And so the main event finally arrived.
But did it deliver?
In the lead-up to the 50th Anniversary episode of Doctor Who - The Day of the Doctor - the chances are that fandom let themselves get carried away with how this episode would pan out, especially since so little was actually known about it in advance (and incidentally, well done to the BBC for keeping all that info under wraps).
What I did notice though, having checked some of the Doctor Who forums last night and this morning, is that great many people were disappointed with it. Some of the criticisms included the special effects, the performances of Tennant & Smith, the lack of older Doctors, the retconning of the Time War and the supposedly confusing cameo by Tom Baker at the end.
Are these criticisms valid?
Or do some people just automatically dislike “NuWho” and clamour for the old days?
Not wanting to make a snap judgement, I’ve now watched this twice and here are my thoughts…
Doctor Who – The Day of the Doctor Review: What’s This One About?
Faced with ending the Time War and destroying Gallifrey and all its children, the War Doctor – John Hurt – is offered a glimpse into his own future and how his decision will affect him going forward.
In this case, it’s in an adventure involving the 10th and 11th Doctors (or should that be 11th and 12th?), the Zygons, present day & Elizabethan England and then Gallifrey again.
Oh, and it also includes a posh Billie Piper playing the conscience of a weapon (and no, Laaaaaaaads, I don’t mean a “phwoar” weapon, but rather a weapon in the conventional sense)
Thoughts – Not Just Nostalgia
For a story like the Day of the Doctor to work, it has to tick the right boxes.
It has to appeal to everyone, from the most casual of Modern-Who fans to the most staunch Classic Series fanboys. That’s something that some long-term fans struggle with it would seem. There’s this belief that the Classic Who fan has more claim to Doctor Who than someone whose first experience with the show involved Christopher Eccleston. I disagree.
So while I – like many others – would probably have been thrilled if they’d just chucked all the surviving Doctors in a room and had them play Scattergories, I think there has to be more to it than that for it to live up to the hype.
Day of the Doctor has nostalgia in abundance, with plenty of enjoyable lines that nod to the past, like “Wearing a bit thin”, “Good to know my future is in safe hands” and “I don’t want to go” , and little bits that will appeal to older fans like the pictures of all the companions and the reference to Ian Chesterton on the Coal Hill School sign. It also has nostalgia for newer fans, like the character of Bad Wolf Billie.
You’ve also got the Zygons, UNIT, a return to the oft-mentioned Time War and even David Tennant’s Doctor’s unseen adventures with Queen Elizabeth. And it’s all brought together in a plot that makes sense.
That’s no mean feat.
But it’s not just about nostalgia. Rather than simply being a show that wallows in its past, it also looks to its future.
It explores new ground with John Hurt’s character, it gives the Doctor somewhere to go and most of all, it presents around 80 minutes of dramatic, easy to follow television for fans of all tenures to enjoy.
So although it’s been a while since I’ve said this, well done Steven Moffat.
One of the key elements of any multi-Doctor story is the interaction between them.
You saw it in the Three Doctors, The Five Doctors (although not enough) and even the diabolical Two Doctors; so The Day of the Doctor had to get that element right.
And it did.
All three men worked very well with one another, with plenty of humorous dialogue between them. I found myself laughing out loud plenty of times, usually at the way they were slagging each other off.
John Hurt’s Doctor seemed to be written to vent some fans’ frustrations at the way Tennant & Smith’s characters were written and performed. I loved the criticism of the way Smith’s Doctor gesticulates while he talks and the way they both have catch-phrases.
But the funniest bit of the lot was the way Smith’s Doctor called them “Sandshoes and Grandad”. Far better than “A Dandy and a Clown” if you ask me.
Meanwhile the whole scene in the dungeon was also a resounding success for me. It developed their relationships and characters and it moved the plot along nicely.
And the way it all came together at the end, with Hurt’s Doctor being accepted as part of his own timeline was a touching send-off to a character who we’d only known for such a short amount of time, but who – in my opinion at least – felt like one who was long established. That’s a testament to Hurt’s acting more than anything else. Sadly, the way it was written means he’ll probably never be seen again.
