Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Day of the Doctor written by Steven Moffat and directed by Nick Hurran

This story in a nutshell: The Doctor comes face to face with his haunting past…a past that he has tried so hard to forget about.

Nutty Professor: He feels weirdly as if he is waiting to leave but determined to go out in style, showing off all aspect of his Doctor. What’s lovely about his interpretation in The Day of the Doctor is that it seems to have been picked up straight from the weightiness of the last episode (which, after all, dealt with his death) and highlights what is my favourite part of Matt Smith’s interpretation of the role – the old man in the young mans body. We saw very little of that last year (he was too busy waving his arms about and brandishing the sonic screwdriver like a sword, both of which are criticised beautifully in this story) but on the eve of his departure it would seem that Moffat is capitalising on what made this Doctor so attention grabbing in his first season, all those centuries of adventures and horrors trapped inside a twenty-something actor. He’s the Doctor that decides to save Gallifrey rather than destroy it, he’s had 400 years to think through that decision. It’s a triumphant moment for the character in general (hence the title, which I wondered how it would come to fruition) but more specifically a moment to treasure for the Eleventh Doctor in particular. He’s saved Gallifrey but this is the eve of his death and the gutting thing about this Doctor’s epiphany is that he doesn’t have the time to go looking for the planet now. That is his gift to his successor. 

Mockney Dude: Charismatic, funny, commanding and great fun to be around, Tennant has still got it and (as much as it’s churlish to take sides) he’s still my favourite Doctor since it returned in 2005. It pleases me so much that he was the one who got to introduce the Zygons back to the show. If any Doctor was going to indulge in a bromance with Matt Smith’s Eleventh it was going to have to be Tennant and they light up the screen whenever they are together. Of course they do, they are characterised and played in very similar ways and this only serves to highlight that this was one time when the Doctor regenerated and it wasn’t such a departure from what had gone before. Eleven calls Ten ‘Dick Van Dyke’ and Ten calls Eleven ‘Chinny.’ Hehehe. He cannot believe that when he regenerated that he tried to forget the terrible things he (apparently) did in the past  but regeneration has always felt like a rebirth, shirking off your old responsibilities and starting anew. It certainly worked for seven into eight. The Tenth Doctor’s wedding was much more enjoyable than the Eleventh’s. Just saying. He doesn’t want to go to Trenzalore, instead he’s off to meet his destiny. 

War Doctor: In some ways far more than I ever expected and in other ways not quite what I was hoping for, John Hurt blazed onto our screens in fantastic style and gave the performance of a lifetime. I supposed I had better explain myself. I genuinely thought (and understandably so given his ominous introduction in The Name of the Doctor) that the War Doctor (as he is otherwise known to avoid any numbering issues that would send fanboys into apoplexy) was going to be a terrifying figure, a shadow of the man that we recognise and the sort that was capable of making the kind of choices that the Time War required. One who could kill without compunction, without remorse. I was looking forward to watching a version of the Doctor that could never go on to have further adventures because he was practically the sort of person who our Doctor usually battles. What we got instead was something quite different, something much more interesting and as a result of the humour and the consequences of his meeting with his future selves, a version of the Time Lord that I am yearning to spend more time and go and have further adventures with. In 70 minutes he is as fulsomely realised as Paul McGann was in the TV Movie and then some, he skips from this story as a recognisably Doctorish Doctor and one that it is a joy to go on an emotional journey that both judges and redeems his character entirely. That is a real ask of any actor but John Hurt is more than up to the task. Fill in the gaps yourself, the War Doctor that we were introduced to in Night of the Doctor was a young man and when we catch up with him here he is old and frayed – a wealth of stories exists in between to cause such a transformation that we can ponder over for the next 50 years of Doctor Who. Clearly a great deal of time has passed and he has seen sufficient horrors to come to the conclusion that enough is enough – it’s time to bring the Time War to a close by any means necessary, even at the cost of his own people. A man alone on a dead world with the weight of the future in his hands and a terrible decision to make – talk about making the War Doctor an iconic figure. I loved the conceit that he didn’t want the TARDIS to see him committing such a horrific act, he didn’t want the old girls last memory of him to be one of homicide on such a scale. Brilliantly, Hurt’s Doctor can look at what his future holds and be wonderfully critical about his future quirks (‘Are you capable of talking without flapping your hands about?’ he says to the Eleventh Doctor!). It has a much more dramatic purpose than simply taking than him taking the mickey out of himself though, this is the chance for the War Doctor to see what he becomes if he destroys his home planet to save the universe from the conflict with the Daleks. Battle scarred and psychologically tortured, compared to one incarnation wallowing in self hate and the other trying desperately to forget. It is acknowledged that he was the Doctor on the day it wasn’t possible to get it right, his past selves come to terms with who they were and allow this soldier to claim the name that has always rightfully been his. The name of the Doctor. I found the idea of the two Doctors holding his hand to help him make the decision, even for a moment, profoundly moving. Although I am pleased that they never went through with it. Despite the conflict it throws up in my mind with the continuity that has been set in stone for the past seven years, I’ve gone off the idea of the Doctor wiping out so many people for the greater good. It reminds me very strongly of what Lance Parkin achieved in The Gallifrey Chronicles, saving the Time Lords even when he couldn’t save the planet (and again it occurred after a wealth of adventures where the Doctor was sufficiently tortured about something that occurred in his past). Ultimately the Doctor always wins and that is a fine statement to make about the show. The years have been weighing on him for some time, he’s an old man now and he’s just been handed the ultimate moment of victory. Could you think of a better tome to regenerate? For Hurt’s Doctor it is a conquering exit but for Eccleston’s Doctor (who is briefly glimpsed as he regenerates in the TARDIS) it brings memory loss and a whole world of hurt. Time to pull out the series one DVD again.

