More Reactions to “The Day of the Doctor”

Warning: Doctor Who “The Day of the Doctor” episode spoilers below! (You know what River says.)


I was a little worried about all the fanfare surrounding last Saturday’s Doctor Who 50th Anniversary special. Would gimmicks be involved? On a scale of camp to campiest, where would this touted event fall? It’s hard to see so many sneak peeks and trailers without wondering if you’ll walk away disappointed.

Happily, I was not—and, judging from the social media sprees and drooly rehashings that have taken place on my couch in the ensuing days—nor were the vast majority of fans who tuned in to the event. This special was by no means perfect, but my hopeful expectations were indeed met (and in many cases, exceeded).

Doctor Meets Doctor Meets Doctor (Meets Doctor…Meets Doctor…?)

glasses

The clear standout sequences in this episode revolved around the union and collaboration of several iterations of our beloved Doctor. I have been making strange noises/yelling at strangers/drinking banana daiquiris for months in rabid anticipation of David Tennant’s reprise as Ten (I’ll get to this role in tandem with the reappearance of Billie Piper in several moments). Matt Smith’s 11 is a fantastic and profound character in his own right, and seeing these two play off each other was a long-anticipated and duly gratifying experience. I honestly did not expect to be laughing out loud at this special, but it’s hard not to when both of these guys are so damn funny.

But this special wasn’t all fun and games. In fact, it was predominantly about regret, mortality, do-or-die situations, and generally just the harrowing passage of time—you know, the usual Doctor Who stuff. To lend the episode its edge, in comes John Hurt as a canonical “forgotten Doctor.” It was hard to believe that any actor could simply walk into a role of this nature—a role so staggeringly important to the identity of the Doctor, and to the franchise itself—and instantly gain the awe and admiration of millions of viewers (granted, this Doctor does have his subsequent iterations to thank for buttering us up these last few years).

“Great men are forged in fire…”

But John Hurt did just that. His portrayal of the War Doctor offered a tasteful balance of depth and frivolity in playing off of Ten and Eleven. While on the surface he may appear a simple “granddad” (Eleven isn’t known for his tact), Hurt’s is a Doctor paralyzed with indecision, fueled by frustration and desperate to do the right thing in a situation where there is no clean, correct answer. I appreciated Hurt’s ability to fulfill the role of a more “adult” Doctor (as he admonishes his cohorts, “Do you have to talk like children? What is it that makes you so ashamed of being a grown-up?”) while technically being the youngest in the timeline of the three.

Ultimately, these three Doctors collaborated to act on perhaps the most important decision of the Doctor’s life—not to mention the lives of every other Time Lord on Gallifrey. Head writer Steven Moffat’s dialogue again hit the sweet spot, even-handedly striking upon moments gallant and grave (and certainly, both were called for). Yessir, the Doctors were a well-oiled machine—except when it came to vanquishing the threat of an unlocked door.

My only qualm with the Doctor-Doctor-Doctor (Doctor³?) dynamic was the third-wheel role to which Ten was relegated, chiefly by necessity. On one hand, this is John Hurt’s Doctor’s special: This Doctor is at a critical point in his timeline, a point at which he must make a decision of immense, life-altering importance to all future iterations of himself. On the other hand, we are nearing the end of Eleven’s era; therefore, this becomes “his” (or even, in a way, Peter Capaldi’s/Twelve’s) special. Because of Hurt’s Doctor’s decision to save Gallifrey, Eleven becomes aware of, and subsequently accepts, the mission of returning to a “lost” world. Ten is an excellent ally, lending his own brands of comic relief and dramatic pause throughout the special, but his role was seemingly predestined to be that of a middleman’s. (That said, I’ll take Ten over no Ten, any day.)

Finally, the episode’s conclusion ushered in a brief but powerful meeting between Matt Smith’s Eleven and Tom Baker’s incomparable Fourth Doctor …National Gallery curator? Was anyone else tearing up as soon as they heard Tom Baker’s booming beast of a voice? No? (I also have Murray Gold’s scoring to thank for the tears—Murray Gold, you musical SAVAGE).

“Now, you must excuse me. You have a lot to do.”

Regrettably, I lived in London this summer and managed to miss those paintings in the National Gallery. But more importantly: Gallifrey falls no more.

The Zygons and All That Jazz

I don’t have much to say in this area, except: The girl with the Fourth Doctor scarf was clearly intended to be some kind of everyman (everywoman?). I understand the value of such a character, and we’ve seen many of them throughout this series. Still, I found her unmemorable and plain, particularly when compared alongside our Doctors. The whole Zygon storyline didn’t do much for me, barring when the Doctors became directly involved.

Billie Piper’s Not-So-Rose-y Return

“Did you just say ‘Bad Wolf’?!”

To my delight, Billie Piper returned to the series on Saturday—and not as Rose Tyler, as many of us anticipated. This initially disappointed me, for selfish reasons (namely, that Ten/Rose are my favorite pairing out of anything ever). Upon further reflection, I think it would have been dangerous—even tacky—to append any sort of “Rose returns” storyline into the series at such a pivotal point. The writers have thought of brilliant ways to reintroduce Rose in the past, and I don’t doubt they could come up with more means of doing so. But in the end, Piper’s return as more of a phantasmic “conscience” to John Hurt’s Doctor was better aligned with the direction of the series. A dramatic Ten/Rose reunion would have distracted from the Doctor’s new mission, so, yes, I can live with how this played out. The very fact that Piper’s character selected the physical form of Rose Tyler (and referenced Bad Wolf, to boot) will forever fuel my lovey-dovey Ten/Rose fantasies.

Verdict: GIVE ME MORE

Ultimately, the most captivating part of “The Day of the Doctor,” in my book, was the operative dynamic between different iterations of our beloved Doctor. You could probably deduce that from the fact that I won’t shut up about it. Working in tandem, these three offered up a beautiful 75 minutes. I’m not sure what could have gotten me more excited for the next chapter in this adventure. For now, I’m thrilled to be following this fez through space and time.

Stray observations:

  • The episode’s tasteful/subtle homages to doctors past (and future!) favored substance over gimmickry.
  • Stunning visuals! This program has made miraculous strides—not just over the decades, but even since I started watching in 2006. The writing and acting were always impressive, but the graphics have picked up immensely, along with the cinematography. These feats allow the show to tackle ambitious scenes that would have bordered on impossible in past years. The Time War effects were especially amazing.
  • I would love to shake the hand of Doctor Who composer Murray Gold. He’s written so many moving tracks over the years (has there ever been a song more fitting than the Doomsday theme?). Saturday’s special proved to be of the same musical caliber, particularly in the inspired closing scenes with Tom Baker’s appearance and Eleven’s subsequent revelation.
  • CRUCIAL PLOT POINT: Why wasn’t David Tennant’s hair absurdly coiffed up like Ten used to do?!
  • Can we start a Kickstarter for a spinoff starring FakeTen and Rose in that alternate dimension?
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