The Day of the Doctor ★★★★★

Doctors past, present and future unite to resolve the Time War – in Steven Moffat's superb, game-changing special, dripping with golden moments

Day of the Doctor 2013

Story 240

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50th Anniversary Special

“No, sir. All 13!” – Time Lord

Storyline
Clara, now working at Coal Hill School, joins the Doctor just as the Tardis is airlifted by a Unit helicopter to Trafalgar Square. Kate Stewart, the Brigadier’s daughter, wants to show the Doctor a 3D painting in the National Gallery called Gallifrey Falls. And in a secret Under Gallery, there are more 3D landscapes from which figures have escaped…

In the English countryside, 1562, the Doctor’s previous incarnation finds himself proposing marriage to Queen Elizabeth I while trying to avert a Zygon menace. The shape-shifting aliens plan to invade the future – 21st-century Earth – after being held in stasis by the 3D images.

An even earlier incarnation, having renounced the title of “Doctor”, is present for the last day of the Time War. He’s decided to end the conflict between the Daleks and the Time Lords by activating “The Moment”, a galaxy-eating weapon of mass destruction. But in the Gallifreyan desert, he is plagued by a “conscience” from the Moment’s interface, embodied in the form of Rose Tyler.

The conscience generates a time fissure so that the “War Doctor” can join his future selves and reconsider his actions…

First UK broadcast
Saturday 23 November 2013

Cast
The Doctor – Matt Smith, David Tennant, John Hurt
(also credited: Christopher Eccleston, Paul McGann, Sylvester McCoy, Colin Baker, Peter Davison, Tom Baker, Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton, William Hartnell)

Clara – Jenna Coleman
Rose Tyler – Billie Piper
Kate Stewart – Jemma Redgrave
Elizabeth I – Joanna Page
Osgood – Ingrid Oliver
Tom – Tristan Beint
Time Lord soldier – Chris Finch
Androgar – Peter De Jersey
The General – Ken Bones
Arcadia father – Philip Buck
Time Lord – Sophie Morgan-Price
Lord Bentham – Orlando James
McGillop – Jonjo O’Neill
Atkins – Tom Keller
Zygons – Aidan Cook, Paul Kasey
Dalek & Zygon voices – Nicholas Briggs
Daleks – Barnaby Edwards, Nicholas Pegg
Voiceover artist – John Guilor

Crew
Writer – Steven Moffat
Director – Nick Hurran
Producer – Marcus Wilson
Music – Murray Gold
Designer – Michael Pickwoad
Executive producers – Steven Moffat, Faith Penhale

RT review by Patrick Mulkern
“No pressure then,” I said to Steven Moffat, when I was jammed up against him at the bar at Doctor Who Magazine’s 50th bash – just one week ahead of The Day of the Doctor, and with what must have felt like, for him, the eyes of the world watching, waiting, hoping desperately to be impressed by whatever his feverish imagination could deliver.

The Moff shrugged, gave me that disconcerting saturnine look he has, halfway between smile and scowl, and then… well, then we had an interesting conversation that I cannot, would not repeat here. We were both off duty. It would be ungentlemanly.

But I realised this is a man who loves Doctor Who as passionately as I do, and what shone through in the 50th anniversary week is how so many people really do adore and care about this daft old television programme.

So how is The Day of the Doctor? Well, clearly it’s brilliant, if uneven in pace and, for some I spoke to, tricky to follow. In no way disappointing, but there are peaks and longueurs.

The script was originally structured for David Tennant, Matt Smith and Christopher Eccleston. That would have been some union, a reward for the audience who have followed the show since 2005, but as we know Eccleston peed over the Moff’s freshly laid-out picnic. At the 11th hour – with ultra-busy Smith, Tennant and Billie Piper all diarised and engaged – Moffat had to find a quick solution to let his “Back to the Time War” story work. Enter an old Doctor we had never seen before.