Impossible Girl: Probably the most responsible interpretation of Clara since The Snowmen, but I still find her something of a non-entity despite some very good moments. Moffat can give the character plenty to do (which he always does) but he seems determined to do so without giving her a personality (again true here). I kind of want to have my cake and eat it because I like my companions to have a sense of independence and a career (Sarah Jane) but I also want them to be tied to the Doctor and have continuous adventures with him rather than popping back into the TARDIS whenever the Doctor happens to be in town (Sarah Jane very quickly sacrificed her career after being established as a professional woman to join the Doctor on his travels). When they wrote Amy as having to walk between two worlds in season 7b it was because she was leaving and it was fresh to see a companion have to face the difficult decision of which life to choose. With Clara, it feels like she simply hasn’t embraced her life with the Doctor yet and wants to constantly keep one foot in the door, so to speak. Bizarrely, Clara does have her own life but it is one that feels entirely manufactured for whatever the story requires – a nanny for two children who will get caught up in the works of a story (The Snowmen/Nightmare in Silver) or a teacher who works at a school that first introduced us to the world of Doctor Who. It’s doesn’t feel like an authentic life but a manufactured one. When Donna walked into her house in Partners in Crime and her mum slagged her off for what feels like hours you got a greater sense of her life in those few seconds than we have of Clara’s in almost a season. Proving that she isn’t as vital to the show as you might imagine, she vanishes several times for quite a length. I can’t say I even noticed. Moffat is determined to make her the most vital of companions whilst also being the most vacuous and like The Name of the Doctor she is given a hugely important role in this story that has a profound impact on the shows mythology. Clara doesn’t care if it has a profound effect on the Doctor, she wants him to know that the murder of billions is something that she never thought her Doctor would be capable of. She lets him know with a look that she could never forgive him if he pushes that button. It is what sparks of that feeling of hope. For a moment there, I really felt something between these two characters. Take that moment, Moffat, and use it in Smith’s departure tale.

Bad Wolf: Billie Piper returns to Doctor Who. That was expected, but not in the role that anybody was imagining she was going to play. That was a terrific surprise (except for the Ten/Rose Shippers who probably took to the internet in droves as soon as they realised) and Piper gives a formidable performance as the conscience of the Moment, the interface that questions the War Doctor’s decision to bring the Time War to a destructive conclusion.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What’s out cover story for this?’ ‘Derren Brown’ ‘Again?’
‘How do you use a weapon of mass destruction when it can stand in judgement of you?’
‘How can you forget this?
‘We’re confusing the polarity.’
‘Do you have to talk like children? What makes you both so ashamed of being a grown up?’
‘I might have the body of a weak and feeble woman…but at the time so did the Zygon.’
‘Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame.’
‘Never cruel or cowardly’ ‘Never give up’ ‘Never give in.’
‘Home. The long way round.’