While I’m on the subject of acting, I thought all three were on top form. If anything though, this confirmed to me that I do prefer David Tennant to Matt Smith. He’s more likeable, more relatable, less weird and I think more comfortable in the role.
If you recall my earlier reviews, I was a bit tired of Tennant by the time he left, and maybe that same tiredness has been passed on to Matt Smith, but when both men shared the screen, Tennant came out on top.
The Tom Baker Cameo
While I thoroughly enjoyed The Day of the Doctor, I have to be honest and say I’d have been deeply disappointed if there weren’t any appearances from Classic Doctors in this story.
In my review of The Five Doctors from earlier this year I was strong in my beliefs that it didn’t matter if the likes of the Bakers, Davison and McCoy were old; they needed to be in this.
And I stick by that.
Even though they look a lot older, they are still an important part of the show, so a cameo was needed.
Could they all appear in cameo form? Well probably not. I know that they all did to an extent because they appeared together to save Gallifrey and were standing side by side at the end, but those weren’t new appearances and thus don’t count.
So Tom Baker’s showing up – which he spoiled by openly talking about it earlier in the week, even though you couldn’t be sure he was telling the truth – made the difference to me.
While it wasn’t all the Doctors, it was enough to make The Day of the Doctor seem that little bit more special; it made it feel like a celebration of the show’s 50 years.
And it was a very good cameo too.
Had he appeared dressed in his 4th Doctor outfit, pretending to be the 4th Doctor, it would have been slightly difficult to take seriously. After all, Baker is an old man now. So having him appear as a version of himself far into the future, retired and working as a Curator, it seemed reasonable and so it worked.
And what’s so difficult to understand about his appearance anyway? I’ve read comments from people who weren’t sure if it was meant to be the 4th Doctor or even a completely different bloke. I thought it was very clear who he was.
Baker’s performance was superb as well. Not to be condescending, but for a man of his advanced years who has only had one single acting gig on TV since 2005 to nearly steal the show is impressive.
It was a rather touching and delicate moment and provided a most likely fitting and final send-off to the show’s longest running leading man.
As much as possible, I like to provide a balanced take on things when I do these reviews.
Though I’m still caught in a wave of 50th Anniversary Euphoria, and have been deservedly complementary to the episode, there are still issues with it.
For example, the storyline with the Zygons just seemed to fizzle out. Yes, there were more important matters to deal with in the time remaining, but what happened with it? Did they agree to live peacefully on Earth?
Meanwhile, as much as it’s reasonable for Queen Elizabeth to have bluffed her way into the Zygon camp, are we to assume that for her to have become to aware of their plans, they were just lazing about speaking in pure exposition?
And what about the Sonic Screwdrivers? They have been built up as scientific tools rather than weapons and yet all of a sudden when it was convenient, they were able to kill a Dalek.
The big one for me though is the resolution to The War Doctor’s story.
Ok, so they’ve rewritten the Doctor’s own personal history by freezing Gallifrey in a point in time, and they’ve tried to explain it away by saying that he won’t remember it until he’s Matt Smith at that point, but that doesn’t hold water for me.
What about The End of Time? Hmmm? That involved Gallifrey escaping from being Time Locked. But if it wasn’t Time Locked, then it couldn’t have reappeared, and if it couldn’t have reappeared then the events that led to the 1oth Doctor’s regeneration wouldn’t have happened.
So it all just unravels itself there.
Can I forgive it? Yes.
Can I explain it? No.
Oh, and actually, here’s another thing. While I appreciate that you can’t have a marquee story like Day of the Doctor start with the resolution of a cliffhanger, when last we saw The Doctor and Clara, they were inside the Doctor’s own personal time stream trying to get out.
What happened there?
I’m not going to get bogged down in stuff like that though; on the whole this was a brilliant piece of television and a fitting anniversary celebration for my favourite TV show.
- I loved that it started with the original opening credits. My hopes of seeing those credits turn into the 1980-85 one were sadly dashed though.
- They could – and should – have included either William Russell or Carole Ann Ford in it at some stage. While they got their cameos in An Adventure in Space and Time, the fact that Clara worked in the school where he was the Chairman of the Governors was an opportunity missed.
