Review: Day of the Doctor
Well, now that the excitement over the 50th Anniversary has quieted down, it’s time to look at the Day of the Doctor and review it from a rational perspective. Warning: we end up going on for a while.
I am the first to admit that I’m not Steven Moffat’s biggest fan. I think he has issues with women, writes hugely epic but ultimately unsatisfying plots, as well as a hubris which means he is incapable of listening to criticism without condescending to his critics.
With all that said, the 50th Anniversary was excellent. Not perfect, but excellent.
Although I (and many others) were worried that rather than celebrating the entirety of Doctor Who, only Ten, Eleven and “The War Doctor” would be present, I found that bringing in all of the Classic Doctors near the end was hugely exciting, and I’m impressed at the way everyone involved kept their secret.
The special started with a clear tribute to the very first Doctor Who episode, the first of several bonuses thrown in for fans. Some were awkward but amusing: “Reverse the polarity!”…”We’re confusing the polarity!”, some were ones for Classic Who fans: “Wearing a bit thin,” and the Brigadier’s daughter, some were callbacks to past New Who episodes: “Bad Wolf” and “I don’t wanna go,” being the obvious ones. Amazingly, all these references manage to live in the same episode without feeling too cluttered.
The plot of Day of the Doctor was (thankfully) a fairly simple one, despite the multiple timelines and multiple Doctors. The Zygons have some impressive powers, but they’re also not really that terrifying. So while this plot is intriguing, it doesn’t overwhelm the important storyline: that of the Doctor’s decision to use The Moment to end the Time War. I’m glad that Time Lords could become part of Doctor Who again, I really am. I want Time Lords that aren’t white guys – at a stretch, white women – to be a part of the society. I want a Time Lord or Time Lady travelling with the Doctor and poking fun at the TARDIS, or embarrassing him by telling his companions baby Doctor stories. I also think that Moffat did an excellent job of finding a way around the Time War (even though it was surely time-locked). He does it without nullifying the character development of Nine, Ten or Eleven in what I regard as the peak of his storytelling.
Now, while I thought the story as a standalone was excellent, I’m not sure how I feel about its position in the Doctor Who canon. We’ve established that Eleven has already been to Trenzalore, so this takes place after the cliffhanger episode The Name of the Doctor, in which Clara enters the dying Doctor’s timeline in order to undo the Great Intelligence’s work. The Doctor also enters this timeline and This feels like something that was much too easily brushed over. How exactly did they escape from the Doctor’s timeline? Did they just waltz out? Was all that super intense fanfare and drama unnecessary since the Doctor could just stroll out of his own timeline without a scratch?
Moving on to characterisations, I have to say that every character, bar one, was a delight on screen. David Tennant picks up right where he left off, albeit with less gravity-defying hair, Matt Smith continues on his gangly, flailing way (which I’m personally not a fan of, but I understand I’m in the minority), and Jenna Coleman is clever and compassionate. Billie Piper is brought in again, but as physical manifestation of The Moment rather than Rose Tyler. While it was a shame Tennant and Piper didn’t get to demonstrate their onscreen chemistry together, it was a clever choice, and no doubt appreciated by all those who are more or less over Rose and Ten’s romance.
John Hurt’s ‘War Doctor’ is an amusing character, kind of like a grumpy old man yelling at kids these days. While I enjoyed his character, I wonder at the logic – isn’t he meant to be the Doctor capable of doing what needs to be done? In that case, why is he so non-threatening, and unable to eventually push the “big, red button” that will end the Time War? Surely the Eighth Doctor, after years (or thousands of years) of the Time War, would have been desperate and jaded enough to push the button? From The Night of the Doctor, it’s clear that McGann is certainly up to the task. That’s not even getting into my annoyance at the fact that Moffat added an extra, unnecessary regeneration, and made another (Ten’s metacrisis) definitively canon, just to be able to give himself the opportunity to write the glorious episode in which the thirteen regenerations rule is flouted. Still, putting my skepticism aside, John Hurt is a fabulous Doctor.
My biggest issue is the depiction of Queen Elizabeth. I’m no history buff like Aidan, but even I know that she was a fiercely independent, charismatic and tactical leader. Actress Joanna Page simply doesn’t do her justice, and she isn’t helped by weak writing. I know it’s comedic, the idea of the Doctor marrying her and running off, which goes some way towards explaining why she’s so head-rollingly angry at seeing him in some past episodes, but it resonated badly with me. If the Doctor proposed to her under the impression she was a monster in disguise and she knew this – not even taking into account the fact that she would hardly have married some skinny, oddly dressed man she barely knew when she was unable to marry a man she already loved – why didn’t the Doctor just say: “I can’t actually marry you because I was under the impression you were an alien when I proposed”? Are women really so impossible to reason with that he didn’t even try, and even a badass like Elizabeth will just marry the Doctor because he accidentally asked her? You can tell I thought about this a lot.