Kisses to the Past: This is the Doctor Who 50th anniversary after all and Moffat was never going to see it in without writing something of a love letter to the past of Doctor Who. I knew we were in for a story with an ache of nostalgia when the story opened with the glorious Hartnell theme tune and titles and cut to that atmospheric shot of a policeman walking along a London street and (apparently) past IM Foreman scrapyard before turning the corner to reveal Coal Hill School. Recreating the feeling of the very first scene in Doctor Who but bringing it bang up to date – exactly what this story is trying to do. Clara screaming into the TARDIS on a motorbike without breaking a sweat recalls one of the smarter moments of the TV Movie. A Tom Baker scarf was a nod to the most famous of Doctors before he makes an appearance himself, keeping him fresh in the viewers mind. Past or present, it would seem that UNIT is very much a part of the DNA of the show now. The Day of the Doctor salutes all the producers of the past by tackling a fresh and exciting method of telling a story visually, keeping it at the cutting edge of the market. Just like Barry Letts and his CSO and JNT and his scene-sync, Moffat blazes a trail with the use of 3D to tell this anniversary tale. The Omega arsenal – Moffat’s inner fanboy keeps popping out to say hi. Rose Tyler/Bad Wolf, Moffat is sufficiently in debt and humbled to include plenty of nods to the Russell T Davies era of the show. Is that the horse from The Girl in the Fireplace? How lovely to finally explain away why the Queen was so appalled to see the Doctor in The Shakespeare Code. The Black Archive was introduced in the Sarah Jane Adventures, a nice acknowledgement of the supplementary continuity the spin off created. The roundels in the TARDIS gave me chills. A shame it was only for a second. ‘Oh you’ve redecorated…I don’t like it.’ Kate Lethbridge-Stewart has got some real balls, just like her father. The Cybermen get a (very brief) look in. The sound of the TARDIS brings hope to anyone who hears it…and it has been doing so for over 50 years now. I’m glad that that is finally acknowledged. All the Doctor’s turn up at the conclusion to take part in the greatest moment in the Doctor’s life…and for those of you who are having a whinge that this is what the whole story should have been like (how would that even be possible?), that is precisely what The Name of the Doctor was for. Dealing with the nostalgic element of the anniversary to The Day of the Doctor could look to the future. Tom Baker’s little cameo gave me chills.

