Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor
I’m willing to bet a large amount of money that Steven Moffat had many sleepless nights when writing the 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who. The lack of classic Doctors worried many fans when it was confirmed by the man himself, and not only that, the introduction of a brand new Doctor in the form of John Hurt. It could have all blown up in Moffat’s face; he could have had his head on a chopping block if this had gone wrong!
The episode itself brought together the 10th Doctor (David Tennant), 11th Doctor (Matt Smith), companion Clara (Jenna Coleman), and the ‘War Doctor’ (John Hurt) on the day that, according to the 11th Doctor himself, “it wasn’t possible to be The Doctor”, the day that The Doctor ended the Time War.
The episode itself was incredibly satisfying, revealing just what happened between the 10th Doctor and Elizabeth I (resolving a plot piece that’s been left hanging since 2007’s ‘The Shakespeare Code’!), the choice the Doctor faced in ending the time war, and exactly who helped him come to that decision (the Bad Wolf played by Billie Piper, previously companion Rose Tyler), as well as setting up an obviously major plot point for the next series or two with the saving of Gallifrey.
Of course, there were plot holes. Particularly, what happened between the Zygons and the humans negotiating at UNIT HQ under the Tower of London with them seemingly left there to their own devices at the 10th and 11th Doctors swan off to help the War Doctor. This seems to have been concluded with a Zygon duplicate and the real human Osgood sharing an asthma pump, a somewhat underwhelming ending to an apparently important plotline, if it was an ending at all.
There was always going to be a level of fan service in this episode, with the surprise appearances of the 12th (or is it 13th?) Doctor, Peter Capaldi and the cameo of 4th Doctor Tom Baker (who quite infamously refused to appear in the 20th anniversary special ‘The Five Doctors’). Not to mention seeing at least part of the time war itself, and the appearance of all 8 classic series Doctors via archive footage.
The piece de resistance of this package is ‘Night of the Doctor’ featuring Paul McGann’s 8th Doctor on screen for the first time in 17 years! It’s not much but it’s more than satisfying for the fans showing McGann’s regeneration into John Hurt’s War Doctor. The coy line “I’m a Doctor but probably not the one you were expecting” is very much tongue in cheek and sure to make many a fan explode with glee.
The other mini-episode is the very much underwhelming ‘The Last Day’ showing a Time Lord’s view point of the “fall of Arcadia”, previously mentioned in 2006’s ‘Doomsday’. If it wasn’t following ‘Night of the Doctor’ but it’s safe to say, ‘The Last Day’ is dwarfed by its companion mini-episode.
A nice companion piece to the 50th is the “Doctor Who Explained” feature, running at almost 45 minutes and featuring interviews with former cast members such as Karen Gillan and John Barrowman. It does what it says on the tin, it explains some of the core features of Doctor Who such as regeneration, the TARDIS and the Cybermen. There’s also the bog standard behind the scenes feature (narrated by the 6th Doctor himself, Colin Baker!) as well as the trailers.
A curiosity is the missing Five-ish Doctors Reboot, the spoof featuring Peter Davison, Colin Baker & Sylvester McCoy attempting to get a part in the episode as well as the cinematic extras featuring both the 10th and 11th Doctors and the recurring character (but not in this episode) of the Sontaran Commander Strax. Neither is there a commentary, which given the occasion feels a bit underwhelming. The lack of these somewhat sours the disc but nonetheless, the disc is still going to satisfy a lot of fans. The picture quality of the episode is great, particularly for a DVD. However, at several points the audio does become somewhat muddled on an ordinary 2.0 speaker set up, particularly with the music and sound effects overpowering dialogue. It remains to be seen whether or not the 5.1 Mix is much better, but perhaps the BBC will fix this on any inevitable re-release.
Overall, there were always going to be some fans inevitably disappointed that the 50th Anniversary was not “The Eleven Doctors”, but instead of getting a mashed up attempt at throwing in all the Doctors, we got a beautiful, poignant story and a massive piece of character development for The Doctor himself. But for this satisfied fan, this will go down as one of the best stories in Doctor Who history, with everything from classic Doctors, classic monsters in the form of the Zygons, to the time war, and the appearance of UNIT. It’s been a glorious 50 years for Doctor Who, so here’s to the next 50. Happy birthday Doctor.