Monday, 25 November 2013

The Day of the Doctor (2013)

To quote, River Song "Spoilers".

I’ve made no real secret of the fact that I’m not the biggest fan of Steven Moffat’s time as head writer on Dr Who. I think the quality of the writing has decreased and the focus has become spectacle and viewing figures instead of good characters and well-executed narratives. Plus, his last 3 seasons have included far more complete duds than the Russell T era was ever guilty of and, in my opinion, the vast majority of great episodes come from the first 4.5 series of the rebooted show. However, I was just as excited as the vast majority of the world about last night’s 50th anniversary special and sat in front of my TV praying Moffat would pull it off.

The Day of the Doctor is to Dr Who what Skyfall was for James Bond: namely a completely geeky celebration of the classic science-fiction show. It starts from the get-go with subtle and slightly less subtle references to the episodes of the past. We have the classic Who opening titles, the opening scene, a returning enemy and more than a few familiar faces. It’s an action packed adventure that sets out to reinvent the show as we now know it.

Unfortunately, right off the bat, I find my first hint of disappointment thanks to the unnecessary, just writing it so we can use a lot of green-screen, scene which sees the Doctor hanging out of the Tardis as it lands in Trafalgar Square. Just because we have a bigger budget doesn’t mean we need to use every bit of it, guys. Less is, as they say, more. However, it was great to have UNIT back and the reappearance of Kate (Jemma Redgrave), who made an amazing first impression in the otherwise forgettable Power of Three. Also worthy of a mention is the bescarfed and asthma suffering Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) who I definitely hope to see her return at some point. She’s pretty much your typical fangirl (complete with Tom Baker inspired accessory) and, from the looks of it, has been a hit with Whovians the world over.  

UNIT need the Doctor and Clara to help them solve a mystery surrounding something new: Time Lord art. Our introduction to this new section of Time Lord society was wonderful and not only served as a large part of the following narrative but offered breathtaking visuals. Featuring traditional ‘bigger on the inside’ Time Lord technology, the painting on show contains a single moment in history. A very important moment in history as it turns out: The Moment. The last seven seasons of Dr Who have been leading to this point where we finally come face-to-face with the exact point that this supposedly good man made the decision to destroy his people in order to save existence. Before he pushes the big red button he has to justify his actions so, thanks to a weapon of mass destruction that handily has a conscience, the War Doctor (John Hurt) gets the chance to meet his future self.

Thanks to another flashback we get a glimpse of Number 10 (David Tennant) enjoying some down-time with Elizabeth I (Joanna Page) in 1562 and trying to prevent an invasion by the Fourth Doctors old enemy the Zygons. Our current doctor (Matt Smith) is eventually transported to the same time and the stage is finally set for the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Matt Smith and David Tennant work really well together on screen. They both have a similar way of approaching the character and it is great to watch their dialogue. The two over-grown children are initially wary of each other but, ultimately, have a great deal of
respect for their different selves. The pair has a great back and forth and the little bitchy lines are a welcome break in moments of heavy plot development.

Smith plays his Doctor with the same relish and skill that we have come to expect since he took over for series 5. I think he’s done an admirable job and his over-excited child-like nature is infectious and easy to embrace. However, this episode was all about the return of Tennant who, despite a 3 year gap, fits back into the old suit perfectly. It’s always lovely to see an actor to return to a key role in their career and you can tell he had a lot of fun doing it.

That is something that The Day of the Doctor does well. Moffat is at his best when he is writing on a very personal and close level because he can play with language, drama and comedy. In terms of his writing, this episode has to be one of his finest Who episodes to date. Anyone who makes the brave decision to mock large aspects of your own work is alright by me. The Day of the Doctor is self-aware and tongue-in-cheek despite all of the dark themes on show. It is out together very cleverly and, despite all of the jumps through time, it is easy to keep up with the action. Unlike a lot of Moffat’s recent episodes, there is no sense that the drama just peters out towards the end. The action and the emotions are running high from the opening to ending credits. Most importantly of all, because he was preoccupied with something more important, he didn’t make the mistake of going too big. The moments when this episode really flies are in the quieter scenes starring our main three men.  