The Good:
  • Whilst there were plenty of nods to the past, The Day of the Doctor also did a whole host of things that have never been done before proving that even after 50 years of adventuring, Doctor Who still have the ability to shock and surprise. The sight of the TARDIS being craned over London by a helicopter was the first sign that a lot of money had been poured into this production and it was glorious to see such an iconic design that has been tied into essentially British storytelling flying unaided across the country’s Capitol. More than that, it is essentially such a fun idea.
  • The cinematic titles were a great idea, if you are watching in the cinema (the very idea!) and a quirky, never done before touch if you weren’t. It made it feel special. Different.
  • Gallifrey Falls/No More. Very cleverly how Steven Moffat reveals the twist in the tale right at the beginning of the story but manages to disguise it by giving these four words two very different spins.
  • Visually we have never seen anything quite like The Day of the Doctor before and that is taking into consideration the massive injection of budget the show has enjoyed in the past seven seasons and the entire resources of the BBC at its disposal. The fact that this story was shot in 3D is a pioneering move and even if you are watching it in bog standard 2D (hello) it has moments of visual excellence that quite surpass anything that has gone before. Especially the quick pan inside the three dimensional painting – what an incredible rush that kind of avant-garde visual effects is to see on the small screen. If we were ever going to see the Time War (and I know people who think that that is a terrible idea because it can never quite be realised in a way that matches build up of seven seasons of it brewing away in your imagination) it had to be in a story with a cinematic budget. In my opinion I thought they did a spectacular job considering this was a TV production, I felt dragged into the action and it was certainly furious and exciting enough to whip me into a frenzy. Explosions ripping through Arcadia, rubble falling from monuments, Daleks tracking into the city en masse and blasting away at anything that moves (and anything that doesn’t), soldiers and children alike silhouetted by flames, ash flying through the air and clinging to the action, panoramic views of the Capitol under fire…it’s so fulsomely realised that you will forget for a moment that you are watching television. The three Doctors standing in the wreckage of Arcadia and fighting back is a formidable image, not one to be forgotten in a hurry.
  • Moffat can’t resist a little (deep breath) timey wimey-ness. It is something that is inherent in his writing and always will be (I have yet to see him script a story that doesn’t resist a linear narrative yet) and it is worth remembering that before it became the norm and we got a little complacent about such things (for me it was around the time of A Christmas Carol) that many of us were celebrating his scatterbrained (but well thought through) plotting in stories such as The Girl in the Fireplace and Blink. It seems only right in a story that is written by Moffat and sees in the 50th that he should pepper it with his own unique take on the narrative structure of the show. The very idea of bringing together three Doctors is timey wimey (Gah! It’s becoming almost easy to write!) and we have the past affecting the future, the Doctor setting up the conclusion long before he gets around to doing it (having the painting moved from the gallery) and all manner of the same Fez flying about the Doctor’s time stream. ‘I’ve been thinking about it for centuries!’ – ideas streaming down the years from one Doctor to the next, having been first provoked by the latest incarnation and going round in a perpetual loop might just be the most glorious timey wimey thing Moffat has ever done, at the Doctor’s most triumphant moment in all three of his lives. How is it that the Eleventh Doctor knew about Trenzalore and that that would be where he would be buried? Because he told his Tenth incarnation.
  • The Zygons finally get the comeback they deserve. Fans have been crying out for a return of this once seen but never forgotten race of creatures and it seems fitting that they finally get their wish on the most celebratory of the occasions. Talk about making an impact for a second time. Moffat drives both comedy (Queen Elizabeth) and drama (Kate Stewart) from the idea of doppelgangers and it feels like this is just a taster for more Zygon action to come. I certainly hope so because their design is still hugely impressive (somehow they manage to look both ridiculously b-movie and astonishingly frightening and memorable for all the right reasons) and this comeback is successful enough to warrant further exposure. If you found the resolution to the Zygon plotline a little pat then that is because it isn’t where the dramatic meat of the story lies and you should be fairly certain that they will be back for an even more impressive showdown in the future. And one where they are centre stage. I rather liked it, by the way. A clever device (forcing them to lose their memories so they don’t know whether they are enemy or ally and forcing them to work together) and a re-run of the negotiation theme of Cold Blood, only without a disappointing resolution.  There’s far more things to be getting on with so Moffat leaves the ending to this negotiation in the hands of the audience.
  • Moffat has great fun taking the piss out of some of the more tiresome tropes of NuWho in a way that had me howling. It was acknowledging that some things have gotten a little out of hand and were worth addressing in an amusing way. How post-modern. The tenth Doctor’s fanfare speeches (the bunny isn’t impressed), the Doctor finally remembering something of his previous experiences of a multi-Doctor adventure (‘Oh no, not now!’), the youthful nature of Tennant and Smith is highlighted hilariously by John Hurt (‘…if you boys could point me in the general direction…’), ‘Why are you pointing your sonic screwdrivers like that? They’re scientific instruments, not water pistols!’, ‘Timey what? Timey Wimey?’, the War Doctor asks if there is a lot of kissing in the future…but not as if he is averse to the idea, Hurt’s reaction to ‘Geronimo!’ and ‘Allonsy!’ is ‘Oh for God’s sakes!’
  • It wouldn’t be Moffat Who without a little sex and this really isn’t the time or place to question whether that is a good thing or not because there is simply too much going on. It’s part of the shows DNA now whether I like it or not (I hated it in Nightmare of Silver)…but what I will say is that I laughed like a loony when the Doctor’s had their erection-off with their sonic screwdrivers. Fortunately I don’t have any children to have to explain that gag too and it is probably the rudest (and one of the funniest) moments ever to be seen in the show. ‘I’m not judging you…’ when it comes to Ten and a Zygon getting it on made me chuckle too.
  • Joanna Page is fantastic fun as the Queen. I have never rated her very much as an actress before (only having seen her in Gavin & Stacey and do voiceover work) but she acquits herself very well in this part. She’s funny and engaging and brings enough gravitas and spunk to the part to make Liz I a delight.
  • Simon has been banging on for ages about Gallifrey being brought back into existence because he firmly believes there is a wealth of storytelling possibilities in doing so. I have rather smugly been telling him that the whole idea is ridiculous and not even worthy of consideration considering the direction that show has been taken in. He was literally dancing around the front room during the last ten minutes of The Day of the Doctor – one of the most enjoyable Doctor Who experiences I have ever had. My husband, a man who didn’t even know what Doctor Who was when I first met him, so delighted at a development on the show that he had to leap from his seat and celebrate the moment. That’s my anniversary moment right there. It is a massive plot development and one that leaves me with all kinds of feelings but they mostly fall in the positive category. It opens up a potential new ‘where is Gallifrey?’ arc for the show and if Moffat doesn’t want to follow up on that it means the status quo can be resumed for the next producer for the show in a heartbeat should he want to put the last seven years behind him and do something completely different with Gallifrey restored and then never getting another mention. Does this gut the moments of angst surrounding the Time War and the end of Gallifrey from the wealth of adventures since the show returned in 2005? I have no idea. I’d like to think not. I’m going to go back and watch the lot again (I haven’t done a new series run for ages) and see if this changes my opinion on any of the stories. It’ll be an interesting experiment if nothing else. For the time being it is a moment of pure triumph, a moment when thirteen Doctors come together and save their home from being destroyed. It is the Day of the Doctor.
  • Capaldi’s eyes, man. He looks positively evil. I like. Brilliant that in a story that is looking back, the ultimate moment of excitement is looking forwards. Moffat’s still got it.
  • Tom Baker’s appearance as the Curator is spellbinding. Absolutely spellbinding. Wouldn’t it be great if he could turn up again. There is absolutely no reason why not. Imagine Capaldi and Baker together? The mind reels…
  • I cannot believe that a single Doctor Who fan would moan about the unrealistic nature of that blissful final shot that brings together all of the screen Doctors to look to celebrate the last 50 years and look to the future. For once drop all of your critical faculties and just revel in a moment of celebration.

