(all spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode… or unless you don’t care if it’s spoiled for you. this is a love fest only — all complaints and bitching must come from a place of love / previous: “The Name of the Doctor”)
I’ve been hard on Steven Moffat during his tenure as Doctor Who showrunner, and with, I think, good reason: He appears to value cool ideas over creating a satisfying story to convey those ideas. He has not been kind to his female characters. And he’s constantly painting himself into narrative corners and then skipping out on even attempting to extricate himself. So I was kind of dreading to see what he would do with such an important moment as the show’s half-century mark.
But he got it right with “The Day of the Doctor.” He got it really, really right.
There’s the obvious stuff that needed to be gotten right, and he did that beautifully, from the opening credits
to having Clara teaching at the same school where Susan Foreman met teachers Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton, who ended up traveling with the Doctor.
(And Ian is still involved with the school today!) Nice nod to the show’s very first episode, and to showing the world it created in 1963 still continuing. Bringing back Kate Stewart and UNIT was almost a no-brainer, because it’s evidence that things that the Doctor helped set in motion decades earlier on Earth also continue. But the character of Osgood is a stroke of genius on Moffat’s part:
Of course, we’d previously met UNIT scientific advisor Dr. Malcolm Taylor in “Planet of the Dead” (and we can presume that’s whom Kate is speaking to and about when “Malcolm” is mentioned here a few times), but Osgood takes her love of the Doctor even further, and not just with the scarf, which is hilarious. She practically worships him.
Twice she invokes the Doctor’s name when she’s in trouble — “The Doctor will save me… The Doctor will save me…” (even if that first time, she saves herself!). The Doctor has fans within UNIT — of course he does, he’s legendary there — but Osgood is a stand-in for us fans on the other side of the screen, too.
And there were other little touches that tie in to the past: “reverse the polarity”; Jack’s vortex manipulator. Even the Zygon story on Earth appears to be part of the same plot that we saw in 1975’s “Terror of the Zygons,” in that they want Earth for themselves. And hints of a potentially expansive storyscape to explore: the Black Archive full of all that dangerous stuff; the rich history of multiple 3D Gallifreyan paintings and how they ended up on Earth; anything with a UNIT led by Kate Stewart.
There’s also the tradition — established with the previous two anniversary episodes, the 10th and the 25th 20th — of bringing multiple Doctors together and, more importantly, having them squabble over and make fun of one another’s idiosyncrasies.
Moffat got that all right, too. Some of which comes down to making fun of himself, as a writer and the showrunner… as with how he has let the sonic screwdriver get too powerful and become too easy a storytelling cheat:
Why are you pointing your screwdrivers like that? They’re scientific instruments, not water pistols. –the War Doctor
The pointing again. They’re screwdrivers! What are you gonna do, assemble a cabinet at them? –the War Doctor
And then “The Day of the Doctor” gets down to the serious angst-ridden business of having the Doctors genuinely confront one another… or, actually, having the War Doctor confront what he will become if he does the thing we already know he did: push the button that ended the Time War and wiped out the Daleks (almost), but also burned Gallifrey. In one aspect, “The Day of the Doctor” differs from those other multi-Doctor stories in that we have no previous experience of the earliest Doctor here. (Which would have worked just as well had Paul McGann been the Doctor who fought in the Time War, too. I mean no offense to John Hurt, who is generally awesome and particularly fantastic here, but McGann’s Doctor would have been perfect for this story, because he’s lost out there in the past as the Doctor we barely got to see. And it wouldn’t have introduced the regeneration confusion we’re now left with. I suspect this “War Doctor” stuff is one of those cool ideas that Moffat let get away from him.) And he lets us see the Doctors we do know in a new light, as the War Doctor considers what he will become.
Oh! And it rather ingeniously makes us not miss Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor as much as we might have. (Not that I didn’t want him here, of course — it’s just that Moffat invented a good scenario to account for his lack of presence.) His was the PTSD Doctor, and meeting him probably wouldn’t have influenced the War Doctor much one way or the other, because he must surely expect to be immediately traumatized by what he was about to do when The Moment intervenes to show him what his future will be like. So there was little reason for The Moment to bring him into this.
Yet Nine is represented here, in a way, via The Moment, who appropriates the image of Rose Tyler as a way to interface with the War Doctor.
Rose was the one who helped the Doctor recover, at least a little, from the Time War — she must have really loomed large in the Doctor’s (future) memories for The Moment to latch onto her. And although it isn’t really Rose we see here, this is nevertheless a fitting tribute to Rose and to how important she has been in shaping the new series.
The War Doctor doesn’t know this, of course. All he knows is that he’s meeting his future selves whom he likens to children who seem “ashamed of being a grownup.” That stings him… and it stings us, to be asked to see the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors in a less then flattering light. Moffat gives us a Ten who is a cavalier lover, as if he’s mostly just seeking out fun to drown his regrets in. I mean, even if this
is simply him sussing out an evil Zygon plan, he clearly knows what he’s doing. He’s no novice.
(Nice view, Doctor.)
He didn’t have to go through with the wedding, either. (Is this his wedding the Tenth Doctor said he was rubbish at? Did he fail to come right back after he said he would? Is that why the older Elizabeth in “The Shakespeare Code” was so angry with him? Argh! We see that it’s the young Elizabeth who writes the letter appointing the Doctor the curator of the Undergallery, but she could have revoked that later is she was still as angry as “The Shakespeare Code” suggests. So did the Doctor make it up with her at some point between 1599 and her death in 1603? Or did the letter get passed down through time in spite of her anger?)
