The Day of the Doctor

50th_0000Yes, it had that intro. Lovely it was too.

Bit late (last week of NaNoWriMo consumed me) but my thoughts on the 50th special of Doctor Who are below.

Overall I thought it was actually excellent, I had (deliberately) set my expectations very low, as there was huge pressure from all sides to deliver something stunning which meets fans expectations, the BBC’s own expectations – and to a larger extent all the other people who casually drop in and out wondering what the fuss is all about.

Spoilers. To obviously and inevitably quote River.

It was fun, it was silly and there was certainly a production value which was impressive (I did go to see it in 3D in a cinema and it was quite lovely, things like the Gallifreyan art – paintings which are captured moments of time – really came to life) – it obviously was rather flawed at times, but on the whole it delivered way beyond my expectations and was a fun romp and didn’t dwell too much on the misery of the Time War, or Daleks or explosions. It did fundamentally change things – something that almost every episode of any big dramatic finale pretends it does but very rarely does, they did actually quite irrevocably change the nature of our Doctor. Quite a big and brave thing to do at this stage.

In the opening at the cinema, we had the 10th Doctor interfering with the 11th’s explanation of using our 3D specs, to warn us of the chin when 3D was activated – “duck”. We also had Strax (now with more Sontarans apparently) to warn us of proper cinema viewing etiquette with plenty of suitably tortured humans (I approve) for people who offended by talking, answering phones etc. Also a delightful bit about the Sontarans learning from our tradition of eating the tiny exploded husks of creatures called Corn. To be honest at this point I was happy enough with my decision to see it at the cinema rather than the telly. The popcorn dutifully screamed as he bit into a piece.

50th_0001

The opening scene was something I both enjoyed and found daft, the entire idea of UNIT picking up the TARDIS without thinking to check if he was at home was… an excuse to fly over London with the Doctor hanging off the bottom. Clara hasn’t improved much in my estimations – she just hasn’t got much to do now she’s no longer “the girl who was destined to save the Doctor” but a rather thinly drawn character that we simply haven’t learned much about yet – I think the actress is wonderful but the character is really not someone I care for yet.

We’re swiftly introduced to a painting of Gallifrey on it’s last day – the day he used The Moment to wipe out both the Time Lords and the Daleks, a pivotal moment which we see our more modern Doctors (from Eccleston onwards) wrestling with the emotional impact of. The only negative I’d level regarding how the Time War as it is represented in the episode is that we’re shown screaming and shouting civilian casualties – which is a very fair point and a side we’ve not had shown to us before – but it’s iced over the fact the Time Lords have become malevolent and pretty nasty by this point in time. Both the demented Timothy Dalton in David Tennant’s exit episodes – and the mini-episode with Paul McGann where a character refuses to let the Doctor save her when she realises he’s a Time Lord better captured the fact both the Doctor’s own people and the Daleks have become twisted and broken by the conflict. It’s a minor point but it makes the decision to wipe out them all seem rather odd if you’re coming to the episode with either no recollection or a limited memory of these two elements.

The Time Lords do mention that a weapon has been stolen – and a passing remark reveals that they’ve already used all their other nastiest and outlawed weapons and that only one such device they had never dared use remains.

50th_0002

“The interface is hot.”
“Well I do my best.”

That weapon of course is ‘The Moment’ a weapon which developed its own sentient AI a conscience – to test the Doctor, at this point John Hurt. The AI takes the form of Billie Piper, I thought she was great as a non-Rose/Bad Wolf version of herself, a welcome return for the 50th but without touching on the baggage of bringing the actual Rose back (again). Notably later on in the episode we actually have the 10th Doctor standing side by side with her when John Hurt refers to her as “Bad Wolf Girl” but they never directly interact.

The episode flows well, and when we introduce Matt Smith and David Tennant into the mix it’s clear very quickly how well the pair spar off each other, and when John Hurt appears his teasing of the pair for being childish was excellent.

50th_0003

“You’re both me? Really? Even that one?”

The entire story with Queen Elizabeth (fleshing out a throwaway remark about the 10th Doctor and Queenie some time ago) and the Zygons drifts along at a comfy pace. And while some felt it was almost superfluous I felt it was sort of the point, letting the John Hurt version of the Doctor view how he would go on to do things let him know there would be a life worth leading if he made the horrible decision he was faced with.

“They’re screwdrivers what are you going to do assemble a cabinet at them?”

Lots of timey wimey adventures ensue, and I found myself deliriously happy that this was a longer episode, the previous season’s efforts to fit everything in one episode resulted in a lot of lacklustre efforts and the grimly handled The Power of Three episode (where we had Kate Stewart introduced in fact – a promising episode which felt like a two parter abruptly halted).

We’re finally faced with a realisation of Clara (oh yes she is still here, sort of, in the background) that the John Hurt Doctor that he hadn’t actually done the deed of activating The Moment yet and the other two Doctors appear with a little timey wimey meddling on the part of the Interface/Rose/Bad Wolf allowing them into a time locked situation where they initially choose to directly share the burden of making that choice.

50th_0004Which has of course become a big red button as he desired.

Personally I would have been completely happy with this being how things played out. It’s dark. It’s awesome. And they bring the “lost” Doctor back into the fold – I’ll be getting onto the numbering later.

