Spoilers for “The Day of the Doctor” behind the cut.
Really, it takes a Stephen Moffat to take a grand, extra long much-anticipated special and turning it in to a set-up for his version of a Christmas Special. I have only the faintest of introductions to Eleven’s character, and yet I still feel like he tore my heart out and stomped on it, knowing where this has to be going given Capaldi’s about to make his grand entrance.
It makes me a little more understanding about the Sherlock hiatus. We’ve made an artform about complaining when the new season is coming back, and really, our wait has been exceptionally long (just under two years), but we at least know what happens and are just left with the why. Waiting a mere month, knowing that Eleven is about to be Twelve… that’s just mean. But also, strangely, quite good. Just as it should be.
On that note, though, it’s worth noting. There’s a list of things that happened inside the Sherlock hiatus. The US govt shut down and started up again, the pope resigned, Twinkies and Harry Potter are both back, etc. And now: Gallifrey exists. Gallifrey !@#$ exists….
Anyway, back to the Who. I quite enjoyed all the Doctors coming together, particularly with the high command’s reaction to it (how else would you react to twelve doctors closing in on a firestorm and proposing what they did?). I would have liked to see more of Nine, but the few glimpses we got were really quite fun. The Elizabeth I scenes were just… weird, but also quite funny. Eleven picking up the Fez. Clara’s common sense. The strong pacifist message (which is hardly new but probably does more to flesh out the difficulties of putting that approach into action), the timey-wimey way they got out of the Tower, the philosophical resolution to the ticking clock, the way hope was so woven through it all: it was very impressive as fanservice to the Whoniverse.
Taken as a dramatic whole, I’m not entirely sure I like it. I mean, if I’d encountered this as an episode I probably would be a little disappointed. It’s just a little too packed, so full of excitement it doesn’t have enough of the meandering bizarreness that makes Doctor Who so enjoyable. That’s okay, though, because it’s not supposed to be just any other episode, it’s a celebration of the shared experience that is Doctor Who.
I can see some room for concern in that, since the Doctor didn’t destroy Gallifrey, that seems to take away a lot of his interesting moral character, a lot of what kept him from being omnipotent and hence unapproachable. It also seems like it could make him less driven to avoid destruction – he could see himself retiring to become a curator, for instance, rather than saving the universe. (My cousin Ian went into this point in more details in his own blog.)
The one real point of hope I see on that last point is that I’m not sure just how much of an impact this episode will have on the character as a whole.
I think you could make a strong argument that this show should be treated as something approaching an alternate reality, since the doctors won’t remember what they did when they get back to their place in reality. I’m no expert on the physics of timey-wimey stuff, but if the only people who actually remembers it happening is Eleven, and he is still formed by his experiences in the earlier regenerations, I can see him still being fundamentally the same character. That said, the ending does suggest that Moffat and Co. are going to take this change in outlook in a more substantive direction.
The other main criticism I had of the special was the way they handled Rose Tyler’s character. It’s not really Rose at all, so much as a form a piece of technology takes on to communicate with John Hurt’s doctor. So while we have Billie Piper in the same room with David Tennant for quite a few scenes, they’re not really interacting as Ten and Rose. That’s a real lost opportunity, though I get that that simply wasn’t the direction the show wanted to go. It just was disappointing because when I saw Billie Piper was going to be in th special I imagined someone who was more thoroughly Rose-ish.
At the end of the day, though, I think this is supposed to be more a celebration of the weird, fun, exciting, principled and still bizarrely Who-ish quality that draws so many people like myself to the show. This one is getting rewatched once I get caught up (except for a smattering of Eleven and Nine, I’ve still only watched the first three Ten series). Most likely before then, because even though I only got roughly half of it, I *still* loved what I got and want to enjoy it even more. The points that concerned me didn’t keep it from being a wonderful celebration of everything I love about Who; it just meant it was an anniversary special rather than a true Doctor Who episode. If you can accept that limitation, you’ll probably enjoy this immensely.
Actually, if you’re the kind of person who would be drawn to that kind of thing, I fully expect you already have. Now off watch some series four. Allons-y!