‘The Day Of The Doctor’, by Steven Moffat, is a near perfect celebration of 50 years of Doctor Who, re-examining the character, bringing closure to several on going story threads and giving the series new direction.
Spoilers From Here On In!
It is to Steven Moffat’s credit that he is able to write a story with so many elements but weave them together so seamlessly. Everything is important and everything is paid off by the conclusion, not just within this episode but from several seasons.
We have three stories here (the War Doctor deciding whether to activate a doomsday weapon that will end the Time War, the 10th Doctor exposing zygons in Elizabethan England and the 11th Doctor investigating a mysterious breakout in the National Gallery).
In lesser hands this could be a chaotic mess but here everything works. They are not individual tales but a unified story about just who the Doctor is.
Since the series has returned the Doctor has been defined by the events during the Time War. His part in the destruction of his own people has been a heavy burden to bear and forced him to re-examine who he is.
In recent years who has been teased with an answer to the question ‘Doctor Who?’, only for it to be revealed in ‘Name Of The Doctor’ that this is more about what role he plays in the universe than his literal birth name.
The Doctor is many things to many people. To his friends he is a mad man in the box, a saviour, a beacon of hope. To his enemies he is the oncoming storm, a hobgoblin or boogey man. Above all he is defined by his actions.
Therefore it was shocking to discover that the reason the War Doctor, played by John Hurt, was decreed to not be worthy of that name for the actions he has taken. He was the one that made the terrible decision to wipe out billions of lives.
The 50th Anniversary returns again and again to the question of identity. Firstly in the form of the War Doctor meeting his 10th and 11th incarnation (the existence of a Doctor between the 8th and 9th obviously throws the numbering into question but I’ll persist), to see the person he will become.
Secondly the main threat comes from the return of the zygons. Able to shape shift and replace others there are frequent twists as who is human and who isn’t. An issue made all the more complicated by the fact they possess the memories of those they copy.
Both storylines revolve around who a person is and what they are capable of. As the Doctor’s explore their similarities and differences they come to terms with what they did. At the same time Kate Stewart (a welcome return from Jemma Redgrave) and her duplicate find all they can agree upon is their mutual destruction.
Just as the Doctor needs his companions to provide the perspective of an outsider, his meeting with his other selves allows him to view himself from the outside. As Clara points out the War Doctor is a warrior and the 10th Doctor is a hero but that isn’t who they really are. They are the doctor, the healer. They make people better.
What could be better for the 50th anniversary than a bold statement about what makes this character so wonderful and timeless? Here is a character who will always find a better way.
Not only does he solve the problem between the humans and the zygons by making them forget whether they are the real article or not but then finds a way to save Gallifrey without rewriting established history (much as he did in ‘The Wedding of River Song’).
As with any Moffat script the clever ideas are balanced with witty lines and laugh out loud moments without turning it into a farce. This is a solid Doctor Who story that never feels anything less than special.
The joy of any multi-Doctor story is seeing how they interact, as well as the return of old faces. Matt Smith and David Tennant deliver, with great chemistry between them. They portray their Doctor’s as brothers, sharing a clear affection while mercilessly teasing each other about their foibles.
Here there is a further twist, introducing a Doctor who we’ve never seen before. Thankfully the casting of John Hurt ensures that this new Doctor is immediately convincing as one of his incarnations.
Hurt provides an incredible amount of gravitas, imposing his authority and conveying his weariness of the Time War. The War Doctor is able to give voice to some of the complaints about the new era of Who, particularly the youth of the current incarnations, their refusal to talk like grown-ups and their insistence of pointing their sonic screwdrivers, scientific devices, like water pistols.
This to is explored in the script, explaining that the 10th and 11th Doctor act as children because they wish to forget the terrible responsibility that being an adult brings. They might not shun their duties but they can at least pretend that it doesn’t bother them.
Wisely, once the Doctor’s meet they stay together for the majority of the story, eliminating any worries about which incarnation gets more screen time. This allows for some brilliant examination of their methods and address the weightier themes of how each copes with what they did (or are going to do) in the Time War.
The metaphor of the screwdriver (different casing, same software) drove home the idea that these were the same person, something also conveyed by the acting. From our perspective that bond is familial with John Hurt as the grandfather and David Tennant and Matt Smith as the squabbling grandkids trying to score points with their elder.
The non-Doctor actors were also great. In addition to the already mentioned Jemma Redgrave, Jenna Coleman avoided being overshadowed as Clara. Her passion for the Doctor and her faith in him really shone through and I welcomed her new teaching position (in Coal Hill school no less) if only because we might never see Artie and Angie again.
Billie Piper deserves special mention for her return, not as Rose Tyler, but as Bad Wolf. Serving as the interface for the doomsday weapon, The Moment, she was both enigmatic and menacing. It was a brilliant way to have her return without revisiting old ground.
Joanna Page was hugely enjoyable as Queen Elizabeth, having to put up with endless insults from the 10th Doctor who repeatedly mistook her for a zygon. At last his boast of marrying Queen Elizabeth in ‘The End Of Time’ makes sense. Feisty, intelligent and strong-willed Joanna Page imbued the monarch and her zygon double with zest.
Even minor characters, such as Osgood portrayed by Ingrid Oliver, were full of life and deserve to be revisited in the future. Osgood is prime companion material, with her long scarf, quick mind and prayers to the Doctor.
Directed by Nick Hurran the episode lived up to the hype. This felt like a movie from the start, with a cinematic flight over London or sweeping shots of Gallifrey under siege. The series has rarely looked better or more epic.
I saw this in 3D, both on television and at the cinema, and both times it really enhanced the experience. I was pleased that the 3D was part of the story, with impossible paintings that contained surprising depth and explosions that rocketed out of the screen.
This all culminated in the incredible moment when all the Doctors, including the 12th (or is it 13th?), all arrived to save Gallifrey. Thanks to clever use of archival footage and new audio lines this was what fans had hoped for in a 50th anniversary.
This wasn’t just a celebration of the current era but the whole history, with the episode sprinkled with nods and easter eggs to companions of the past throughout. Not that this was a story that was just looking back.
By the end, thanks to a delightful appearance by Tom Baker as the Curator, the Doctor has a new quest and a new purpose. Gallifrey is waiting for him out there, somewhere. He began by running away from his home but now he is running to it.
The 11th Doctor’s course will take him to Trenzalore this Christmas but we know that the Doctor will continue onwards. The final shot of Matt Smith taking his place amongst his past counterparts is one of hope and a celebration of the legacy of the series.
Here is to the next 50 years of Who.