Saturday, November 23, 2013

Doctor Who Is NEW: "Day of the Doctor"

Hi! Dave-El here and welcome to I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You, the blog that can never walk past a fez.

Today is Saturday Doctor Who Saturday and the event we've been waiting for finally arrived today: the 50th Anniversary Special of Doctor Who, "Day of the Doctor", the much anticipated event with Matt Smith and David Tennant along with John Hurt as the mysterious "War Doctor". Today marked the end of months of guesses and speculation as the thing itself hit the airwaves worldwide and brought to the screens of TVs, cinemas and computers across the planet.

Expectations for this special were not just high, they were ridiculously high. Anything Steven Moffat delivered that was less than a home run with the bases loaded* would miss the target set by the anticipations of Whovians everywhere.

*For non-American audiences, here is a link to a helpful Wikipedia entry on the subject of baseball.

So did Moffat deliver? I'll give you my thoughts on THAT after THIS:

Yes, Steven Moffat delivered the goods and David, Matt and John picked up those goods and hit the ground running. "Day of the Doctor" may not be perfect but given the extraordinary pressures on everyone involved, it is an amazing production full of the humor, drama and excitement that one expects from the best of Doctor Who.

I don't want to get into a recap here but I do want to touch on some highlights as we move through this episode. So let's get started!

"Day of the Doctor" opens with a nod to history. The original theme and titles opens the show as a police officer walks past the Foreman scrap yard and the Coal Hill school is seen. But Doctor Who's past gets linked to its present when see that Clara Oswald as a job teaching at the school. Jenna Coleman is luminescent as always and gets a kick-butt scene as Clara rides her motorbike to...and INTO...the TARDIS.

History comes calling in the form of UNIT but again, history connects to the present as Kate Lethridge-Stewart has a mystery for the Doctor. In an interesting twist, the Doctor revels in the fact that he has "a job" with UNIT and directs a UNIT scientist to do analysis with charts and graphs and have those on his desk. Then he asks for a desk. Most Doctors seem to chafe at the idea of being connected to something as mundane as a job. 

Time takes a detour and we get to meet John Hurt as the Ninth War Doctor and we see just how badly things are going on Gallifrey in the last days of the Time War. It is made very clear this is an abominable situation that must be remedied, stopped. The War Doctor makes a bold and emphatic statement to the Daleks and the Time Lords: NO MORE!

As the 11th Doctor further unravels the mystery in present day London that UNIT has called him in for, we see what the 10th Doctor is up to in the year 1590. David Tennant does not miss a beat as he climbs back into the Doctor's brown suit and fast talks his way into the good graces of Elizabeth I and into a pickle with the Zygons.

And now the moment you've all been waiting for: Doctors interact! The 11th Doctor appears in 1590 followed by the War Doctor and as we come to expect from different facets of the same person, they don't play well with each other at first. The War Doctor regards the other two as silly and posturing, taking particular exception to their use of a sonic screwdriver as an offensive weapon. ("What are you going to do, assemble cabinets at them?")

And this is where I realized something about John Hurt's Doctor. As we saw at the end of "Name of the Doctor", he is regarded by the 11th Doctor with scorn. And the face of Hurt's Doctor, aged and weathered, suggests a stern and dour persona. But Hurt's grim visage and gravelly voice belies a more complex personality, filled with his own flashes of wit and even charm. Even as the War Doctor takes the first steps towards ending the Time War once and for all with a strange and dangerous device, he complains of the lack of a convenient big red button. How so like the Doctor. But this also draws the audience into a direction we didn't expect to go. This interloper into the continuity is starting to grow on us. Damn you, Moffat!

Oh, and while I'm at, Steven Moffat, stop (STOP, I say!) introducing one-off female characters that I want to see more of**. Madame de Pompadour, Sally Sparrow, Liz 10 and now Elizabeth I. I loved Joanna Page as the 16th Century monarch, portraying the queen as strong, smart, playful and witty.

**OK, don't stop. But seriously, we need some kind of Doctor Who spin off series,
The Doctor's Action Girls or something! 

Back to the story.

So our three Doctors and Clara do a clever thing (with help from Queen Elizabeth I) to get back to the present and the Zygon plot is properly scuttled (did we have any doubt about that?) and our narrative moves forward to the past. To the blackest of black days. The last day of the Time War. This version of the Doctor, this War Doctor, created especially to be a warrior, has doubts on the course of action he is on. Yes, the Time War will be over but so many innocents on Gallifrey, so many children, will be sacrificed. That's when the War Doctor finds he doesn't have to take that step alone as the 10th and 11th Doctors have arrived at that crucial moment to help their misbegotten War Doctor from the past do the terrible thing that is the only thing that can be done to end this most terrible war.

