Doctor Who Recap: The Day of the Doctor
By Edwin Davies
November 25, 2013
There's something hugely thrilling about seeing actors from different eras of a series come together. It taps into the same excitement that gave us Universal monster showdowns like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, horror mash-ups like Freddy vs. Jason, and even that one episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 when Joel returned to The Satellite of Love; it's just cool seeing characters who share a universe (or could conceivably share a universe) coming together and interacting with each other. The important thing, though, is how those characters are used, and one of the great strengths of "The Day of The Doctor" is the fun it has throwing these three very different versions of the same character together. Tennant slips back into the role like he's only been gone for a long weekend, rather than three years, and has an absolute blast making fun of Smith - who he refers to as "chinny" - and getting to play a befuddled genius all over again. From a craft point of view, it's delightful seeing the subtle difference between Tennant and Smith; the latter owes his energy to the former, but it's cool to see how Tennant tempers his energy with a pensiveness, while Smith has a mad, whirling dervish quality to him. These differences have always been apparent, but they're much more pronounced when you can do a side by side comparison.
Alongside the dueling young, energetic Doctors you have John Hurt, who plays a much slower, taciturn version that chimes nicely with Smith and Tennant, as well as the general tone of the episode. He has a fun line in snide remarks about how young his future selves look and how immature they seem with their talk of timey-wimey stuff, but he's also weighed down by the terrible destruction he has seen and importance of his present task. There's a significant and appropriate weight to the contemplation he gives to destroying his own people, but since he has yet to pull the trigger, he doesn't quite grasp why Ten and Eleven regard him with such disdain and horror. Time travel makes for some strange and intriguing dynamics.
Considering that the special is billed as a spectacular commemoration of the series, it is interesting just how prepared Moffat et al. are to let it be melancholy. Each post-revival version of The Doctor has been grappling with grief and trauma over what he has done, with some being more pronounced (Eccleston) than others (Smith), but this is one of the few instances in which the show has tackled this aspect of the character head on, going so far as to invent an iteration of the character whose main role is to induce grief in the others. Merely by being in the same room as Ten and Eleven, War gets a glimpse at the toll his actions will have on his future selves, and there's some lovely tension between Smith, Tennant and Hurt as they all realise the different ways in which their characters respond to the destruction of Gallifrey; Ten regrets, Eleven forgets, and War struggles with the dilemma of whether or not to murder billions to save countless others.
Moffat's script nicely handles the different stages of grief represented by each Doctor, and adds genuine emotional weight to the scene in which they briefly decide to destroy Gallifrey together, as well as a sense of tremendous triumph when they decide to team up with all the previous versions of The Doctor (represented by stock footage) and one future one (we get our first glimpse of Peter Capaldi as the Thirteenth Doctor, albeit only as his unmistakeable eyebrows) to not destroy Gallifrey, but transport it to its own micro-universe. In a touching postscript, it's established that War and Ten won't remember the events of their adventure, so they will still live with the memory of having committed genocide, even though that was not the case. It's a neat, slightly wonky way of tiptoeing around continuity, but the actors sell it and the show powers through in its usual cavalier manner.