If you’ve come looking for a review full of effusive praise for the episode, I’m sorry, you’ve come to the wrong place. I’m not here to tear it down either. There were a lot of things in Day of the Doctor that worked for me, some that didn’t, and some ideas that may take a second viewing to sink in. I’m going to attempt to breakdown my personal experience of the episode, which to me makes the most sense since Doctor Who, perhaps more than any other show, becomes such a personal thing to people. I hope you also share with my your experience in the comments.
During, and immediately after viewing, much of the episode in terms of story choice and plot structure left a bad taste in my mouth. It was all just so Moffat and I know I’m predisposed to be annoyed by that. It was a lot of flopping around at first – and the idea of visiting the Time War literally bothered me.
I realized that the episode was chock full of references to the Classic era, some I understood and some I didn’t, but I also realized that I don’t have the kind of emotional attachment to that part of the series to really make the episode fire on all cylinders for me. And that’s okay. If this episode was for anyone, it was for the long term fans. 50 years of a show, deep connections to the whole run is the least this episode could do.
One of my watching companions told me that the simple use of the original opening credits help him over for the first 20 minutes. Its a huge credit to the show that something as simple as a call back to a classic title sequence can mean so much to people. I recognized this as special, but it didn’t have the emotional resonance to help me gloss over the hopelessly frenetic set up of 20 minutes of Matt Smith staring into a painting and Clara riding a motorcycle.
Watching Matt Smith, David Tennant, and John Hurt together was the absolute highlight of the hour (with David Tennant’s Doctor hair coming into a close second). Their interactions sparked, and the genuine joy and excitement of being in that role, and being in it together truly jumped off the screen and right into the feels. They were funny, and wonderful and they were the Doctors. The held the highs high, and were delicate, and supportive when the emotional bits hit.
John Hurt in particular, did a beautiful job of jumping in and becoming the Doctor, the one we never knew and made us feel like we always did know him. He embodied the pain, hurt, anger and angst we’ve been watching burn behind the eyes of the three modern Doctors.
Highlights on one end of the spectrum included the three of them attempting the most clever way to escape the Tower of London without ever checking to see if they could simply open the door with their hands where the final bit where The Doctor who forgets, and the Doctor who regrets accept the warrior doctor and in a way reintegrate all parts of the personality, accepting each part of himself. It was the wonderful work of the three actors that made this journey work for me.
I didn’t like the idea of revisiting the Time War. It has been described as so vast, large and describable that it seems right that it only exist in implication and reference to maintain the full impact of what it could be. That being said, with a day’s distance from the episode the scene where the three Doctors visit Gallifrey at the fall of Arcadia and take down Daleks with the combined force of their screwdrivers packs such a punch that even just that makes it worth it.
Maybe the most useful bit about this episode for the series going forward was the very complicated therapy session at the core for the War Doctor with the help of head!BadWolf. While I don’t much care what happened with the Zygons I’m glad to see a weight has been lifted off the Doctor’s shoulders without retroactively undoing everything that the Nine and Ten, and Eleven up to this point have been.
I’m glad that it frees up the program to do something new going forward. we’ve had 8 years of angst, regret and PTSDing Doctor in the new series and at the risk of inviting the wrath of an amazing fandom, it’s been getting stale (although most of that is likely Moffat). The beauty of Doctor Who’s longevity is the ability to regenerate. Freeing the Doctor from the guilt of this moment that has paralyzed him renews the character in a meaningful way that could pave a very exciting new path for Capaldi and beyond, and for that, I’m excited.
A couple quick things before we wrap this up.
- I adored Elizabeth – she was a bit much at moments, but when she basically dresses down the Doctor for men, himself included, for assuming she wasn’t able to defend herself was a surprising and welcome high point in the Zygon story.
- I may not have a huge emotional history with the Classic era but my heart is not cold and black, the moment between Tom Baker and Smith in the gallery was absolutely wonderful, and earned every bit of sentimentality it seeped of without tipping into the saccharine.
- Captain Jack’s transport device, of course
- I continue to like Jenna-Louise but struggle to enjoy Clara as her character continues to exist as something designed to save the Doctor and apparently not much more
- I know it wouldn’t have made any sense for Billie Piper to actually be Rose, but I was a bit disappointed. I’m thankful for that throwaway about the kiss
I will watch the special again, and I may change how I feel about it several times upon different viewings. But on this one, at the end – I watched David Tennant’s Doctor utter his last words, once again, “I don’t want to go”, and I just wanted my Doctor back.
What was your experience watching Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary special, and what you think this means for the series going forward. Let’s chat in the comments.