Could The Day of the Doctor live up to the hype? Let’s be honest, I don’t think anything could satisfy all the hopes and fears of the millions of Doctor Who fans around the world who tuned in at 1950 GMT on 23rd November, or who (like me) stumped up for a cinema ticket to see it in 3D. But Steven Moffat and the team did one hell of a fine job trying.
Cinema viewers got the usual pre-film warnings, but delivered by Strax (and if you get to see it, you’ll never eat popcorn the same way again!); the how to use 3-D lecture was given by Messrs. Tennant and Smith. And then the show began… with the old titles, a policeman near a very familiar junkyard, and Coal Hill School. As with An Adventure in Space and Time, rewatching will no doubt be rewarded with noticing even more elements, but if you didn’t spot them, look out for the names on the school noticeboard.
From thereon it was a bit of a madcap ride for a time, with some fun stuntwork and the TARDIS arriving rather unusually in Trafalgar Square. Moffat then juggled the three plotlines together – the end of the Time War, and the actions of the John Hurt Doctor; Tennant’s Doctor wooing Queen Elizabeth (with some of my favourite comedy moments in this bit); and Kate Lethbridge-Stewart revealing the Zygon problem to the 11th Doctor. The two “flashbacks” were tonally so at odds that it was slightly surprising that they worked as well as they did, but they were needed to set the scene for the team-up of the three incarnations – at the behest of the Bad Wolf girl (Billie Piper not needing to adopt Rose’s accent, thankfully, for the role). Hurt’s amazement at the apparent immaturity of his successors was nicely played – right up to the “oh for God’s sake” as they go to save the day – although their apparent frivolity was part and parcel of the reworking of the mythology that was at the core of The Day.
To deal with the secondary plotline first: – the Zygon slow invasion. It was great to see the monsters back, and the transmutation was very nicely done (imagine what the gas mask scenes from 2005 would look like with current technology!) There was perhaps a bit too much reliance on viewers remembering the older story – the creatures’ need to keep the original alive wasn’t made as clear as perhaps it should have been – but there were some good creepy moments and it gave the UNIT team something more to do throughout the story. The Black Archive was a neat idea (nice to see its return from The Sarah Jane Adventures) although the Companion Wall (how the hell did they get that shot of Kamelion?) was a great idea that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. The resolution by the Doctors was equally fun to watch, but perhaps not fully thought through.
However, the core of the story – the War Doctor being shown his possible future – did feel considerably more polished. The scenes in the war itself were spectacular (and filmed over just two days, according to Danny Hargreaves onstage at the Excel on Sunday) but then, as Doctor Who so often does, it came down to people talking in a room.
Moffat trod a fine line in not rewriting the past, particularly the work of his own predecessor, while still keeping the Doctor true to his character (although it’s interesting that he had McGann’s Doctor choose to become a warrior…). The wonderful moment where Terrance Dicks’ dictum about the Doctor’s character was repeated was one of the many highlights.
The scene with the Moment had some effective mirroring: Hurt’s Doctor had Bad Wolf as his conscience; Matt’s Doctor had Clara, who manages to save the Doctor yet again, and in a sense completes the mission she was born to: she was able to help the original ten Doctors in The Name of the Doctor. Now she assists Hurt too. Then seeing all the Doctors – including in a moment that raised a cheer around the world, a oh-so-brief foretaste of Peter Capaldi’s polite but insistent incarnation – working together was exactly what many had hoped for, but had believed (because they forgot the cardinal rule: Moffat lies) wasn’t going to happen.
That might have been enough but even as we came to terms with Hurt’s Doctor realizing that he’s never going to know that he didn’t use the Moment, the mythology got yet another jolt, with the arrival of the Curator – an older Doctor who has gone back to one of his previous forms – or at least, that’s my reading of it. (A very similar character turned up in James Goss’s Summer Falls, Amelia Pond’s novel which we know that Clara at least has read; did the Doctor gain the inspiration from there?) For one moment, I thought we were going to get some perfect symmetry, after Matt’s appearance in An Adventure in Space and Time, and it was David Bradley’s First Doctor who would arrive – but the surprise arrival of Tom Baker (for those who weren’t spoiled by Tom’s own pronouncements on the subject) provided an excellent coda to the adventure, leading into a new purpose for Doctor Who’s second half-century.
The Five Doctors concluded with a restatement of the show’s premise (blatantly discussed by Tegan and the Doctor); The Day of the Doctor went back to a line from the very first episode. “One day we shall get back. Yes, one day. One day,” the Doctor muses. Moffat quipped at the Excel event that “that’s what they’ll do for the hundredth anniversary show”, but I suspect it could come a lot earlier than that.
Verdict: A wonderful celebration of Doctor Who’s past, present and future that lived up to expectations. 9/10
Our review of The Five Doctors(ish) Reboot following shortly