So the Day of the Doctor has finally come and now I am going to break my silence and talk about what is going on in Whoville. There is a lot to cover so this might be a little longer than my normal posts. First let’s start with Stephen Moffat, the man with the toughest job in the entertainment industry. I have liked a lot of the things that he has done with the show and disliked some, but overall I think he has done an exceptional job at building on a half century of legacy that he was given and propelling the show into the next 50 years. He is often reviled for some of the story choices that he has made and might very well be the second most hated man to ever work on Doctor Who in its history; JNT earns the title for most hated. But to be honest RTD had it easy, the show had been off the air for over a decade and a half with only the Fox/BBC TV movie in the middle, and old fans were just thrilled to have it back. A new fan base had not developed for the show yet, so anything that he did was okay by them. Then suddenly without even having a chance to bring in a new companion, Russell T Davies and David Tennant both leave the show at the same time. This not only left Moffat with big shoes to fill, but the youngest Doctor ever and a brand new companion to introduce to the audience. Not since the transition from ‘War Games’ to ‘Spearhead from Space’ has the show undergone such a complete change in one season to the next.
With all of that load on his back Moffat was faced with the biggest event in Doctor Who history looming in his face the 50th Anniversary of the show to fall on a Saturday. The show had not had a big anniversary celebration since the 20th back in 1983 with the airing of the ‘Five Doctors’ an episode that was more of a cluster of fond memories than anything intended to move the story forward. And it had to have a bigger impact than the ‘Three Doctors’ from back in the 10th anniversary which was notable not only in that it was the first, and only time, that all previous Doctors appeared together in one episode, but that it shifted the story back to a traveling Doctor, from one who had been stranded on earth for several years.
So this presented Moffat with several large choices, after the two previous anniversary episodes had featured multiple Doctors together he would be expected to bring back several other of the previous Doctors in order to make the episode work, but first he is faced with the issue that the first three of the Doctors have passed on, and the remaining four from the original run of the series are significantly older than they were when they regenerated and ended their runs. Do you recast the original three, like they did for Hartnell in the ‘Five Doctors’ or use archive footage like they did for Tom Baker in the ‘Five Doctors’? And most importantly how even by doubling the length of the episode from 45 minutes to one and a half hours could you fit enough material into the episode to give all of the Doctors something to do, the mass of Doctors and companions from the ‘Five Doctors’ was enough to break down the story into mere spectacle.
Moffat did what he could to bring back together as many of the recent Doctors as possible, Tennant, Smith and introduced John Hurt as the missing Doctor, the War Doctor. This was a story not so much about Matt Smith’s version of the Doctor as it was about John Hurt, and the missing years from the time of the Fox/BBC TV movie up until the time when the series was brought back, and then once it had established that it turned and looked to the future and set a path for future Doctor Who plots going forward.
First with the mini-sode ‘Night of the Doctor’ he brings back the completely under-used Paul McGann and gives proper closure to the eight incarnation of the Doctor, a death full of sacrifice and longing. And with 6 short minutes he fills in the first half of the transition from the past to the future.
Then the main event begins, Tennant, Smith & Hurt are brought together to face a challenge that looms too large for only one Doctor to face. The Time War, the mysterious conflict between the Time Lords and Daleks that threatened the entire Universe and force the Doctor to wipe out his own people. From the first moment this is what the fans have been expecting Smith’s frustrated goofiness, Tennant’s bumbling sexiness and the added gravitas of Hurt come together in a delightful mix of personalities that bring out the best in one another. I also thoroughly enjoyed the sneaky way that Moffat included quotes from previous incarnations of the Doctor.
To top all of it off Moffat uses the fact that the three Doctors who have appeared in the new series are three of the youngest men to play the part and have been getting progressively younger since the new series started as a metaphor for the Doctor trying to escape from what he believes he has done to his own people. And at the end when a way out has been found that will save all of Time Lord civilization and prevent the genocide that the Doctor has been wrestling with since his return to the airwaves, it is revealed that due to the proximity of the three Doctors to each other that the younger two, Hurt and Tennant, will have no memories of saving their civilization but go back to believing that they are the cause of the biggest genocide in the universe. The War Doctor’s story ends with him regenerating into the Doctor from the beginning of the new series, providing the last piece of the bridge from the old to the new, and making way in the last few moments for Smith to once again step center stage and open up the door to the future with the hunt for Gallifrey that will begin with his successor Peter Capaldi.
This is not to say that the episode was without fault. As much as I enjoyed the small cameo from Tom Baker as the Curator at the end, pointing Matt Smith’s Doctor in the direction of finding the lost planet Gallifrey. The fact that an older Tom Baker appeared and provided cryptic clues to Matt Smith’s Doctor brings up many problems, while he did not appear as the Doctor he did possess information and hinted at a connection to the Doctor that is never explained, it felt like a moment of empty pageantry that Moffat claimed he was trying to avoid by not having a parade of old Doctors appear in the episode.
But in the waning moments of the episode as the plan to save Gallifrey is thrown into effect Moffat breaks out the big surprise, something he has become known for, and reveals the presence, if only for a second, of the newest Doctor Peter Capaldi.
This brings us to the latest firestorm that Moffat has erupted on the Whovians, he argued from the first moment that he revealed John Hurt at the end the ‘The Name of the Doctor’ that Matt Smith was not the 12th Doctor as some were claiming, he insisted that people had not been watching the show carefully enough. Many theories were tossed around the internet, one of the more popular was that the transition from Trouton to Pertwee was not a regeneration at all but only a change in appearance forced by the high council of the Time Lords. But Moffat has now revealed that he was referring to the fact that David Tennant used up one of the regenerations during ‘Journey’s End’ to heal himself from a Dalek blast and so Matt Smith has already used up all of the regenerations available to the Doctor.
Obviously Moffat has a plan to give the Doctor at least one more cycle of Regenerations so that the show can continue with Peter Capaldi as the Doctor and he will reveal what new twist he has for the Doctor and his Companions to us this Christmas.