Day of the Doctor exceeded expectations by a mile


50 years in the making, the ‘Doctor Who’ anniversary special gave us several time lords, TARDISes and plot twists. And I can’t believe it worked.


If we’re being quite honest, I was expecting this to go very, very poorly. An hour-long special written by Steven Moffat (whose time as showrunner on Doctor Who has produced some of my least favorite story arcs) focusing almost entirely on the “new Who” Doctors and throwing in John Hurt as the not-Doctor-who-screws-up-the-numbering-system — it could have gone ridiculously bad. I was bracing myself for Moffat to screw it up royally, is what I’m saying. I was prepared to sigh and go, “Well, that was … something.”  I was prepared for disaster, but hoping for something decent.

And what did we get? We got pretty freaking good … and that might be the most surprising thing about this special full of surprises.

I can appreciate just how restrained Moffat was with the plots. He tends to write convoluted twists and turns in his regular episodes that sometimes work but often just kind of fall apart (remember the Statue of Liberty in “Angels in Manhattan”?). Even with balancing the Queen Elizabeth I’s alien clone, the present day painting mystery and the Time War, the special slowly but surely connected them together well. That in itself was a relief as someone who has been watching the last couple seasons.

Doctor Who is all about persistence, about finding a way.
We knew going into Day of the Doctor that John Hurt’s Warrior-Doctor (I’m not sure if they gave him an official name since he rejected the name “Doctor”) was the one that did something unforgivable, which most fans guessed was destroying Gallifrey. It’s been haunting the Doctor since the show’s revival, so I’m was hesitant when I realized towards the end of the special that they were going to find a way to save the time lord home world. But Doctor Who is all about persistence, about finding a way. One Doctor might not have been able to save it, but three of them (along with nine pasts and one future) working together could do it, especially when such a focus was on saving the children of Gallifrey along with the adults. Even if that’s a huge change to the mythos, it felt in character for them to find the solution.

Even now I wonder if removing that great sin of the Doctor was a mistake, but it doesn’t change the Doctor’s past guilt — both Warrior-Doctor and 10 don’t remember any of this, so everything he’s felt in past seasons is still how he felt and part of his legacy. I’m a stickler when it comes to time travel paradox stuff (I know, ironic considering I love a show that plays loose with paradoxes all the time) but I was relieved they didn’t just erase the Doctor’s past guilt over l, which has been such a huge motivator for so many past storylines. At the same time, I’m also trying to figure out if this ties in with “The End of Time” or retcons it.

[T]he part that tickled me the most was Warrior-Doctor’s reactions to the quirky “new Whovian” stuff of 10 and 11.
But let’s face it, the big pull for this special was David Tennant and Matt Smith together. I went into it seeing a few of their moments already in the previews, but all of their scenes together were great. Their back and forth feels absolutely effortless and every moment with them was a joy to watch — again, not a surprise in the slightest to fans of the show. The whole special reminded me of how much I miss Tennant’s Doctor (despite liking Smith’s Doctor, mind you) and we finally got to see what went down with him and Queen Elizabeth the First. But the part that tickled me the most was Warrior-Doctor’s reactions to the quirky “new Whovian” stuff of 10 and 11. Between calling them out for using their screwdrivers “like water pistols” and mocking 11 for the ever quotable “wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey,” it was a nice and deserved tongue-in-cheek ribbing of the newer writing.

It’s not a perfect special — while I’m glad we finally got some details on 10’s disastrous romance with Elizabeth, they played the Queen as a bit ridiculous and 10 not super interested in her. I’m also on the fence about Billie Piper’s appearance — on one hand, it would have been far too easy for them just to shove Rose Tyler right into the story just for the heck of it and kudos to them for not doing that. I enjoyed how the entity tried to take on a figure the Warrior-Doctor would remember and accidentally pulled from his future — she actually reminded me of the TARDIS in “The Doctor’s Wife” in that regard. Still, there’s a part of my fan heart that wishes 1o could have seen the Bad Wolf entity. It works fine without that moment, but I kept waiting for it and it didn’t happen.

Moffat had said that none of the older Doctors would be part of the anniversary. Turns out it’s not just the Doctor who lies.
However, the big, big surprise of the special came right at the very end. I had a feeling we’d find out sooner or later who brought the painting to where it needed to be. I thought perhaps it was going to be another shot of Peter Capaldi, showing us a vision into who will be our new Doctor in just a few months. I was NOT expecting Tom Baker. Part of that was because Moffat had said that none of the older Doctors would be part of the anniversary. Turns out it’s not just the Doctor who lies. The twist and then lovely performance by Baker (along with Smith’s perfect reaction) really pushed the special from solid to genuinely good, especially when you realize the “curator” probably gave the one scientist her scarf. As a fan who has only gotten to see bits and pieces of the older seasons, Baker’s small role in the special is making me want to go back and watch more classic Who … and funnily enough, I have a friend who plans to finally check out Smith’s seasons after watching the special himself.

The special was never going to be perfect. The show started  50 years ago this weekend — even taking away the years the show was on hiatus/sort of cancelled, Doctor Who has decades of story that the special celebrated in just an hour. They couldn’t fit in everything, but there was a surprising balance of old and new — perhaps that’s best represented by the Brigadier’s daughter Kate Stewart, who was introduced in the show last year and is one of the key players in the museum mystery storyline during the special.

Most fans I’ve talked to (both those who started with the older series and the ones who found it through Eccleson’s or Tennant’s or Smith’s runs) were seriously worried that this was Moffat celebrating Moffat. Everything considered, The Day of the Doctor was about the Doctor, in all his personifications. It was about where he’s been and where he’s going and why five decades of fans have come to embrace him.

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Photo Credit: BBC

One Comment on “Day of the Doctor exceeded expectations by a mile

  1. I thought it was brilliant. As one who started with Tom Baker way back in the day I loved seeing him pop up in the show. I thought the script was fantastic in it’s treatment of “the” key moment in the doctor’s backstory and the resolution was wonderful. As you said, it all came together. My wife even mentioned earlier “how did that picture get into the vault”, which was cleverly explained later on in the episode. The pacing was great, Tenant and Smith were great, Hurt was excellent and I love Jenna-Louise Coleman. I’m glad they chose to bring back Billie Piper without making her really Rose Tyler.

    Incredibly well written and an excellent 50th special. I would have loved to have seen a bit with Eccelston…but I guess you can’t have everything…