Still, one time characters Osgood and Kate Lethbridge-Stewart are a nice touch in different ways, of course. Osgood is asthmatic, a Doctor fan and surprisingly resourceful. Kate is following in her father’s footsteps and doing admirably as scientific advisor. They’re also a nice homage to UNIT in the old days, and Kate’s father, the Brigadier, actually faced the Zygons in his time (Terror of the Zygons).
So despite my reservations and my criticisms, I’m glad to say that I did love the 50th Anniversary, especially when the classic Doctors started appearing (Aidan will remember me excitedly punching him repeatedly when the First Doctor appeared. Also, Tom Baker’s appearance? Amazing.)
To be perfectly honest, the show was absolutely amazing when it was watched initially at 5am in the morning, but upon a few rewatches, the initial sheen has worn off. This is not to dismiss the Day of the Doctor; indeed in many ways, rewatching often brings to light little extra details which make it deeper and much stronger than on the initial watch. However, there were three points which made this spectacular just shy of perfect.
In regards to the plot, the story was fortunately not impossibly overwrought and needlessly complex. Although there were numerous parallel timelines and time zones, and several story lines, everything was linked very well, and there were very few plot holes, if any, to be found. It was also well paced, being fast enough to ensure that the show didn’t drag, while at the same time making sure it didn’t fall into the trap of many Who episodes, especially during the Moffat era, of making everything breakneck paced, with throwaway lines having key plot points hidden within them. In fact, the writing was flawless in regards to plot and dialogue. In this area, the Day of the Doctor delivered easily one of the best Doctor Who stories of the modern series, and almost certainly one of the best in the entire history of the show (Caves of Androzani now certainly have a modern story worthy of comparison).
The only criticism that can be brought against the plot is that in some ways it did seem like a little bit of a sneaky backdoor into the new series (Season 8), rather than an entirely independent show, unlike say the Five Doctors. The other thing that was a huge relief was the fact that Rose wasn’t brought back – rather Billie Piper played ‘Bad Wolf’, which in turn was simply a physical manifestation of The Moment. Billie Piper in this role was brilliant, and by not having Rose, there was no overly drawn out and pining romance, which was nice.
In regards to the characters, specifically the Doctors and how they interacted with each other, there were some absolute golden moments. Initial expectations of John Hurt’s Doctor were admittedly dire – in some circles it was expected that Hurt’s Doctor would be a hugely tortured Doctor, which would be overly serious and make the entire show overdramatic and overwrought with grandiose gestures. Instead we were given a sassy and witty man who in some ways is younger than his two counterparts. Although John Hurt’s Doctor was strictly unnecessary (Paul McGann could have sufficiently filled in, without having to add another regeneration), he was not an unpleasant addition. He also managed to voice excellent criticisms against the modern series that a lot of fans, especially older fans, have, for example: “must you always talk like children?”, or wondering why there is a plethora of kissing in his future. Hurt also managed to keep everything very light, even though there were a few moments where you could easily see the fact that he was struggling with a huge internal battle. In regards to the other Doctors, Matt Smith and David Tennant worked very well together. They managed to reflect their respective Doctors’ characters very well, and it was obvious that the two get along very well off-camera, as it translated into their characters brilliantly.
Two negative aspects of this episode must be addressed. First and foremost was the depiction of Elizabeth the First. Perhaps because audiences have become accustomed to viewing the monarch as a very strong and independent character (for example, Kate Blanchet’s Elizabeth movies), not to mention the wealth of historical documentation supporting Elizabeth I as a woman who was far to obsessed with power to even consider marrying (at the time which is set, she was supposedly in love with another man anyway, and if she couldn’t marry that man, she most certainly wouldn’t have gone running off with some oddly dressed man with a devil machine). Elizabeth’s portrayal was a disappointment all-round. The other problem with the Day of the Doctor was the fact that the Zygon storyline petered out without a proper resolution. Whilst it is assumed that the humans and the Zygons managed to meter out a peace treaty, it was left hanging, due to other storylines taking precedence. Finally, there was absolutely no explanation on how Clara managed to get out of the Doctor’s timestream in the Name of the Doctor. It has been a real problem with the later Matt Smith stories, with the companions backstories often being left completely open and unresolved.
Despite the flaws, the Day of the Doctor was certainly something worthy of being included in Doctor Who classics. With a solid plot, brilliant acting and (for the most part) good characters, the show was well written, well thought out and brilliantly produced. Overall, a fantastic show, and certainly a fitting tribute to the past 50 years of the show as well as a herald to the future. Also, the appearance of all the Doctors was a fanboy’s paradise (including Tom Baker’s surprise appearance at the end!)
As an aside, there is some complimentary material out there for those who are quite passionate about Doctor Who. Look for The Night of the Doctor, featuring Paul McGann, as well as The Five Doctors(ish) Reboot, a spoof made by Peter Davidson featuring a myriad of old and new cast.