Monday, November 25, 2013

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

The Doctor Who 50th Anniversary has come and gone but this week at Fruitless Pursuits we're not quite ready to hang up our Fez's and say it's over.

Join me under the cut for a reaction post to the wonderfully light and funny 50th Anniversary special The Day of the Doctor.


The Day of the Doctor sees Matt Smith's Doctor and his companion Clara picked up by UNIT to investigate a letter from Queen Elizabeth I. A painting called; No More or Gallifrey Falls intrigues the Doctor. The painting is of the day the Doctor destroyed all of the Time Lords and the Daleks during the Time War but isn’t actually just a painting, it is a moment trapped in time.

As the Doctor remembers that day we are introduced to John Hurt’s War Doctor, and his lead up to his final act in the Time War. The Time Lords discover that he has stolen The Moment; a device so powerful that it became sentient and could pass judgement on its user. The Moment appears using the avatar of Rose Tyler, mistakenly believing that the Doctor will recognise and sympathise with her when John Hurt's Doctor has never met her. She refers to herself as Bad Wolf Girl and tells him that his punishment, should he destroy Gallifrey, will be to live. In an attempt to show him his future, she opens a portal in time and space to both Matt Smith and David Tennant's Doctor's.

Meanwhile, Matt Smith's Doctor discovers that a previous incarnation of himself, David Tennant's Doctor, has changed history and married Queen Elizabeth I - previously known as the Virgin Queen. While investigating other paintings that appear to have been broken from the inside, a portal opens and the Doctor remembers that he needs to throw his Fez through and greet himself on the other side.

David Tennant's Doctor has proposed to the Queen in a bid to reveal her as a Zygon - a red alien, covered in suckers that can take human form. He is mistaken (the Zygon ends up being his horse) and the creature chases them through the woods and takes on the Queen's form. This leads to all three Doctor's meeting each other and racing against time to prevent the Zygon invasion of future Earth and the potential destruction of both London and Gallifrey.


Tributes to the early series were amazing. The opening credits that were ground breaking at the time were used to open the episode. The TARDIS was parked in the same junkyard as in the first series and Clara was teaching at the same school that Susan went to. It was pretty magical and certainly added value to long time fans whilst not detracting from the experience of newer fans.

Matt Smith's Doctor was funny and played off David Tennant's Doctor especially well. Even when they were matching actions, their styles of movement were so authentically their own Doctor's and so casually performed that it was often mind blowing. Smith managed to carefully walk the line between being the oldest and wisest of them and also being the most childlike in his desire to forget.

David Tennant's Doctor slipped back into his charming self, getting snogged left and right and saying very strange things at break neck speed. How he managed to transform himself completely back into his Doctor I have no idea. I had missed him but having him standing right next to Matt Smith further confirmed for me why I love Matt Smith's Doctor more (even though choosing between them is like choosing between children). This is why Clara's comment when she sees her Doctor about to do something terrible really resonates. She tells him that John Hurt is the warrior and we already have enough of those. She tells him that David Tennant is the hero and given that his Doctor had a serious hero/God complex it seemed fitting. She told him to be what he has always been; a Doctor.

For me, this is the fundamental difference between David Tennant and Matt Smith's Doctors; the man who regrets tries to save everyone and tries to defy free will and the power of the universe. The man who forgets tries to get back to basics and remember who he is at his heart. I think Matt Smith is more like Christopher Eccleston's Doctor in this way - sometimes; everybody lives. Eccleston’s Doctor was trying to make up for the Time War and be the Doctor again, but when the Dalek's came back it opened up the internal dialogue and the regret that needed to happen. Matt Smith brings elements of that man back and I love that connection.

John Hurt's War Doctor was simply magical. I desperately want to see his stories and yet it seems clear that so much of what he would be doing would not be compatible with the series. I wondered if he had ever had a companion and I think not. I think this is what the Doctor can become if he is left alone for too long and certainly what the Doctor knew he couldn't do in front of a companion. I loved the older and crankier moments intermingled with the spark of humour. I loved both the wisdom and vulnerability in his portrayal and this is making me so excited for the 13th Doctor - yes; because John Hurt's confirmation as an authentic Doctor puts him in the 9th Doctor position, Christopher Eccleston in the 10th, David Tennant in the 11th and Matt Smith in the 12th; making Peter Capaldi the 13th and final incarnation of the Doctor in this set of regenerations.

The three Doctors interacting included a lot of fan-service yes; but it was also gold. The Doctor arguing with himself and then acknowledging that this is what he's like when he is alone was brilliant. The differences between the man who regrets what has happened and who he has become versus the man who wants to forget because it's too painful was so beautifully illustrated. When they come together to press the button and destroy Gallifrey together it's a really heart breaking scene; all of these different men, one and the same, trying to take responsibility for what they have done. John Hurt's comment: “great men are forged in fire, it is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame” nearly tore my heart out... and then Rose/the avatar telling the Doctor that the sound of the TARDIS gives hope to anyone who hears it... even him, was just perfect. Prompted by Clara, the team of Doctors think of a way to not have to destroy Gallifrey at all, thus allowing them all to continue to be the Doctor including John Hurt.

