Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor
Directed by: Nick Hurran
Running time: 77 minutes
Alright, alright, I am fully aware that The Day of the Doctor was a feature length episode of a television series and not a proper movie; I get that. But I’ve reviewed a video game before and while I viewed it on my television, The Day of the Doctor was actually screened at cinemas so I think I can get away with it. And if I can’t, well too bad, I’m doing it anyway! I would like to write a disclaimer however: this will obviously contain SPOILERS for the episode and will also contain a bit of lengthy exposition about the series as a whole. I will try to keep it short, but I know there will be times where I will need to give the proper context to my views and I will need to explain myself at a bit of length. I hope that won’t be too much for you all, but I think it will be a good bit of fun! But I guess some prior knowledge of the series will be required, even though I will try my best to explain myself fully. Anyway, on with the show!
For those of you who don’t know, The Day of the Doctor marks the Fiftieth anniversary of the television series Doctor Who, the longest running science fiction series in history. The series follows the intergalactic/dimensional/timey-wimey antics of a man known as the Doctor, an alien of the species “Time Lord” from the planet Gallifrey. Time Lords are immortal humanoid creatures with the ability to regenerate into new bodies should they be killed by weaponry or other means (like the Elves in Lord of the Rings). I’ll spare you the intricate details of the original series, suffice to say that it ended in 1989 and was resurrected in 2005 with a new story-line and more convincing special effects. To cut a very long story short, the 2005 series focuses on the Doctor post a huge war (known as the “Time War”) between the Time Lords and their arch nemeses the Daleks; a war that the Doctor himself ended in a single stroke that destroyed both the Daleks and his own people and home planet. Now the last Time Lord in existence, the Doctor roams all of time and space, helping those in need as a way to try and escape the guilt of what he has done. As a villain in the series once puts it: “[The Doctor is] the man who’s always running because he dare not look back.”
Now, throughout the entire series we, the audience, have never been privy as to how or why the Doctor performed this genocidal ending to the biggest war in all the known universe. All we have known was that he did it and he said it was the only way to stop the Daleks from ravaging the cosmos. And so for the entire series we have seen the Doctor as a man of deep regret and loneliness, with a hint of rage and fire burning underneath his youthful flair and bubbly genius. The Doctor had always been a brilliant, bright, cheerful man in the face of great danger; but his history in the Time War gave a certain tragedy to the character that opened up a level of complexity to him which resulted in some of my favourite moments in television. Moments of tearful sadness and of powerful moral victory, from a man who has done the most horrible thing anyone can do, and who is striving to be better than that man and to teach others to be better as well. The Doctor is a character for the ages; one of the richest, deepest and moving characters in the screen medium. As an actor myself, I have always dreamed of getting the chance to play him one day. He is my dream role.
The Day of the Doctor (and some of the last season leading up to it) has sought to undo all of that. With the direction the show has taken of late, I don’t want to play the Doctor’s part anymore. Not without some serious overhauling.
The Day of the Doctor finally tells us the story of what went down in the Time War. John Hurt plays the regeneration of the Doctor who fought in the battle, and he has decided that the only way to end the conflict is to use a weapon called “the Moment”, a doomsday device that has also achieved sentience. The Moment has decided that Hurt’s Doctor needs more information about the consequences of his actions before he may proceed, and transports him into his own future to meet both the tenth and eleventh regenerations of the Doctor (played by David Tennant and Matt Smith respectively). All three Doctors (man this show can get crazy complicated very quickly!) soon find themselves having to deal with an invading force of aliens called the Zygons, a shape-shifting race who have been patiently waiting for Earth to be of technological interest before instigating their attack.
Alright, now I’ve already gone on for a long time just setting up my feelings about Doctor Who and establishing the story of this particular special episode, so I think I’ll just limit my critiquing to a few key points. I’ll start with a positive: the combination of several Doctors in the one episode functioned really well. As the Fiftieth anniversary special was all about paying tribute to all that had come before it, having the tenth and eleventh Doctors ramble at each other was a lot of fun. They each had their own mannerisms that were unique to their iterations and yet some were also informed from the Doctors before them and it was great to see them next to each other and witness the similarities. Sure, David Tennant doesn’t really look like he fits in his tight suit anymore, but he was the Doctor again, like he’d never left those four years ago. And to have Hurt’s Doctor pulling them both into line with how ridiculous and childish they can be was a great way to ground them and stop this whole episode becoming a fan-fiction writer’s crazy wet dream. Though I had my beefs with The Day of the Doctor, I’m not ashamed to say that I had some great fun watching my two favourite Doctors work as a team. I nerd-gasmed a little…
But…the big Earth shattering but…is that The Day of the Doctor did some things that I am just not okay with. Things that I am angry about, not only from a silly fanboy “I don’t like where the show is going” standpoint but also in how it affects all the brilliance that has come before it. And they happened at the beginning and at the end, so we’re heading into SUPER SPOILER territory if you’ve somehow made it this far and have not seen the episode for yourself. You have been warned (twice).
