Doctor Who Review: The Day of the Doctor (50th Anniversary Special)

“The Day of the Doctor” was well anticipated for over a year. As 2013 approached, fans began speculating about what the 50th anniversary would contain. Doctor Who was bigger than ever, thanks to its new American appeal, and the anticipation for the next anniversary – the first such large-scale anniversary in 30 years – was palpable. Throughout the year, internet personalities focused on Science Fiction and cult culture did their best to educate fans on what Doctor Who had been over fifty years, all to prepare for the special that would be “The Day of the Doctor”.

Did it live up to expectations? That varies greatly from person to person, but few would deny that it was a good episode. Day of the Doctor told the story of three Doctors: John Hurt’s War Doctor, a newly revealed Doctor that bridged the gap between Paul McGann and Christopher Eccleston; David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor; and Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, the current incarnation of the Doctor (at the time). The War Doctor is dealing with the issue of whether or not to use the power of the Moment, a weapon created by Omega and the Time Lord equivalent of the hydrogen bomb. The Tenth Doctor is dealing with a Zygon infestation and an accidental marriage proposal in Elizabethan England – an event that fans had been waiting for since 2007’s “The Shakespeare Code”. The Eleventh Doctor has been called by UNIT to investigate some strange goings-on with a group of paintings, thanks to a letter sent by Queen Elizabeth the First.

Other than the running gag, the Tenth Doctor really doesn’t need to be here. By that I’m saying, his role in the actual plot is extremely incidental. The War Doctor (or Eight and a Halfth, if you prefer) has the main story arc of this special; from beginning to end, this is his special. The Eleventh Doctor, on the other hand, is absolutely necessary for this as he is the one who provides the surprise solution at the end of the story. Ten, for all that it was great to have him, is here only because we want him to be here, and to work as a foil and side-kick for the Eleventh Doctor. This is explicitly true within the story, which includes the Tenth Doctor only because the Moment wants the War Doctor to meet his future selves (presumably skipping the Ninth because, face it, nobody wants to become a somewhat racist Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder sufferer).

But the plot isn’t the only important thing in this episode. If there’s one thing that Steven Moffat is beyond reproach on, it is the fact that he is good at squeezing in character moments. If only for the character moments, the Tenth Doctor is entirely worthwhile here. Besides the set-up, in which we see the Doctor doing his years of traveling alone yet remaining irresistable to women, the Tenth Doctor has enough moments with the Eleventh Doctor to make this an in-spirit remake to “The Three Doctors”. Once John Hurt joins them, this is complete, lacking only the classic line, “these are my replacements?”

Billie Piper returns, not as Rose (who really has no place in this story), but as the Moment. Like the TARDIS in “The Doctor’s Wife”, the Moment has trouble distinguishing past from future, as both are identical to something that exists in both simultaneously, and attempts to use a companion from the Doctor’s future in order to appeal to him. Under the charade of simply showing the Doctor what he will become if he survives the war, she maneuvers him into planting the seeds of an answer that the Doctor will come up with after having hundreds of years to ponder it. Still, this wouldn’t be possible without his current companion, Clara, who gives the emotional appeal that the sentient bomb is either unable or unwilling to provide, finally pushing the Doctor into refusing to use the weapon and solve the problem another way. Visually, the companions are used amazingly, frequently shown to the audience as being counterparts and equals, despite the fact that only one Doctor can see “Bad Wolf Girl”.

This special is amazing. It is clear that more effort was put into this than any other episode in years. The chemistry between the main cast is amazing, the dialogue is all symbolically or otherwise linked, the plot is well-written, and the direction and visuals are amazing. The Zygon plot that links the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctor’s problems (and is ultimately resolved by both of them) exists almost entirely to show the latter Doctors’ states of mind and to foreshadow the ultimate conclusion. To that end, once we have seen what the Doctors would do, instead of spending thirty minutes hammering that plot to its final conclusion like past Doctor Who stories would have done, we cut away from the modern Doctors and back to John Hurt, in order to resolve the real plot-line. While I have no problem with this, I can see how it would bother some people. If the effort put into the Zygons is any indication, this will be a plot returned to later on, which should alleviate many viewers’ concerns, though that may also run the risk of making the Zygons into shape-shifting Silurians.

While there is a lot to talk about regarding this special’s ability to work as a 50th anniversary special, I have to say that there was not one moment when I felt like it was anything else. While there was a bit of a shortage of things related to the Second Doctor’s era (ironic when you consider that the primary plot has to do with a base under siege), the story is littered with references to the First, Third, Fourth and Fifth Doctors especially. Unfortunately, the Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Doctors – not as nostalgic to the creators – did not receive quite as much attention. Still, all of these references were relatively quiet – enough to excite fans who recognized them for what they were without confusing fans who only watched episodes televised within the past decade. To top this all off, the most popular Doctor of all time is one of Three Doctors that take up most of the screentime, every Doctor appears at least once in the special, and there is at least one surprise that I’ve left out of this review.

The final verdict is that, for a one-hour story, this is as good of an anniversary special and episode that there was really reason to ask for. In many ways it is a superior remake to “The Three Doctors”, with the same sort of character interactions (right down to UNIT and Gallifrey being the center of the conflicts) yet significantly more advanced writing and production values, all in a shorter overall package. I recommend “The Day of the Doctor” to anybody who professes to be a fan of any incarnation of Doctor Who.

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