After fifty years, Doctor Who has built up an entire TARDIS worth of stories and characters. Is it even possible for one episode to take all that history and condense it down to one momentous spectacle that capitilises on all those threads without getting lost in that vortex?
And to do so with even three respectable leads, would be a daunting challenge on its own. A challenge, that The day of the Doctor embraces and pulls off with gusto.
At its core, The day of the Doctor is all about one simple question: Are you the same person that you were in the past? What about 20 years on? A hundred? Four hundred years? It is a question asked on a universal stage, where all of creation is at stake, and John Hurt’s War Doctor has to make the hardest decision of his life and live with the consequences. But armed with that knowledge of the past, if you could go back and change your history, why wouldn’t you?
The day of the Doctor is more than just a celebration of the past though. It’s a special which also embraces the timey wimey nature of the show, setting up a new status quo for the iconic traveller and his extended cast. With Moffat in charge, there’s a greater plan in motion, and seeing the last eight years of storylines come together is magnificent, while giving Eccleston’s lone bad wolf season as the Doctor so much more context and deservedly so.
That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of nods to the show over five decades. A colourful scarf popping up on a character. A vault filled with relics. References to allies and companions that have passed on, while answering at least a few questions to seemingly random events and fixed moments in time.
All three Doctors almost steal the show, with the talent being split between the trio showing off the pedigree that has helped to define the series after 50 years. Hurt’s War Doctor is a broken man who has had his fill of war and seeks to end it, no matter the cost and yet still manages to maintain an air of enthusiasm and wonder when faced with the future. He represents a Doctor without hope, which in this universe is even more terrifying than the entire Dalek armada descending on Gallifrey.
Smith continues to reflect on the burden of his existence, carrying a weight and responsibility that would be too heavy even for 13 lives, interspersed with his usual fez obsessions and an insistence on showing off his intelligence. Tennant is equally comfortable in his role, full of fire and vigour and more than willing to jump into whatever conflict awaits him as he performs a balancing act between the two heavyweight lives on show in this special. While Jenna Louis-Coleman has a moment to shine with her usual enthusiasm as she confronts a Zygon menace, the same can’t really be said for Billie Piper.
Sure, she’s fun in the few scenes she has a hand in, but her role feels like a forced nod for fans who have been around since the beginning of the revived series. And in a special that is filled with such brief moments of history hidden in the background, it can be disconcerting. Likewise with the writing, the special has its fair share of Moffat-isms where a plot thread is conveniently forgotten and space magic makes a return, only to be brushed off with a quick timey-wimey line and a wave of the sonic screwdriver.
Those inconsistencies aside, The day of the Doctor is magnificently shot. From the fall of Arcadia on the planet Gallifrey, through to the pacing found when the Doctors converse with one another, the special knows when to pause and reflect, and when to shout Allon-Sy and get down to business. Clearly the production values were a priority with this one-off , resulting in 84 minutes of pure sci-fi bliss.
The day of the Doctor isn’t just a celebration of fifty years of Doctor Who. It’s a festival of time travel and enormous stakes on a cosmic scale, that blazes a path through the past, present and future of the series. And really, how else could you celebrate such a momentous occasion without looking to the future?
Last Updated: November 25, 2013
November 25, 2013 at 12:42
This was just brilliant, and has now made me want to go back and watch everything all over again, because clearly I don’t already have too much stuff to watch.