Review: “Doctor Who: The Day Of The Doctor” (Writer: Steven Moffat)

I was going to start this with “Spoilers Within”, but who am I kidding?  

I’m going to start this review with the stuff that only the people who went to the cinema got to see.  Firstly, my favourite clone warrior, Strax… or somebody from his particular clone batch, gave all viewers a warning not to use mobile phones and talk during the screening, along with the punishments  in the event of these rules being infringed upon.  A nice little start to the festivities.  (I knew there was something about that alien menace called popcorn!!!!)

The second warm-up for the film itself was the eleventh (or is that twelfth?) incarnation of the Doctor getting mixed up in his anniversaries between the 3D of the 50th and the 12D of the 100th.  Alongside “11” (“12”), there was a brief appearance by “10” (“11″… this is going to get confusing) warning people about the perils of 3D especially where his successor’s chin is concerned, and an appearance by the third Doctor in this episode, the one who has been given the alternative name of “The War Doctor”) to add a bit of creepiness to the proceedings.

Now, on to the episode itself.  It was a smart move of Steven Moffat to return the programme to it’s roots.  No, I don’t just mean the retro feels of the opening titles… which was fantastic, but the return to Coal Hill Secondary School and making Clara a teacher at the school.  I knew that Clara had become a teacher from a #SaveTheDay clip that was released and this, in itself, was a way of the programme celebrating its past and driving the character of Clara forward into become a teacher for the dog, but the fact that she is working at Coal Hill adds the proverbial cherry on the cake, especially as a certain “I. Chesterton” is the chairman of governors.

The opening scene also lends weight to the Doctor’s own personal timeline and the direction of the story through Clara’s teaching of Marcus Aurelius’s point about good men.  The Doctor’s recent history, particularly during Matt Smith’s incarnation and in the mini-episode “The Night Of The Doctor”, has focused on what a man’s own perception of what a good man is.  During the course of this episode, we see the Doctor grapple with the choices which colour his view of the “good man” and the reasons why he failed and continued to fail in this role.

Following a nice linking scene which sees a change in emphasis in the relationship between the Doctor and Clara, due to them no longer being a mystery to each other following the events of “The Name Of The Doctor”, they are airlifted to the National Gallery, where the storyline is moved to the Doctor confronting the ghosts of his past, both in his dalliance with a certain “Virgin Queen”, which previously featured “off screen” in “The Shakespeare Code” and “The Beast Below”, and in the fateful day that has driven “Doctor Who” lore for the last eight and a half years, the last day of The Time War and the fall of Arcadia.

The Time War scene is what fans have been looking forward to since the Doctor’s return in 2005.  Until now, it’s been a mythical event, but now we’ve been given a glimpse into the war’s last day and what was the Doctor’s darkest day.  The day when an old man, sickened by the carnage surrounding him, took matters into his own hands and, in effect, committed mass genocide to protect the universe.  We didn’t know which incarnation took this decisive step or why and although we now know that the previously unknown incarnation of the Doctor undertook this deed, we still have very little knowledge as to what led him to act as an arbitrary judge, jury and executioner on the Time Lords and Daleks, apart from the information he provided during “The End Of Time (Part Two)” where he outright stated that the Time Lords had got as bad as the Daleks.

Once he has gained access to The Moment, he undergoes a “trial” of conscience by The Moment’s interface which has taken the form of the Bad Wolf entity.  Now, there have been grumbles that Billie Piper did not do a reprise of her role as Rose, but this turn of events makes sense.  Who best to pass judgement on the Doctor’s potential act of mass murder, like some invisible Jiminy Cricket, than a being who was responsible for a mass slaughter (as in the episode “The Parting Of The Ways”)?

Whilst I am talking about The Moment’s interface, what a smart move by Steven Moffat to reference the fact that Time Lord technology has the ability to gain sentience?  This is consistent with Time Lord technology that has previously featured within the programme – The Hand of Omega, the Nemesis statue or even the TARDIS herself, for instance.

Following this initial sojourn to the Time War, we are guided to the story’s “B plot” which features the Doctor, or more appropriately Doctors, tackling an invasion by Zygons, last seen in the 1975 story “Terror Of The Zygons” alongside Queen Elizabeth I.  Now, this could be seen as a bit of whimsy which features has David Tennant and Matt Smith playfully sniping at each other with John Hurt refereeing, much as in previous stories such as “The Three Doctors”, but there are more layers to this than what may immediately be apparent.

