Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor

I have, in the past, been a little unforgiving with regard to the show-runners for Doctor Who. I've been several notches less than merciful with my opinions regarding RTD's dulling of emotional impact by not letting go, and by trying to turn the Doctor into a one-note angst-bunny.

I am therefore pleased to say that considering everything, I quite liked The Day of the Doctor.

Spoilers follow...

The opening few minutes of the special made me somewhat more comfortable. It was, essentially, packed with references to old Who canon. I've still not seen a great deal of old Who, but continuity is a Big Thing to me, and I'll accept a lot if there's coherent self-reference. So Clara teaching where Susan went to school is very solid as far as I'm concerned. So is Ian Chesterton on the board of governors. So is Osgood's scarf. And so on.

The main thing that could be problematic with the plot of the special is the potential Dallas effect: It was all a dream, now on to what really happened. For me, I think that's been avoided.

Episodic series have to leave things as they were at the end of the story. The Original Series Star Trek is the canonical example here, but everything from Scooby-Doo to the Cosby Show has done it. And episodic series are out of fashion now; we want story arcs, and we want an ongoing plot that unfolds bit by bit, something that rewards you for coming back every week. Old Who was an early example of a show that did have long-term continuity.

But the thing about long-term continuity is that, sooner or later, characters have to have an impact on the setting. There is only so long you can make character changes, or explore character relationships, or even reveal hidden characters that have always been there, before you have to step back and change something in the setting. That was the thing that RTD did that was meaningful in the first place; he took Gallifrey away from the setting, and he made it the Doctor's fault. I am not keen on the way everything, for two full regenerations of the Doctor, kept on coming back to that, but it was still a necessary thing in the first place. And the Doctor had, more or less, come to terms with that, and Eleven (or is should he now be Twelve?) hasn't been all about that, and has in consequence seemed a little bit aimless.

And now there's another change; there is a chance that Gallifrey can be brought back again. This gives the Doctor an aim. It gives him something to do, and at the same time, gives the various forces that oppose him, be they Daleks or Cybermen or Zygons, something to work with, something to oppose him over. Just trying to destroy the Doctor has proven to be a fools game, and even the Daleks must by now suspect that he has a way around the thirteen-regeneration limit that's supposedly out there. Preventing him from returning to Gallifrey, though; that they can do.

So that give the series a new direction, and it seems like something that's necessary.

In other details: despite my frequently voiced dislike of the notion of the re-re-return of Rose, I was very happy to see Billie Piper again, and it's entirely appropriate the the Moment would choose her form as the most emotionally significant form for the Doctor. If you're an AI who's going to guilt-trip someone, you're definitely best starting off from a shape that'll put them on the back foot. It's not her fault that the Doctor's most emotionally significant relationship was upward on his own timeline, not down.

The bits where the Doctors crossed over were very well done. Ten and Eleven using the same body language and motions was pleasing; Smith and Tennant managed to find a decent middle ground between their own two styles to pull that off. I really liked John Hurt as the War Doctor, although it's blatantly and completely obvious that the whole script was written for Christopher Eccleston, and I think it's an awful pity he couldn't (or wouldn't) appear. But I've no objection to the numbers going 1-8, War, 9-12 to make thirteen. It does put the new Twelve in an awkward position - he's at the end of his regenerations, and he's going to have to be a little more cautious. And even the appearance of what might be an older, post-thirteen-regenerations Doctor as the Curator doesn't really guarantee his survival.

Finally, this gives us a way in which the otherwise rather awful The End of Time episodes can be folded into sometime resembling a sensible continuity, rather than RTD desperately clutching for angsty strings he hasn't pulled yet. And I approve greatly of that.

All in all, I liked The Day of the Doctor, and I'm looking forward to the next time we'll see Who on screen, at Christmas.

Posted by Drew Shiel at November 25, 2013 1:06 PM

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