Erik’s Reactions to “The Day of the Doctor”
The 50th Anniversary special promised so much to the loyal fans of Doctor Who: the first appearance of David Tennant in the role since 2010, the inclusion of first class actor John Hurt as a new (old [but new]) Doctor, and the long anticipated resolution to the Time War plot, which had been brewing since the reincarnation of the show began in 2005. Billie Piper would return as the endearing Rose Tyler, and the hint of other cameo appearances was beyond tantalizing for the devout Whovian. With all of these promises came the usual expectations for a Doctor Who special: a dire threat, an exciting adventure, a morality tale of sorts, and emotional engagement with the audience. It was all almost too much to hope for.
Thankfully, The Day of the Doctor gloriously fulfills many of these expectations. What would seem to be the most important expectation – the return of some of Who’s most beloved recent characters – was the most masterful aspect of the special. Matt Smith is is his usual classy self. David Tennant effortlessly returns to the role with his usual charisma and humor. From beginning to end, he injects the special with his usual madcap antics (He marries Queen Elizabeth I at some point), humor (“Ah, you redecorated! I don’t like it.”), but also his occasional flashes of brooding anger. He is perfectly suited to return to the role, and it reminded me what a shame it was that we only got three seasons out of him.
Other special appearances shone as well – Billie Piper’s return in the form of a projection of Rose Tyler works exceptionally well in the course of the story, and avoids confronting a Tenth Doctor-Rose Tyler reunion that could have distracted us too much. John Hurt brings his usual gravitas to the role of the War Doctor, but not without moments of humor (“They’re screwdrivers! What are you going to do, assemble a cabinet at them?”). Most special was the reappearance of all the incarnations of the Doctor – from the late William Hartnell to a shout-out-loud awesome sneak peak at the new Doctor, Peter Capaldi – in a montage of archival footage that was artfully repurposed. The appearance of Tom Baker as the Curator in the end was a moment of joy for any Whovian, and though his role is unclear and a bit difficult to nail down, the joy outweighs the confusion.
Sorely missed, though, is any new footage with the great Christopher Eccleston. Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor would have rounded out this special nicely, given how close his character was to the pain of the Time War. His character made sense for this special, and it’s a shame to see the personal disagreements which initially drove the actor away keeping him away.
Where the special stumbles a bit, alas, is the area of basic plot. Reintroducing the Zygons was a pleasant touch, but they felt terribly underutilized, and ultimately not that scary. The stakes of that battle never felt particularly high, especially compared to the usual over-the-top apocalyptic dramatics which Doctor Who goes in for strongly. Similarly, the Time War plot seemed initially engaging, but ultimately felt slightly hollow as well, because it divided time with the Zygon plot in an awkward fashion. For such a high stakes moment in the history of the Doctor, it seems nearly criminal to offer short-shrift to that story. Allowing all Three Doctors to focus entirely on resolving the Time War would have created a simpler tale, and allowed for a good deal more emotional content and character development.
Ultimately, The Day of the Doctor succeeds in having a damned good time putting three Doctors in one place – and the audience has a great deal of fun with them. The interplay between Matt Smith, David Tennant, and John Hurt is electric whenever they’re on the screen; the judicious scattering of fan service moments was exceptional (Tennant’s last line as he departs the special, “I don’t want to go,” was a heartbreaking foreshadowing of his regeneration). Yet, along the way, it doesn’t perfectly convey the sort of emotional and moral depth that previous specials have held in greater abundance. The Time War and the destruction of the Time Lord species is certainly massive, but in the special, it never feels quite massive. The viewer is ultimately left wishing for a little less nostalgia and a little more good ol’ fashioned storytelling. Nonetheless, the sheer joy of the special cannot be denied, and the final scenes offer many tantalizing prospects for the future of the program.
Favorite Part: Probably the short prequel webisode Night of the Doctor, which featured the surprise return of Paul McGann, the Eighth Doctor, to the role. It was short, delightful, but quickly set a dark and epic tone for the upcoming special. Sign the petition to give McGann a spin-off series of his own right here. My love of classic Who was greatly rewarded by the 13 Doctors sequence, too.