Doctor Who: 750 “The Day of the Doctor” Review
Reviewed by John Hussey.
The 50th Anniversary could’ve gone either two ways: a massive fan-fest to the past as with ‘The Five Doctors,’ or moved the show forward with elements of the past sown in like with ‘The Three Doctors’. With ‘The Day of the Doctor’ we had a bit of both. The show and the character of the Doctor was moved forward while we went back in time to celebrate a long, long legacy by looking at the most important day in the history of the show; one that makes the Doctor himself shiver and want to wish had never happened.
As established at the end of ‘The Name of the Doctor’, a brilliant episode that marked the foundation of the 50th with one single cliff-hanger, we saw the introduction of an unknown incarnation of our beloved Time Lord in the form of veteran actor John Hurt. This storyline brought about a unique story that took us into uncharted territories which even the Doctor wished not to tread in. We discovered that the Doctor, a man of mystery, withheld a lot of secrets from us. The Doctor had a secret ninth incarnation, the incarnation that actually fought within the Last Great Time War. ‘The Day of the Doctor’ took us to the moment where this incarnation, i.e. the War Doctor as revealed at the end of the prelude story ‘The Night of the Doctor’, made the decision to end the War and bring about the destruction of both the Time Lords and the Daleks with the mystic Gallifreyan weapon the Moment.
The War Doctor was certainly an interesting concept to play with during such a milestone point in Doctor Who’s legacy. An incarnation that decided to withdraw himself from the promise that marks them as ‘the Doctor’ in order to become everything he wasn’t to win a hellish war. Even though he no longer declared himself as the Doctor, he still felt that after years and years of warfare that he found himself fed up of the bloodshed both races brought and decided to end it once and for all. No More! The War Doctor turned to the Moment, the last ancient weapon of the Time Lords that hadn’t been tried against the Daleks, which would ultimately destroy both his race and his enemy in one fell swoop. There’s a reason it was described as the ‘universe eater’. It was interesting to see an incarnation that fell so far, to the point where the meaning of his chosen name and promise was washed away because he knew there was no longer a meaning for it. This was declared by the Eighth Doctor in ‘The Night of the Doctor’ just before his regeneration. He became a warrior in order to fight in a war that he didn’t agree with but was ultimately forced to fight within because the realisation of the fact he had no choice was placed before him.
‘The Day of the Doctor’ was a massive blockbuster piece, an extension from the themes used within Series 7, filled with explosions, stunts and a wide range of movie status ideas in both formula and presentation. The special was also riddled with tons of elements to celebrate the show’s mythology. To start with we were presented with the original opening theme along with a homage to the first episode ‘An Unearthly Child’ with the story opening with the policemen walking past Totters Lane along with the appearance of Coal Hill School (the place were the First Doctor’s granddaughter Susan Foreman attended briefly and his first companions Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright worked at). Ian Chesterton also gets a mention within the schools sign outside. Obvious mentions of the past are the return of the Tenth Doctor (played by David Tennant) and U.N.I.T. with Kate Stewart (played by Jemma Redgrave) reprising her role as the Brigadier’s daughter.
Billie Piper also made a return to the show but not as many first assumed. She actually played the projected consciousness of the Moment. The great thing about this projection was it took on the form of the person who would become the most important thing to the Doctor during his recovery after his dark ordeal. The Moment became the woman who would both free him from dread and regret and win his hearts. That was an important moment within the story (no pun intended).
The Zygons made a return after their one and only appearance in ‘Terror of the Zygons’. I feel that their part in the plot was debatable (similar with the Great Intelligence being the villain in ‘The Name of the Doctor’). It was great seeing them back but to be the main baddy for the 50th felt slightly out of place because they aren’t iconic enough. But I guess that’s what I like about Moffat because he likes to be different within his writing and storytelling and not do what everyone expects.
Other interesting elements was the chosen music with ‘Slitheen’ being used during the opening scenes and later ‘The Dark and Endless Dalek Night’ used during the Time War sequence. It was even a nice nod with the Tenth Doctor speaking his famous last words during his farewell scene. And of course we finally got to see Nine’s beginning (sort of) after finally getting Eight’s regeneration in the prelude. It was extremely sad not to see the War Doctor fully regenerate into the Ninth Doctor but at least we saw enough for all the gaps to be closed once and for all which was a special thing to see during the 50th.
The greatest homage of all was the appearance of Tom Baker at the end. Now at first I wasn’t certain whether or not he was the Fourth Doctor but after thinking about it I thought to myself I’d like to think he was returning as his famous incarnation giving the Eleventh Doctor the important information he required to begin his next step within his long and twisted journey. Either way it was great to see him return one last time in Doctor Who, especially during such a milestone point within the show.
