[Review] - The Day Of The Doctor

[This is the part of a month long series of articles, lists and other features celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who.]

Courtesy of the BBC
Considering the way things have been going the last series or so, I was concerned. I was genuinely worried about the 50th. That, in an effort to try to be all things, it would collapse under the weight of it's own hubris. That it would be little more than an hour and change of winking at the camera. Or that John Hurt's mysterious Doctor-Who-Isn't would be too ridiculous a concept to swallow. And I couldn't be happier that I was wrong.

Steven Moffat really did something special here. He did everything just right, and has produced easily his best personal episode since The Eleventh Hour. An episode that managed to be all things at once: a quality episode in and of itself, but also managed to incorporate element after element from the fifty years of the show in a cohesive way that never felt winking or over bearing (and might have provided an explanation for The Face of Evil). An episode that even a novice could sit down and watch and not be nearly as lost as I might have imagined they would be. It was honestly, genuinely good, and that's all I ever hoped for.


Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that would make a great Curator.

But it wouldn't be much of a review if what didn't work wasn't mentioned, so we'll get that out of the way first. What didn't work? Really, not much. The Zygon's storyline was exciting and worthy of their reappearence, but just sort of moved into the background, literally fading into the audible distance after the immediate threat was resolved. We can assume that the humans and Zygons came to an accord, and that the Doctors set everyones memories back, but we're left out of those details. Considering it took them 38 years to come back to the show, I don't necessarily want to wait that long to find out what sort of agreement they came to. Have the displaced Zygons been incorporated into society, their forms permanently shifted? Have they been relocated to an isolated corner of the world? Call me a completionist, but I'd like to know what happened to them.

The least necessary element in the show was the inclusion of Billie Piper. I know that Rose has a lot of faithful fans, but while The Moment was a wonderful character, it taking the form of Rose (or Bad Wolf specifically) was needless. Yes, she hand waves by saying that she took the form of someone very important to the Doctor, but really it was only for the viewer's benefit. I can't help but think that there would have been many more forms that would have meant more to the Doctor, from an emotional stand point. Considering her manic delight at the Doctor's actions and her confusion of temporal order, perhaps Idris, the TARDIS made flesh, would have been a more poignant choice. Or, considering that the Moment's whole point was appealing to the Doctor's conscious, what about bringing Carol Ann Ford back as Susan. Certainly, the Moment taking the form of his granddaughter (and first companion) would have caused an emotional reaction, and been a lovely nod to the original audience surrogate.

But those are little complaints. Neither detracts from the whole, only distracts briefly. Because this was Doctor Who at it's best. Moffat deftly handled three separate storylines, merging them all with precision without really ever loosing his barrings. On occasion, Moffat's ideas have been so big he forgets where he's left off. Not here. Here, he kept himself on a short leash. Establish the pieces, move the pieces into position, let the game play itself. And as he merged those plot lines into one cohesive whole, he never left anyone by the wayside. Each character was given their own moments, but never felt like they were being favoured or ignored in favour of another. Clara got the least screen time, but was no less significant in the way things played out. And, for the first time since Asylum, I actually liked her.

Though, can we pause for a moment and discuss Moffat's apparent belief that people just become things? Amy, who started off a small town kiss-a-gram just became a model, then a travel writer, then a children's author. Now Clara, who has suddenly just become a teacher? I understand that we don't know the character's entire histories, and maybe they went to school and got their degrees and so forth, but on the show he never seems to know exactly what to do with his companions when they aren't on the TARDIS. Most avoid this by only concerning with the companions when they are on the TARDIS, and it doesn't matter what they did (for instance, Martha Jones, who was a medical intern, never did a lick of medicine in her time). But this sudden "and now I do this for a living" bothers me for reasons I'm not entirely comfortable with.

The episode, despite centring on Eleven's timeline, was really the War Doctor's story. As it should be, considering this is his first and likely to be only episode. The dramatic arc was his, the gains and losses his. And I'm very much looking forward to John Hurt heading over to Big Finish to fill in some of the considerable gaps of his regeneration, because the War Doctor was wonderful. Hurt was an inspired choice, with Moffat saying they wanted some acting royalty in the special, and they got it. Rather then being war weary and cynical, the War Doctor really proves that no matter how many times he changes his face, the Doctor is always the same underneath. He was occasionally giddy with absurdity, frustrated with his own limitations, and endlessly fascinated and overjoyed with the cleverness of himself. It's nice to see that the Time War couldn't repress all of his instincts.

