Lords out in a move which enhanced the Doctor as a lonely and tragic figure orphaned in a universe where he was the last of his kind.

 

The moment when Doctors Ten (David Tennant) and Eleven (Matt Smith) met was played to perfection by both actors (image via iwatchstuff.com)
The moment when Doctors Ten (David Tennant) and Eleven (Matt Smith) met was played to perfection by both actors (image via iwatchstuff.com)

 

Moffat’s rewriting of Gallifrey’s fate means that the Doctor, who has always possessed two seemingly disparate but nevertheless complimentary parts – the energetic, endless curious, companion-acquiring explorer and the serious, sometimes almost vengeful upholder of justice and protector of worlds most obviously that of Earth – is now more whole than he once was, no longer the judge, jury and executioner of his own race.

And it’s this audacious move, along with a story that was both universe and time-spanning epic, and yet heartwarmingly emotionally intimate, with the chemistry between the three Doctors especially enjoyable to witness, that made “The Day of the Doctor” such a joy to watch.

It delivered a host of nods to Doctor Who’s past, with everything from a noticeboard in the Black Archives to which was pinned photos of Doctors, companions and iconic figures from the franchise to Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) from UNIT wearing the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker’s scarf (who himself appeared at the end of the episode in the guise of wise and knowledgable curator) to the chunky circular shapes that adorned the old TARDIS and which appeared as modern art in a gallery of all things too.

These nods to the show’s rich storytelling past, inserted frequently and quite naturally in the story and which mandate frequent and carefully studied re-watchings of the episode, along with the springboard for the Twelfth Doctor to embark on his own hopeful adventures, and judicious use of quips and humour when needed, that established “The Day of the Doctor” as that rare breed – the instant classic.

 

Three Doctors, one companion and Elizabeth 1 who delivered one of the special's laugh out loud moments when she told  her Doctor that she was able to defeat the Zygons because they're like all men! (image via screencrush.com)
Three Doctors, one companion and Elizabeth 1 who delivered one of the special’s laugh out loud moments when she told her Doctor that she was able to defeat the Zygons because they’re like all men! (image via screencrush.com)

 

And it marked a return to form for Steven Moffat, who has shown a remarkable ability to conceive of larger than life, breath taking ideas that promise rich and satisfying narrative payoffs but somehow end up muddled and fuzzy in their execution, failing to coalesce into gripping stories with a firm beginning middle and end.

Not everyone shares this view of course but there has been quite a number of times under his stewardship of Doctor Who where I felt the episodes he penned and directed were audaciously imaginative but lacking in cogent, satisfying execution.

That was not even remotely the case with “The Day of the Doctor” which took an astoundingly big idea, knitted it together with two iconic incarnations Doctors, an unknown warrior Doctor, two companions and two great villains, sundry references to the history of the show, humour and dramatic tension and extraordinarily good performances by all concerned and delivered a perfectly executed well told story that was a more than fitting salute to one on of the more extraordinary figures of our, or indeed quite appropriately, any time.

 

 

Behold a deleted scene from the special …

 

 

And here’s BBC America’s TARDIS file on the Zygons who feature heavily in the Day of the Doctor

 

 

And what of Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann and Tom Baker who weren’t one of the official Doctors featured in the special? Ah well the BBC has a very funny answer for that too …

 

 

Oh, and um, please stop tweeting during The Day of the Doctor implores Strax …

 

 

Long live the meme …

 

(image via Facebook)
(image via Facebook)
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