Let’s get it out of the way: yes, “The Day of the Doctor” was a very satisfying celebration of Doctor Who. While I’ll get to a couple of caveats shortly, Steven Moffat ticked nearly all of the boxes and left me feeling very good about the future of my favorite TV series.
It’s all spoilers from this point forward, so don’t follow me into the Black Archive below unless you want to know it all.
(By the way, the above image is stitched together from several different frames to provide a better view of the Cyber-converted copy of “The Raft of the Medusa” on display in the Undergallery.)
While I was anticipating another look in at the final day of the great Time War between the Daleks and the Time Lords, what I did not expect was a rewrite. The Time War was the central event of the revived series, papering over Doctor Who‘s 16-year broadcast hiatus and providing character motivation for the battle-scarred Doctor, who had presided over its end by annihilating both sides of the conflict.
Now that has been undone, and while I might be annoyed by a such a “retcon” (a portmanteau of “retroactive continuity,” referring to the revision of established history within a serial narrative), I’m actually quite happy about it. The Doctor’s post-Time War trauma pretty much had been played out, and his quest to locate and restore his homeworld of Gallifrey will provide new story ideas. Furthermore, it puts behind us the notion of the Doctor as the “Last of the Time Lords,” the final survivor of an exploded planet à la Superman.
What I liked especially was that it allowed the Doctor to once again be the Doctor, the man who seeks a better way to save the day. We saw it in his peaceful handling of the Zygon invasion sub-plot, and again when he changed his mind about pushing the big, red, planet-shattering button.
I was very happy to see the long-absent Zygons get so much screen time; I’d assumed that they’d make little more than a cameo. While I was mildly disappointed by the non-appearance of their pet–the Loch Ness Monster–perhaps Moffat is saving that for a follow-up.
There were a few others who were sorely missed. Would it have killed Christopher Eccleston to put aside whatever resentment he feels toward Doctor Who long enough to shoot a regeneration scene? Not cool. And as punch-the-air wonderful it was to have all of the Doctor’s former selves arrive like the Cavalry, it’s really too bad that the present-day Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy weren’t allowed to participate.*
That said, I can’t complain too much. I hooted when the upcoming 12th Doctor (or is he the 13th?) Peter Capaldi put in a split-second appearance, and again when Tom Baker showed up as “The Curator,” hinted to be a future incarnation of the Time Lord revisiting one of his old faces.
Multi-Doctor stories are always fun, if for no other reason than to provide an excuse for his various incarnations to poke fun at and attempt to one-up each other. Matt Smith and the returning David Tennant clearly had a good time, and “War Doctor” John Hurt surprisingly fit right in as their younger/older self.
Although I would have been perfectly content with a mpb of former Doctors and companions having a runaround in the style of the 20th anniversary special, “The Five Doctors,” I have to admit that “The Day of the Doctor” was a far better story, and a fitting tribute to the world’s longest-running science-fiction TV series. While I don’t expect that I’ll be around for the 100th anniversary, for today at least I feel that a centenary celebration isn’t such a long shot.
*Yes, I’ve seen The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, the comedy short about the neglected Doctors’ attempt to crash the production of the 50th anniversary special. It’s cute, but perhaps not quite so funny the day after watching the docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time, which ended the story of the early years of the production of Doctor Who with 1st Doctor William Hartnell being shoved aside to make way for a newer model. That said, I would love to think that it really was Davison, Baker and McCoy under those tarps in the televised episode.