Saturday, November 23, 2013

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary: "The Day of the Doctor"

“I have a new destination. My journey is the same as yours, the same as anyone’s. It’s taken me so many years, so many lifetimes. At last I know where I’m going. Where I’ve always been going. Home. The long way around.”
– The Eleventh Doctor

A Brief Synopsis

Trying to sum up Steven Moffat’s typically dense plotting in a few paragraphs is quite the challenge! Let’s see how we do. The Eleventh Doctor and Clara are in the present day, and they get dragged (literally...a helicopter picks up the TARDIS) to the National Gallery, where they are met by Kate Stewart of UNIT. There’s some strange stuff going on with the paintings there, and a piece of Time Lord art depicting the fall of a Gallifreyan city has materialized. This leads to some flashbacks to the Time War, where we meet John Hurt, aka the War Doctor. He’s going to try and use “The Moment,” a superpowered weapon with a conscience, to destroy the Daleks and the Time Lords. The Moment’s conscience takes the form of Rose Tyler (but as Bad Wolf), whom the War Doctor doesn’t know, obviously. In her bid to keep him from using the weapon, she decides to show him what he will become. So she opens up time fissures into his future.

In Elizabethan England, the Tenth Doctor is romancing Queen Elizabeth I, or so we’re led to believe. He’s really chasing after Zygons (big red aliens with suckers everywhere). They are a Classic Era villain that can take the shape of other people. In short order, Ten finds a fez and is joined by Eleven. Honestly, seeing Matt and David riffing as different version of the Doctor was brilliant. They don’t quite get on at first, and then things get all wibbly-wobbly when the War Doctor shows up. They are apprehended by the Queen’s guards and locked in the Tower of London. Back in the present, Kate and Clara head to UNIT HQ and Clara nabs a vortex manipulator (bequeathed by one Captain Jack Harkness). She arrives in 1562 to rescue the Doctors (yes all three of them) and we get an important bit of Zygon technology They have a device that can put you in stasis and awaken centuries later. Handy when you can’t actually land the TARDIS in the Tower.

Clara and the Doctors get back to London this way, where the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors use a bit of the “Veil of Ignorance” philosophy to stop a conflict between the Humans and the Zygons. Once that’s quickly wrapped up, they return to Galifrey at the moment the War Doctor is about to destroy his people and the Daleks. The three of them working together is a sight to behold, and they deduce another way to stop the war and save the Time Lords. It takes all of the Doctor’s regenerations (past, present and near future) to freeze Galifrey and plop it in a pocket universe. The War Doctor and Ten go their separate ways, knowing they’ll have no memory of the experience, as Eleven realizes that the plan to save Galifrey worked (the painting that started all the drama is called “Galifrey Falls No More”) and he has a new mission: find his planet.

Our Impression

Overall, we really thoroughly enjoyed “The Day of the Doctor.” It told a fun story, gave us great banter between David Tennant and Matt Smith, and it had heart in the way it explored the War Doctor’s feelings about what he thought he needed to do and the Eleventh Doctor’s feelings about where he should go next with his life. The special also paid great respect to the history of the series. It was chock full of references to the past, most of which we’ll get to in more detail in just a minute. This was really a special designed to please the fans. Between the nostalgic references to the past, appearances by David Tennant, Billie Piper, and the great Tom Baker, and a brief glimpse of Peter Capaldi as the soon-to-be Twelfth Doctor, the special, especially in the last half-hour or so, just had one shocking, wonderful surprise reveal after another.

Of course, the episode did suffer slightly from Steven Moffat’s trademark overplotting and use of the big red reset button. It was kind of the ultimate reset button, really, as the element that has really driven Modern Who, compared to the Classic Era, was the idea that the Doctor was the Last of the Time Lords and had destroyed his own people. Now that is no longer the case. Also, we’re left with questions, as always. For instance, how did the War Doctor, Ten, or Eleven, get the word out to One through Nine and Twelve that they needed to converge on Gallifrey?

