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Doctor Who's 50th anniversary special: "The Day of the Doctor"


I don't even know where to start this review for "The Day of the Doctor." The beginning with the Classic Who opening that gave me all the feels? The end when Gallifrey survived and all those baby Time Lords lived? The moment when the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors appeared on screen together and a million new fan-fictions were written? What about when Tom Baker appeared at the end and the entire Who fandom just broke? But really, does it even matter where I start this review? What is time? 

"The Day of the Doctor" played with time and everything we've come to know and understand about the Time War. Steven Moffat did what Steven Moffat does and he twisted and turned and time went wibbly wobbly and now our brains are mush. Seriously, is your brain not mush after that? I've already watched the special a second time because I was busy live-tweeting the episode as it aired while simultaneously trying to write down every single reference, and let me tell you: I am so not good at multi-tasking when I'm also trying to admire David Tennant's face and understand the concept of time travel. You try it sometime. It cannot be done. 

While there are bound to be Debbie Downers out there who complain about the loopholes Moffat created for himself in order to rewrite the Doctor's own history and the history of the Time War, I'm not one of those people. Some fans will undoubtedly complain that Moffat essentially recycled his own story when he used the same trick to save Gallifrey that he used to save Sally Sparrow in "Blink." But I am not one of those people. In fact, many folks have been criticizing the way Moffat has played with time since he took over the role of Doctor Who showrunner from Russell T. Davies, but once again, I'm not one of those people. 


The beauty of Doctor Who is that it's constantly able to reinvent itself. And it's important to remember that the series is supposed to offer a fantastical escape from our world. Maybe it's because I'm total rubbish at science, and even attempting to figure out the tiniest bit of the physics makes my brain hurt, but I tend to judge Doctor Who differently than I judge most other shows. Too many people look at this series literally, expecting every single thing to make sense and be linear. But honestly, we would die before we ever came to an ironclad conclusion about so many of the things that have happened over the course of the series. Can you imagine if we looked at every single supernatural series with the scrutiny that some people place on the science of Doctor Who? Holy shit. I can't. And I don't want to. Yes, there are plenty of elements to take into consideration, like character development, etc. And yes, there are often deus ex machinas here and there, but when I judge an episode of Doctor Who, I don't look at it as "What did Moffat screw up this time?" I don't look at this series as if it and its logic exist in the real world. Because it doesn't. It can't. And that's the point of it.

We all love to sit around and discuss television and the deeper meanings of shows, but when it comes to Doctor Who, I think a lot of people criticize it to the point that it takes the joy out of everything. I prefer a different approach, especially for big events like the 50th Anniversary Special: Did I have fun on a journey that decidedly took me away from my own world and transported me to another? Did my pulse race? Did I laugh? Doctor Who is essentially a show for children, but because the series has been around for 50 years, those kids have grown up and they've remained loyal fans and they somehow expect something else. What's more, there's an entire generation of *new* Who fans who've only came on board after the reboot in 2005, and they look at the series differently, too. Keeping all of this in mind, it's extremely hard to be too harsh on "The Day of the Doctor," knowing it provided fans around the world with so much joy.


Bringing back Tennant and Billie Piper was absolute brilliance. Tennant is my Doctor, and seeing him don the pinstripes and Chuck Taylors—excuse me, I mean sand shoes—gave my feelings feelings. It took me some time to warm up to seeing Matt Smith in the role, but I eventually did, and now I'm sad to know that we'll soon have to bid him adieu. But every single Doctor Who fan has a favorite Doctor, and Ten is mine. You could just tell that Tennant was having so much fun being back in action, and it felt like no time had passed since he uttered that heart-wrenching, "I don't want to go" in "The End of Time."

And bringing back Piper as the Bad Wolf and not Rose Tyler was absolutely the right call. Some fans might disagree with me on that, but it was surprising and not what people expected. Rose is a companion loved by many, but there's probably only so much "rewriting of time" that can happen in a single episode of Doctor Who. I'm still a little unclear on when in Ten's journey "The Day of the Doctor" actually took place, but I feel like Rose had the most perfect ending she could have had when she ended up in the alternate universe with the Meta-Crisis Doctor. Bringing her back now, even for this wibbly wobbly adventure, would have added more complications than necessary. Bringing her back as the Moment, as the Bad Wolf that she became when she stared into the heart of the TARDIS and absorbed the time vortex, was great. 

It was a shame Christopher Eccleston didn't return for the special. For a moment I thought we were going to receive a great surprise as John Hurt's War Doctor began to regenerate, but alas it was not meant to be. Instead, "The Day of the Doctor" presented two other wonderful gifts. The first glimpse of Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor wasn't much—in fact, it was just his eyebrows, but they were instantly recognizable and I actually clapped and screamed "CAPALDI!" to my empty living room (I need roommates who have better taste in TV shows). But the second was the aforementioned return of Tom Baker. 


