2nd Opinion: The Day of the Doctor
David Selby and John Hussey both give their own verdict on the 50th.
I’ve found myself continuously ambivalent towards Moffat’s storytelling – and, more significantly, his idea of ‘creative decisions’. Admittedly, this was a difficult review to write, not least because it juxtaposes both very positive and very negative feelings towards the episode. On one hand, it was a beautiful special, both structurally and linguistically. On the other hand, it was a mess; an unworthy continuation of Russell T. Davies’ ingenious concept, and a blatant missed opportunity to explore one of the most fascinating areas of Doctor Who mythos.
Change is good – or perhaps more precisely, change can be good. Change can be adventurous and enriching to the atmosphere and depth of a ‘tired’ narrative; it can bring hope to those who feel disconnected to and disillusioned by their favourite show. However, I was left feeling unsuitably chagrined by Moffat’s perplexing decision to remove the show’s core layer of pathos. It may be fan-pleasing, but frankly, it feels more like a bad fan-fiction – something thought up by an inexperienced (and excitable) fan on a mundane Saturday night – a pleasing notion, perhaps, but something which an experienced writer would presumably know better to avoid. Apparently not. Moffat indulged in everything I’d feared he would: yet another pointless resurrection, and this time on a much larger, more damaging scale.
Once upon a time, the seldom-used ‘Everybody lives’ leitmotif was a welcome inclusion. In many ways, it should have been out-of-place in Forest of the Dead, considering the dark, macabre tone of the story. Nonetheless, I embraced it. In terms of entertainment value, it worked as a satisfactory resolution to the episode which borrowed some of the key ideas to aid its execution. In The Day of the Doctor, however, I can only describe its use as detrimental. Regardless of whatever the Doctor thought he did, the fact that he didn’t kill his own people removes that beneficial – perhaps essential – layer of darkness from the character. He is no longer a flawed/troubled hero – he is, merely, a hero. On top of that, he is no longer the last of the Time Lords. He is only a Time Lord. Why reduce the protagonist to such an uninspiring figure, when the previous show-runner had already set up an intriguing and complex change to the character?
I’m also against the whole idea of interfering in previously-established events. Elaboration is a different matter entirely – I wouldn’t be against, say, expanding on the idea of the Time War; the Fall of Arcadia being a valid example of how this can work. But when the writer ‘meddles’ with established material, I am left feeling uncomfortable. Ultimately, it was too easy. I find it hard to believe that all Daleks were surrounding Gallifrey and that they’d just ‘wipe each other out’ within a second. I find it unlikely that it would be so simple to move Gallifrey across space and time (especially as the Time War is time-locked – an idea taken all-too-lightly throughout the narrative – and what about Gallifrey’s sun(s)?), and that, if it were so simple, the Time Lords hadn’t thought of the relatively elementary idea themselves. It’s unconvincing that the Doctor, after witnessing the brutal truth of Time Lord society (The Night of the Doctor demonstrates Moffat’s understanding of ‘corrupted’ Time Lords), would so assuredly accept the idea that the High Council could still be out there, scheming away without him. The incomprehensible horrors of Gallifrey of the Final Day – the Nightmare Child, the Horde of Travesties, etc would also be unleashed into the universe. To my understanding, it was the planet itself that the Doctor was least able to save, because it was in such a decrepit, unimaginable dark state that it could never be revived.
With my complaints about to the resolution aside, The Day of the Doctor was still an enjoyable story. I had the pleasure of watching it at the Shaftesbury Avenue screening, meaning that my initial impressions of the episode, despite incorporating disappointment at the resolution, was positive – partly thanks to the terrific ambiance of the cinema and the spectacular FX. The use of 3D was surprisingly effective, especially during the Fall of Arcadia, in which the devastation felt somehow closer to home. The TARDIS was also more of a real-life experience as the viewer was quite literally transported inside. The use of 3D text, and ‘interior depth’ (rather than clichéd ‘jumping out’) was well-adapted by the director; though it was a shame that no 3D clichés were embraced by the end (more could have been done with the Daleks).
The episode started off extremely well (it was a pleasant surprise to see the return of the original title sequence). Though not how I imagined it, the Fall of Arcadia was immensely well-done, as was the Moment – Billie Piper gave the performance of her career. Smith was at his best, complemented by the performance of his counterparts, Tennant – whose return was more than welcome – and Hurt, who truly astonished. As well as giving a mesmeric performance, Hurt’s Doctor had some of the best, most heartfelt lines of the episode – although my favourite moment of dialogue was as the three Doctors recalled their promise (“Never cruel nor cowardly – never give up; never give in”). Clara was at her best and alongside Moffat’s semantic craft, he demonstrated an awareness of parallels – both the screwdriver and Kate’s ‘blow-up London button’ as metaphors to the overreaching story. The Zygon subplot was cleverly-thought though without it, we may have got more Time War content.