The real heart of the story was the Time War and what the War Doctor was about to do. We think the whole thing might have packed even more of an emotional punch if the material filmed for “The Night of the Doctor” had actually been the cold open to the special (and it would have added another former Doctor to the mix!). To make room for that, some of the Zygon plot could have been cut. While the shapeshifter nature of the Zygons fit in thematically with a story featuring several incarnations of the same being, there just wasn’t as much substance to that section of the plot. All that being said, however, the fun moments and respect for the show’s history outweighed any frustration at overplotting.

The Music

If you follow Doctor Who at all, you know that the music is very distinctive. The theme song has changed over the years as was evidenced by not only the opening credits but the closing as well. Most notably in the Modern Era, certain characters and scenarios have had their own themes thanks to series composer Murray Gold. For instance, we were first introduced to Rose’s theme during series 1. It sticks out most when she became Bad Wolf in “Parting of the Ways” and destroyed the Daleks and it surfaced twice during the special. We also got a couple other themes throughout the episode which were more directly tied to the Doctors. For instance, when Ten first appeared romancing Queen Elizabeth, we heard snippets of his old theme in a more Renaissance style. Weaving in these little motifs in the musical score was just another way to honor the expansive musical history associated with the show.


While “The Day of the Doctor” may not have had quite as many new appearances by previous Who actors as some fans might have preferred, the creative team did an admirable job honoring the show’s past. Right from the beginning, the special opened with the classic opening titles from 1963, and the first shot was of a sign reading “76 Totters Lane,” where it all began 50 years ago. Clara also has new job as a teacher at the school that the Doctor’s granddaughter, Susan, once attended. It was a nice homage to the Doctor’s first non-family companions, Susan’s teachers named Ian and Barbara. Also, when the Doctors and crew are in the Black Vault, deep in UNIT headquarters, there’s a sort of conspiracy wall with photos of old companions. Clara stares pointedly at a photo of Susan at one point.

All of the incarnations of the Doctor had a part to play in the resolution of the plot. In the climax of the special, where the Doctors are positioning themselves to save Gallifrey, we get good, extended shots of Ten and Eleven in their TARDISes, of course (oh how we miss Nine and Ten’s old coral TARDIS!), but there are also quick shots of many other Doctors through the use of archival footage. It’s rather lovely and triumphant to see them all come together for this common cause. Of course the very best nod to the show’s history, one of those moments that really made fans scream with delight, was near the very end of the episode. The Eleventh Doctor is told that the curator of the National Gallery wants to see him. And that curator is none other than Tom Baker, who portrayed the Fourth Doctor, arguably the most iconic of all the Doctors.

Looking Ahead

The major resolution of the episode included freezing Gallifrey in a moment of time and transporting it to a pocket parallel universe. Not only does this change the Doctor’s history (even if he doesn’t remember it), it gives us a new storyline to look forward to. Now, we know that the Christmas special this year is likely to focus on Trenzalore and the fall of the Eleventh , so that means the Twelfth Doctor will need something new to focus on. He now is no longer alone in the universe. The Time Lords are out there somewhere, and he has a new mission: find his people and go home. It seems a fitting big arc to explore with the new regeneration, especially since we got our first look at Twelve as Gallifrey was being frozen. As the Doctors gather, a Council member mentions that thirteen Doctors have appeared. At that moment, we see a close-up of Peter Capaldi’s piercing stare, and the fandom went into full meltdown.

Speaking of future regenerations, we are rapidly approaching the 13-regeneration barrier established in the Classic Era. There is no doubt that Moffat will keep the show running as long as possible, so we will have to transition beyond the Thirteenth Doctor at some point. There has been some precedent set in the Classic Era when the Master was given additional regenerations by the Time Lord Council. Another theory arises out of the Modern Era when newly minted River Song saved the Doctor during “Let’s Kill Hitler” by giving him her remaining regenerations (somewhere between 10-11 of them depending on how you count her being born as Melody Pond). So that would give the creative team far more to work with and it would be plausible in canon. Here’s to another 50 years!

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