Well Doctor Who fans the big day is here – beloved Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose (Billie Piper) are back to join our current Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and his companion Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) on a new adventure. So after months (arguably years) of anticipation, did the special deliver?
Let’s bitch it out…
I really enjoyed “The Day of the Doctor” and I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a Doctor Who fan that didn’t. But that’s not to say I didn’t have my disappointments after reflecting on it. I must confess, I succumbed to the hype and when that happens, expectations are unreasonably high. When I heard that Tennant and Piper had confirmed their return to the series, one of my most anticipated moments was to see their interaction as my heart continues to break after their final goodbye.
But alas, we didn’t get Rose in the special at all. Instead we get an extremely clever way to utilize Billie Piper that subverted all expectations. Piper is the embodiment of “The Moment” – the sentient Gallifreyan WMD that, apparently, wiped out all of the Time Lords and Daleks during ‘The Last Great Time War’ at The Doctor’s hand. From a completely objective point of view, it was interesting to have Piper occupy this role considering all the baggage she carries for the Doctor since the reboot in 2005, but as much of her interaction is with the War Doctor (John Hurt) who doesn’t yet know her (nor will carry any memories of her in his forthcoming incarnations), it feels more like a way to entice fans rather than servicing the narrative.
But before everyone throws their stones at me, I bring up the Piper example because it encapsulates how I felt about the special – it clearly was an episode for the fans despite the questionable narrative motivators. We may have had disappointments, but the special makes it almost impossible to dwell on those because it’s whopping you with so many delights instead.
I could sit here and nitpick the plot points (i.e. Never getting a resolution to the Zygon/Human negotiations or completely ignoring the plethora of questions that arose from the series 7 finale) but none of that seems to matter because ‘The Day of the Doctor’ counteracts it all with exhilarating moments, resolution to questions long since posed, in-jokes and callbacks to the series’ legacy. We got to see Tom Baker people! I have no idea what the heck the conversation he had with Eleven meant (I’m sure there will be plenty of websites dissecting their dialogue come tomorrow) but that doesn’t even matter because it’s Tom-frickin‘-Baker. From the all the artifacts from previous episodes that we see in the black archive, Ten’s repetition of the last lines of his tenure, a glimpse of Capaldi’s distinguished eyebrows, Captain Jack’s armband, to moments where all 13 doctors stand united, ‘The Day of the Doctor’ was clearly a love letter to fans.
As much as I’ve loved other Doctors (Hurt does a delightful job in his short time in the role, and I’ve been a long-time admirer of both Smith and Eccleston), Tennant will always be my Doctor. Seeing him back in that pinstripe suit reminds me how he continues to trumps all that came before and after him. Having Ten back (even for just 90 short minutes) was an amazing treat that will have me skipping on cloud nine for a few days at least. And of course, as many others will likely agree, seeing both Ten and Eleven share screen time is a thing of beauty. I could write an entire post on the zingers and one-liners that came from their pairing (I particularly liked how their sonic screwdriver showdown unfolded), but really the chemistry between the two speaks for itself. Throw in John Hurt to banter, and you’ve clearly got an event that earns a place in television history.
And although the plot of ‘The Day of the Doctor’ had plenty of holes and head scratching moments, even if you weren’t a fan of Doctor Who, the Special still functions as a pretty exciting story. Sure all the business with the Zygons is essentially a throwaway (or is it?) but it does provide some context for our biggest reveal: the Time War genocide didn’t actually happen (or was prevented… I’m still a bit confused about how that all unfolded). The episode also gives us plenty to think about what’s to come in the 2013 Christmas Special and series eight, specifically the search for Gallifrey, which remains somewhere in the galaxy, frozen in time. Although it’s a bit clunky as either a re-written moment in the Doctor’s history (which he subsequently forgets), or just a new perspective (he never did it in the first place, but believes he did and is just now remembering), you have to hand it to Moffat to reconcile and reinvent such a substantive moment in the Doctor’s life.
So as much as I had fantasies of what the 50th Anniversary Special might have looked like (Clara being the meta-crisis Doctor & Rose’s daughter, Eccleston making a surprise cameo) I must say, there were too many juicy moments to poo-poo how the ‘The Day of the Doctor’ ultimately plays out – as an overall satisfying adventure through time and space.
- It looks like we do indeed need to change the numbering of the Doctors. Initially Moffat had stated that the numbering would remain intact, as the War Doctor never took on the name of the Doctor proper. But seeing how the 50th unfolded, it would appear that he’s proven worthy of the title and thus needs to be inserted. So does that mean the incoming 13th Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, will be the last of The Doctor’s regenerations?
- As much as I’m still demanding answers from the series seven finale as to how the hell Clara and Eleven were saved from his timeline in Trenzalore, I do think it’s a good thing that the 50th take place “post” whatever happened to resolve that. It helps to distinguish ‘The Day of the Doctor’ as a Special and not a continuation/resolution of series seven. However, with reports that the forthcoming Christmas special will be Smith’s last episode, we better get some answers to the Trenzalore debacle come December.
- We didn’t do a review of the prequel to the ‘The Day of the Doctor’ which premiered online a couple of weeks ago. ‘The Last Day‘ stars Eighth Doctor Paul McGann (who is excellent in a four-minute mini-episode) setting the context of how the War Doctor came to be. It’s a nice consolation prize for McGann not having his proper run as The Doctor and for showing us what we missed out on.
What did you think viewers? Did you love the 50th? Did the Tennant/Smith pairing live up to your expectations? Do you think The Doctor will find Gallifrey relatively soon, or can we anticipate a new long arc? Did you miss Eccleston as much as I did? Any theories about the Baker cameo and how it might relate to the UNIT scarf-girl? Will we ever discover who – or what – Clara is? Let us know in the comments section below.
Doctor Who returns in December 2013 with its annual Christmas Special.