The BBC have aired the long-awaited Doctor Who 50th anniversary special Day of the Doctor. I usually talk a bit about the expectations and role of the episode in our minds for this intro, and for a lot of people, this is the most anticipation-loaded story from any TV series they’ll ever watch. It has to satisfy old fans, be understandable to newer ones, tell a decent story for the critical viewer to satisfy its aspirations as “good TV”, somehow make a massive, anniversary-worthy statement about the meaning of the entire show, probably some other stuff as well…
So, I should probably get on and talk about whether they succeeded. There will be some spoilers, but at this point, if you’re desperately trying to avoid spoilers for Day of the Doctor, visiting a site called Dork Adore was a bad move in the first place. Last chance to go watch it on iPlayer, then we’ll begin.
One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight War Nine?
I’d been a bit down on the most recent run of Doctor Who, so my expectations for this personally weren’t as sky-high was they could’ve been. So I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved most of this. Some of Steven Moffat’s recent scripts have suffered from a reliance on ponderously bigging up the Doctor and spinning out mysteries rather than entertaining stuff happening, so I was almost taken aback by how much this particular story zipped off and never stopped.
It helps, of course, that this is the 50th anniversary, so you can get away with a little indulgent mythologising of your main character, but even so, the plot is complex, eventful and weaves itself right into the history of the main Time Lord. I wondered if they’d make a bigger play for accessibility to casual viewers who just stopped in, but no, this is a headlong dive into the continuity. The Time War, which hasn’t been a major plot element for years, makes a big comeback, even turning the Eleventh Doctor’s moving on from it into a story point.
There’s an obvious reason to revisit this storyline: we’ve got David Tennant back, and he’s great, playing up everything about his old character to bounce off the Smith and Hurt Doctors. The romanticism, the upbeat brooding, the pulling a box that goes ding out of nowhere… I have missed him. John Hurt is great too, not just for the downbeat warrior stuff we all expected but the fun times when it’s clear he really is the Doctor as well. All of which plays into the ending, of course.
How To Shortchange A Zygon
Oh, and the Zygons are also in it. They inevitably get shortchanged by the anniversary-humping multi-Doctor stuff, but they do get fun shapechanging moments and I liked the Doctor’s final trick to defeat them. Hopefully now they’re back in play, they might get a better appearance elsewhere.
As I say, the sheer packing of plot and little touches into a small space of time is one of the fun parts – perhaps thanks to the presence of Tennant, this almost feels like a Russell T. Davies series finale in terms of pace and tone, except with a Moffat-style incomprehensible time travel plot. I honestly recommend watching this a second time, partly to fully understand the story and also just because it’s fun.
And then we get to The Big Retcon: the Doctor never really destroyed Gallifrey. I’m not sure how this works with the revelation in Tennant’s final episode that the Time Lords are big awful bastards and the universe is better off without them, but it plays the dual role of setting the character free from guilt and giving him something to quest towards. After all, the reason Matt Smith “forgot” about the Time War genocide isn’t just because he was repressing it – it’s because having the Doctor brood about it forever would be boring TV. By removing it – but not from history – they can keep those old episodes valid but not make the hero heartless in ignoring it, as implied by the Tenth Doctor here.
Q&A of the Doctor
I’ve already written more than I usually do, and there’s still so much I haven’t talked about, but it’s only because the episode was so packed. Other thoughts in quick bursts: Peter Capaldi cameo? I cheered. No Christopher Eccleston? Shame. Clara? Charismatic actress, thin character. Billie Piper? Obvious fanservice but still sweet. Tom Baker speech? Incomprehensible but worked for the occasion. Time War? Bit of a letdown it was just a lot of laser guns but what else could they do, I suppose.
I think that might be it. In short, then: Day of the Doctor was not perfect, but it was a lot closer to perfect than I expected them to get. Great episode, a lot of fun, probably some holes in the plot, but it’s Doctor Who, when are there not? As ever with recent Who, a lot of it was about cool ideas and the fun of watching big actors go at it. I can see why fans of the older series might feel their era wasn’t touched upon much, but they did get Tom Baker, as well as the War Doctor mocking his successors for ruining the franchise. Bravo. Now, all they need to do is make sure the next big high-pressure episode is just as good, and as luck would have it, there’s another one coming up in a month’s time.