- Indeed, instead of William Russell’s last Doctor Who hurrah being a triumphant appearance in Day of the Doctor, instead we got to see him awkwardly picking his nose in the background during one of the interviews on that BBC3 Afterparty. Oh well.
- And did you notice that while Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton and Mark Strickson were sitting together quite the thing, poor old Adric was exiled to a table with Louise Jamieson, who was sitting on her lonesome because most of the companions from her time are sadly no longer with us.
- Also, what about that bit where he declared his availability to work on the show again? Desperate and pathetic. You’re dead Adric, get over it.
- But what about Jackie Lane showing up? The ultimate turn-up for the books, that one.
- I can understand the need to have Billie Piper involved in this, but I’m very pleased that it wasn’t as Rose Tyler. Having her humph about and bitch about Clara while wondering why she was no longer with the 11th Doctor would have been depressing.
- As much as Doctor Who’s budget has increased over the years, those Zygon costumes are actually less impressive than the ones from the 1970s. Fancy that.
- Speaking of budgets, the stuff set on Arcadia looked great. Still, that sort of thing seems so characterless to me. Give me a Doctor Who episode set on Earth any day.
- I enjoyed Joanna Page’s performance. I can’t be the only one who initially thought that she’d developed a penchant for pies since Gavin & Stacey. As it turns out though, she’d just given birth six weeks earlier. #Chauvanist.
- Here’s something that’s a bit weird for people who’ve watched I, Claudius; John Hurt has now played the Doctor and Derek Jacobi was the Master. You’d have thought it’d be the other way around. I demand a flashback from the Time War between the two of them!
- Since when was Clara a school teacher?
- To give Jenna Louise Coleman credit, she held her own amongst so many big characters.
- Actually, here’s an issue I forgot to mention earlier…how did the earlier versions of the Doctor know to help save Gallifrey?
- What about the Capaldi cameo though? Scary eyes or what?! Looking forward to him taking over.
- Paul McGann should have filmed new stuff though. His newer look is far, far superior to his naff 1996 one.
- As much as it would have been great to see more old Doctors involved, I would consider The Five-ish Doctors reboot to be a part of the celebrations. And it was bloody brilliant. Really funny stuff. What’s more, it gave them all more screen time than they could possibly have hoped for. If you haven’t seen it, sort that out!
- Christopher Eccleston is a right miserable sod isn’t he? Just take part ya dick.
- I mean, could he not have come in for one scene to fulfil that regeneration scene?
- And speaking of that, it felt a little bit contrived to me. Like it had to be in for the sake of completing every Doctor’s timeline.
- Hey, the old TARDIS sort of made a comeback. We all love the round things guys, bring them back.
- When did UNIT vet Kamelion?
- You get the feeling that Tom Baker was completely in charge of his scene with Matt Smith and that the younger actor was simply carried along for the ride. There’s no way the “Shhhh” and the handshake were scripted I don’t think. I could be wrong though. Brilliant.
- If you look at the overly grand beginning to the episode, where the Doctor is lowered down to the ground while hanging on to the TARDIS, it appears as though his arms are those of a robot. Spooky. Or just a little bit dodgy maybe.
- While you might think I have OCD to even bring this up, the order that the Doctors were standing in at the end was wrong. Assuming we insert Hurt as the 9th Doctor and push the subsequent ones up a notch, it went 2,4,6,8,9,12,11,10,7,5,3, whereas it should have been 2,4,6,8,10,12,11,9,7,5,3. Surely I’m not the only one who spotted this. Bloody Eccleston ruins everything.
- DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: N/A
Doctor Who – The Day of the Doctor Review: Final Thoughts
Going back to the very start of the review, I can’t get my head around some people disliking this.
Each to their own of course; everyone is entitled to an opinion, but I’m not sure what people were expecting?
On every level that you would enjoy Doctor Who on since the show came back in 2005, this was a success.
Well written, funny, mostly making sense, quality acting, well paced, it had it all. And moreover, it gave us the cameo from an old Doctor that everyone wanted.
Nope, I don’t get why anyone would see The Day of the Doctor as anything but a triumph.
I loved it.