The Bad:
  • As strong as The Day of the Doctor is visually there were a few moments that didn’t come off quite as well as they should. In the midst of the impressive pyrotechnics depicting the Time War there was a sequence where the War Doctor pilots the TARDIS through a wall and takes out a handful of Daleks with him. A neat idea but it feels as though this should have been created digitally rather than somewhat awkward physical effect that turned up on screen. The Zygons under the sheets is one of those Moffat horror moments that should be far more chilling than it is. Remember that feeling you had when the tape ran out in The Empty Child and you realised the gas masked child was standing in the room? Or the secret door that was squirreled away in Amy Pond’s house? That’s how spine tingling this reveal should be. Conceptually it was a fantastic and it was given appropriate build up but there was something off in the direction (I think it was the timing of the sheets being whipped off) that rendered the moment far less effective than it had the right to be.
  • Where was Rassilon? Try hard as they might but without Timothy Dalton, the Gallifrey war room scenes don’t quite have the same amount of gravitas.
  • The Zygon body print technology is nowhere near as impressive looking as it was in their debut. Their technology in general fails to capture that biological horror.
  • Cup-a-soup? Really?
  • Daleks destroying each other in their own crossfire? Didn’t Red Dwarf do something similar recently?
  • The time streams are out of sync and both Hurt and Tennant’s Doctor’s wont retain any knowledge of this adventure. Because Gallifrey is gone he will think he was responsible. The Doctor is about to undergo 400 years of torture because of a quirk of temporal jiggery pokery. That doesn’t seem fair somehow.
The Shallow Bit: David Tennant. Somehow looks more hot with each appearance. I never thought I would ever fancy the Doctor…but here we are.

