So I’ve had a week to contemplate the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special, The Day of the Doctor. I’ve been able to watch it twice and come up with some thoughts. Here’s my Three Strikes for the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly from The Day of the Doctor. <Spoiler Warning>
There was so much to love about the special that it is hard to narrow down to just three things. I have to give honorable mention to the many subtle references to the rich history of Doctor Who, to the wonderful interaction between Matt Smith and David Tennant, and to the subtle yet important role (well acted, I might add) that Jenna Louise Coleman played. But here are my three favorite things about this special:
Strike 1 – The return of Billie Piper not as Rose Tyler, but as the time vortex filled Bad Wolf. From her response to “the interface is hot” (“Well I do my best”) to her final attempt to stop the Doctor (“You know that sound the TARDIS makes?”), Billie Piper proves why she is such a fan favorite. As good as the dialogue between the three Doctors was, the interaction between John Hurt’s Doctor and Billie Piper’s Bad Wolf-Moment made the show much more than a typical Doctor Who romp through future past/history to come. Although only John Hurt’s Doctor can see and interact with her, she manages to add both a bright spark and an emotional depth with what can only be described as an exceptional performance.
Strike 2 – There were a few enjoyable references to “New Who” thrown into the mix, but the one I treasured the most was the homage to David Tennant’s departure from the show. When the Doctor uttered the now famous line, “I don’t wanna go” it created an emotional storm in me. At the same time I realize how wonderful it was to see Tennant in action again as the Doctor and I relived the raw feeling I felt at his original departure. Originally, I think one of the things that turned me off of Matt Smith’s Doctor was the comic portrayal written into his first scene. After the scalding of Tennant’s departure, it was simply too much to take. But as time went on, Smith’s Doctor grew on me and while I’m glad for the growth of the show, I will be sad to see him go. His line following Tennant, “He always says that” simply added to the feelings of closure and completeness for Tennant’s Doctor. As scarred as I felt after Tennant’s original departure, these two lines in the special helped me feel healed of those scars.
Strike 3 – The inclusion of Tom Baker as the curator was everything it needed to be. One more homage to “Original Who” and an actual appearance by the most amazing (in my opinion) and the longest tenured Doctor ever. Including Baker as a brief glimpse into the possible future of the Doctor (see below) was just amazing, and the phrasing and gestures and eyes of Baker’s Doctor reminded me of the Doctor that made me fall in love with Doctor Who to begin with.
As great an experience as the special was, I did have a few problems. Since I’m not involved with Doctor Who in any way other than a fan, I have no idea what prevented these from being done differently, but these are the ones I would have changed.
Strike 1 – Not much has been said by those officially involved about the absence of Christopher Eccleston from the special. I’ve heard that he was courteous and professional, but declined involvement. I’ve also heard that he does not return to roles once he has completed that role. While I will not go into my thoughts about that decision here, I will say that surely there was footage that could have been used to complete the Hurt-to-Eccleston regeneration sequence with Eccleston’s catchphrase “Fantastic!” With the ability of digital special effects personnel, I can’t imagine this to be very difficult to achieve with stock footage. I’m not sure why it wasn’t as it would have made the regeneration “sequence” much more appealing to the fan base.
Strike 2 – While I definitely understand the difficulties in including more of the “Original Who” Doctors than simply Tom Baker, it was somewhat disappointing to only have their appearance in stock footage at the end. I don’t know that there is any solution that would have made this less problematic and allowed the former Doctor’s to have more of a part, but it is still something that I felt was missing. However, I will be very quick to add that the absolute joy and fun in the mini-sode “The 5ish Doctors” more than makes up for the exclusion of these other Doctors in the special
Strike 3 – The exclusion of River Song from this episode was also disappointing. While many former companions have come and gone, and many more could have appeared, none has quite the relationship with the Doctor as his wife. Sure we have Tennant marrying the queen in the special, but it was a human ceremony and I don’t believe the queen knows the Doctor’s name. River is the only person aside from the Doctor who knows his real name. It would have been a great to have a scene or two that included River in the anniversary.
For The Ugly this time I wanted to make note of three things that you may or may not have noticed from the episode. I debated whether to include things that were confusing to me, but I only came up with two: (1) What happen with the UNIT/Zygone peace treaty negotiations? (2) Wasn’t Gallifrey already just time-locked and not destroyed? (See The End of Time, Tennant’s final episode.) My questions will have to remain unanswered. Instead, did you catch these?
Strike 1 – The sonic screwdriver is the same device for every doctor. Somehow, the internals must be linked to the TARDIS (that’s where the Doctor gets his new sonic) and with each regeneration it simply gets a new cover. Sure, it is really just the software that is the same, but I thought it was an interesting note to tie all of the sonics together like (as Bad Wolf-Moment insinuates) an electronic version of the Doctor. “Same software, different case.”
Strike 2 – The TARDIS is no longer antagonistic toward Clara. Last season, before The Name of the Doctor, the TARDIS was not very kind to Clara, the impossible girl. Something was up with her and the Doctor knew it, that’s what piqued his interest. But the TARDIS knew it, too and reacted rather harshly to the impossible girl. But now, from the very beginning of the episode, we see the TARDIS reacting to Clara in ways that only River and the Doctor have been able to interact. She honks her scooter’s horn and the doors open and when the Doctor complains, “Draft” she snaps her fingers to close the door. That is a drastic change in how the TARDIS relates to Clara. Hopefully we will be told why the change in future episodes.
Strike 3 – In the final scene, we see Tom Baker appear as the curator of the museum. He and Matt Smith exchange a few words that lead us to believe that the curator might, just maybe, be a future incarnation of the Doctor, “revisiting an old favorite” face. But, did you notice that they were not simply in the museum, they were in the under-gallery? The picture, Gallifrey Falls-No More would not have been on display in the regular gallery, after all, it is a 3-D TimeLord work of art (and serves as Queen Elizabeth’s credentials). But, even more, did you notice that earlier toward the beginning of the show, Queen Elizabeth’s note officially appoints the Doctor as… wait for it… the curator of the under-gallery. That’s right, the curator of the under-gallery is officially appointed by Queen Elizabeth, and IS the Doctor. So much for speculation.
The 50th anniversary special was wonderfully done. I strongly suggest that you watch it along with all the mini-sodes that were made to go along with it. The only truly bad part of the anniversary special is the same horrible part of every episode of Doctor Who… It simply left me wanting more and more and more. Here’s looking forward to Christmas.