The scene in the Tower of London’ s dungeons gives an important character reference and a clue to this story’s eventual resolution.  Every Doctor that we have seen since 2005 has dealt with the ravages of the Time War in different ways, and the two who feature in the episode are perfect examples – the Tennant Doctor or “The One Who Regrets”, a man who knows how many children he slaughtered, the man who apologises every time he can’t save a single person, and the Smith Doctor or “The Man Who Forgets”, a man who has deliberately buried the knowledge of his crime, as much as easy as burying the knowledge of his predecessor who committed the act.  As for the clue, well I’ll leave that until later.

Once they leave 1562, it’s time for the three Doctors to put an end to the Zygons plot, despite some bloody-mindedness on the part of U.N.I.T.  This is done with a combination of intelligence and sass.  Once they walk out of the “Gallifrey Falls”/”No More” painting in the style of three gunfighters from the Wild West, you know that they have an ace up their sleeves.  Despite their impassioned pleas that they don’t want Kate Stewart to resort to the same act as by wiping the adversaries memories into forgetting whether are humans or Zygons.  However, at this stage, the pleas are still hollow given what the forgotten Doctor still has planned, despite Clara’s entreaties to the Doctor hidden within the warrior.

This leads us back to where the forgotten Doctor began with a big red button and a decision to make.  The decision to use the moment though is only part of this scene.  Through the course of this adventure, a previously feared incarnation of our favourite Time Lord has undergone a humanisation.  We have laughed at his bickering with the Tennant and Smith incarnations of the role and cheered him on as he seeks to broker peace between the humans and Zygons, which is what makes us feel all the more sadder and fearful for the Doctor’s very soul as not only he, but two Doctors who we have travelled alongside for nearly eight years, make the decision to use The Moment.  Ultimately, this isn’t a Doctor to fear, this is a Doctor to fear for.  A powerless Doctor, such as in the episode “Midnight”, who has been backed into a corner with no apparent options left to him.

What follows is a reaffirmation of the Doctor’s traditional mission, thanks to his companions – both Clara and The Moment Interface.  Former script writer and editor Terrance Dicks has previously described the character of the Doctor as never being cruel or unkind and always being on the side of the underdog, and Steven Moffat takes this and uses the companions to prompt the Doctor’s promise, which is fitting given remarks from companions such as Donna Noble and Amy Pond who has reminded him that he needs a companion, even a virtual one like The Moment, to remind him of what’s important and to keep his darker excesses in check.

Which leads me to the screwdriver scene.  If you were paying attention, the Doctor stated that the screwdriver needed centuries to calculate a way of removing the dungeon door as an obstruction which was done through the three versions of the sonic.  Well, the Doctor uses the years between the potential act of using the Moment and his latest incarnation to work out two things, that there is an alternative to destroying Gallifrey through using their TARDISes like a stasis cube, much like the way the Zygons and Doctors use the paintings as an escape route, and the calculations necessary to complete this act – not only through his past selves, but by drafting in his former selves, which is already a fanboy or fangirl “SQUEE” moment, but also his future thirteenth persona which gives us a brief glimpse of Peter Capaldi… Well, Peter Capaldi’s eyes. (Cue big fanboy/fangirl “SQUEEEEEEEEEEE” moment).

Once the adventure itself finishes, we have the traditional goodbye scene.  For the new ninth Hurt Doctor, who is now as valid as his “siblings”, and the Tennant Doctor, it leads to a moment of clarity, albeit short lived because they will forget that they may have saved Gallifrey rather than surely destroying it.  For the Smith Doctor, it’s a moment of peace and of a renewed determination for him as, thanks to the museum’s curator (or is he a future Doctor?), he seeks out Gallifrey, no longer a planet that he thought he had utterly destroyed but a planet that he has now saved.

 

All of the actors within this episode are solid and compliment each other.  David Tennant slips back into his portrayal of the Doctor with ease as he playfully bickers alongside Matt Smith like brothers, whilst acknowledging that they are both the Doctor which leads to some powerful scenes between the pair, particularly when Tennant’s Doctor challenges Smith’s about his apparently callous persona, but these two will no doubt yield the acting laurels to John Hurt who delivers what may be the most stripped down version of the Doctor in fifty years of “Doctor Who”.  Gone are the catchphrases and eccentricities surrounding the character and instead we have an incarnation who does not feel worthy to call himself “Doctor” through his potential act of genocide, but who is capable of redemption through the faith of his companions, whether they be Time Lord, human or technological.  That’s not to say though that he doesn’t have fun with the role as he playfully referees his two successors and shows that he has as much sass and sarcasm as his fellow Doctors.

