Welcome to 47-day series of articles about the revival version of Doctor Who (2005-present). I’ve come up with 47 topics / questions to answer, all of them basically positive and upbeat about the program. Each day (or as often as I can actually write these) I’ll pick one of them at random (using this convenient random number generator) and then write up an answer.
Why 47? It’s my favorite number.
Why Doctor Who? It’s my favorite show.
Why the modern day Doctor Who only? Simply because I remember it better.
Why only positive stuff? Because really, I write enough snark.
Today is Day #6, and around and around goes the Random Number Generator, revealing that today’s number is 13, which means the topic of the day is this:
“Best Surprise Cameo”
With this, I’m referring to those brief appearances by familiar faces that are designed to be unexpected to the viewer, usually from actors that the audience is familiar with either from the classic series or from earlier in the revival.
So to qualify, the appearance has to be intended to be a surprise. So things like Sarah Jane Smith coming back in School Reunion, or the 10th Doctor starring in The Day of the Doctor, or the 5th Doctor reappearing in the minisode Time Crash–these don’t count, because they were all publicized in advance and not intended to take the audience off guard.
Similarly, the appearance has to be a cameo–a brief appearance that for the most part is incidental to the main plot. So on this token, things like Rory coming back to life in The Pandorica Opens or Captain Jack revisiting the series in Utopia or Clara making a surprise debut in Asylum of the Daleks would not qualify because the characters were central to their respective stories.
On this basis I have also reluctantly discounted Paul McGann’s appearance in Night of the Doctor, for even though that was truly one of the most effective of surprise appearances that I’ve ever experienced, you could argue that he wasn’t doing a “cameo” exactly. He was the main character of his episode, even if it was a mini-episode. Anyway, suffice it to say he would have been my pick if I’d decided it counted.
So what does count? Well, off the top of my head, I can think of…
• Rose in Partners in Crime
• Martha, Mickey, Joan Redfern’s descendant, Captain Jack, Alonso, Jackie and Rose in End of Time part 2 (although really, once we’d had Martha & Mickey, no one else was really a surprise anymore)
• Danny Boy, the Pirate Captain & his son in A Good Man Goes to War
• Amy & Rory in The Doctor, the Widow & the Wardrobe
• The Great Intelligence in The Bells of St. John
• The Curator and the 12th Doctor in The Day of the Doctor
• Amy Pond in The Time of the Doctor
• The 11th Doctor in Deep Breath
• Danny Pink in Last Christmas
• Clara Oswin in Heaven Sent
So, quite a few, really.
I had the surprise for a lot of these spoiled for me (or I spoiled them for myself), including Matt Smith in Deep Breath or Tom Baker in Day of the Doctor. The best surprise for me was probably when Rose showed up in a silent role in Partners in Crime. More emotionally effecting for me were Amy Pond visiting the 11th Doctor just before his regeneration, and Clara talking to the 12th Doctor during Heaven Sent.
But ultimately, the best appearances are those that are still effective even if they are no longer big surprises. On that basis, I have to say my favorite is
Tom Baker as the Curator in The Day of the Doctor
Now, as much as I love the classic Doctor Who series, we all have to admit that the days of seeing any original Doctors back for a full televised adventures are long over. The best we can hope for is the odd mini-episode, or the strange special that was The Five (ish) Doctors Reboot, or the extensive range of Big Finish audio adventures. So when the 50th anniversary special rolled around, the challenge for the producers was how to fully acknowledge the range of Doctors that have appeared in the series over the last 50 years?
Well, in addition to the clever use of flashbacks, the episode pulled off a bit of a coup by bringing back none other than Tom Baker himself in a brief but memorable appearance in the show’s closing moments.
Tom Baker was an excellent choice to include in order to pay tribute to the show’s rich history. He was the on-screen actor to play the Doctor for more of those 50 years than any other, and his remains one of the most popular interpretations of the character. And the Curator was an inspired approach for Baker’s appearance: an ambiguous character who might or might not be a past or future Doctor. No fussing around with why the Doctor doesn’t look the same as he did in the 1970’s, no fussing around with even explanations for what he is doing there. Just an enigmatic performance, a handful of clever dialogue and some fun interaction with the incumbent Matt Smith. All of this provides some big smiles and reminds us of what made Baker’s Doctor awesome, and at the same time provides a shift in focus for the Doctor and the series up that that point. Really marvelous stuff.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know.
More next time!
Click here for a master list for this series.