The story of ‘The Day of the Doctor’ was about facing one’s demons and upon facing them they received redemption and forgiveness. Both the Eleventh and Tenth Doctor were forced to confront the War Doctor and be reminded of their demons, i.e. the death of their people at the hands of the Moment. I will be honest, Moffat certainly did make that day far more tragic than what was placed before us in the Davies era. Never before had I looked at it in the way it was spoken about in ‘The Day of the Doctor’; the terror and suffering. And of course the children. The death of all those children, women and civilians. It made the moment far more dark and saddening, especially for the Doctor who had to make the deadly decision.
It also makes the character of the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Doctor far more understandable in terms of mindset. The Ninth Doctor was war-torn by his recent actions and sought for a new life and perhaps forgiveness and redemption for his said actions. The Tenth Doctor was filled with regret by his actions and believed his pain of sorrow and loss would never end, nearby becoming a little unstable and sometimes irrational. The Eleventh Doctor simply decided to move on and forget about his actions in order to make it easier on himself. The conversation where the three Doctor’s confronted each other about the day of reckoning really did confirm all of this and really did give a great insider on how the Doctor felt about his acts with himself. The interesting part about all of this was giving the War Doctor a taste of his own future, to learn whether or not his actions will have consequences. The consequences are that he himself will become a broken man (along with the fact that the Daleks just keep coming back, but we’ll keep that to ourselves). The story was all about the Doctor coming face to face with himself and being able to forgive himself and turn back the clock (in more ways than one).
The resolution of ‘The Day of the Doctor’ was just brilliant. Utter, utter brilliance that only Steven Moffat’s ingenious little mind (which I’m sure is bigger on the inside) could’ve come up with. What if the Doctor could go back and change the one day he most regrets, the day that defined his form within the revived series, the day that made an incarnation so disgusting that he wanted to bury it from his own memory and existence? And guess what Moffat did; rewrote history once more, only this time rewriting the most important day in the history of the universe – the day of the Doctor.
The Doctor actually used the Zygon’s own idea to save the day by placing Gallifrey at the exact instant it was meant to be destroyed by the Moment into another universe, locked away in a single moment where the people can live in hope instead of pain and suffering. But the way that this act was done was just fantastic. Not only did three Doctors come together to stop the Time War, but all thirteen came together. Yes thirteen Doctors all at the same time. Yeah, I will admit I was a little disappointed by the fact the Classic Doctors only appeared in archive form for this scene but overall it was a chilling moment that made the fan-boy inside of me jump up and down with excitement. We didn’t get the Eleven Doctors, we got the Thirteen Doctors. How exciting was that. It’s pretty much a win, win situation for both the casual viewers and the fans. We all got something out of those vital scenes. The fans got to enjoy seeing all of the Doctors together and the casual viewer were given the enthusiasm to check out older Doctors and look through Doctor Who’s 50 year legacy. What more could you want out of such a milestone story? We also got a sneak peak at the Twelfth Doctor (played by Peter Capaldi). This is a first for Doctor Who. Never has the Doctor interacted with his future-self beyond his current incarnation. It was a nice little teaser to what we shall get at the end of the Christmas Special.
After completing his mad idea, the Doctor received the biggest miracle of all; he got to save Gallifrey. The one thing that has saddened the Doctor the most and left him with dread throughout the revived series is the destruction of his planet and race. It’s a moment he’s told can never be changed but in this one moment, during the most important day of his life where he had to confront his inner demons he decided to do the unthinkable and grant his wish of reward. This is exactly what Moffat intended to do with the 50th: mark the next 50 years by granting the Doctor with his purpose in life. After all of his many adventures and rebelling against his race the Time Lords, he learnt the hard way of realising what is important to him. It’s that old saying of you don’t know what you have until you lose it. The Doctor wanted to do everything in his power to run away from his people but once he had to destroy them it hit him like a brick wall that he has lost everything he had known and now wanted it back. Now he has his wish and his home has been returned to him and his purpose in life now is to return to that home after all these years.
Well the 50th has come and gone, sadly enough, but it was an amazing experience that transcended across the entire planet for everyone to enjoy. I feel ‘The Day of the Doctor’ not only brought about the next step within the Doctor’s life and journey but it also brought closure to the first 50 years in more ways than one. Here’s to the next 50 years of Doctor Who and onwards to the 100th Anniversary.