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.
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.
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.
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.