The humour between the three Doctors was brilliant. All the comments about sand shoes, chins and pointing the screwdriver were hilarious and not overdone. I liked when they discovered a likeness or did things at the same time just because they could... and that John Hurt's Doctor just would not play ball. I loved John Hurt mistaking both of his future selves as companions and commenting that they get younger and younger. My favourite joke though (aside from the bunny, I don't know why that was so funny but it was) was when they flip their levers and yell their catch phrases! Matt Smith goes "Geronimo!" David Tennant goes "Allonsy!" and John Hurt goes "Oh for GODSAKE... Gallifrey Stands!" I love you old man. I LOVE YOU.

Jenna-Louise Coleman's Clara was actually pretty great in this episode. I found Clara in season 7 to be more miss than hit. As Oswin she had so much promise and even in the Christmas special The Snowmen she was really good. From that point on, the only hint of a great companion came in Nightmare in Silver. At least this episode developed her into more of a strong companion and gave her a different outlook. Wonderfully, post The Name of the Doctor, Clara now knows and trusts the Doctor much more than before. Having been scattered across his timeline she completely trusts him and understands him. It makes sense that she can look at him and know what he is feeling, that she feels protective of him and that she is a true and constant friend. It's a real shame there is only one episode left with the two of them together now that they have really hit their stride.

Billie Piper returned as the avatar for The Moment and it actually worked pretty well (especially on second viewing) because it reversed the idea that her character was reduced to her love for David Tennant's Doctor. The Rose I really loved was Christopher Eccleston's Rose and this performance harks back to that time. She get's to be a true guiding voice again but interacts primarily with John Hurt's Doctor. It's a breath of fresh air for both of the characters. Her appearance not only brings back the Bad Wolf saga but also ties in nicely with Christopher Eccleston's Doctor choosing her to be his companion. Although he might not remember how he knows her, he has seen her before.

As companions then, in a Doctor heavy episode, both Clara and Rose brought back the main idea behind companions generally; to keep the Doctor true to his name, to open up possibility and to help him see what might not be immediately obvious. Both of them had magical moments in suggesting ideas to their Doctor's and wanting to see them succeed. Clara was resourceful, brave and vulnerable. Rose was sensitive, kind and guiding. It was a pretty great use of companions in an episode that could have easily had them completely overshadowed and reduced to screaming background fixtures.

The female contingent was also bolstered by the return of UNIT and Kate Stewart as well has her assistant Osgood who was sporting a Tom Baker Doctor Who scarf (clearly given to her by the man himself!!!!). Kate Stewart was fantastic in The Power of Three and the idea that she might become a recurring character, especially in Capaldi's season, is really exciting. I loved the wall of companions in the Black Archive. If you look closely you can see all sorts of previous additions to the TARDIS crew. This is also our only inclusion of Rory and Amy in the 50th Anniversary episode; probably a good thing.

Although it was fantastic to see the montage of all of the Doctor's contributing in the end to the rescue of Gallifrey, that part didn't make total sense. All they really needed was a line that suggested that these Doctor's had sent a message through time and space to their past selves to come to this point and help. It makes sense that they might not remember given the crossing of time streams (wibbly-wobbly) but without the message it doesn't make sense that any Doctor, from 8th backwards, would be there. On the other hand, it makes complete sense that Peter Capaldi's Doctor would be there, as it seems that Matt Smith's Doctor is the only one who will retain memory of the event. Let me tell you, in the cinema, at the moment when it was said that all 13 Doctor's were there and Peter Capaldi's face came into view there was a lot of whooping and screaming. What a fantastic addition and moment. Oh my God I am excited for that regeneration!

At the end of the episode, when Matt Smith's Doctor is the only one left he comments that he could become a curator of the art in the place where the painting No More/Gallifrey Falls is stored. A man appears behind him and says that maybe he will. I totally expected it to be Peter Capaldi but it was Tom Baker!!!! He tells Matt Smith's Doctor that the real name of the painting is 'Gallifrey Falls No More' and that this means that Gallifrey is still out there, in a pocket universe. He explains that the Doctor revisits some of his old favourite faces in the later years - hence why he is Tom Baker again. Matt Smith's Doctor asks if this is what he is supposed to do now; find Gallifrey. This scene is important for a lot of reasons. Firstly, one can ascertain from the re-appearance of Tom Baker and his comment that the Doctor is successful in obtaining further regenerations. We now know that Gallifrey still exists and given that they are the only ones, aside from the Sisterhood of Karn, who can grant more regenerations, Peter Capaldi's Doctor is probably going to spend his season trying to find them. We also know that the Doctor can control his regenerations in the future - hence picking some of his old faces. The Sisterhood of Karn mentioned this skill in the Night of the Doctor special as advanced Time Lord science. If the Doctor can now control his regeneration then random assignment is no longer a detail; in fact he can choose to be a woman if he wants to. This is all very exciting. Bring on next season!

As a side note; if you didn't get to see the episode in the cinema, there were extra bits and pieces that you will hopefully be able to find online/on the DVD. There is a skit with the Sontaran's and Strax which details cinema etiquette and also talks about popcorn being feasting on the corpses of tiny exploded corn people and hearing their screams when you chew. The other is of Matt Smith as the Doctor greeting us for the 100th episode in 12D which he is quickly corrected about, telling us that there are Zygons in the audience and he can't help us, and switching us over to 3D - at which point David Tennant's Doctor appears to warn us to watch out for the chin when Matt Smith switches to 3D. Hilarious.

All up, a really fun cinema experience and generally speaking, episode and celebration. I'd say the episode was like Swiss cheese - there might have been holes but it's still enjoyable.

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