Was there any way that this story could possibly live up to expectations? THIS story, THE 50th Anniversary story, THE story with the Tennant/ Smith team-up (with Rose Tyler too), THE follow-up to “The Name of the Doctor” with the scary “new” Doctor played by John Hurt, THE story screened simultaneously across the globe and shown in 3D in cinemas. Surely it can’t live up to that kind of hype? Except it does.
I’ve cheerfully criticised much of what’s gone on in the Name of the Moffat (Series 6, for example) but with these 72 minutes of undiluted Whovian fun, the Moff has nailed it.
Simply watching it in the cinema made it special to start with. First off, we were treated to Strax, the comedy Sontaran, telling us how to behave, then an intro by Smith then Tennant sparring about the wonders of 3D. And then the story began.
Moffat started plucking the heartstrings of the fans right from the get go – we open with the original 1963 titles and music and the opening shot is a copy of THE opening shot, before we open out to reveal full colour and find Clara working at Coal Hill School (Chairman of the Board is I. Chesterton – one the Doc’s very first companions). Applause all round.
It’s not all nostalgia; there is an actual story going on. It weaves from the “Fall of Arcadia”, the pivotal event of The Time War, where John Hurt’s “War Doctor” has to commit the act that will destroy Daleks, Time Lords and Gallifrey itself and end the universe-spanning conflict altogether. To do this, he must activate The Moment, a weapon so devastating that it has its own conscience – manifested as a character from the Doctor’s future, being Rose Tyler/ Bad Wolf – a slick way of bringing Billie Piper into the story without the complications of picking up Rose herself. It is Rose that stays the War Doctor’s hand and sparks the “timey-wimey” events that bring three Doctors together.
From here, we catch up with the 10th Doc in Elizabethan England, finding himself involved in a Zygon plot (and getting himself engaged to Queen Elizabeth herself). The 11th Doc dives through time and, at last, the two meet, followed swiftly by the War Doctor (“I’m looking for the Doctor” he says, “You’ve come to the right place,” says No 10).
Fun and jollies with the Zygons (who are on fairly scary form actually) follow, before we get back to the serious business of hitting the Big button that will wipe out the Time Lords and Daleks. At first, Nos 10 and 11 are simply there to be with the War Doctor to press the button and share the burden...BUT, Clara does what Clara does and persuades them to find another way – saving the Doctor(s) yet again.
And it’s a way that brilliantly brings in all of the other Doctors – and we mean ALL of the other Doctors including a brief shot of the new Doctor, Peter Capaldi, and provoking a fair few shrieks from the cinema audience.
The day is saved and, thanks to a very familiar “curator”, the Doctor is given new purpose – to find the lost planet of Gallifrey.
There’s so much to love here – Smith and Tennant are on OTT form, both firing on all cylinders in a display of constant one-upmanship – when the War Doctor arrives we get a wonderful parallel with the original Three Doctors – I was half expecting Hurt to say “so you’re my replacements, a dandy and a clown.” Hurt is more subtle, as expected from the Doctor that’s suffered 400 years of brutal warfare and must bear the heaviest burden of all.
The battles on Gallifrey are suitably epic – scenes that could never be conceived back in the Classic era, but they are kept at an appropriate level – the explosions do not overtake the drama.
This story could have been a weighty, “dark” episode – but instead, Moffat gives us mostly a fun-filled, old fashioned monster (Zygon) romp, fun that is bookended by the darker material.
There’s a lot of humour – No10 and Elizabeth (after Queenie dispatches her Zygon double she notes that “while I may have the weak and feeble body of a woman, so did the Zygon”), the superb and complex way the three Docs work out how to disintegrate a solid wooden door with their sonic screwdrivers (letting the War Doctor’s screwdriver start the calculations that will take 400 years and thus be completed by the 11th Doc’s screwdriver) before Clara opens it and reveals it was unlocked anyway. There’s great supporting characters; Clara and Rose, Kate Stewart and her UNIT team, Queen Elizabeth. There’s a long, long scarf and a Fez (“Can you not walk past one without putting it on?” quips Clara). The aforementioned glimpse of Doctor no 13 (which means Doc’s 10 and 11 should be moved up to Nos 11 and 12). And then there’s Tom Baker – the man who will always be, perhaps, THE Doctor.
The way that the Doctors save Gallifrey is truly inspired – presaged by their attempt at door disintegration, they form a plan to make the planet disappear and let the Daleks destroy themselves – but it will take centuries to make the calculations says the Time Lord General. But that’s OK, because when the First Doctor is the first to start working on it, then they have centuries.
And so, what could have been a very good story of 3 Doctors becomes a truly great story of 13 Doctors.
This special was described by its Producers as a love letter to the fans; and there’s a lot of love on display. From the Tardis swinging across London, and a full on Dalek planetary assault, and horse rides with the Queen, and Timelord paintings, and sonic screwdriver rivalry, acknowledging the UNIT dating conundrum... to the darkest decision of all, the regeneration loop all wrapped up and the impossible girl reminding us all that the Doctor is called The Doctor for a reason. And, a terribly familiar curator launching the show into the future.
The Day of the Doctor is many things – it is a celebration of the show’s rich and wonderful past, it is a celebration of its current and hugely successful present and it is a hint of a thrilling future. Past, present and future – it is a show about time travel after all.
Happy Birthday Doctor Who – it’s been a hell of a ride so far, and who knows what the future holds? Who knows? Who knows.