The Day of the Doctor

Doctor Who

In the dying days of The Time War the man who was once known as the Doctor prepares to detonate The Moment, a sentient Gallifreyan weapon that will destroy all Time Lords and Daleks. But the Moment shows him the future if he goes through with the plan…

The story is a It’s a Wonderful Life-style exploration of the Doctor in in his darkest hour learning what the ramifications of ending the Time War would be for him personally. It’s a smart move to have Billie Piper play the Moments’s interface, rather than rake over the relationship between Rose and the Doctor yet again. It’s played out, as is the angst over the death of the Time Lords, which can now finally be dispensed with. The way Gallifrey is saved fits perfectly with established continuity, so the Doctor doesn’t know about it until this point in his eleventh incarnation. There’s even a line that makes it clear that Rassilon and his High Council are trying their gambit (from The End of Time) to save the planet at the same time as the finale is happening here. The idea of sentient Time Lord weapons builds on Nemesis and The Hand of Omega from the Seventh Doctor era.

There are loads of other lovely nods to the past in The Day of the Doctor, without it feeling self-indulgent or self-referential. Locations, lines and photographs, especially in the Black Archive, all add to the nostalgia and celebration, but keep the story firmly on track. I particularly enjoyed the line finally describing the TARDIS sound as ‘wheezing, groan’ finally being spoken aloud, after appearing in dozens of Terrance Dicks novelisations. The Zygons are brought back terrifically well, with slavering maws and gory transformations embellishing their already classic status in the series.

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John Hurt’s War Doctor acts as the perfect proxy for the twentieth century Doctors. The Doctors who never made pop culture references, or kissed their companions and wouldn’t know what the hell a Cup-A-Soup is. He’s like an amalgamation of the first seven or eight Doctors, while bringing his own inimitable take on the part.

This all leads to some very funny scenes with the ‘War Doctor’ commenting about their childishness. It’s so easy to imagine Hartnell or Pertwee remonstrating with their modern counterparts about waving their sonics screwdrivers like water pistols or saying ‘timely-wimey’.

On another level Steven Moffat might be tying the Doctor’s Time War guilt into Freud’s theory of regression. Regression being a defence mechanism where the ego reverts to a childlike state. It throws a new, darker light on scenes like the one where the Doctor gleefully declares he has a Christmas list in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.

The moment when all the Doctor’s incarnations (including Capaldi) arrive to help is punch-the-air glorious, as is the final shot of the first twelve incarnations lining up in the Doctor’s dream to gaze upon Gallifrey. I wondered if the Fifth Doctor was remembering his time on Gallifrey in The Arc of Infinity.

If I have a small bugbear, it is the same as the one in Asylum of the Daleks. I find it jarring when the Doctor says, “For God’s Sake!” It just feel like an odd phrase for a scientist, alien and citizen of universe. Especially the War Doctor, who has seemingly spent many years fighting, not hanging around with human companions on Earth.

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But there’s so much to love about this episode. The crowning glory has to be having Tom Baker himself make an appearance. It confirms what all Doctor Who fans know: that this man is a national treasure, and it’s inexplicable that he’s not more widely adored outside Doctor Who fandom. His role as The Curator of the National Gallery, with its wall of TARDIS-like roundels, immediately put me in mind of Professor Chronotis in Shada, having retired to Cambridge in lodgings that are a TARDIS disguised both inside and out. Like that other mysterious yet pivotal character, the old woman in The End of Time, it’s left for the audience to decide for themselves who The Curator is. An eccentric old man or an aspect of the Fourth Doctor, somehow undying.

It’s totally the Fourth Doctor though.

The Curator is at the very least extraordinarily long-lived. He speaks of acquiring the painting Gallifrey Falls No More “in the most remarkable circumstances”; it having been established earlier that it was in the National Gallery during Elizabeth I’s reign, as she used it for her bona fides.

I think part of the reason so many people want the multi-Doctor stories for anniversaries is because that is one of the many things that makes Doctor Who unique, and it’s right to celebrate it. The type of hero we have is something else lauded about the series too and Steven Moffat pays a nice tribute to that in the scene where Clara has the line about there being plenty of warriors and heroes, speaking as much about the rest of TV as the universe they inhabit. I like the lifting of the ‘never cowardly or cruel’ line from the best scene in his own Curse of Fatal Death too.

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Order The Day of the Doctor on DVD from Amazon:

Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor – 50th Anniversary Special [DVD]

On Blu-Ray:

Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor – 50th Anniversary Special [Blu-ray 3D]

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