Result: John Hurt. David Tennant. Matt Smith. Billie Piper. The Time War. Impossible decisions. Zygons. History. Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and UNIT. Tom Baker. There are so many wonderful reasons to embrace The Day of the Doctor. A busy, busy story having to live up to so much expectation. What we have is a gripping first twenty minutes, plenty of running about and larks for the next half an hour, some impressive innovation for the shows mythology and a shove into the future for the last twenty minutes and a massive love-in for the series at the conclusion.  It’s a story that doesn’t just want to be a heavy drama but wants to include sequences of levity and relish Doctor Who’s adventurous roots too. It doesn’t just want to celebrate the shows past (although there is plenty of that going on) but it wants to hand the show a potential future too. It wants to revel in the joy of a multi-Doctor story whilst yearning at the loss of so many of the classic Doctors. It wants to do pretty much everything it possibly can to see the anniversary in and it is to the credit of Steven Moffat that he almost, almost pulls it off. There is so much richness and joy and horror and drama in here. As an anniversary story is feels a little too ‘normal’ in places (albeit very, very good normal) but as a regular episode it is a cut above anything we have seen for a long, long time on this show. The Day of the Doctor is very, very good, but it isn’t quite perfection. Like the War Doctor it is a bit rough around the edges but it is still a compelling piece of television that more than justifies its status: 9/10


AndrewBuckley said...

In The Shakespeare Code, it's an older Elizabeth and the Doctor says he hasn't yet done whatever he does to upset her. But by The End of Time, he has. He's also "904" and repeating his speech from Voyage of the Damned. So, for Liz, this is clearly set before Shakespeare, but for the Doctor, I think it's supposed to be between The Waters of Mars and The End of Time.

Also, there was dialogue in the War Room about the High Council being in session, but I agree, it would have been good to see Rassilon again!

Will you be reviewing The Night of the Doctor?

Anonymous said...

I was going to say much the same as Andrew - pretty sure it's post-Waters and pre-End of Time, tying up with Tennant's opening line in that episode.

So, where were we? I was summoned, wasn't I? An Ood, in the snow, calling to me, weeeeell, I didn't exactly come straight here. Had a bit of fun, y'know? Travelled about. Did this and that. Got into trouble, you know me. It was brilliant, I saw the Phosphorous Carousel of the Great Magellan Gestadt. Saved a planet from the Red Carnivorous Maw. Named a galaxy Alison. Got married, that was a mistake, Good Queen Bess, and let me tell you, her nickname's no longer - anyway! What d'you want?

Anonymous said...

Before I actually read your review, can I ask... why not review Night of the Doctor? It was Paul McGann regeneration nugget, right? AND it aknowledged BF, if anything.

Joe Ford said...

You are all right - I've amended the review. Also, I will tackle Night of the Doctor...when time permits!

Peakius Baragonius said...

Also be sure to review The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot! :P

I really, really liked this, and in fact it pretty much completely restored my goodwill for Moffat after the previous two seasons, which is something I don't say lightly. I feel that the four 50th productions - Night, Adventure, Day, Reboot - are best taken as sort of a trilogy-and-a-half for the whole 50th experience. I haven't seen all of Adventure in Space and Time Yet but the other works are just *sublime*. Moffat has given us the best realistically possible presents we could ever have imagined and that is in no way damning with faint praise. I'd been waiting for Tom Baker to return to Doctor Who for years and I was not disappointed.

julial49 said...

Just seen it again (in the cinema, well worth it) and noticed another nostalgia bit: the war doctor says "wearing a bit thin" before regenerating!

Kory Stephens said...

Glad one of us liked. Yours truly, however.... :-(

Anonymous said...

I think that your critics about the scenes not being digital but physically made are very irrelevant. I have to add I was expecting more action. Although it was a good episode and I enjoyed it.

Daniel P.

David Pirtle said...

I just finished listening to the four Big Finish War Doctor series, and even though there were only three great stories out of 12 (or eleven if you count The Thousand Worlds and The Heart of the Battle as a single story), I really appreciated being able to spend more time with the War Doctor. I do sometimes think I'd love to read or listen to a story about him when he was a young warrior doing all the terrible things that made him loathe himself so terribly at the end of his incarnation, but at the same time I'm not sure I'd enjoy those stories.