There will be some disagreement with this point of view, but to me it has felt like this day has taken forever to come. Ever since we discovered that the secret the Doctor has been taking such extreme measures to lock away was not his real name but a hidden incarnation who renounced the title of ‘Doctor’ in order to commit the atrocity which ended the Time War, the months have just dragged on.
Last night the moment finally came when I and quite literally the rest of the world would discover the truth behind John Hurt’s secret Doctor. My excitement was off the charts, but I also wondered just how Steven Moffat and his team were going to pull this spectacular event off. A mixture of flashback to the Time War and a plot involving the Zygons in Elizabethan England, together with enough references to satisfy proper Whovian geeks like myself? It seemed like a lot to fit in, even given the special feature time of seventy-five minutes.
It soon became apparent that all these eggs fitted quite comfortably together in the basket. The Zygon effort to oust Elizabeth I provided not only an opportunity to feature a more obscure classic era villain but also a chance to find out just what the deal was between the tenth Doctor and the Virgin Queen, a subplot that has been building for years. It also provided a kind of light relief next to the main story of the moral dilemma and subsequent regret felt by the Doctor regarding his actions which ended the Time War.
As for the Time War itself, the epic sweeping action which has been alluded to ever since the rebooted series began, it’s on screen representation certainly did not disappoint. Truly grandiose, it looked every bit the astronomically massive conflict to end all conflicts that it has been made out to be, and yet having said that, I was glad to see some restraint as well. We have been hearing about the Time War for eight years, there’s no real way that the final version we’d see could live up to the hype. I felt that the brief glimpse we were afforded last night was enough, indeed our imaginations could probably conjure up a more terrifying image of the Nightmare Child than anything we could see on the screen.
The real story of course was John Hurt’s hidden Doctor. In truth we didn’t learn anything that we didn’t already know last night. This was the Doctor that ended the Time War, but he represents much more than that.
A seven minute prequel to The Day of the Doctor featuring Paul McGann established that this secret Doctor was the incarnation between the 1996 movie and the 2005 reboot, and so what the character really represented was the lost generation of Doctor Who stories. Just as we only got a brief glimpse of the Time War itself, so we were only treated to the most fleeting of meetings with this Other Doctor. Last night was a night of celebration but in a sense also of mourning for the sixteen years in which Doctor Who only existed in fandom, save for a television movie which didn’t live up to expectations.
Of course it wouldn’t be an anniversary special without the collision of multiple Doctors. I thought David Tennant and Matt Smith worked quite well together, seeing as their Doctors are quite similar despite some very noticeable differences. It was refreshing to see that the bickering of Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee was kept to a minimum, that was their shtick and to see it done again would have only felt like a retread. I must say that I really enjoyed Matt Smith in particular last night in what for me was probably his finest performance in his time as the Doctor. He was not overshadowed by his very popular predecessor and despite the many plots and characters around him, both present and alluded to, he was still the central anchor of the show, just as the current incarnation should be.
I will say this. Whilst I enjoyed the way they brought all of the Doctors together to change the outcome of the Time War, I was slightly perplexed by Tom Baker’s cameo. I know I’m probably going to get a bit of a lambasting for this but I wasn’t quite sure how to view that. Was he playing the Fourth Doctor? As such was the “shorting out of the time differential” that David Tennant’s Doctor explained was behind Peter Davison’s incarnation appearing “saggier and more grey-haired” than he ought to be when those two Doctors met responsible for the Fourth Doctor’s appearance in the episode? Was he simply the curator, and the fact that Tom Baker played him was just a clever way of including the longest-serving, and indeed earliest surviving, Doctor? Or am I just over thinking this too much? Probably the last one right?
All in all I really, really enjoyed The Day of the Doctor. I thought that all of the plots balanced out perfectly, although we didn’t actually see the result of the human/Zygon negotiations, but hey maybe that’s being left for a later episode? I also liked how it didn’t go very heavy handed with the references, choosing instead to nod towards something from the classic series every now and then to make us geeks smile. And most importantly of all, while a celebration of the past, last night was also the episode which paved the way for Doctor Who’s future, by way of cleverly placing the next Doctor into the series continuity in just one, single shot.
I can’t wait!