The entire world has seen it and now Lee gives us his educated opinion. Was Doctor Who’s 50th special one of the best episodes ever?
Waiting for the 50th Anniversary special was the Whovian equivalent of waiting for Christmas Day. Your head is filled with wants and wishes, and when the day arrives you anticipate certain things as the presents are unwrapped. In 75 minutes, Steven Moffat wrote a story that was not only everything one would have expected, but there were thrills and surprises no one was anticipating. This truly was a special worthy of the name.
The plot itself takes place over three timelines with three Doctors. The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) is in the present day and his TARDIS is airlifted to the National Gallery in London, after picking up a Clara (Jenna Coleman) on a motorcycle. Here, Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) informs The Doctor he has a message from Elizabeth I (Joanna Page). Also, certain things have been getting out of the paintings – Time Lord art that is bigger on the inside, what a brilliant idea! Yet one particular artwork catches The Doctor’s eye. A painting that depicts the fall of Gallifrey during the Time War…
This leads us back into the battle with our War Doctor (John Hurt), who has broken into the vaults of Gallifrey to steal a weapon known only as “The Moment,” a doomsday device that could destroy both the Time Lords and Daleks alike. Just as he prepares to detonate it, the sentient being inside the weapon has taken the form of Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), who tries to dissuade him from using it by showing him his future in a reverse way to Dickens’ Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.
The third story taking place is with The Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Elizabeth I, and they seem to share quite a nice relationship – I am sure you all remember Elizabeth I trying to have Ten executed at the end of “The Shakespeare Code” in series three. Ten agrees to marry the Queen after mistaking her real self for a Zygon, who is actually disguised as the horse they rode on. The Zygons have lost their planet, because of the Time War, so now they want Earth. (For the record, this is only the second time they have been used in fifty years, originally appearing in 70s classic “Terror of the Zygons.)
The three timelines converge quite brilliantly using time fissures and a Fez. The Three Doctors join together and everything is just so wonderful and witty from then on. Matt, David and John have such great chemistry, and every scene they are in works brilliantly. They can all be so serious in one scene and in others make you laugh out loud. The sequence with Ten and Eleven’s first meeting is a particular highlight of the more comedic moments.
A lot of talk leading up to this special hinted at Hurt’s Doctor being a darker version of the Time Lord, but that is not what is played out here. He is charming, commanding, and rather regretful about the state of the Time War and what he feels he has to do. He was simply The Doctor on the day when it was “impossible to get it right,” as Eleven reminds himself. The younger incarnation with an older face does not mind telling his future selves off, and humorously disapproves of their use of catchphrases and Sonic Screwdrivers.
The resolution of The Doctors coming together to save Gallifrey was a rather crazy and epic idea, but one that is typical of the Moffat era. The episode was full of big, grand-scale concepts and they were used to their full potential. The change of continuity to save Gallifrey will certainly come up again in future storylines. The search for his home planet will begin next series, for sure. With Hurt’s Doctor now seemingly a “proper” regeneration, it appears our hero has run out of lives, but how in the universe was Peter Capaldi’s Thirteenth Doctor present (great surprise, by the way)? Well, at Christmas we will find out during the fall of the Eleventh in “The Time of The Doctor.”
I was glad that Moffat kept clear from giving us every Doctor in person here (it was impossible anyway), but seeing them all again through archive clips and pictures worked exceedingly well – if you haven’t seen “The Five(ish) Doctors” on the Doctor Who website, there’s a nice little surprise for you there, too. How great was it to see all The Doctor’s save Gallifrey, though? Breathtaking. Then, in the epilogue, we had a scene with a seemingly retired Doctor assuming the mantle of a curator at the National Gallery. With Eleven considering that role for himself, there he was… with that beautifully bombastic voice, Tom Baker. The short scene was the television moment of the year. I love that this centuries-old Time Lord would revisit an old face and retire in an art gallery. It is very him, and of course he would revisit that particular face! Baker was the perfect nod to the past, and in many ways, Hurt’s Doctor represented them all in his own way (although, it seems to me that role was written for Christopher Eccleston). The other nods to the past were plentiful. The opening titles were the 60s incarnation, a Police Constable walks past I.M. Foreman’s scrapyard, Clara now works at Coal Hill School (Ian Chesterton is now Chairman of the Governors), Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) is seen with a Fourth Doctor scarf, the “round things” in the old TARDIS, a board in the Black Archive with all the companions pinned to it, and so many more scattered throughout. The sentimentality was already ramped up by the time we see all of The Doctors looking at Gallifrey to close the episode. Wow.
“The Day of The Doctor” was not perfect, and on any other day, it would receive some criticism. The pacing is all over the place but that is not surprising considering how much had to be packed in. The Zygons are wasted but they will surely come back next series. Does any of that matter? No, not in the slightest. Nick Hurran’s direction was better than most films, and I am reliably informed that the 3D was well-used (sadly, I only saw the episode in 2D). Every performance was top-notch. I want to watch Matt and David work together again in the future. You can see they had so much fun. And what can be said about Hurt that hasn’t already been said? He’s one of our finest actors, and it was a privilege to see him in Doctor Who. Piper was also great as The Moment (I’m glad it wasn’t Rose as her story was done so long ago), and Jenna Coleman gives us a great, understated turn as the latest companion. Clara is a much better assistant without a mystery surrounding her.
No matter how you celebrated the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who (I was lucky enough to go to London for the excellent official celebration event), the special episode was always going to be the centrepiece of it all. “The Day of The Doctor” was a sensational episode that was beautifully sentimental but also gave us a story that has now changed the future of the show. Its complexity will lead some to watch it again, but why wouldn’t you? You will watch this episode again and again. Many happy returns, Doctor…