Doctor Who Recap: The Day of the Doctor
By Edwin Davies
November 25, 2013
Despite its ruminating on grief, "The Day of The Doctor" is also a celebration of the show's rich, varied history. In contrast to the incredible small-scale "The Night of the Doctor," "The Day of The Doctor" is a genuine spectacle with impressive production values. Even little scenes like the transformation of the shapeshifting Zygons is convincingly disgusting, while the scenes of the Fall of Arcadia display little of the cheapness that usually characterises the show at even its most extravagant. They're scenes of a grand space opera on a massive scale, with all the death and destruction that entails. You'd almost think the series making it to a half-century was a big deal or something.
There are also references aplenty for fans of Doctor Who, though the show doesn't get so bogged down in referentiality that it becomes incomprehensible or insular. The original, black and white opening credits and theme tune are used to spine-tingling effect; there is a nice little nod to the fact that there has been a precedent for three Doctors being together at once; and the moment when all the Doctors appear, even as archive footage, is wonderfully handled. I've been down on Steven Moffat's plotting for a while now, particularly when it comes to handling big-picture, meta-narratives, but he can do great work on an episode to episode basis. The plot of the special isn't the cleverest he's written, and it occasionally feels more busy than exciting - I've barely touched on the fact that the main villains of the special, the Zygons, are intent on conquering the world by stealing the identities of UNIT agents - but when it comes to the big, emotional moments, Moffat absolutely nails it. He even writes well for Piper, who plays a great variation of Rose as a Cassandra figure, and Clara, who gets to be a fun character now that all the tedious mystery stuff is out of the way.
This special feels suitably epic, with a decent plot that serves as a great springboard for a reverential exploration of what the show does well; adventure, questions of morality and the tricky, fluid nature of heroism. It even ends with a renewed sense of purpose, as Eleven is told by Tom Baker(!) that Gallifrey was saved, and all he has to do is find it. Hopefully this augurs well for the future of the show, with a simple quest serving as a narrative spine, rather than the elaborate mysteries of recent years. Even if we get back to the frustrating norm, this was a bright shining example of why Doctor Who has endured for so long, as well as one of the best things the show has done in years. Here's to the next half-century!
- I wasn't a big fan of all the Elizabethan stuff, which felt tonally out of whack with the rest of the episode, though it was completely in keeping with Tennant's run on the show, and really added to the sense that he'd never been away.
- "Look at you, stuck between a girl and a box. Story of your life, hey Doctor?"
- "It was the horse. I'm going to be king!"
- Tennant doing his dick-swinging thing to an innocent rabbit is something that you'd have to really mess up for it not to be funny. They did not mess it up.
- Nice classic science fiction tropes on display in the special, particularly the "two people who look the same, choose the right one!" stuff.