It’s very easy to get washed away in the emotion of everything from Saturday night, and wax lyrical about the best episode of Doctor Who ever, the game changer, the one that made a difference, so I thought it might be a better idea to review this episode after a couple of watches and a couple of days.
The Day of the Doctor is very much what I’d expected from Steven Moffat, who’s retconning wibbly wobbliness is more important than actual character development usually and The Big Concept more important than plot, but, to be fair, Moffat managed to straddle both these disciplines fairly well with this episode, and, let’s be under no illusion, the pressure on him (94 countries, 15 difference languages, 1500 cinemas, 3D, similcasts blah blah blah) must have been huge.
Did he deliver? Well yes, he did. Is it the best episode of all time? Well, no it’s not.
Cleverly, and that’s a word that should be attached to the end of the words Steven and Moffat, managed to undo the terrible deed the Doctor had allegedly done between meeting Grace Holloway and Rose Tyler, as well as bringing the idea of the Doctor’s final regeneration to the fore with new Doctor Peter Capaldi (very definitely described as “the thirteenth” here), AND the hint that Galllifrey – and therefore the Time Lords, Rassilon and the Master – are all still out there somewhere, without rewriting the angst RTD had wrung out of the his tenure as show runner. Along with that, he managed to tie in a gag from The Shakespeare Code and another from End of Time, whilst, also, allowing events in that episode to play out without affecting the events in this.
But that’s not all. He also brought back not one but two Doctors and, to many, a well loved actress, as well as referencing all the Doctors, the series history AND making it an episode of Doctor Who which, like The Three Doctors, sends the Doctor off in a new direction.
That’s no mean feat, to be fair, and hats off to him for doing it and wrapping it in a (fairly) neat bow at the end, with plot points explained, angst lifted and time line intact.
Well, almost. Let slip by Steven in interviews was the ever changing nature of his script, as he had to adjust it as various elements changed. That was definitely the case with Terrance Dicks’ The Five Doctors, but why was it the case with this?
Christopher Eccleston is my guess, the fabled in-it-now-he’s-not moment led to Steven having to hastily rewrite that “third” Doctor. This is where he made the biggest mistake, but, at the same time, had the biggest inspiration.
John Hurt owned the role immediately. He was clearly the Doctor, he spoke the same as the others, despite some curmudgeonly moments, and nailed the part. Whether he perhaps should have been made of steelier stuff, as hinted at in Night of the Doctor, is debatable, because one can argue that the Doctor’s character will out regardless of the incarnation, but he was convincing as the Doctor, and one who had seen stuff he shouldn’t have, and done things he regretted. So, whilst getting proper class to fill in the role so clearly written for the Ninth Doctor (and a mouthwatering prospect of Christopher Eccleston in that role is tantalisingly never going to come to pass), Steven should really just have gone down the line one and got Paul McGann to play the part of the “war Doctor”. His romantic, airy incarnation corrupted by the horrors of war would have been an extraordinary thing to behold, and, as seen (as if we needed reminded) in Night of the Doctor, Paul McGann definitely has the acting chops for that.
Not involving the previous Doctors too was also a mistake, especially as he did include the scenery chewing Tom Baker who proves, once again, he absolutely is and always will be THE Doctor. Despite the fan lead debate as to who, how and why he’s there, his scene with Matt Smith showed how powerful he is and how long a shadow he’s cast, but it also highlighted the fact that the other Doctors weren’t there. I can’t believe it would have taken much effort to write little cameos in for Colin, Peter and Sylv, all of whom were desperate to take part, and it seems a bit churlish to have one without the others.
The Doctors who were there though, were superb. It’s always fun to watch Doctors compare against each other, and one thing that struck me about 11 and 10 (or is that 12 and 11 now?) was actually how similar they are, which again only lead to underline the lack of fun we could have had listening to say Sylv and Colin, like we did with Jon and Pat.
The Zygon subplot though, sadly, didn’t really work. Despite being pretty well identical to their original appearance, they were half the monster they were then, perhaps due to the lack of emphasis put on them. Terror of the Zygons allowed them to breath a bit, whilst this went for the spectacular. Some creepy moments (Osgood in the Under Vault for instance) was wasted with unnecessary gore (Kate’s transformation) and the whole thing was left dangling. Perhaps deliberately.
I sound like I’m complaining, but I’m not. The pros outweighed the cons in this episode, and really did send the series in a new direction without destroying what has gone before it. One can’t help wondering if a Doctor without regenerations really, really NEEDS to find Gallifrey tout suite, to gain himselves some new lives.
Matt, David and John were superb, as you’d expect, and the banter was good. It’s nice when Doctors get on, and odd when they don’t, given the circumstances. The gags worked, the plot was very tidy, and the guest stars all did what the had to. I’m a big concerned however that with Osgood and Malcolm Kate is just recruiting Doctor fangirls and boys as UNIT staff these days.
This was a suitable anniversary episode. It delivered on all the levels it was meant to. For the Not We’s it was probably confusing enough for us to be smug but spectacular enough for them not to care. The Time War scenes – and the thirteen Doctors at the end – was a punch the air moment.
Day of the Doctor made me very proud of our little show. It’s come a long way. Yes there were things missing that you’d expect to see in a special, but Steven Moffat only had a limited time, budget and plot and had plenty to fit in. Day of the Doctor delivered.