The Day of the Doctor vs The Light at the End

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Gustaff Behr compares the two 50th anniversary specials.


The 50th year of Doctor Who was indeed packed with goodies. You could say we received no less than FIVE anniversary specials in total. Things kicked off a month early with the first eight incarnations of the Doctor foiling a sinister plot cooked up by the Master on November 23rd, 1963 in The Light at the End. After that we discovered how Paul McGann’s Doctor finally regenerated in The Night of the Doctor. Following that, we were whisked back to the 60s yet again, this time to see how Doctor Who was born in An Adventure in Time and Space. The Day of the Doctor hit TV and cinema screens worldwide in 94 countries at the exact same time before allowing us thirty minutes of comedic joy with The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot. Five main events on one match card ladies and gentlemen! However, for this article, I’ll be concentrating on the two showstoppers in this lineup: The Day of the Doctor vs The Light at the End!

Future Versus Past

tom-baker-the_day_of_the_doctorLight and Day completed each other really well in that one made use of Doctor Who’s birth date while the other used the 50th anniversary milestone. Extra points to both for making the dates in both stories plot elements. Extra points to both for having all the Doctors in each story revisit the aforementioned dates at the end of their respective stories. Doctors One through Eight visited Bob Dovie on 23 November 1963 to see if he was alright after their tussle with the Master (yes I was brave enough to use tussle in a sentence) while War, Ten and Eleven kicked back in the National Gallery on November 23rd, 2013. Bonus points to Steven Moffat for adding an ‘extra’ Doctor in the form of the Curator managing said gallery in 2013 and a few more for making him look like Tom Baker!


light-at-the-end-artBoth titles contained a titanic total of call backs and call forwards (this is time travel after all), but The Day of the Doctor managed to incorporate most of its callbacks as part of the plot, whereas The Light at the End mainly used them to jog our memories of the good old times. The most noticeable instance of plot related callbacks would be the Doctor’s greatest secret, Ten marrying Queen Bess and the War Council noting that the events of The End of Time have already transpired.

The general callbacks (those that are just verbal fanservice aimed at us) include the normal dialogue spoken in multi-Doctor specials, The ‘Omega’ Arsenal, the Ninth Doctor’s silly looking ears and the space-time telegraph. While in The Light at the End we had Six and Peri hearing the Cloister bell, not all the Doctors could fully materialize into the story due to there not being enough power, the version of the Master in this story is from before Logopolis and Peri mentioned meeting Two and Jamie in The Two Doctors among others.

Great Minds Think Alike

day-sonicsIt’s rather exhilarating when you notice the shared ideas between the two stories. I know it sounds odd, but remember how the TARDIS console room kept jumping through the various desktop designs as soon as War, Ten and Eleven entered it? Guess what happened when Eight entered Four’s TARDIS and wibbly-wobbly kicked in?

Aside from callbacks, the two titles actually shared a lot of the same ideas and plot points in general, proving that great minds do indeed think alike. Events from much earlier in both tales prove to be vitally important later on. For instance, Five landing in Bob Dovie’s garden at the very start of the story doesn’t make much sense until about halfway through part two. Similarly, the call the UNIT scientist Tom gets after Eleven leaves for the Under-Gallery with Kate and Clara isn’t given much thought by the audience until much much later. One could argue that Clara’s lecture at the very start of the story concerning Marcus Aurelius’ famous words on integrity as one as well: “Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” Kinda what the entire episode is all about wouldn’t you say?

Also, portals into the past were utilized in both titles. Charley Pollard (among others) was able to glimpse previous Doctors and companions, while Eleven was able to physically revisit Ten and later the War Doctor in the Time War. From Ten and War’s perspective, they count as portals to the future. (Just sorting out the temporal tenses)

Not only that, but both titles featured ‘big red buttons’ that could be pushed to solve the plot. Actually, Light contained TWO. The first is created when Five goes back and ensures that Bob acknowledges the presence of the TARDIS and then again when Doctors One to Three decide not to transmit the warning light on the console that causes all the Doctors to end up in the Master’s pocket dimension in the first place. While Light featured metaphysical buttons, Day featured a literal one. Oddly enough, many fans who complain about Day have an issue with the Doctors using a Deus Ex Machina button to save the situation. This is incredibly peculiar as – if you watch it again, you’ll realize that they don’t actually use it – at all! The button is only used in Light and it’s justified since it’s established as part of the resolution early on.