Despite my huge displeasure at Moffat’s decision to resurrect Gallifrey (and however people saw it, Tom Baker’s appearance just confused me unnecessarily), I still found The Day of the Doctor to be an immensely enjoyable special. It was superbly directed, scored (Gold’s use of old music was his best, especially Altering Lives, whilst the new tracks were some of his best), acted – and, on several occasions, written. I don’t hold out high hopes for the future, but at least Moffat has shown that he is capable of constructing a very moving, humorous and fundamentally entertaining piece of television.
Steven Moffat, forever an inspiration of mine within the writing world for his genius storytelling and plot-twists, pulled off another brilliant stunt in order to bring a perfect conclusion of half a century of Who and begin the next 50 years. He did so by doing something clever. He didn’t take the obvious celebration route that ‘The Five Doctors’ took where we had a massive fan-fest. Instead Moffat took a more ‘The Three Doctors’ approach in which we had a call back to the past, i.e. the return of three incarnations of the Doctor, which told a new story which incorporated these past elements. This was done through the additional concept of returning to the most important day within the Doctor’s life: the day he killed the Time Lords.
This concept worked perfectly with the introduction of a forgotten incarnation of the Doctor; one that nobody knew about. This was the Doctor who fought within the Time War and he was the one to use the mystical Moment to commit genocide on both the Daleks and the Time Lords. The part that fascinated me was the cold decision to give up his name ‘Doctor’ in order to become a warrior (as first established in ‘The Night of the Doctor’).
The War Doctor was an example of what would happen if the Doctor fell, becoming a dark hero who did whatever was necessary in order to win the day. This is what was played out with the War Doctor, played brilliantly by veteran actor John Hurt. The poetic part of the story was that the Moment (taking on the form of Rose Tyler/Bad Wolf) showed him his future in order to give him a taste of the consequences caused to himself should he choose to obliterate his own race in order to stop the bloodshed. The dark part of the story, which made me look at the Time War with a different perception, was the idea that the Doctor would not only kill the High Council (your typical Time Lord seen within Classic Stories) but also the innocent, i.e. woman and children. It made the decision that more difficult and cruel, which makes us realise more why the Doctor hated that day so much all of this time.
I do enjoy a good multi-Doctor story and I believe Matt Smith and David Tennant were just right for each other. They played off each other with sheer force of talent and it made for both fun and dark scenes. I probably would’ve enjoyed more Doctors onscreen but I’m glad we at least got them two together because it was just fun, which is what a multi-Doctor story is all about. Plus you have the added bonus of a new Doctor who in fact (in the eyes of Ten and Eleven) is the villain. That storyline certainly played out well and was there to challenge the Doctor and to make him see himself. The conclusion was that he had to forgive himself.
The Zygons, for me, were a little bit disappointing. Not due to the fact that they weren’t used well or anything, far from it. But it was like my feeling with the Great Intelligence being the grand-mastermind baddy in ‘The Name of the Doctor’; it just didn’t quite sit right due to them not being iconic enough to pull off such a big story. The Zygons being the main enemy for the 50th Anniversary just seemed odd. As a side enemy perhaps, but not as a main villain. But nonetheless their appearance was a brilliant reboot and stayed respective to their original one from 1975. Also I think in many ways it is daring and brave to actually say I’m going to use characters that you wouldn’t expect. That’s the type of writer Moffat likes to be. He likes you to guess what he will do next. So from that viewpoint the Zygons were a good choice but from my own perspective I would’ve chosen an enemy more recognisable and iconic for such an occasion.
Although Moffat stated he would mostly look forward, he certainly did a good job at throwing in a load of curve balls into the past. There were a lot floating about in the special like the original opening credits, the mentioning of Ian Chesterton and the Brigadier, Coal Hill School, U.N.I.T., the Fourth Doctor’s scarf and many, many more. The main highlight was the inclusion of Tom Baker which I think just topped the 50th off just nicely.
Steven Moffat ended the whole Time War arc with a massive bang with a clever little timey-wimey twist. As it turned out the Doctor never actually ended the war through killing his race. He in fact saved his race from destruction and secretly hid them all from plain sight. What was clever about this was the inclusion of all the Doctors who had come together in order to save Gallifrey. It was a beautiful scene that left me with shivers. Plus we got a little look into the future with a minor appearance from the Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi. The best thing about this scene was it gave the Doctor the redemption he needed. He had been living in loss and sorrow for all these years since the show’s return in 2005 and finally during the 50th year he found peace at last and could finally put his dark past aside and find a new beginning. This was Moffat’s grand master plan: to give the Doctor his next journey in his life. A quest to go find his long lost home of Gallifrey. This will certainly make for an interesting storyline for the future of the show.
I believe ‘The Day of the Doctor’ did its job perfectly in celebrating 50 years of the show’s legacy and shaping its future. Well done Moffat.