The Moment too, was a wonderful creation. A weapon that convinces you not to use it. How perfectly Who (and perfectly Moffat): an ultimately optimistic message, wrapped in a dressing of destruction. And that was I think the episode's greatest strength as well. The Time War has been a fasinating concept since Russell T. Davies introduced it, but I've never really liked the results. I get the impression that Davies really didn't like the Time Lords, with The End of Time transforming them into flat out villains. As bad as the Daleks? Really? Moffat takes a more measured approach here, recasting them as simply desperate. And while the prospect of the Doctor having committed two genocides simutaniously gave the writers plenty of drama to work with since the return, it never seemed in character.

The Doctor has had his hand forced by desperation before, but would he really let it force him to that far an extreme? The answer, as Moffat saw it, was no. And this episode ended with exactly the sort of message Doctor Who has always tried to get across: no matter how terrible things look, there is always hope. So, Moffat took this horrible moment in the Doctor's past, a moment of ultiamte destruction, and turned it into a promiseof hope. That will be the legacy of this episode, taking the Doctor's darkest day and making it his greatest triumph. 50 years of establishing the character, and having it pay off perfectly in character: a crazy, impossible, and the longer you think about it the less sense it makes sort of hail mary fight for survival. And just as I had hoped, there is the promise that at some point in the future, Gallifrey will return. Granted, they'll be the same desperate, arrogant Time Lords that got them into the war in the first place. And Rassilon and the Master are presumable dueling it out in the council chambers somewhere in the heart of the capital. But the hope is that the War will humble them slightly. That their survival will inspire those 2 billion little and now greatful Gallifreyan children to being better people. That's an exciting promise to start the next half century off on.

And of course, being the 50th, there were references everywhere to the show's history. My favourite was Kate's calling for her father's files on the Three Doctors incident, complete with dating irregularities. But UNIT seems to have been keeping tabs on the Doctor and his companions, back even before UNIT existed in some cases. Ian Chesterton appears to still be at Coal Hill and doing quite well for himself. And then of course, there were the two big ones. All 13 Doctors uniting to save Gallifrey bordered on tear inducing in it's grandiosity, showing what can be done with computers and a little creative editting. And the surprise glimpse of Capaldi was an excellent puncuation on a moment that was already building quiet nicely. But the real surprise was the scene with Tom Baker. This episode I think will be referenced by fans and experts a lot in the coming years, as settling a lot of regeneration dogma. Despite a claim earlier in the episode that regenerations are random, everyhting else in the episode seemed to suggest otherwise.

In fact, Moffat's run on the show has went a fair distance into settling the rules of regeneration. It's always been precieved as random, and that the next face would be younger than the last (as one would suspect from a biological process evolved to extend life). But Douglas Adams had a cheeky bit of play concerning the control a time Lord might ahve over their form, and Moffat seems to ahve run with that. Mel claimed to be "focusing on a dress size" while regenerating into River, and here Hurt hopes that the years won't be as noticable in his next form. When they are all trapped in the Tower, Hurt calls Ten and Eleven out for not wanting to grow up, a comment on the progressive youth of the recent Doctors, but also a sign of things to come. If the Doctor has finally come to terms with his past, and embraced his future, his regeneration into the 55 year old Capaldi will be an embracement of his maturity. Baker's assurtion that, later in life, the Doctor will revisit some of the "old favourites" is actually a charming thought. That, as a Time Lord grows older, they might gain more and more control over their regenerations (or already have the skill, and like most other things, the Doctor was just a bad student) so that they can be whomever they want. Even themselves, again.

So, where does this leave us? Gallifrey is out there, lost, but whole. The Doctor's past is finally revealed, and Hurt took his place among the others as a full regeneration (that will play Mary Hob with the numbering conventions, won't it). The Doctor has reconciled his past, and is actually looking forward to his future for the first time in ages (it was also a rather nice touch to see Hurt's Doctor looking forward to his regeneration). Now that the first fifty years have been celebrated, we can get to work on the next 50. The Doctor has places yet to go...

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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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