Doctor Who ‘Day of the Doctor’ aired simultaneously in over 90 countries today but did the BBC special manage to pull of the spectacular?
By David Ryan — Staff Writer
Imagine for a second you’re Steven Moffat, the man in charge of one of British television – and popular culture’s biggest shows.
Imagine being a lifelong fan, drinking up the lore and mythology the show has produced in its many forms in its 50 year run.
Now imagine sitting down at the computer, figuring out the best possible way to celebrate the work of 50 years, 11 actors, countless companions and scores of villains. Then having to fit that into one special.
“The Day of the Doctor,” which aired in 90-something countries around the world at the same time, had an impossible task ahead of it. It had to honor fans old and new, while at the same time intriguing those who may consider tuning in once again after the excitement of the anniversary dies down.
But it worked. Boy, did it work.
Immediately from the show’s use of the classic introduction and theme, “The Day of the Doctor” was something special. Touching nods to the show’s roots begin, fading from black and white to walking by Coal Hill School, the principal of which is one the Doctor’s first companions, Ian.
Clara’s (Jenna Coleman) a teacher now, an evolution from the governess/nanny that had defined her in the previous series. A worried coworker runs in, upset to tell her that an urgent message from her Doctor (Matt Smith) is waiting. Cue the smirk that’s melted the hearts of many and she’s off to find the man she was born to save.
Before they can celebrate their reunion, UNIT has hijacked the TARDIS – in one of the most incredible stunts the show has ever done. There’s a touching nod along the way to the 11th Doctor’s first episode, hanging out of the TARDIS above the London skyline.
Something is wrong with the national gallery – paintings are unleashing a long-waiting foe and the Doctor has summons from a higher authority from long, long ago.
Being the 50th anniversary, of course, this is somewhat hijacked by the appearance of the 10th Doctor (David Tennant). This is the anniversary tradition that only “Doctor Who” can do – multiple incarnations of the character can help when things are in bad shape.
The dialog between Tennant and Smith is incredible – the two steal the show with their comparison jokes (Smith’s sonic screwdriver is bigger. ‘Compensating for something?’ Tennant asks) and their appreciation of each other is immediate.
But, there’s something lurking in the dark. It’s what we’ve now learned to call the War Doctor (John Hurt, see “Night of the Doctor”), the regeneration that’s abandoned the promise the Doctor makes to himself with the name. He’s the one that ends the Time War, killing Daleks and Gallifreyans in an instant to stop the war that’s destroying the universe.
The War Doctor – who’s been guided by the mysterious reappearance of Billie Piper as Rose Tyler/The Bad Wolf) to show what the fateful decision turns him into. His initial appearance is one of amusement – “they just keep getting younger,” he says of his companions but also of the Doctor himself.
The interplay between the three is also fantastic. There’s a lot of credit to be paid to Hurt, here – he’s the Doctor nobody’s ever seen, hasn’t been on screen for longer than a couple of minutes prior. But within an instant you buy it. You get it. You believe he’s lived a long, dangerous time and you want to know more.
He also doesn’t care for the youthful exuberance of 10 and 11, mocking their style along with their characteristics, especially 11’s inability to say anything without flailing his hands around.
The Three Doctors know from prior excursions with their past selves that something dire is happening. Something that brings them together for a greater cause. What 10 and 11 don’t know is that Rose/The Bad Wolf is pulling the strings.
Their attention quickly switches from UNIT’s concern of the Zygons – the shapeshifting aliens that the 10th Doctor was investigating with Queen Elizabeth (Joanna Paige) before it all kicked off. Their plot suffers from the looming demand of the Time War and how the Doctor has coped with it since the show’s return in 2005. It’s not bad, their resolution is just abruptly arrived at as the Doctor’s get on to more universe-shattering matters at hand.
What happens may prove controversial amongst fans – the episode’s resolution doesn’t really change anything from the 2005 relaunch, but it does shape the future. Everything in the Doctor’s life remains the same – Nine will still feel the brunt of the genocide of his people, 10 will try to overcome it and 11 will try to move on.
But the consequences of the episode will help ensure the character keeps on going, perhaps Moffat’s best gift to the series.
It’s a whirlwind 75 minutes, that, trust me, holds up better than this recap. It’s difficult to fit in everything that already felt like a giant TARDIS of television – it felt bigger than its 75 minute run.
The show’s production quality is unlike anything that it has ever seen – from the opening sequence of the Doctor hanging from his ship above London to the action-packed sequences on Gallifrey as the Daleks swoop in to destroy everything and everyone in their path. The action sequences were brief, but effective. The Time War looked as deadly as we’d been told they were.
“The Day of the Doctor” shines from its opening credits, giving fans of the long-running show something to smile about. It’s also a huge relief that 50 years of running across time and space was honored and advanced at the same time. It was a huge leap, one that forgives any of the possible shortcomings during Moffat’s run as the executive producer.
And with that, on to Christmas, where the 11th Doctor’s final moments are waiting for him … on Trenzalore.
ALSO: Watch out for a special cameo and visit the BBC America website for extra scenes and special features.