8 Versus 3

doctors-1-8Most people put Day and Light at odds because the latter featured eight Doctors with no archive footage. True, Day only managed to bring 13 Doctors together through the use of archive footage/audio, but it’s actually closer to being five Doctors in Light’s case since One, Two and Three are featured so seldom throughout the story that you can actually call it a cameo appearance. Plus, let’s not forget the Curator appearing at the end of Day. So, now it’s more like four on five.

I will say that having more Doctors doesn’t necessarily mean a better story – it just means more work as everyone needs to contribute or you’re just wasting an incarnation. Thankfully Nick Briggs managed not to fall into this trap when he wrote his story. The scenes and setups featured in Day were abnormally long while the setups in Light were shorter so that the progress of each Doctor could be followed without them being forgotten about by the audience. This is another difference between the two stories. For the most part, Light is set up as a mystery drama in a pocket universe while Day is a tale of redemption – an action thriller you might say.

About One Particular Man

day of the doctor batch b (19)Both titles have one massive thing in common – it’s a Doctor-heavy story! This is new territory for Classic Who, not so much for New Who as Moffat has been trying to make Doctor Who into a series about the Doctor as a person more so than his companions. While Day’s title gives a much clearer impression of a Doctor-centered adventure than Light’s, Light is as much a story about the Doctor as Day. This isn’t just another mad-capped Doctors unite adventure – it’s a story about the Doctor specifically! While Day told the story about the War Doctor’s last adventure, Light communicated the Doctor’s most dangerous adventure up until that point. In fact, it’s dangerous enough to warrant me saying that this is a rather special Doctor-centered story. More proof comes in the form of the treatment of companions. In Day, Steven had just one companion adventuring with three Doctors while Nick decided to feature as many companions as possible, but slowly evaporated them from the story so more attention could be given to the Doctors. The way Nick writes this piece of the plot as opposed to just selecting periods in the Doctor’s life when he’s travelling alone like Steven did feels more deserving of the praise.

One-Upping One Another

Make no mistake though, in both cases, Day and Light feature content that easily helps support the argument that one is more enjoyable than the other. Take for example the songs specially developed for both titles. There is a Man I Know which is used in Light curb-stomps Song For Fifty into the ground.

And although The Light at the End was for the most part, a proper ‘classic’ episode feel by giving us for instance a typical ‘why not just shoot him’ scenario with the Master, it is taken to ridiculous lengths. During the almost two hour tale, the Master has the chance to easily kill Doctors Four and Eight, then Five, then Seven and then Four and Eight once more but wants to wait and see his unusual first plan succeed instead which is much harder to pull off as it relies on a batman gambit to work. Compared to the plans and schemes setup during The Day of the Doctor, the latter easily wins.

Bonus points to Light though for being almost two hours long and longer than Day in general. Most fans, including myself, wanted Day to be more or less the length of Light, perhaps to resolve the Zygon invasion with a little more padding. Double Day’s score by flowing more naturally compared to Light’s ridiculously long start off. Seriously, it takes like 30 minutes for all hell to break loose! Day managed that in just 5! Helicopter anyone? Add points to Light for featuring more callbacks, companions and continuity nods in its story than Day did. However, Day still gave us TWO future Doctors and a scene with all thirteen Doctors saving the day at the same time. Who wins now is much harder to determine eh?

That’s sort of the point really. It’s not about which one is better, it’s about how we (as fans) were lucky enough to be presented with two such great titles. Instead of one celebration, we received loads in the form of television, documentary, sketches, audio, comics and so much more. It was really one of those parties that got dragged on till two days later. Except in this case, it’s welcomed and we (well most of us anyway) can still remember every moment of it!