Doctor Who t-shirts. Toy sonic screwdrivers. Girls wearing bow-ties. Boys wearing fezzes. Someone dressed as a Tardis. People discussing their favorite companions. Yes, it’s The Day of the Doctor, the 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who, on the big screen, and in goofy 3D.
It’s a grand and epic spectacle, involving the final day of the last great Time War, Daleks blowing things up, Zygons lurking around menacingly, and continuity references galore, and yet it’s also character driven drama and a series that genuinely changes the face of the TV show, healing the wounds of the past and presumably opening up a new story direction for the future.
Amazingly, it manages to do its re-writing of Doctor Who history without actually requiring anything we’ve seen before to change. Usually when Steven Moffat gets into a lot of time travel shenanigans, there is a lot of accompanying head scratching. But this time around it all ties up pretty neatly.
But is it any good? Well, thankfully, it is. Certainly, it’s the show’s best anniversary installment, and by far one of the series’ most “important” episodes, though I wouldn’t call it one of the very finest. Still, it’s an exciting and engaging story with lots of action, humor, and fun character moments. It threatens to get bogged down by the continuity references, but always manages to keep afloat. There are a number of “zinger” or “Oh yeah!” moments – none as good as in one of the great regular episode of the series, but enough to keep things lively. And it has all the requisite multi-Doctor interaction, with a calculated blend of snarkiness and bromance.
It’s fun to see David Tennant again, John Hurt fulfills his role as the “War Doctor” very well, and Matt Smith continues to operate strongly as the show’s “leading man”. Writer Steven Moffat’s take on the Doctor is that though there are 11 (or 12) Doctors that we’ve experienced on TV, that in fact there is only one Doctor – he emphasizes the fact that they are all the same person, and this story does this. The Time War becomes the focal point, as we see how the Doctor at different points in his life has responded to the trauma. As such, the greatest disappointment of the episode is the absence of Christopher Eccleston. Having another Doctor in a major role would have required some serious re-writes in order to avoid overcrowding the story, but he was the Doctor most obviously traumatized by the Time War, and it would have been very satisfying seeing him fully experience the events of this story and join in the conversation with his successors.
Still, we do get a glimpse of him, as well as of all of the other Doctors. We also get convenient looksee at almost all of the other companions, a name-check on Jack Harkness & Ian Chesterton, a scene set in Coal Hill School, a view of a decapitated Cyber-head, and a reference to the confusion of dating the UNIT stories. We also get the Time War elaborated upon, some mentions of Bad Wolf, the return of the Zygons, Daleks getting their butt handed to them, and an elaboration of the Doctor’s relationship with Queen Elizabeth I, of all things.
How was it seeing it in the theatres? Well, it was fun to make an event of it. It meant I got to see some additional material – Dan Starkey as Strax telling me I’d be obliterated if I used my phone in the movie and reveling in eating the exploded remains tiny corn creatures while watching the film; and David Tennant warning me about the impact of Matt Smith’s chin in 3D. The 3D didn’t particularly engage me (it rarely does) but neither did it turn me off. Certainly a lot of the episode’s spectacle moments looked pretty amazing on the big screen, including that final scene: seeing all the Doctors standing together, all one character, all heading in the same direction – a dream image the likes of which we’ll probably never get again in an actual episode of the series.
So, my summary is that The Day of the Doctor is a good episode, though not a top-notch one. But it is an outstanding celebration of the show’s 50 years.