The Day of the Doctor: Looking Back, Moving On

After literally years of waiting, the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary special has aired.  I feel a bit like the winter holidays have started early, actually.  Let’s discuss a little of what went on and what we can expect for the future.  It might be obvious, but this will contain spoilers for those who haven’t yet watched the episode.

Truth and Lies

We all knew the special would be a multi-doctor event in that it would contain both David Tennant and Matt Smith, but we weren’t sure of anything beyond that.  Would the first New Who Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, make a sneaky appearance despite all statements to the contrary?  Would the Classic Doctors truly be included despite their apparent consternation at being left out?  As with everything concerning Who and showrunner Steven Moffat, the truth lay somewhere in the middle.

The most accurate bit of truth, unfortunately, was that Christopher Eccleston did decline to appear in the special.  Moffat has been very kind in interviews about the subject, but it doesn’t take away the sting for those, like myself, who’d hoped it was a misdirection.  His Doctor wasn’t left out entirely; he made an appearance via old footage, like the others, and John Hurt’s Doctor clearly began to regenerate into Eccleston’s face before cutting away at the last second.  Still, even that regeneration scene was like putting salt into the wound, a reminder that we could have had an even better scene.

As to whether the Classic Doctors were actually represented, the answer was “kind of not really, technically no… but the spirit was there, and it wasn’t as exclusionary as some expected.”  First we were treated to a minisode, “The Night of the Doctor,” featuring 8th Doctor Paul McGann and his long-awaited regeneration scene.  Thus, he was involved in the Anniversary “events” if not the actual special, giving legitimacy to his Doctor and John Hurt’s all at the same time (anyone still wondering if McGann is a canon Doctor?).

Then we were treated to a cameo by Tom Baker.  This was especially cathartic because he declined to appear in the last special, “The Five Doctors,” and was represented instead by some old unused footage and a wax doll.  Baker popped up as “The Curator,” more elderly than the last time he was on a Doctor Who episode but definitely still in character.  It’s implied that he might be a future, retired Doctor who “revisited” one of his “old favorite” faces, though some are choosing to view him as the Fourth Doctor regardless.

Now, what of the other, living Classic Doctors?  Well, about a year ago Peter Davison, the Fifth Doctor, said that if they weren’t included, he’d make his own special video.  And he has, featuring not only the other Doctors from the 80s, but a whole host of other familiar faces as well.  It chronicles their quest to be involved in the Anniversary Special, and honestly it’s really funny.  The more familiar you are with Classic Who, the better, but it’s worth a watch regardless.  The trailer for “The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot” is here and you can watch the special itself here.  Many are hoping this will be included as an extra on the eventual Anniversary Special Blu-Ray, because it really rounds out the anniversary experience.

Speaking of Reboots

Now back to the special, “The Day of the Doctor,” itself: unlike, say, most of the Christmas specials, this was no stand-alone adventure.  The plot has very real ramifications for the future of the show, and it’s got some fans in a bit of a tizzy.

To put it simply, the Doctor is no longer The Last of the Time Lords.  In this universe, maybe, but now he’s confident that Gallifrey exists, somewhere out there, tucked into a pocket universe.  Instead of wandering around with survivor’s guilt, he’s got a quest if he wants it and he can stop being quite so angsty.

Some say that this is contrary to the spirit of the show, that the Doctor needs his angst to make him more dimensional.  I say no, for several reasons: one, as something like 1200 years old, he’s got more than enough baggage on his own to provide a nuanced persona.  Second, the whole concept of the Time War and the Last of the Time Lords was only fabricated in New Who, by Russell T Davies; the Doctor managed to simply wander “aimlessly” for a good 30 years beforehand.

Now, as for Russell T Davies.  Some have said that this development thumbs their nose at the first New Who showrunner, undoing all his canon.  I still disagree.  If Moffat really wanted to undo all Davies’ work, mark his territory, if you will, he could have (un)done that when he first came on board with a new TARDIS and sonic screwdriver.  Instead, he ran with it for years, even as it was increasingly ridiculous that the Doctor really was the last of the Time Lords whereas Daleks sprang up in every corner.

And though the special opens up new possibilities for the future, it doesn’t undo any of the continuity of the previous years: the older Doctors would have forgotten everything once they returned to their own time streams and still believed they had destroyed Gallifrey.  All that angst might have been for nought, but it’s still genuine.

I particularly like the pocket universe concept because it ties into another great episode, “The Doctor’s Wife.”  The excitement of the Doctor when he believed some Time Lords survived in a pocket universe, and his anger and disappointment when he discovered their fate, is the most heartwrenching moment of the episode for me.  It was a brilliant concept, and I’m glad it’s being reused here.

Another random tie-in to a great episode: I may be stretching here, but the solution to the Time War – removing the planet so the Daleks destroy each other – is, for me, quite reminiscent of the resolution to “Blink,” when the TARDIS disappears, leaving the Weeping Angels looking at one another.

Looking Forward

Far from simply reflecting on the past 50 years, “The Day of the Doctor” has us looking forward as well – not only to the Doctor’s new motivations, but to a new Doctor himself.  As I’ve mentioned before, I consider Matt Smith “my” Doctor, even if he’s far from my first, and am still saddened that he’s leaving.  If he suddenly decided to stay on another few years I wouldn’t complain in the slightest.

However, I won’t deny that a thrilling moment in the special was the inclusion of Peter Capaldi, representing “all thirteen” of the Doctors.  We were only treated to a brief shot of his eyes, but the intensity in that one shot was amazing.  I don’t know what direction they’ll be taking this new Doctor – indeed, this interview with Moffat would indicate they haven’t even decided on a course beyond the typical “regeneration madness” – but I suspect it will be exciting, no matter what they decide.

On the one hand, I’m glad they have time to figure out where they’re going with the next Doctor, but on the other hand, I’m ready for more Who!  The Christmas Special can’t come soon enough.  Oh, speaking of “All thirteen” – what about that numbering system, eh?  Yes, we’re supposed to call Hurt the “War Doctor,” but considering he didn’t even end the War, was decidedly softer in some respects than the later Doctors, and the whole point of the episode underscored that yes, he is a Doctor… well, it just doesn’t seem to fit.  Of course, if Paul McGann were not a canon Doctor, it would still work out (har har)… I think this is an issue that will be picked apart for some time.

What about you?  What did you think of the anniversary special and surrounding events?  Did you catch “The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot” or another special we haven’t even covered yet, An Adventure in Space and Time?  Are you happy or happy to move on?  Share all your anniversary-related thoughts below!

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