Written By: Steven Moffat
Directed By: Nick Hurran
The day is finally upon us. THE DAY OF THE DOCTOR, the Anniversary Special which celebrates a half century of adventures on screen (as well as off) with a time travelling alien and his magic time and space machine. It’s a rare feat for a television show to reach fifty years old and still have all the power to thrill, enrapture and entertain audiences in the same way it has done since the very beginning. There’s the fear that such a celebratory episode would solely bathe in nostalgia, resulting in an episode that only the hard-core followers of the show will be able to truly appreciate. Making such an episode is a challenge worthy of the Doctor himself.
We needn’t have feared though. THE DAY OF THE DOCTOR is the perfect example of how to do an excellent anniversary special. Don’t get us wrong, it’s not perfect (but then, with so much hype surrounding such an event, it was clearly never going to please everyone entirely), but there’s no denying that watching the episode unfold on the big screen was nothing short of breath-taking! Laughs were had, tears were shed. But enough about the queue to get in to the cinema. Lets talk DOCTOR WHO!
DAY gets the balance between gleeful nostalgia and actual story absolutely spot on. There are so many wonderful nods to the past (and not just the epic sight of thirteen TARDIS’s piloted by thirteen Doctors swarming towards Gallifrey!). There’s the original title sequence, beautifully rendered and remastered, still as powerful as it was back in 1963. There’s the opening shot, complete with policeman, I.M Foreman sign and Coal Hill School. The pictures of the old companions, UNIT, the Time War, Cromer, the roundels on the TARDIS, and even Malcolm from PLANET OF THE DEAD – all these reference are included, but not once do they feel forced or out of place. Instead, like with most of modern DOCTOR WHO these days, the story and characters take precedence over everything.
The opening ten minutes or so set things up wonderfully, yet things really take off once Matt Smith and David Tennant share their first scene together. Watching these two actors bouncing off one another is such a joy to behold, you wonder if it can get even better. Once John Hurt is added to the mix and scolds his future selves for flailing their arms around and waving about sonic screwdrivers, that’s when we know we’re on the right course. Three amazing actors with buckets of charm, gravitas and chemistry – just that alone makes this episode one to remember.
It’s a beautiful story of survivors guilt, a great scenario for the Doctors to face, a huge and epic plot with hints of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE and A CHRISTMAS CAROL, all with the usual exciting DOCTOR WHO spin on proceedings. It’s the third act that brings everything full circle though. It’s here that we finally realise what Mr Moffat has clearly been planning for some time. The Doctors turning round in the painting, destroying a Dalek and crashing through the painting is a visual effects triumph! And then there’s that beautifully tense and emotional moment when the Doctors prepare to help their former self commit the final act of the Time War. It’s painful and tear inducing, especially once Jenna Coleman starts to tear up herself. Powerful writing and four amazing actors giving everything their all, that’s all DOCTOR WHO really needs to be truly amazing, as this scene makes clear. And then we get the game changer…
The return of Gallifrey. At first, it doesn’t seem much like the momentous story twist the producers have hyped it to be. If anything, it feels like a big narrative U-turn. But as soon as we reach the final shot, we get it for what it truly is. This new direction takes things right back to the beginning, with Gallifrey restored and the Doctor a wanderer in the fourth dimension by choice, not because he has no alternative. It gives the series that extra sense of hope, a sense of fairy tale magic that the original Hartnell episodes had in abundance, a quest to push the series into newer territory. A huge weight has been lifted from the Doctor. No longer is our hero the killer of billions. Now the show truly returns to its original roots. Its entirely fitting it should happen exactly fifty years on.
There’s so much to recommend about DAY (so much that we couldn’t even fit it all in this review). There some nitpicks of course (The Zygons and Kate Stewart seem to just disappear from the story at a crucial, unresolved point), but despite a few plot holes and the usual overdose of head scratching when trying to keep up with the timey-wimey twists and turns, it really is a glorious anniversary episode, basking in glory and celebration, yet never threatening to disappear up its own continuity. Smith, Tennant, Hurt, Coleman and Piper are all fantastic in their respective roles, as are guest stars Jemma Redgrave and Joanna Paige. The writing, the direction, the effects, the design – everyone comes up trumps here, more so then on any WHO adventure ever before.
From beginning to end, THE DAY OF THE DOCTOR is funny, emotional, exciting, and so utterly and completely beautiful. Tom Baker’s appearance as the curator (the Last Doctor) is the icing on an absolutely delicious, irresistible birthday cake. Here, on it’s milestone birthday, DOCTOR WHO (and it’s legions of fans) has been well and truly spoilt rotten.
Just as it should be.
THN’s Doctor Who Series Blog returns in December for the Doctor Who Christmas Special.