How do you commemorate a television series that’s been around [on and off] for 50 years? That’s more than twice my current age. In putting together this 50th anniversary episode, Steven Moffat had a big job ahead of him, and after watching the episode twice [at the cinema this afternoon, and then this evening on the television at home], I’m quite pleased to say that he damn near pulled it off. No, “The Day of the Doctor” wasn’t perfect [but really, is any Doctor Who episode?], but it did manage to both celebrate the history of the series, while also telling a story that not only satisfied as a standalone episode, but also set up a whole new chapter for the life of the Doctor. And that’s a pretty impressive feat.
It may come as a surprise to some people, but my first Doctor was actually William Hartnell. When the 2005 reboot was first announced, the ABC started airing Classic Who on weeknights at 6pm, starting with the very first episode. Mum had watched the series as a child, but was too young for the First Doctor, so we watched it together, for the first time. While I enjoyed the show, I only watched it for a month or so. With the serialised storytelling, it was sometimes difficult to follow if I’d missed one or two episodes, and I was busy with my high school social life [read: shifts at work, and afternoon music rehearsals].
My first taste of New Who was “The Empty Child”. As a Press Gang fan, I was keen to see what Steven Moffat had written. It was a good episode, as was “The Doctor Dances”. They were enough to draw me in until the end of the first season. But then I stopped watching. There are still a couple of season one [of New Who] episodes that I haven’t seen. And I can’t bring myself to watch much of season two [I'm just not a fan of Rose]. But after that, well, I’ve got it covered. I think it was actually Torchwood that made me the Whovian that I am today, which is strange, because there is a lot of Torchwood that I don’t think is particularly good. But somehow it’s the series that managed to really pull me into the world of Doctor Who and keep me there.
While watching seasons three and four, I thought that David Tennant was my Doctor. Because apparently Who fans need to have just one of those; one Doctor who we cherish above all others. But once Matt Smith took over, I started to think that maybe I was more of an Eleven – partly because he travelled with my favourite companion [Rory!], but also because he made me more loyal. I still haven’t seen every David Tennant episode, so how could I possibly call Ten my Doctor? What if it’s actually Peter Capaldi? After thinking about this for way too long, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m allowed to have more than one Doctor – we all are – and the fact that the show continues to make me reconsider who my favourite really is, is a testament to how I’ve been captured into its world, where every Doctor is able to draw me in just that little bit more than the previous one.
Decked out in my Doctor WHO t-shirt [last seen here], at 12pm today, I donned a pair of 3D glasses, and watched “The Day of the Doctor” in a cinema full of Whovians. There were so many Doctor Who t-shirts and hats, and everyone there was excited. I don’t know how many people had already watched the episode at home – I’d chosen to hide from the internet instead. I wanted to see it for the first time on the big screen. And was it worth it? Damn straight, it was.
From the very beginning, in which we were instructed in Sontaran cinema etiquette, to the final notes of the closing credits, “The Day of the Doctor” won me over. I enjoyed the little nods to the Doctors of old, and the photos of past companions on the board in the Black Archive. The Doctor’s sudden disappearance after marrying Queen Elizabeth I explained her desire to have him killed in “The Shakespeare Code”, and had been mentioned in passing in many other episodes. The continuity – which is always a little odd in the world of Doctor Who – worked as a celebration of the series. Fighting the Zygons was a brave choice; while I love the Daleks, they aren’t quite as threatening as they once were. I liked the way John Hurt’s Doctor criticised his later regenerations for their silly words and mannerisms, echoing the sentiments of many Classic Who fans. I was surprised by the cameos from both Tom Baker and Peter Capaldi’s eyebrows – and very happy to see them. And I really liked that Rose wasn’t actually there as Rose and that we didn’t have to put up with any of that Rose-is-the-Doctor’s-true-love nonsense.
All of that is not to say that the episode did not have its flaws. Having now watched it for a second time, there were a few moments in which I wished more of a reference to the Doctors and companions of old could have been made. While I saw Susan and Rory on the board in the Black Archive, it would have been nice to see Donna or Sarah Jane. All I would have asked for is a panning shot along the board, showing all of the people on it. And while I don’t want to be too nitpicky, I didn’t quite understand the casting of Joanna Page as Queen Liz the First. As far as I’m aware, the Virgin Queen wasn’t Welsh. But it could have been a lot worse.
Seeing all of the Doctors working together to save Gallifrey was a brilliant touch. I don’t quite understand the timey-wimey of it all, but I like that everyone was briefly acknowledged. I do wish, however, they they hadn’t put together that awful shot at the very end, with the three actors standing amongst a whole lot of still images. It looked ridiculous at the cinema, and my forgiving home television was hardly any better. It would have been better if they’d stuck to the reverse shot with a group of body doubles. But then again, it’s hardly the worst special effects that Doctor Who has ever seen [speaking of special effects, the 3D version of the episode was very well put-together, and despite being somebody who doesn't like 3D movies, I was quite happy with it].
With the Christmas Special soon approaching, it’s almost time to say goodbye to Matt Smith, and welcome Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor. While I’m a little sad to see Matt go, I’m really excited to see where the show is heading next. “The Day of the Doctor” has set up a new story for the Doctor, the quest to find Gallifrey, and I’m sure there’s much more to come. This may be the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who, but the show is still going strong. Here’s to another 50 years…
[Image from GeekTyrant.]
Want to read some more Doctor Who-related blog posts? Alex has written all sorts of things over at Adventures in TV-Land [see here, here and here], and Lizzy has told here own story here on Hum Drum Plum.