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Doctor Who - 50th Anniversary Review - The Day of the Doctor

When I heard about Moffat planning a 50th anniversary episode I pitied the guy. I wondered how he was going to do it. It seemed impossible to do justice to a show that predates your career and has been such a British icon for so many generations and regenerations. I had faith in his ability to handle the task though; he had more than proven himself capable since he took the helm from RTD. At the same time I've always had issues with his extreme non-linear story telling, at times confusing rather than entertaining, and his whimsical approach to the franchise that I didn't like as much as RTD’s more SciFi oriented style.

In the end however, I was pleasantly surprised. The Day of The Doctor is one of the best Doctor Who episodes I have seen.

A big part of that is due to the brilliant performances of the cast, three of whom play the same character: the Doctor. Putting the Tenth and the Eleventh Doctors together is a superb decision. They have a symbiotic energy that multiplies the strength of their interactions. Adding John Hurt's Doctor (whose number I’m still unsure of. Zero? Eight and half?) only makes it that much better.

As if seeing Tenant in Who after so long wasn't enough to get the nostalgic juices flowing, Moffat tops it by casting Billie Piper as The Moment, the visual manifestation of the weapon the Doctor uses to destroy the Daleks and his home planet Gallifrey.

Speaking of the destruction of Gallifrey, another ingenious idea Moffat came up with was to make the anniversary episode about that event, told to be the most important, life changing moment in the Doctor’s life since he burst onto screen in 2005. We saw him time and again talk about it in regret, how much he hated having to kill his own race, how it made him the last Timelord. However we never got to see the behind the scene details of how it happened, or why the Doctor acted as if he was its sole responsible being.

Moffat dedicates the 50th anniversary episode to answering those questions, then he takes it one step further and changes the show’s history. It is a bold move, and when you think about it, makes all the sense in the world. When your show's protagonist  is a time-travelling alien with the ability to go back in his own timeline, why not use that to alter his past and harvest it for more stories?

The only question is about Fixed Points in Time. How come that event wasn't one? Was that explained in the episode and I somehow missed it?

Let’s get into what happens in this episode from the beginning. UNIT contacts the Doctor and Clara about some anomaly in London’s National Gallery. The anomaly isn't that some of the paintings there are 3D, that’s quite normal in this world. It's that the figures that used to be in the paintings, depictions of aliens known as Zygons, are missing.

As far as Doctor Who monsters go, Zygons are both bad and good. They are bad because they look like a cross between a wrestler and an Octopus, and look about as scary. I have trouble feeling apprehensive about an enemy who has to turn its entire body to look in another direction. In a show that had such frightening beings as the Weeping Angels and The Silence, the Zygon’s overall design is a bit of a letdown.

Thank God those looks don’t matter much because these aliens have shape-shifting abilities and spend most of their time looking like other people, and that’s what makes them good. These are some of the smartest, most resourceful foes I have seen on DW. They smash statues to hide under their covers, and steal people’s faces so they could access restricted areas and high security vaults. What they are after – the reason they stepped out of those paintings – is a Vortex Manipulator Captain Jack Harkness (loved the shout out to my favorite time agent) left in the Black Archives, the most top secret part of the gallery.

I didn't understand what the aliens wanted with this device, and it became irrelevant when Kate Stewart, daughter of the Brigadier and the person in charge of this division of UNIT, activates a nuclear bomb underneath London that is going to blow the place sky high if the aliens don't step down. Talk about overreacting. This becomes the central conflict of the episode, and a parallel to Doctor’s own decision centuries ago, when he blew up his home planet to defeat a different race of aliens.

The best part of the episode is when a wormhole brings the Tenth Doctor into the fray, because of his connection to Queen Elizabeth I, who I presume was the original owner of the paintings. I didn't like Elizabeth’s portrayal in this episode. My image of Queen Elizabeth I was the Cate Blanchett variety, cold and professional and not giving an inch to anyone, not even hot, suite-wearing Timelords. I didn’t quite get the ditsy, love sick redhead we saw in this episode. Was she a parody of the queen or were we misled about Her Majesty all those years? This queen looked like a character out of a Monty Python sketch rather than the actual queen.

I’m going to skip over the rest of the episode's shenanigans - all very entertaining and well done due to the amazing chemistry between the three Doctors - and get to the climax. Throughout the episode Hurt’s Doctor is pondering his choice, whether to end the war but destroy his own people, or spare his people and subject them to centuries of violence. He is accompanied in this journey by The Moment, the Billie Piper character who is invisible to the other Doctors.

At the point of the climax, Hurt’s Doctor decides to go through with the deed because the alternative is just too devastating for the whole galaxy. The Moment presents him with a big red button, a nice touch for such a life changing act. Just as he is about to press it the grinding, groaning sound of the Tardis is heard – and what a nice touch that one is, the Doctor coming to the rescue of the Doctor – and Ten and Eleven arrive.

Here is where the story gets a bit muddled for me. The amount of back and forth that Moffat injects into this sequence is almost whiplash inducing. So many times he implies one thing then does a bait and switch. To understand what I mean allow me to tell you what happens. The young Doctors seem at first to have a plan, an alternative to killing the Gallifreyans, but end up placing their hands on top of their elder self on the button at the end, because that’s the way it has to be. But then Eleven comes up with a brilliant idea that offers an alternative choice, and saves the day and the Timelords. Except we see them next sitting in a gallery, drinking tea, and talking as if it all failed. But did it? Because the next thing that happens is that the 4th Doctor appears as a museum curator and tells Eleven that the plan did work after all and his new task is to find his people now trapped inside a painting somewhere in the universe. And that’s the note we end on.

Still  it was an amazing ending and I applaud Moffat for it, especially since it paved the way for an entirely new DW plot, this time with the Doctor following a goal, probably for the first time in his life, and not just space and time hopping for fun.

The one thing that I wasn't clear about in the episode was Clara’s role. It seemed like everyone had something to do except for her. It could be considered reasonable because she’s a companion and is only there to be our entry point to the Doctor’s world. However, while that has been true for the Doctor’s previous companions, it is not for her. The problem with Clara is that she herself is a mystery. If I am to imagine myself as someone on the show that person can’t be a bundle of secrets. She can't beThe Impossible Girl. No viewer can put themselves in those shoes because none of us knows what it really is.

As a final note, if you decide to watch The Day of The Doctor make sure you do it in 3D. It’s an experience that is meant to be watched in that format. Don’t cheat yourself out of this wonderful thing, because those paintings, and the inside of the Tardis as Clara swerves into in on her bike, have to be watched in all their glorious 3 dimensional beauty to be appreciated, otherwise there wouldn't be anything magical or alien about them.



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