Subtle is not a word which can often be attributed to Doctor Who. However, I evoke the adjective here to describe last night’s 50th anniversary episode The Day of The Doctor for one reason. How could something with rips through time, billions of Daleks blowing shit up, Shape-shifting rubbery things covered in suckers, entire galaxies in peril, and extreme close ups on Billie Piper in anyway be subtle? Well, in those terms it isn’t. The majority of Day of The Doctor is big and ballsy, sparing no expense, reaching beyond the traditional limits of television (as Doctor Who does).
As an episode it is in no way subtle. It may be the biggest they’ve ever done – in terms of story and ambition. As a 50th anniversary special, a way of honoring the half a century the show has been around, it is very, very subtle, almost too subtle.
I will say this: There is absolutely no way The Day of The Doctor could have lived up to my expectations. It’s just not possible. I’ve been anticipating this with the same level of unhealthy excitement as the rest of the world breathlessly waited for the Star Wars prequels. Luckily that was the only thing it had in common with those films.
The episode was good. I liked it quite a bit. My mind wasn’t blown. The universe didn’t quake. I was suitably entertained, and that was good enough for me. That was my greatest fear – that I wouldn’t have been entertained. Thankfully Matt was on top form. David stepped back into the role with ease. John Hurt felt natural as this in-between Doctor. Accepting him in the Whoniverse was painless and welcome. Even if it does screw with the timeline a bit, I’m glad he’s part of it.
Clara usually annoys me. Here she’s used appropriately, without the constant smirk, and felt more at home as the companion. Queen Elizabeth was hysterical. I was actually a little sad when she wasn’t present any longer. All her references to execution along with her puppy love for The Doctor was just hilarious. The Zygons were properly gross, if not very menacing and a little underused. Kate Stewart and U.N.I.T. made a welcome return. It actually got me wondering why the Unified Intelligence Taskforce doesn’t have its own series. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D got one. Stinking Torchwood got one. Why not U.N.I.T.?
The pacing of the episode wore thin very quickly. Nothing really gets going until all three Doctors are together. The Tweny-Nine minutes of setup weighed the energy of everything down. Knowing where each Doctor is and what they’re doing is necessary. Allowing John Hurt time to win the audience over as this new old Doctor is also necessary. Taking a third of the episode to do all that was not. Such a slow build up resulted in much of the episode feeling smaller and rushed (Did you notice how much of this episode took place in tiny rooms?). It’s hard to make 3D Time Lord art serving as stasis chambers, epic crane shots swooping across Gallifrey while stuff blows up all around you, and extreme close ups of Billie Piper, feel small, but it did. Despite this still being the largest episode yet, by rushing the second half of the episode it truncates the grandeur because it doesn’t allow us time to appreciate its scope.
Wasn’t I talking about subtlety?
Steven Moffat has said numerous times that the 50th can’t just be about looking back. It has to also be about looking forward. Acknowledge the show has been around for 5 decades and get people excited about another five. He’s right to a large extent, and he achieved that. Using the original opening titles. Fading into a similar first shot. Utilizing Susan’s school. Right off the bat got you remembering that 50 years ago on this very day people were experiencing this show for the first time.
Peppered throughout the episode were references to the classic series. The occasional electronic musical cue. A flash of the classic Tardis, complete with round things: I love the round things. Archival footage of Digital images of classic Doctors all arriving to save the day (well, that’s one of the more overt touches), along with various other Easter eggs, were all subtle ways of paying tribute to the fifty years Doctor Who has been around.
While I love all those moments (even if some of them were slight cop-outs), the episode seemed more concerned with the last eight years of the series. Central to everything that is current Who is The Time War. The Doctor exists as we know him today because of the Time War. Likewise central to this episode is the Time War. What the Zygons are doing, and how Stewart responds to them, not only mirrors that event, but is directly caused by it. All of it is leading up to correcting his mistake.
So, it didn’t feel like a celebration of fifty years with a look towards the future. Instead it comes off as a celebration of the last eight years. Which has always been one of my concerns.
All that being said, I enjoyed the episode a lot. It was fun. I was entertained. And there were a few chill-inducing moments (Capaldi’s eyes anyone?).
Without a doubt the very best moment of the episode, the thing I have watched over and over again, was the appearance of the man who will forever be seared into my mind as the one true Doctor:
Since the very beginning, all those years ago, when little boy me first encountered Doctor Who on a bookshelf in Barnes & Noble, Tom Baker was my Doctor. To have the best Doctor to have ever owned the role standing there with the best actor since him to play the role was completely mesmerizing. Even while old, round and jowly, with a cane, Tom baker is The Doctor. His voice, his quirks, the slight psychotic gleam in his eye makes Matt Smith look tame in comparison. Oh and how I loved the idea that one day the Doctor may become so nostalgic as to regenerate into a few of his old favorite faces.
Which means Tom was, is, and always will be The Doctor.
By the Way: If you have not seen Peter Davison’s Outstanding short film The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, you have been denying yourself. If it weren’t for the last scene of Tom Baker, I would say that I actually prefer it to The Day of the Doctor. This is closer to the 50th that I was hoping for. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01m3kfy