Then Clara does what companions before her have done: remind the Doctor that even facing the ONLY choice, there are still alternatives.

What happens next is a major geek out celebration of Doctor Who as Doctors unite to stop the Time War AND save Gallifrey. And when I say "Doctor unite", I mean...


ALL of them! YES! Joining Matt, David and John are ALL of the Doctors (INCLUDING an extremely surprising appearance know, even with the spoiler warning, I'm not going there!)

So the War Doctor is forgiven by his future as he leaves in his TARDIS. And as the War Doctor no longer has a war to fight, he begins to change.

Meanwhile, Smith and Tennant have a final moment together. Since all this mucking about with the time stream is going to erase his memories anyway, the 11th Doctor tells the 10th that he's been to Trenzalore, the place where the Doctor finally dies.  As the 10th Doctor sets out to leave in his own TARDIS, he suggests that a different destination was in order because when it comes to Trenzalore, "I don't want to go." (11th Doctor to Clara: "He always says that.")

And we have a couple of more 50th anniversary geek outs to come. A scene with the 11th Doctor as he converses with the "curator" of the art gallery he's in, a curator who looks and sounds suspiciously like Tom Baker. Because it IS Tom Baker! Squeee!

And the last scene: Matt Smith's Doctor, looking upon the wonders of the universe in the company of all his former selves. Too sweet!


You've noticed that I've still referred to Matt and David as the 11th and 10th Doctors. So does the John Hurt thing really mess with that? Has the numbering been made all askew?

Technically, no. Here's my thoughts on that.*** At the end of "Day of the Doctor" as John Hurt's Doctor leaves in his TARDIS, he begins to regenerate even though he has not sustained any injuries that would trigger a normal regeneration. As we saw in "Night of the Doctor", the change from the 8th Doctor to the next Doctor was not just induced but induced with a specific purpose: to be a warrior. As I noted above, the War Doctor begins to regenerate when that purpose is over. My take on this is that John Hurt's Doctor is a first version of the 9th Doctor and the regeneration at the end of the special is a continuation of the regeneration that began with the 8th Doctor to complete the change from Doctor to Doctor with a stop in between as Warrior.

***Kudos to my daughter for actually coming up with that observation. Can I play with the sonic screwdriver now? Please?

But the BBC isn't making this any easier. They have re-released their 50th Anniversary image with John Hurt inserted between Paul McGann & Chris Eccleston. Is this one more piece of arcane lore we now have to attach to our beloved program? "Yes, the show is called Doctor Who but the character is The Doctor. Oh, and whatever number of actors you see as portraying the Doctor? Yeah, subtract one from that." No offense to John Hurt (who I thought did a remarkable job) but his Doctor should not be in the line up; his was a character created for a story. Otherwise, we're dealing with a MAJOR retcon that needlessly tangles up the history of the show.

Let me get this off my chest: I realized that if one takes away this War Doctor tinkering, this story would've easily worked with the 9th Doctor. I can easily imagine Chris Eccleston's Doctor have the same reactions to his successors as John Hurt did. I have a sneaky suspicion that the structure of Steven's story was for Doctors 9, 10 and 11 but Chris Eccleston wouldn't play nice. Hence this whole wibbly-wobbly War Doctor thing.

Well, your loss, Chris because you missed having your Doctor in a rollicking adventure that would have given you some excellent scenes to chew on. And besides, my daughter really likes John Hurt as the Doctor. She reminds him of her grandfather and that's good thing.

So we have "Day of the Doctor" finally put before us today. I will be seeing this again on Monday in a theater in 3-D which will be great. Just seeing it on TV****, the episode looked awesome with a cinematic feel so actually seeing it in a cinema is going to be so cool.

****And where we saw it today is the stuff of a future blog post. But suffice to say, it bolstered my level of joy in the experience to a whole other level.

All in all, "Day of the Doctor" was an enjoyable experience and a most worthy 
celebration of Doctor Who. Thumbs up to Steven, Matt, Jenna, David, Billie Piper (as almost but not quite Rose Tyler) and to John Hurt. John, as unsure as I was about this whole "War Doctor" business, let me say this: Welcome to the Doctor Who family.

Congratulations, Doctor Who, on this 50th Anniversary. And from here, the future awaits!


Next week on Doctor Who Saturday:
It's a couple of days AFTER Thanksgiving but it's never too late for a reflection of what I'm thankful for from the world of Doctor Who.

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