Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Episode Review: The Day of the Doctor

Day of the Doctor

It’s a day that’s been 50 years in the making, and what a day it is. Doctor Who has reached its 50th year of being on and off the TV, and today brings the Doctor on his latest and greatest adventure, both viewable on the TV he started on and brought to cinema screens across the world in a whole new dimension for him – 3D.

The Day of The Doctor is the 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who, written by showrunner and life-long fan Steven Moffat. Directed by Nick Hurran, the feature-length epic brings the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors (David Tennant and Matt Smith) together with John Hurt’s character – a regeneration of The Doctor who brought the end of the Time War which wiped out Time Lord and Dalek alike – on a time and space-bending trip set to shake up the very formula that makes The Doctor who he is.

It’s a story that starts where the previous series ended – with the Doctor facing his past, a past he has tried to forget. Of course, he’s pulled into his timey-wimey state of equilibrium in seemingly unconnected circumstances: Kate Stewart, head of U.N.I.T., has brought the Doctor in to consult on the mysterious shattering of glass from paintings that once had subjects – subjects that have now disappeared.

Meanwhile, John Hurt’s Doctor is on the very brink of stopping the Time War, but not without being shown the potential consequences of his actions, i.e. the state in which the future Doctors are in after his choice to bring an end to the Time War.

Whereas in his current whereabouts, Tennant’s Doctor is courting Queen Elizabeth I. Well, he’s courting a shapeshifting classic Who monster called a Zygon.

Maybe.

From there things get interesting. And complicated. And clever. And funny. And confusing.

But all in all, very, very fun, and very, very worth watching.

Moffat is known for his love of complex and intelligent story and narrative structure, and The Day of the Doctor turns everything to Eleven. He runs multiple timelines all around each other, plays with the ideas of previous Doctors and the time between them, and all in all has a lot of enjoyment messing everything around. And it works.

For the most part.

The problem with thinking about it all is that you find so many holes. That said, if you don’t look too closely, it’s very smartly done. The script once again uses a fez to help the audience understand what’s going on with the time travel, but while we’re all being misdirected, we ignore so many questions that could be asked.

One can’t complain with the overall story, though. For all intents and purposes, it’s everything you’d expect for the 50th anniversary given the circumstances, but then it gives a little bit more. Like you couldn’t imagine.

The true joy just comes out of the sheer love of Who. There are so many in-jokes and clever references and lines and the like, but it’s the sheer fanboy wonder of watching David Tennant and Matt Smith’s Doctor interacting, which is then turned on yet another enjoyable angle when you bring John Hurt into the equation – a Doctor that has yet to become those people, reflecting on how young and childlike his older selves are, a side-effect of what his regeneration will be soon to do.

So many standout moments come from the back and forth the Doctors have. The jokes all hit and the small details bring a smile to the face. It’s a show celebrating the Doctor and everything he is, was and ever will be.

Which, one eventually realises, is where the only real problem is with The Day of the Doctor: The other characters. Clara, played by Jenna Coleman, is sidelined, as usual. Billie Piper is gloriously brought back, but still tragically underused. Jemma Redgrave’s Kate Stewart does a good job until she’s forgotten in all the antics of the Doctors. But the real annoying element is Elizabeth I, played by Joanna Page, who is written completely contrary to everything we know about Elizabeth I, wasted, belittled, and essentially comic fodder. It’s sad and annoying, and one wishes they could have at least been given the time of day, not just the Doctor.

The real magic of watching the 50th anniversary episode, however, is watching it with other fans. Watch it with friends and family, watch it with people who know and love Who. It was a fantastic experience watching it at a cinema. You get the real cultural impact and appreciation of Doctor Who that way. The laughs, the applause, the simultaneous minds being blown. The 3D was, as usual, an afterthought. Sure, it made for some hilarity before the feature presentation with some extra clips filmed specifically for the cinema experience, but the 3D wasn’t noticeable.

What was noticeable, however, was just that feeling of brotherhood. Sisterhood. Whovians one and all, together, in a room behind a door that’s bigger on the inside. The Sonic Screwdrivers of all designs echoing. The jelly babies being passed around. The Doctors of every incarnation laughing and joking before the lights go down. The tears. The suspense. The surprise. The pay off.

There are problems with The Day of The Doctor, but it doesn’t harm the impact the show has and will continue to have for another 50 years. It is still a very entertaining 80 minutes. There is so much there and more than you could have hoped for. It is an episode that’s deceptively big for what it is. Sure, some of it is preachy, some of it is convenient, some of it is silly, but that’s what The Doctor is. That’s what the TARDIS stole him away for. To be exactly where he needs to be. 50 years on from 1963. Any time, any place. And it’s always amazing.

And it will continue to be.

Though, hopefully, the female characters will be made to be worth a damn again.

The Day of the Doctor aired on BBC One and in cinemas around the world on 23rd November 2013. It’s viewable in 3D, and it can also be found on BBC iPlayer. The episode stars Matt Smith, David Tennant, John Hurt, and more; it was written by Steven Moffat; and it was directed by Nick Hurran.

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1 Comment

  1. There was lots to like, but Elizabeth just shouldn’t have been in this episode at all because it was trying to squeeze too much in. I thought Kate was great, however, and I agree that it would be nice to see more of her. I was quite glad to see Billie wasn’t playing Rose too – every time they’ve brought Rose back, it’s been a big mistake, and stolen something away from the tragedy of her being trapped in another universe.

    My biggest problem with it all was that rewriting history in that way rendered much of the Doctor’s behaviour since meaningless, particularly in the Chris Eccleston period. As an example, try watching “Dalek” again now – how can we possibly see it in the same way? It’s a tricky one, because it was inevitable that they’d end up bringing back the Time Lords somehow, but so much of the character’s power and emotional depth has just been thrown away so lightly. The truth is it was probably a mistake to get rid of Gallifrey in the first place, but I guess at that stage no one anticipated the show coming back in such a big way. That said, I did very much like what Moffat did with using his decision in the Time War to explain the Doctor’s more childish qualities in the Smith and Tennant eras.

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