TV REVIEW: Doctor Who – “The Day of the Doctor”

Twenty-third of November, 1963. It’s just after five fifteen in the afternoon and audiences around the United Kingdom hear one of the most iconic television theme tunes for the first time, accompanying a strange wibbly-wobbly, visual sequence that was unprecedented on British television. Fifty years, three hours and thirty-nine minutes later and that very same theme music plays once more. “Day of the Doctor” arrived to ninety-four countries simultaneously. Click on to find out my reactions – there are spoilers within!

The Doctors embark on their greatest adventure in this 50th anniversary special. In 2013, something terrible is awakening in London’s National Gallery; in 1562, a murderous plot is afoot in Elizabethan England; and somewhere in space an ancient battle reaches its devastating conclusion. All of reality is at stake as the Doctor’s own dangerous past comes back to haunt him.

Before I get into it, I just want to remind you that I have been a Doctor Who fan for as long as I can remember. My first proper television memory comes from The Five Doctors thirty years ago and I’ve never looked back. I’m also one of those fans who has a tendency to find out teeny tiny details about the show’s past – on and off-screen. So we can end on a high, I’m going to get everything that didn’t work for me out of the way.

Now that that’s over, let’s get on with things!

Actually, I do have a niggle, but it’s a bit spoilery so I’ll save it for near the end and carefully mark it as such. It’s also one that can be forgiven in the context of an anniversary and in no way hindered my enjoyment of the programme.

Firstly, as a long time Doctor Who fan, I have to admire Steven Moffat’s writing. The scribe managed to get so many links to the classic series into the script in a way that in no way detracted from the story to those who have only really seen the re-launched episodes. I was also really worried that too many elements were going to be thrown onto the screen – I’d seen pictures of Daleks, Zygons, Matt Smith, David Tennant, John Hurt, Billy Piper, Jenna Coleman, Jemma Redgrave and UNIT, Queen Elizabeth I (played by Joanna Page). Aaaand breathe. Even with an extra twenty-five minutes to play with, this seemed like a tall ask. I needn’t have worried.

The real beauty of the episode was the balance of elements. At no point did the story seem rushed – hell, parts of the first twenty minutes were snail-paced which perfectly balanced some pretty epic scenes that were intercut with them. Steven Moffat set himself a massive task here. Not only to celebrate fifty years of the programme but to do so with an excellent drama that not only perfectly bridged the “classic series” with “new Who” (I hate those expressions, but there we go), but also allowed the overall story of the show to continue AND to make that seem fresh.

A personal bonus was that the script addressed many of the elements of the re-launched series that have always (in a very small way) grated on me. Catchphrases, silly speak, holding the Sonic Screwdriver like a magic wand rather than a tool, the continuous snogging … John Hurt’s incarnation of the Doctor stands as the bridge. He seems like one of the “old” Doctors and questions the two young men he is faced with. He calls them out at every step but he also offers the reason.

Moffat also manages to bring these incarnations of the Time Lord together in a perfectly reasonable manner while they are all going about their separate adventures. Each story strand comes together perfectly well and each Doctor given time to breathe in their own story before coming together. Heck, it’s nearly twenty minutes before we even see David Tennant in person. Oddly, it was about twenty minutes in that my wife stopped her preparations for an evening out and focussed on the television fully. The script is clever. It’s funny and, on top of everything, it succeeds at everything it attempts to do while giving each character chance to participate in the resolution. A brilliant accomplishment.

Of course, even the best script can be unravelled by poor performances, so let’s look at the people who let the side down.

OK, no-one. I was bowled over by one person in particular – John Hurt’s ninth Doctor. John Hurt lit up the screen in this show, bringing a gravitas and grim, gravel-voiced humour that seemed perfectly fitting for a Doctor who had reached his breaking point. No More. The Time War WILL end and he will end it.

Matt Smith and David Tennant were on their usual form. Smith being wild-armed, gangly brilliance. Tennant slipping easily into his comfy sand shoes and seeming as if he’d never been away. There was an excellent chemistry between the two and the script cleverly allowed them to both get on and disagree during the course of the story. Once our third incarnation of the Time Lord turns up, the differences between the two really begin to show through as they react to the Doctor they tried to forget.

Jenna Coleman also really impressed me this episode. I really grew to love Clara over the course of the story. In past adventures, I’ve found the character to be a bit too perfect (companion-wise) and I thought her story was a bit rushed, compressed as it was into seven episodes. Here, I really believed in the character. Clearly she’s had more off-screen time with the Doctor and has also managed to balance this with a career as a teacher (presumably taking time to train). In many ways, it is Clara who saves the day and her performance at the critical moments, her ability to mock all three of the Doctors when required…Excellent stuff.

I’ll be honest when I say I didn’t want to see Rose in this special. Nothing against Billie Piper or the character but her story was done. The way in which the character is brought in, however, really worked for me and made sense. Billie provided a haunting performance that also brought in some of her character’s cheekiness.

The music in the story was pitched perfectly. I’ve often thought that it’s over used in the re-launched show, underlining every moment and often at too loud a volume. This episode harkened back to the Classic series in so much as the music was much more incidental. It kicked in when required to underscore the key moments without distracting from the action on-screen. Special kudos to the use of the Doctor’s theme, I Am the Doctor, which was performed at an amped up level and seemed elevated from the norm. Superb.

I’m going to get to my niggle now. The cameo that occurs after the action has finished and before the final scene. I thought that was a step too far. To be honest, I thought it was a disservice to the other surviving “classic” Doctors. The concept of the Doctor re-visiting old faces didn’t bother me (quite easy to nip to Karn and ask for that one thanks to Night of the Doctor). It just seemed … unnecessary to the story and was the only real unnecessary piece of fan service in the episode. Of course it does mean I can pretend those BBC audio series with Tom Baker’s Doctor living in a house with a maid and having adventures with Captain Yates actually feature this new incarnation!

To conclude, Day of the Doctor is an excellent story that uses the show’s disparate elements to great effect. It’s a Historical / Present Day / Future story that manages to wrap up so many elements of the programme and push them to new bounds in a perfectly satisfying way. It’s a perfect celebration of the programme that manages to provide a bridge between the old and the new. It’s respectful of both aspects of this phenomenon that’s lasted half a century.

Thank you to all involved with the making of this programme over the years. Every single one of you have my undying gratitude and affection. Thank you to those who kept the spark alive in the wilderness years.

Wonderful people. All of you.

Rating: 5 /5
Reviewer: Wedgedoc

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