Fifty years. I can’t imagine what this means to people who tuned in to November 23rd, 1963 and watched The Unearthly Child play out. I can’t imagine what this means to people who’ve followed it for more than a decade. I consider myself a neo-classicalist Whovian, jumping on the bandwagon back in the Eccleston era and then jumping backwards when the time was right. Genesis of the Daleks, The Caves of Androzani and so many other classical stories are now some of my prime favorites. Truthfully, though, Doctor Who means a lot more to other people than it means to me and so, with the 50th Special, I can imagine it being more special and a lot more emotional.
Regardless of all these weird, loose comments, there’s still a review to be written. This is my perspective of a near-twenty something who, for all purposes, adores Doctor Who. I’ve seen it shift and change over the years and whilst I’ve waggled my finger at some of its fringe-sexism, its blatant diversion into LOST-style structure and ‘Mystery Box’ plotting, there’s always been something to enjoy. These past few series haven’t really grabbed hold of me like the Eccleston/Tennant era did but with The Day of the Doctor I can truthfully say that I haven’t enjoyed a Doctor Who story like this in more than five years.
The Day of the Doctor
Director: Nick Hurran
Release Date: November 23, 2013 (UK & US), November 25 (US Extra Screenings)
Rating: PG (UK), PG-13 (US)
Giving away too much plot would be giving away some of this show’s greatest surprises. I’ll try to avoid spoilers. The Day of the Doctor follows a story in which The Doctor (Matt Smith), The Doctor (David Tennant) and the mysterious Other Doctor (John Hurt) are all drafted in from 2013, 1592 and some other time and place in order to do a thing which will do a thing. That’s about as vague as it gets. Clara (Jenna Louise-Coleman), Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) also appear to help the Doctors do a thing. There’s classical references abound, a plot that spans throughout the Doctor’s psyche and one that really probes at the bridge between New and Old Who unlike any other story before. It truly is a treat of a story.
All of this groundwork means we just get to see Matt Smith, John Hurt and David Tennant bounce off’ve each other with their other worldly wordy glory. It truly is just a straight joy, and the real draw of the film, that we get to see this triumvirate actor chemistry be the forefront of the whole affair. It helps too that the script is full with so much heart and laughter that, genuinely, you’ll find yourself just wishing that they hang out just for a few more minutes. All the surprises, especially a certain one which had me fangirl shrieking over the whole cinema, hit their marks and there’s some which are so left-field they seem out of a completely different dimension entirely.
In fact the whole affair is pretty much jelly babies and rice pudding. It’s has the same epic-grand scale of End of Time, it actually has a budget beyond a kettle and a piece of string, and it knows it too. Whilst comfortably blowing up everything and everything else, whilst the Doctors do a thing, it’s still comfortable in exploring some of the darker, unexplored territories. We also get a few explanations, plot concrete and other things which all feel genuine and real. There’s a certain rationalization of the Doctor’s entire character, about nine words, that hits right into the fan feels and drastically alters your perception of the last twenty years of Whodom. The whole story, in a way, changes Doctor Who retroactively in a way that, I at least, found satisfying and had a sense of the future in its delivery.
It’s, however, not all love and monsters. There’s a few spanners thrown in the works with a few of the plot sequences. It’s also safe to say that the multi-Doctor story doesn’t go the whole hog, you’ll see what I mean, but there’s still some emotional moments. The last beats of the picture will probably cause a few rifts but I found the final image to be incredibly beautiful, one that I had to see under the covers of my sobs and dreadful tears. This story finally captures, in all its fourth-wall breaking beauty, the truth behind what it means to love the show and what it means to be a Whovian. It’s a shame, however, that it doesn’t manage to amp it up.
There’s a lot of skimming over potential great ‘bits’ that bring the whole affair down a notch. For instance, Billie Piper’s Rose is incredibly under-used. Billie shows of a side of her acting repertoire we’ve never seen but, quite frankly, it’s used in an isolated way and doesn’t feel deserved. Clara, as well, also seems ‘significant’ but in that odd, ‘not significant’ way. Perhaps it’s the little dialogue she gets or how she seems to influence the story only when the plot deems it necessary. It’s that same ‘female characters are always secondary’ writing style that Steven Moffat hasn’t broken out of. It’s a shame, too, because both Billie and Jenna are arguably some of the best parts to the whole show. The other secondary cast members, most of them female, are also regulated to ‘advance the plot’ duty which is a shame given they still show off a lot.
Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt? Exceptional. Each of them in their own right. Matt Smith’s bonkers childish glee and energy just bounce throughout the room. John Hurt’s grandad-ness manages an adorable duty to the point of which you just grin from ear to ear at the end of every single one of his utterances. The only weak point is Tennant who isn’t quite given the ‘Tenth Doctor’ material that he needs. In conversation, however, he’s able to jump off of every single sentence and help do the thing.
I remember my first time watching Doctor Who and this feels a lot like it. Seeing some big eared chap jump about whilst holding hands with a pretty blonde and fighting alien monsters. It was different, it was special. I remember giggling, I remember being stunned but, most of all, I remember feeling a homely sense. That true sense in which you can connect to a show, to a series of characters and things which aren’t real… but they are. It’s that connection to ‘genuine’ fiction that makes all of the terrible films, all of the dreadful television and the empty fiction that much worthwhile, because once every so often, under a TARDIS-shaped moon, there’s magic to be had. I got that homely feeling with Day of the Doctor. For all its niggles, odd plotting and under-used stuffs, it manages to capture the warmth of being a Whovian in this day and age; it feels like a genuine effort of past, present and future.