However they don’t – they have a very apparently ingenious (but seriously a bit vague) solution where all thirteen Doctors are able to basically hide Gallifrey in a moment in time, causing all the Daleks to destroy themselves in some vague fashion – it seemed to be stated they’d just shoot themselves with the planet missing. The Daleks are meant to be completely brutally intelligent though so I’m not sure this would get all of them.

50th_0005

I’m not overly convinced by the strength of this as being a way of getting rid of the Daleks but I’m letting a lot of things slide with Doctor Who really – and it’s lovely to see all the TARDIS’s spinning around, and little appearances of all the old Doctors taken from their timelines to assist, including the first in character appearance of the soon to be Doctor played by Peter Capaldi.

50th_0006

“You might say I’ve been doing this all my lives.”

And so Gallifrey is saved. Lost but saved – John Hurt amusingly regenerates into Eccleston at the end – destined to not remember their new benevolent decision. Likewise Tennant departs, after a few words suggesting that Matt Smith’s Doctor shouldn’t accept Trenzalore as being the end of the Doctor.

The only Doctor to remember and know that he is no longer the genocidally conflicted Time Lord is Matt Smith. And that is the fundamental change.

Of course at this point Tom Baker walks in, apparently as a human caretaker of the gallery the painting of Gallifrey is kept within. This personally didn’t do that much for me, but millions of squee’s ringing out around the world suggest otherwise for others.

Timey Wimey issues

  • The biggest issue is Moffat has now basically meant no one dies in his universe, everyone in some way is saved, Amy and Rory live out their lives, River is saved on a computer system, Gallifrey doesn’t fall. This actually takes a lot of wind out of the sails potentially, though I’m very optimistic for Peter Capaldi’s take on the Doctor.
  • No River – her only mention was “spoilers” uttered by Matt Smith, though with this many people in the episode perhaps her omission is for the best.
  • Clara still needs some serious fleshing out as a character, the companions are meant to be our windows into the world of essentially a mad timeless old alien and at the moment I identify better with the mad timeless old alien than the human at his side.
  • Numbering – they’ve added John Hurt as a fully accepted Doctor making Eccleston the 10th Doctor, Tennant the 11th Doctor, Smith as the 12th Doctor and Capaldi as the 13th Doctor. (There’s also some iffiness about Tennant’s suspended regeneration counting as one already I’m personally assuming they’ve forgotten about that counting as one.)
  • This means we’re going to hit the limit of regenerations – but bringing back Gallifrey does neatly solve that as the Time Lords gave the Master some new ones back in the day.

Issues full stop

I’m choosing to be a bit of a fan boy in my review, there are much harsher critics of Moffat’s era and I do find myself agreeing with much of what they say – certainly the female companions aren’t what they once were – and removing actual threat of death from the mix does actually reduce the stakes. Overall I did enjoy the 50th however :)

If you’d like a more blunt assessment I found these have some super and solid points:

 

3 thoughts on “The Day of the Doctor

  1. Good summary! I think I agree with you on most points, although I enjoyed seeing Tom Baker a bit more than you did. I just had to turn my suspension of disbelief up pretty high to deal with him being there.

    My understanding was that at some point in his distant future, the Doctor retires and is able to revert to some of “the old favorite” regenerations while doing the job he said he’d like to do if he ever retired. Or maybe I got the wrong end of the stick!

    Also, I liked the glimpse of “13”, but I wish they hadn’t stopped at 13 – they didn’t need to show the people but there’s no reason they couldn’t just have the guy who was counting keep going a bit and had dozens of Tardises appear in orbit. After all, it surely takes a lot of power to do whatever they did to a whole planet! As it was, I was fighting the feeling that this was a cheap way to get Capaldi some screen time before his official debut.

    Hmm. I’ve just realised that I talked twice about fighting feelings, or stretching suspension of disbelief in this comment. Perhaps I wouldn’t be so lenient if it wasn’t Doctor Who we’re talking about :-\

  2. I didn’t take that assumption regarding Tom Baker’s appearance. I guess it’s just a mystery, I took it to be an odd coincidence that someone with a familiar face to him happens to exist. I don’t really like the idea that the Doctor retires to become the caretaker :/ Though the hexagon/circles on the wall behind them in that scene were super hinty of the old TARDIS design.

    To be honest given what we know about the TARDIS – it could have only taken one to do that, it has a blackhole at its heart and has dragged Earth across time and space singlehandedly once. I thought it was an easier and nicer way to get the old Doctors in, and I quite liked that it gave the reveal of the thirteenth. And surely the entire point of saying all thirteen was that there’s only meant to be thirteen Doctors. If they’d had dozens that would have completely obliterated the idea of limited regenerations (something they clearly intend to tackle I think or they wouldn’t be playing with the number thirteen so obviously).

    We do give Doctor Who a lot of room to wriggle, I think on the grounds that it is basically family entertainment rather than something higher minded – though there are some issues which should be addressed even if we admit it’s for kids.

  3. I see your point about keeping the idea of there only being 13 regenerations alive. They probably do have big plans to cover that off over the next couple of years. But I don’t think anybody really believes that there won’t be a 14th Doctor at some point, unless Capaldi tanks and kills the series off, so the interest is going to come from how the rules change, not whether the rules will change. Therefore, I would argue that the fact of there being more regenerations doesn’t need to be kept secret.

    In fact, odds are that before it actually happens we’ll end up with another Zoe Ball-hosted “launch party” introducing the 14th doctor and thus removing any “what will happen” suspense in favor of (admittedly superior) “how will it happen” suspense…

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