I’ll start with the end, as it is the big one. After seeing the brilliant work of the Tennant and Smith Doctors in creating a peace between humans and Zygons, Hurt’s Doctor returns to his timeline to use the Moment to destroy Gallifrey and the Daleks to end the Time-War; confident in the knowledge that while his actions will doom his species, he will create a man whose brilliance, tenacity and remorse will go on to save countless other planets and peoples across the stars. I felt this moment was fantastic, as I had spent the entire episode a little frustrated that this newly introduced Time-War Doctor did not seem like the Doctor at all and was just a convenient ploy to temporarily make him a psychopath capable of such slaughter. But instead he was doing it for such a Doctor-ey reason: because it was the only way to save the innocent people of the universe. I was satisfied with that conclusion.
HOWEVER! Suddenly, the tenth and eleventh Doctors show up to offer moral support, and after some guilt tripping from Clara (the eleventh Doctor’s companion, I’ll get to her in a minute!!!!!) they form a plan to save Gallifrey from being destroyed. To cut a long complicated ramble short: they essentially use all three Doctor’s TARDIS’ (their time machine/spaceships) to communicate with all their other regenerations (including a future one, which was a bit awesome I will admit) and teleport Gallifrey into a another place and time and let the Dalek spaceships surrounding Gallifrey destroy each other. It was as ridiculous as it sounds, believe me. But the big kicker here is that this means that this is what always happened in the Time-War as the Doctor has often stated that this particular moment cannot be changed. How it happened is what happened and what always will happen. The Day of the Doctor explains this mismatch with past continuity away with the idea that as soon as Hurt Doctor and Tennant Doctor return to their respective timelines, they will forget that they saved Gallifrey and will go on thinking they committed genocide as they have always done until they become Smith’s Doctor and move forward knowing the truth.
What, the actual, hell?!
Doctor Who has now established that for the entire series (the rebooted series that is), all the beautiful, poignant moments in which the Doctor is regretful of his actions, or burning with rage at the prospect of others making the same choice (when he is really angry with himself); all these times that have been the most moving moments in my television watching life are based on a lie. For me, it not only puts concern onto the future of the Doctor character now that he is without regret and a big chunk of his tragedy, but it also cheapens what came before it. I know the writer (Steven Moffat, who I’m usually such a huge fan of) wanted to give the Doctor a great victory in his fiftieth anniversary, but this victory has done more harm than good, at least for me personally. All those amazing scenes of the Doctor’s remorse now have less meaning, and I don’t know if I can forgive it. If we weren’t on the verge of a new Doctor next year, and the opportunities for change that that brings (hopefully for the better), then I don’t know if I would continue to watch the show. Oh who am I kidding, I probably would still watch it but it would be in the hopes of it eventually redeeming itself after this and the Clara debacle of the last season.
Speaking of Clara, she was my last issue I had with The Day of the Doctor. This is an incredibly tiny nitpick that is probably irrelevant to the rest of you but it annoyed me so much I felt compelled to include it. Firstly, she didn’t die in the episode and leave the show forever but I was never really convinced the gods would favour me that much with this episode. But more to the point: at the beginning of The Day of the Doctor, Clara comes riding into the TARDIS on a motorcycle to meet the Doctor. They have a quick back and forth as they usually do, but then Clara closes the TARDIS doors by clicking her fingers. Now, the significance of clicking the TARDIS open/shut was established a while ago with the Doctor’s estranged wife (long story) telling him that her encounter with a future Doctor could do it, because he was so bonded with his TARDIS and was of such brilliance that the two of them were connected. The Doctor didn’t believe her and she sadly died later on, but at the end of that episode he strode up to his TARDIS and slowly raised his hand and clicked once. The TARDIS doors swung open, and it was amazing! There was such power in that moment, in such a simple act. And to see Clara, the most boring, two dimensional and worst companion (yes I’m calling it!) the Doctor has ever had just casually do the same thing was insulting to that amazing scene.
If you’ve actually made it this far without getting too frustrated with my nitpicky ranting, thanks for reading! I kind of failed at keeping it short didn’t I? I won’t bore you with a proper conclusion as I’m sure you already have an idea of my feelings. Hated the beginning and the ending, but quite enjoyed the middle. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch seasons one to six again to try and cement them as my memory of Doctor Who, hopefully untainted by this sudden reversal of the Time-War.
See you next time, with a more conventional movie I hope!