Starring: Matt Smith, Jenna Coleman, David Tennant, Billie Piper, John Hurt.
Writer: Steven Moffat.
Director: Nick Hurran.
Well well well. The Day of the Doctor has come and gone. The 50th anniversary celebration of sci-fi’s biggest juggernaut fell on November 23rd, a day which I’m certain caused all of the planet to tremble slightly in anticipation. Simultaneously broadcast on television and in cinemas across the world, it promised to be one of, if not the biggest television events in history. Did it deliver? Read on to find out! (The answer is ‘yes’, incidentally).
QUICK NOTE: On the off-chance that you’re reading this from your isolated biodome on the moon and haven’t seen the special yet, SPOILERS PROBABLY EVERYWHERE.
I had the pleasure of attending the pre-show party/screening at Cineworld on Parnell Street, and right from the beginning, it was definitely a rather special occasion. The bar was serving Doctor Who-themed cocktails, there were costumed fans everywhere, and the atmosphere was cheery, albeit positively crackling with anticipation. There was banter, there were laughs, there was last-minute speculation, everything you’d expect. 7:30 rolled around, and everyone made their way into the two packed screens, taking their seats and, if they were doing what I was doing, vaguely attempting to mentally-prepare themselves. The lights went dark with a cheer…
First up, we were treated to several highly-amusing pre-shows, so to speak. Several Doctor Who-themed trailers for upcoming films (the Anchorman 2 one definitely standing out as hilarious), an ‘audience orientation’ video where everyone’s favourite defective Sontaran Strax educated us on cinema etiquette, and a very funny demonstration of the 3-D performed by Smith and Tennant themselves. This was a fantastic way to get people right into the mood, somehow managing to build the anticipation even further, until finally, The Day of the Doctor started to play.
Right from the get-go, the special hit the perfect nostalgic note, as we were treated to a high-def big-screen recreation of the original Doctor Who opening credits, complete with leading into a black-and-white re-enactment of the opening to An Unearthly Child, showing off the gates to Totter’s Lane and, of course, Coal Hill School (watch for a nod to a certain past companion!) where Clara is now teaching, having apparently been taking a break from travelling with the Doctor for quite some time now. A message left for her with the school sends her rushing off to a seemingly-empty country road, nothing but an oh-so-familiar blue box in sight. The Doctor and Clara reunite, before the TARDIS is promptly hijacked by UNIT helicopters, bringing it to London to investigate the National Gallery, where something has gone horribly amiss…
Thus, The Day of the Doctor begins. Right from the get-go, the episode throws out one of the most high-impact scenes in Doctor Who history: showing us, after eight years of murky reference and oblique mentions, the final day of the Last Great Time War itself, with the Fall of Arcadia, Gallifrey’s second city. This scene is full to absolute bursting of top-notch special effects, explosions everywhere you look, amazing high-octane battles taking place between new, spider-like flying Daleks and Battle TARDISes in the skies, while on the ground, the Daleks utterly destroy the Gallifreyan defences in a scene that genuinely had me instantly remembering why the Daleks are seen as so very terrifying. It’s a fantastic scene that really establishes this special episode’s scale right off the bat. This, however, is only the first of many incredible scenes in the special, but naturally, we’ll get to them later.
Writer and showrunner Steven Moffat had made it very clear in the run up to this episode that it was going to be entirely about the Doctor himself. No big companion plot or characterisation, no big enemy plot or characterisation, this was to be an episode purely dedicated to everyone’s favourite Time Lord, and on that front, The Day of the Doctor absolutely delivers. Matt Smith is, as ever, on tremendous form as the Eleventh Doctor, bringing his typical unique mix of childlike energy and grumpy old-man demeanour to the episode, now with the added bonus of having David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor to bounce off of. Smith and Tennant portray a brilliant double-act in this special, with both Doctors constantly jumping between snarking at each other and getting along surprisingly well. It’s an extremely funny thing to watch, and seeing the two of them on-screen together is a marvellous experience.
Not to be left out of this, however, is the man who is arguably the special’s focus, and its most important character: the mysterious War Doctor, played superbly by John Hurt. I have to say, I was very surprised with the characterisation of the War Doctor in the special (pleasantly, of course). Everything we had seen of him suggested that the War Doctor would be a very dark, solemn, serious figure, and to a certain extent he is, but more than anything, he is definitively the Doctor, with his sense of humour and brilliance completely intact. Indeed, Hurt’s portrayal of the War Doctor is very much taking from the Classic Series Doctors, and seeing how a Classic Series Doctor functions in the rather-different world of the modern series is a real treat, a highlight of the episode for sure. The play between the three Doctors is marvellous fun to watch, and leads to some genuinely-intriguing revelations about the Doctor’s character.
Of course, and this is where the spoilers start to pile up a little bit, we see much more than Smith, Tennant and Hurt in the special. The climax of the episode, winner of my newly-created award for Greatest Scene In Literally Anything Ever, sees all twelve Doctors (recreated on-screen through archive footage and new voice clips) teaming up to save Gallifrey from the Daleks with a typical hare-brained and utterly-mad scheme. Oh, hang on…did I say ‘all twelve’? Sorry: ‘all thirteen‘. Yes, in one of the best-kept secrets that Doctor Who has pulled off this year, The Day of the Doctor features a brief, utterly glorious cameo appearance for Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor, joining in with his past selves in their moment of triumph. Sitting in the cinema at that moment evoked happy goosebumps, as the entire theatre exploded into riotous applause and cheers as Capaldi made his on-screen debut. It was a great, great moment, and it couldn’t have been executed better.
In a similar vein, albeit slightly-less secretive, the ending of the episode features a massive treat for fans, with a lovely, typically-amusing cameo from Tom Baker as the mysterious ‘Curator’, implied to be a future, if not the last incarnation of the Doctor himself. It’s a great thing to see Baker appearing on-screen again, The Day of the Doctor marking the first time Baker has taken part in a multi-Doctor special since his tenure on the show (unless you count Dimensions in Time…but nobody really counts Dimensions in Time), and his return gives the episode’s finish a wonderfully wrapped-up feel.
Aside from the Doctors in question appearing, there is of course a treat for every manner of fan who may be watching, whether it be the return of the Zygons to the fore (in a plot that ties things together marvellously well throughout, no less), a ton of small nods to companions and episodes past throughout, and revelations about certain plot points dotted throughout the series that literally floored me, in particular the reveal of the true nature of the Moment, something which I can honestly say I don’t think anyone in the audience saw coming. It’s genuinely been difficult to put my feelings about this episode into words, but only because I enjoyed it so thoroughly, so for all involved, I would call that a job well done.
That’s really all I can say. The Day of the Doctor was everything it promised to be and more. It was a glorious throwback to the days of Who gone by, a wonderful celebration of all that has come before, and the episode’s plot has set us up for a long time to come yet. It was everything Doctor Who represents, pure and simple.
10/10…or should that be 11/11?