Billie Piper’s exact role in this episode was cleverly kept under wraps as she was billed as Rose, but her final role as “Bad Wolf Girl” or The Moment Interface was a clever combination of roles mixing the sassy nature of Rose Tyler, the otherworldly steel of the “Bad Wolf” and the quirkiness of a character similar to Idris in “The Doctor’s Wife”.

Jenna Coleman builds upon her portrayal of Clara Oswald.  Gone is the mystery which formed the early basis for their companionship, to be replaced by a friendship of equals.  Clara is no longer a nanny or governess and is now a teacher, not only to the pupils of Coal Hill but to the Doctor as well, not just once, but three as she allies herself alongside The Interface in explaining that the universe is full of warriors and heroes, but what it really needs is the man who will take the harder choice to perpetuate peace rather than become a participant in war, even through a bloody conclusion in the name of peace.

The guest artists work well alongside the leads.  Joanna Page delivering a comedic interpretation of Elizabeth I and her Zygon duplicate which leads to some jokes at the expense of the Tenth Doctor as he inadvertently becomes her husband alongside some historical liberties which add to the comedy.

Jemma Redgrave returns to her deservedly acclaimed role of Kate (Lethbridge-) Stewart, adding steel to the science as she prepares to destroy the Black Archive, as well as covering for it.  It was lovely that her on-screen father, portrayed by the late, great Nicholas Courtney, was name checked during the scene where the Doctor told Kate off about her actions.  (Plus, I loved the use of the pinboard to reference past companions on the series alongside a verbal reference to Captain Jack Harkness and a “blink and you’ll miss it” appearance by a pair of River’s Laboutin red shoes).

Ingrid Oliver takes over the comedy U.N.I.T. scientist role of Osgood from Lee Evans’s Malcolm.  However, she adds a moment of smarts to her performance as either she or her Zygon duplicate maintains the deception of memory loss to ensure that the human/Zygon peace talks keep moving forward.

But the most notable guest performance is that of Tom Baker in the role of The Curator.  He adds enough twinkle in his performance to provide the Doctor with a glimpse of hope that he has been successful in his plans to save Gallifrey, whilst maintaining enough ambiguity for the audience to speculate as to whether he is a future incarnation of the Doctor or not.

 

The direction by Nick Hurran is nothing short of jaw dropping, and it has to be to drive a story that is not only a celebration, but a feature length episode that is suitable for 3D screening and cinema.  He pulls this off ably, alongside the newly named “Milk” special effects house to show off battle scenes, transformations shots, beautifully desolate vistas and 3D paintings to convincing effect.

 

The script by Steven Moffat uses the pomp and ceremony of the fiftieth anniversary to tie up some loose ends for the franchise, certainly post 2005 whilst giving the show a new vitality, a new mission to strive for, which will take the Doctor away from being a wounded warrior and return him to being  an adventurer, a dreamer and the universal version of the eternal optimist.

That’s not to say that the story isn’t without it’s apparent plot holes.  How did the Doctor and Clara escape from his own time stream following the events of “The Name Of The Doctor”?  Did the humans and Zygons actually broker peace and what are the consequences?  And how did they get hold of the stasis cube technology from the Time Lords?  Does the Doctors’ actions now mean that “The End of Time” is an invalid storyline?

In addition to the above, “The Day Of The Doctor” isn’t without its potential controversies.  The first being the Doctor’s rewriting of personal history.  By re-writing the rules of time having its fixed points, along with the fact that the  Interface broke the Time Lock around the Time War, there is a risk that it has become a magical solution to the Time War, such as in the end of the 1996 television movie when Grace and Chang Lee are resurrected.  Steven Moffat cleverly writes around this by saying that once the earlier Doctors return to their own time streams, they will lose the knowledge that they have acquired.  From a franchise progression point of view, this makes sense.  Do we really want to see a version of the Doctor carrying around the guilt and pain of the Time War forever more?  From my personal point of view, no.  He needs to change, and the programme has to change alongside him.  That is one of the strengths of “Doctor Who”.

But the most controversial aspect of this story could be how we view John Hurt’s version of the Doctor within the history of The Doctor as a character, and within the franchise as whole, and what implications will it have for the numbering of the Doctors that has been traditionally applied.  My own personal opinion, is that as soon as he stopped his course of action to use The Moment, the “War Doctor” ceased to be and John Hurt became THE Doctor.  As for numbering controversies, well, who cares?  If moving the Doctors up one so that Christopher Eccleston becomes the tenth, and so on, then does it really matter?  What matters is that this is a celebration of what the Doctor represents, not which face he wears.

Chapter one of the “Doctor Who” story has closed.  The young boy has stopped running away from his home.  Now, the old man wants to go home… albeit via the long way round.

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