I am sorry that this review has been so long coming, but I needed some time to gather my thoughts, and in the wake of the Christmas special and Matt’s farewell, maybe it is best reviewing back to back. And this anniversary story was a strange beast. For the first 45 minutes I thought I was in Let’s Kill Hitler Moffat territory and I started to panic. Where the hell was everything going? Was everything just big sounds and colours? But then it hit me. Roughly a quarter of the way through. The adventure of the week Zygon story was both a clever front and a deliberate parallel to Moff’s real beef; dealing with The War Doctor, genocide and bringing back Gallifrey. By the time Matt’s voiceover sounded telling me that Eleven was going where he was always going, I was a mess of happy tears because YES MOFFAT. THIS IS IT. THIS IS DOCTOR WHO’S ESSENCE. YES.
Starting off as a deceptively silly tale about UNIT summoning The Doctor and Clara because of an odd message from Queen Elizabeth, and a Zygon invasion stretching from the 16th century to the present, it soon became a bitter walk down memory lane as the sight of a 3D painting called ‘Gallifrey Falls’ tunnelled us back into The Doctor’s darkest hours. The War Doctor steals the Time Lord’s most lethal weapon; a self destruct with a consciousness. The button gets confused and settles on Rose Tyler as Bad Wolf as the face of morality in a surprise move which works. She taps Hurt into Ten’s time stream as well as Eleven’s and the three band together to stop the Zygons even as War Doctor must make a terrible choice, knowing exactly the kind of man that he will become and the deaths that he will cause.
There is so much to say that I will break off into sub headings.
The Opening Credits:
The first time I saw this at the cinema, I thought the credits were ridiculous and far too RTD bombastic for my liking. But you know what, the second time round on TV when Matt clung to the base of the TARDIS, Clara looking out, the brilliant “I Am The Doctor” playing and those wonderful credits flowing across the screen, I didn’t give a damn anymore. Because you know what? They all deserved their bombastic moment. Matt and Jenna and David and Billie and John and Moffat. Especially Santa Moff. Haters to the left. Without his direction and some truly brilliant performers, Doctor Who wouldn’t HAVE its 50th.
I have always loved Matt Smith’s Doctor. His ability to play an aged man in a young body still astounds. His ease at comedy is wonderful and his natural chemistry with everyone sweet and bubbly. He has truly become MY Doctor. The script gave him loads to work with, given that two others Doctors showed up (well three if you count the end scene) but I especially loved the scene where he had to explain the Gallifrey Falls painting to Clara and his face crumples with pain and grief.
To my surprise, I also loved Ten. I was quite sick of him by The End of Time but I liked the way that Moff downplayed the angst and only used it for comedic effect. Ten and Eleven bounced well off each other with such different personalities and I was very pleased that Ten never saw the Rose interface. And bonus points are added for managing to tie up the Elizabeth marriage plot point and connecting Day of The Doctor into the opening of The End of Time. Moff. You are an audacious bastard. Right down to the way that you played on that whiny final Ten line, “I don’t want to go.”
Do I really need to mention John Hurt as The Doctor? He was utter perfection as an aged and broken Doctor, bowed and beaten down by endless war. His ascerbic wit and wry acknowledgement of two very young doctor’s was also a nice nod to fans who have long noted this recent demographic pandering. If only he could do some Big Finish audios.
Oh Clara. She has worked for me on and off all of s7. I loved her in The Snowmen (why couldn’t we have 19th century Clara as a companion then?), Asylum of the Daleks, Hide and The Name of The Doctor, but most of the time, and despite Jenna’s excellent acting chops, she really suffers alongside comparisons to the very strong Pond era. Rory and Amy both had a long back story that developed eons each season. It felt to me that Clara only served purpose as an Impossible Girl. She never felt particularly real to me. However, I loved her in this special. I like that she is The Doctor’s friend. I like that her bossy personality lends her to being around The Doctor as well as teaching at Susan’s old school, where Ian is now headmaster. I like that she senses The War Doctor’s sadness and tried to comfort him. I like that she helps all three Doctors change their minds. Which brings me to…
Bad Wolf Big Red Button:
When Billie was first announced as having a part in the 50th, I was pretty pissed off. I love Billie. Don’t get me wrong. I think she is a phenonemal actress. But I was darn sick of Rose. She just kept coming back. All of the damn time. So it was pretty neat of Moff to bring her back as a not!Rose AND as a moral arbitrater. Billie knocked this role out of the park. She was truly chilling in her first few scenes and her repetition of, “No more, no more,” was both terrifying and genuinely funny. Her sad eyes almost out-sad-eyed the master of sad eyes himself. The Doctor.
And then of course, she got some of the best lines of the entire episode. When she elucidated for The Doctor just why the TARDIS noise is so important, my heart leapt and tears prickled. Because it was so true. That noise brings hope to so many. Yes, and even to The Doctor.
Rose: You know the sound the TARDIS makes? That wheezing, groaning. That sound brings hope, wherever it goes.
War Doctor: Yes. Yes, I like to think it does.
Rose: To anyone who hears it, Doctor. Anyone, however lost. Even you.
Which led to The Doctors changing their minds. All thirteen of them in a truly thrilling moment. As all of those TARDIS’ flung around I was grinning from ear to ear. Because how incredibly clever Moff. Gallifrey had to come back. The show would stagnate without that change. And because, there’s only so much angst you can take before viewers get bored. So Moffat dealt with that problem head on by dealing with the meta of just what The Doctor represents. The name you choose- it’s like a promise you keep.
“Never cruel. Never unkind. Never give up. Never give in.”
And blowing up Gallifrey was never something The Doctor could ever do. It just wasn’t him. So he rewrote history but in a way that meant he never can remember it. At least not those earlier incarnations. His character developement from Nine to now is intact, and so is Gallifrey. Bravo, Moff.
Maybe the Baker scarf on the Doctor’s UNIT fan girl and the return of Zygons should have given it away. But this little Whovian was very surprised. I cried tears of fannish joy. When Clara first mentioned a caretaker, I thought it would be a Capaldi cameo or maybe even Mcgann.
“Gallifrey falls. No more.”
Baker’s majestic delivery sent shivers down my spine. As did his assertion that;
“I am you. Or is it you are me? Perhaps it doesn’t really matter either way. Who knows. WHO knows.”
Even if the rest of this special had been pants, this moment would have salvaged all.
But there was one last perfect moment to make sure fans everywhere rejoiced as Moffat kicked the ball out of the park and proved to me one more time just why he is one of the best writers on the show because he truly understands the character of The Doctor.
Clara sometimes asks me if I dream. “Of course I dream”. I tell her. ”Everybody dreams”. ”But what do you dream about?” she’ll ask. “The same thing everybody dreams about.” I tell her. “I dream about where I’m going.” She always laughs at that. “But you’re not going anywhere – you’re just wandering about.” That’s not true. Not any more. I have a new destination. My journey is the same as yours, the same as anyone’s. It’s taken me so many years, so many lifetimes, but at last I know where I’m going, where I’ve always been going. Home. The long way around.
The Day of The Doctor: 11/10 inky stars of perfection!