Anyway, Ten isn’t just about romance as a ploy:
But he is, perhaps, trying to not think too seriously about anything. We saw him like this a lot — he was the flirtiest Doctor ever — and he seems slightly less fun now in this new light.
And then there’s Eleven, who has gone out of his way to pretend he is a different man to the War Doctor, and even to Nine; he doesn’t even remember that he counted all the dead Gallifreyan children! This Doctor, Eleven, doesn’t even have companions who travel with him regularly — Clara has clearly established her own life on Earth — but on whom he just drops in once in a while. It’s like he’s been cutting himself off from the life and the travels he had before. In a way, Moffat’s Eleventh Doctor has gotten painted into his own corner: it doesn’t feel like there’s room for him to keep doing what he’s doing (and make it work as a TV serial, at least).
With the new Doctor — Peter Capaldi, that is — coming in soon and with how Moffat wraps things up here, there’s a wonderful sense of rejuvenation for the show and the central character. Which it was needing. When I saw what was coming here, that somehow the destruction of Gallifrey was going to be averted, I was worried again: Moffat loves his big reset buttons, and resetting the very premise underlying the new series seemed like a really terrible idea. Yet it works. Sending Gallifrey off into a pocket universe, safe but lost, doesn’t negate anything we’ve seen since 2005 and it doesn’t change the Ninth, Tenth, or Eleventh Doctors. It fits in with the Doctor’s modus operandi, which is to always find a better way than violence to solve problems. And — assuming upcoming episodes are written well — it might give the Twelfth new purpose. Not only a quest, to find Gallifrey, but a new hope in himself, that his usual philosophy really can work all the time.
Here’s the thing about that quest, though: The Doctor can’t ever find Gallifrey. He can’t go home: not literally, and not figuratively. That would, it seems, have to be the end of the show. But as a reason to keep going, to keep traveling? Dangling the prospect of finding Gallifrey before him could keep Doctor Who going for another 50 years.
Random thoughts on “The Day of the Doctor”:
• Tom Baker!
Clearly not the Fourth Doctor, but a hint that this is a future Doctor who was somehow able to choose this face again. (“In years to come you might find yourself revisiting a few” faces.) We knew the regeneration problem would be MacGyvered somehow, and here’s the first hint of that happening… somehow.
1) Who painted “Gallifrey Falls”/“No More” if everyone was dead (or in stasis)? Or does the painting itself imply that Gallifrey was/will be found? (Which doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be the Doctor who finds it.)
2) How did the Doctors get into the “Gallifrey Falls” painting? They weren’t anywhere near it… and we saw the Zygon was right next to it when it got zapped in. Were they already there when Clara looked at the painting for the first time?
Were the Doctors in stasis in the painting for a really long time? Or does that even matter?
3) How did the earlier Doctors get involved in putting Gallifrey into stasis? Was The Moment behind that?
• There’s gotta be a story behind this particular broken-chameleon-circuit’ed TARDIS illustrating the cover of a book about quantum mechanics:
Author encountered the Doctor at some point… and was inspired by his time machine?
• I’m thinking I wanna call this look “timepunk”:
• Wait. Why is a fez too dangerous for public consumption?
• The round things! I love the round things!
There are round(ish) things in the Undergallery:
Could the Undergallery be inside a TARDIS? Or inside the TARDIS?
• High heels are killers, it’s true, but can they help take over a planet?
What could these be doing in the Black Archive?
• Of course UNIT keeps tabs on everyone who has ever had any contact with the Doctor:
Of course they do.
• The Time Lords are very stylish. But that number-eight (or upended infinity) symbol used to be the symbol of only the Prydonians, the Doctor’s academy, not of Gallifrey itself:
Did the Prydonians somehow take over the whole government?
• Great quotes:
“The ravens are looking a bit sluggish. Tell Malcolm they need new batteries.” — Kate Stewart at the Tower of London
“What’s our cover story for this?” –Kate
“Um, Derren Brown.” –Osgood
“Oh, we’ve sent him flowers.” –Osgood
“Big red rubbery thing covered in suckers. Surprisingly good kisser.” –the Tenth Doctor, about Zygons (this is before he’d kissed the Zygon-as-Elizabeth, so he’d kissed a Zygon before now)
“Oy, you! Are you science-y?” –the Eleventh Doctor to Osgood
“Compensating?” –the Tenth Doctor, about the Eleventh’s larger sonic screwdriver
“For what?” –the Eleventh Doctor
“Regeneration. It’s a lottery.” –the Tenth Doctor (zing!)
“Malcolm? I need you to send me one of my father’s incident files codenamed Cromer. Seventies or Eighties, depending on the dating protocol.” –Kate, neatly retconning the dating problem with 70’s UNIT episodes (which sometimes had a character mentioning the date was in the 80s)
“That is not the Queen of England! That is an alien duplicate!” –the Tenth Doctor
“And you can take it from him, he’s really checked.” –the Eleventh Doctor
“Oh, shut up.” –the Tenth Doctor
“Venom sacs in the tongue.” –the Eleventh Doctor
“Seriously, stop it.” –the Tenth Doctor
“The sonic won’t work on that, it’s too primitive.” –the Tenth Doctor to the War Doctor as he sonics the door to their Tower of London cell
“Shall we ask for a better quality of door so we can escape?” –the Eleventh Doctor
“Think about it: Americans with the ability to rewrite history? You’ve seen their movies…” –Kate (or, really, Zygon-duplicate Kate, which means Zygons watch Hollywood movies, maybe, or else that was just from Kate’s memories; I prefer the former)
“Alien technology plus human stupidity. Trust me, it’s unbeatable.” –the Eleventh Doctor
(next: “The Time of the Doctor”)