After a brief glimpse at the end of series 7, John Hurt finally gets the chance to show us what he is made of as the War Doctor works up the courage to make the ultimate choice. He is a weary and defeated man who can see no other way out. However, it is only after he comes face-to-face with his youthful future that the sparks really fly. Hurt gets some utterly amazing lines to throw about and fits wonderfully in the role of the disapproving parent. I’d describe Tennant and Smith’s approach to the Doctor as one full of eagerness and
glee. Hurt is calm, collected and totally badass. The younger men hold their screwdrivers aloft in the same manner that a Shakespearean actor would hold a sword whilst Hurt stands alongside and gets straight to the point. It’s an attention-grabbing and completely engrossing performance.

As is the supporting role played by Billie Piper. Thankfully, Moffat decided against attempting to bring back Rose Tyler once again but used her image, or more specifically Bad Wolf Rose, as the interface of The Moment. Piper has some great moments whilst guiding the War Doctor to his ultimate decision and she plays her role with a great deal of subtlety and skill. Considering part of me was dreading her arrival, I found myself rejoicing that she could make it back to mark the occasion.

Rose Tyler may have recently been voted the greatest Doctor Who companion ever by a BBC3 poll but there can be no denying that Clara is well on her way to proving herself. Having spent much of her first series just moving the story along, it was nice to see her make more of a mark here. Unlike Amy (who, as you may remember, I couldn’t stand), she is clever, independent and strong. Jenna Louise Colman is a fine actress and, provided she is given the correct material, she should continue to flourish under Peter Capaldi’s guidance. Just look back at that phenomenal moment where she stood up to all three Doctors and managed to change the course of history.

That is, after all, what Moffat wanted to do with this episode. The narrative of the Zygon invasion is just your run-of-the-mill Who story: shape-shifting aliens, confusion about who is real, confrontation and eventual resolution. Whilst it has some important and clever components to it, the plot is, ultimately, inconsequential and the story is never even fully resolved for the audience. This is about the Doctor and the  choice he made. A decision that has haunted him since well before 2005’s Rose. It never really seemed to fit that the Doctor, as we know him, would accept that there was no other way to stopping the war. He has faced a great many foes and has always failed to accept defeat. The Doctor deserved a second chance and that is exactly what Moffat gave him.

A second chance that led to one of the most extraordinary sequences in television history and the moment that Peter Capaldi’s eyebrows almost broke the internet: all of Doctors to date coming together to save their planet from destruction. I defy anyone to sit through it without feeling like a child again. Any viewer who didn’t watch as all of the familiar faces of the past (and one from the future) flooded our screens and didn’t jump for joy had no right watching the show at all. Similarly, if anyone watched that final scene, where all of the Doctors line up side-by-side, without shedding just a little tear has no heart.

Even the slightly shameful and cringey Tom Baker cameo was forgivable and the conversation between him and Matt Smith was a wonder. He was the man who defined the Doctor for such a long time and it wouldn’t have felt right without some sort of appearance. Plus, the idea that regenerations can backtrack in some way is an interesting one that will of course leave a lot of fangirls hoping David Tennant and his great hair will fall on hard times and find his way back.

There is simply too much to say in praise of this episode and far too many references and moments to discuss that I could write forever. Of course, there were flaws here but the positives more than outweigh them. Even the use of CGI and special effects worked in this setting. If I’m completely honest, the opening shots of the Time War felt a little bit like the flat and lifeless CGI of the Star Wars prequels but there were some scenes where it really worked. Can anything compete with the visual of three slow-mo Doctors facing off against a Dalek in the middle of the Time War before crashing through a painting into the tower of London? No? Didn’t think so.

Ultimately, this episode gave a great deal of closure to a terrible part of the Doctor’s past, it celebrated who he was, allowed him to come to terms with his actions and left him with a new direction. Whatever happens in Matt Smith’s final outing at Christmas, we all know where Peter Capaldi is heading: home.

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