John Hurt is the kind of casting I dreamt of post-Tom Baker so I have no complaints. I told Steven – although I’m sure he’d realised – that in the space of one month, Doctor Who, now known for ever-younger Doctors, is suddenly serving up three older ones: David Bradley, John Hurt and Peter Capaldi. All top-drawer. (And not forgetting Tom Baker!)

Hurt, always magnificent, plays his part with unremitting weariness, and is an amusing counterpoint to his boyish, hand-flapping successors. The scenes between the three Doctors has more than sparkle: they’re a masterclass in acting styles and sharp writing.

Matt Smith is always note-perfect and David Tennant doesn’t seem a day older, still the romantic, cocky hero. The little dig about his Doctor’s estuary accent being a bit Dick Van Dyke is priceless.

Tennant’s Doctor yet again gets the lady: the “Virgin” Queen, no less. And, note, he absconds during the wedding. A nice pay-off to The Shakespeare Code (Gareth Roberts’s 2007 episode) when an old Queen Elizabeth showed up and inexplicably wanted the Doctor’s head. Now we know why.

Hurt’s scenes with Billie Piper would have worked so much better (as was intended) alongside an Eccleston Doctor, who did not yet know her. The lack of a proper Rose may have disappointed those drooling for more Piper/Tennant schmaltz, but Moffat wisely sidesteps that entirely. And by making her some weird kind of interface (a conscience generated by Gallifrey’s ultimate WMD), Piper could use her proper voice and not that cod “I’m a chav!” accent that became increasingly unconvincing.

The action almost grinds to a halt with some surprisingly static, talky scenes but a bit of downtime is needed and I’ll appreciate these contemplative moments better on subsequent viewings.

Russell T Davies always said the Time War between the Daleks and Gallifrey was best left unexplored. He established it eight years earlier as a past event, and really what we see in The Day of the Doctor does little to shake that wisdom. The battle scenes on Gallifrey look expensive and explosive and no doubt worked better in 2013 for the 3D cinema audience than they did on my HD TV.

But dispensing with the baggage of the Time War, unshackling the Doctor from his burden of guilt, is a masterstroke from the Moff, and gives the Time Lord a new goal. He spent his first few years in exile and eventually fleeing his own people; now his mission is to find them. To find his home.

I want to concentrate on the positives. Steven Moffat deliver so many pleasing moments… The Hartnell title sequence! A glimpse of Totter’s Lane and Clara working at Coal Hill School, settings for the first episode in 1963. The school clock set at 5.16pm, the time when An Unearthly Child began on BBC TV. Clara charging into the police box on a motorbike. The madcap Tardis airlift over London landmarks, and Unit passing off their actions in Trafalgar Square as another Derren Brown stunt. The Unit boffin wearing The Scarf. The wall of companion photos…

David Tennant once told RT that the Zygons were the one monster he wanted to work with. Many years later, his wish is fulfilled as the one-off favourites from 1975 make their return – the classic design untampered with; their shape-shifting achieved via a delicious/revolting transmogrification.

I love the salute to the Brigadier, probably my favourite character in Doctor Who, delightfully played over many decades by Nicholas Courtney, who died in 2011. Well, that’s my first blub.

How many people gasped at the Time Lords’ mention of “all 13” Doctors, and that flash close-up of an intense Peter Capaldi!? All the Doctors come to the rescue with their Tardises (blithely overlooking the fact that the first three Docs could rarely, if ever, pilot theirs). And Matt Smith’s Doctor’s dream – him joining a line-up of his 11 predecessors in all their finery, gazing at Gallifrey – is simply majestic.

A gasp and blub combined is triggered by Tom Baker – the elusive elder statesman of Doctor Who sending a 50th birthday kiss to his legions of fans. His turn as the enigmatic “Curator” is the greatest anniversary present, a duologue expertly played by Baker and Smith, and opaquely written by the Moff so that you can take from it whatever you want. He could be a far future incarnation reusing an “old favourite” face. For me, this elderly man really is a version of the fourth Doctor we adored in the 1970s. I can make that leap of faith. Tom always has been and always will be the Doctor.

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This is The Day of the Doctor in all his forms, justly celebrated, and set up for decades of new adventures.