Review: “The Day Of The Doctor”

Look, that was never going to please everyone. Not even by a long shot.

“The Day Of The Doctor,” a special event movie airing on the 50th anniversary of “Doctor Who,” was designed as a celebration of the past as well as a way to point to the future. As someone not exactly pleased with the last few seasons of the show, I watched out of professional curiosity and because, let’s face it, I’m the kind of guy who says, “God, what terrible fan pandering, having David Tenant’s last words in this movie be his last words on the show, how stupid, how OH MY GOD IT’S TOM BAKER AND I’M 10 AGAIN!”

So, yea, context is key.

day-of-the-doctor-pics-3-smith-hurt-tennant.jpg“The Day Of The Doctor” had a lot of work to do, mostly in terms of trying to explain the existence of a Doctor never before seen. The potential for undoing the entire modern-era series was in play, along with the central psychological conceit of the past three Doctors: a man constantly suffering from the PSTD disorder of ending The Time War by wiping out the Daleks as well as Gallifreyans. Doing so wouldn’t just mess with narrative continuity, but potentially character continuity as well. Luckily, Stephen Moffat found a way to keep basically everything intact: no one but Eleven knows that the plan enacted to turn Gallifrey into the Bottle City of Kandor worked, leaving War Doctor (who exists between Eight And Nine) and Ten unaware thanks to the timey-wimey nature of memory.

But what’s really interesting about all this is where this potentially leads with the introduction of Twelve in next month’s Christmas special. Twelve did appear in “The Day Of The Doctor” (well, his eyes did) as part of the All Tardis, All The Space And Time Brigade that descended upon Gallifrey. (If you think about it, Moffat plagiarized himself, stealing the last moments of “Blink” in using the enemy’s tactics against themselves.) But regardless of how Peter Capaldi actually plays The Doctor, he’ll play one with a positive momentum rather than a negative weight. He will be the first Doctor in the modern era not to have the weight of genocide lurking behind otherwise happy eyes. That’s not to that that the show will turn into puppies and rainbows, but it’s nice to think about the show not having to play the same psychological beats over and over again.

As for the rest of the special…well, it was pretty hit or miss. The Zygon stuff helped propel the plot a bit, but really felt part of another story entirely. I understand the parallels Moffat was going for in helping War Doctor, Ten, and Eleven reach their ultimate breakthrough, but dear god shapeshifting is dull as a storytelling trick. I’m sure there are parts of the Internet livid that Billie Piper didn’t appear as Rose Tyler, but as noted above, every part of fandom was probably equally pleased and disappointed by certain aspects of the special. I didn’t have much of an affinity for Rose: I liked her fine, but also quite enjoyed Piper’s performance tonight. I still have a pretty big Clara problem, in that the show keeps telling me how amazing and brilliant she is, when in reality it doesn’t show those aspects. The fact that she and Matt Smith are written THE EXACT SAME WAY gives their dialogue too much…um, same-y wame-y, if we’re going to use “Who”-speak here. Again, my problem lies with the character, not the actress. Clara right now is a one-stop shop for fixing every problem in the universe at this point, turning her into a deus ex Oswald at this stage of the game.

There are moments that will always work for me in “Doctor Who,” no matter how much I try to put on a pouty face and sneer at the TV. “I Am The Doctor” is one of THE great pieces of heroic theme music ever composed, the modern era uses it roughly eighteen minutes per episode, and I NEVER get sick of it. Seeing the three Doctors land in the middle of the Time War and blow a Dalek through a space painting into modern-day London? Dope, even if all the FX budget apparently went into Clara driving a motorcycle into the TARDIS earlier in the episode. And while Matt Smith and David Tennant clearly want to move past this era of their careers and do new things…maybe they could do them together? Can you imagine these two speaking Tom Stoppard’s words? Dear God, the possibilities. And the fanfic. God Almighty, the fanfic, which has already started springing up all over Tumblr in the immediate aftermath of today’s special.

I wouldn’t say I’m suddenly back on board with “Doctor Who,” but the removal of the Time War guilt, coupled with the new energy Capaldi will bring, at least holds the promise, if not the guarantee, of something new. Ultimately, it will take Moffat’s departure to really turn things around (as I noted earlier this summer). Even when his gender politics aren’t a problem, he only has a few tricks in his bag, and the repetition is showing. But there was enough of the old joy here to remind me why I’ve watched so many episodes of this show, and why it will be almost impossible for me to ever stop. For now, I guess I’ve decided to let Zygons be Zygons and forge bravely ahead.

2 Comments

  1. Ken from Chicago
    Posted November 23, 2013 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Yep, it was good, flawed, but good. And yes DOCTOR WHO could use a … punk rock movement. Rumor has it Shonda Rhimes wants to go into scifi. Olivia Pope-type, Washington DC fixer–and TimeLord-er TimeLADY (and space and time “fixer”) would be fantastic.

  2. Carolyn Egan
    Posted November 23, 2013 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    Good review and I agree with most of your observations….except your contention that Moffat somehow cured the problem of the disappearance of the time war - a central feature of the Tennant years and character - by suggesting that the other doctors won’t remember. Huh? So how (and why) the heck did 10 regenerate if there never was a time war to begin with? Are we supposed to understand that it DID occur but on a different time line? Double - “huh”? As brilliant as Moffat can be, he ties himself up in knots in many of his plots…relying almost exclusively on “Deus ex machina” to solve plot dilemmas. This tendency actually made me less inclined to watch his episodes in recent years….There is too much cheating going on. (”Paradox? What’s a Paradox?”) I agree with your comments on the new creatures - the Zygon - ridiculous,superfluous and boring: Another “patch” to an incautious allusion during the R.T. Daves years that 10 had an affair with Queen Liz I. Ugh. Hated that then; hate it now. I loved Tennant in this episode, however. Incredible that he can come back to the character so convincingly.

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