The Fourth Doctor is hands-down one of the most fondly remembered doctors of the series. In fact, he's probably more popular than Tennant, even with the surge of fans that New Who has created. I would have been happy with just the scarf making an appearance—it is, after all the most iconic costume piece in all of the Whoniverse—but to see Baker himself as the Curator at the end of the episode was probably the greatest gift fans could ever have hoped for. It shocked and delighted me so much that as I live-tweeted the episode, I couldn't contain my excitement:

With the entire world watching a global simulcast of the special, I assumed we'd all just had our minds blown at literally the same time, so if you were spoiled, I apologize; that was definitely a moment you didn't want to be spoiled for. And I'm astonished the BBC was able to keep that one quiet. Though I'm pretty certain the penalty for loose lips was probably death by Weeping Angel, so maybe it was easy for everyone to keep their mouths shut, I don't know. The only thing that matters is that "The Day of the Doctor" happened at all.

I suppose I need to discuss the actual events of the episode at some point, right? Since Russell T. Davies relaunched Doctor Who in 2005 with Christopher Eccelston, we've consistently been told one thing: The Doctor was the last of the Time Lords, he ended the Last Great Time War by destroying his entire race in an effort to end the war with the Daleks, and it's been affecting him every single day since. I enjoyed the way the story with the Zygons in the present day mirrored the argument inside the Doctor to end the Time War to save the universe.


The Ninth Doctor was a dark Doctor, and so was the Tenth. Underneath the quips and the jokes was an anger and a darkness that didn't often show its face, but it was always there. During Tennant's "Human Nature" and "The Family of Blood" two-parter, the lingering darkness was addressed so well that those are two of my absolute favorite episodes from the new series. But he also expressed regret about what he had to do, and that gave him a sadness that I don't really feel like we've experienced as much. Matt Smith's Doctor has always been a quirkier, lighter Doctor, and while he still carried that burden of knowing he killed his own people, that he killed millions in order to save billions, it never really felt the same as it did with Nine and Ten. In "The Day of the Doctor," the Moment commented on the Doctor's two future selves being "the one who regrets" (Ten) and "the one who forgets" (Eleven). And rhyming aside, that was a great moment. I also enjoyed Clara's descriptions for each of the three Doctors who appeared in the special. There was The Warrior, The Hero, and The Doctor, or the Healer as I choose to look at it since he "fixed" his past.

Nine, Ten, and Eleven have all had to live with the knowledge that they'd committed genocide, destroying their race and the Dalek race (hahahahaha, destroying the Daleks, great joke). That burden has led to great character moments as I just discussed, so the question now is what does the fact that Ten and Eleven actually helped to prevent the War Doctor from pushing the big red button and time locking the war, mean? Moffat wrote away the fact that every incarnation to come after the end of the Time War cannot remember they've saved Gallifrey by some nonsense about the timelines being all wonky. I could complain about the fact that in pretty much every science fiction story ever written the "don't cross the streams" rule exists for a reason, but I'm letting it slide here as a fan because this was a fun ride and because the world of Doctor Who is now wide open for new possibilities. The Time War in itself was a great, great story, but it also severely limited the story after awhile. 


Having all of the Doctors believe they'd destroyed Gallifrey, means the canon from the first seven series of New Who remains in tact. Complain all the hell you want, but I'm not going to. Baker's Curator confirmed to Eleven that they'd succeeded in saving Gallifrey, which is how the 12th Doctor knew to arrive, but it also means the story can now explore new storylines and that's something I'm really looking forward to. It appears the search for Gallifrey so the Doctor can go home might be where were headed next.

The "Day of the Doctor" was an extremely successful outing. It had the makings of a great Doctor Who episode. There was a lot of wibbly wobbly timey wimey going on. There were plenty of jokes, especially from John Hurt's War Doctor, which surprised the hell out of me considering he was the man who was supposed to end the Time War. He was funny in the ways he kept poking fun at his future selves, from mistaking them for companions to pointing out their sonic screwdrivers were scientific instruments and not guns. I will miss John Hurt's Doctor. It's going to hurt having to go back to a David Tennant-less Doctor Who, and it's going to hurt like hell to say goodbye to Matt Smith soon. But that's the beauty of Doctor Who. It's always changing while somehow staying exactly the same. Just like the joy it brings in to my life.

P.S. If you didn't cry at the end with the image all of the Doctors from the last 50 years, you have no heart.



NOTES


– The Doctor's consequence for destroying the Time Lords and Daleks has always been that he survived and thus had to remember it, but now we've learned it was the Moment who made it so. The Doctor never wanted to live to remember it.

– Ten threatening a bunny because he thought it was a Zygon at first. Hilarious.

– Did Eleven call Ten Dick Van Dyke, or did I imagine that?

– Did you squeal when you saw that board with all the photos of the previous companions? How about the reference to Captain Jack Harkness and his vortex manipulator? I'm still upset John Barrowman wasn't involved in the special.

– It goes ding when there's stuff!

– Best exchange of the entire thing? Eleven: "It's a timey-wimey thing." War: "Timey-what? Timey-wimey?" Ten: "I've no idea where he picks that stuff up."

– "Someday you could just walk past a fez." 

– "Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame."

– "Oh you've redecorated? I don't like it." 

– "Perhaps I was you, of course. Or perhaps you are me."

– "I don't want to go."

– "Geronimo! Allons-y! Gallifrey stands!"

– "Why are you pointing you screwdrivers like that? They're scientific instruments, not water pistols!"

– "They're screwdrivers! What are you going to do? Assemble a cabinet out of them?" That's a River Song joke, War Doctor!

– "Next time, would it kill you to knock!?"


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