Doctor Who: 50th anniversary special – The Day of the Doctor

I managed to miss a lot of the hype surrounding the 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who. Obviously in the run up to the episode airing, it was almost impossible to take an online step without finding something related to the sci-fi show, but before that, I’d side-stepped most of it. I knew of the Billie Piper/David Tennant return, and was obviously expecting an appearance from this new rogue Doctor we were introduced to at the end of the previous episode, but that was it.

The mini episode preview, with Paul McGann was brilliant. I don’t have a lot of knowledge about anything before “New Who” but I know that Paul’s TV movie and his countless hours of work doing the radio programmes created plenty of debate over whether they were officially canon or not. His appearance was fantastic, not only because it was a fascinating scene, and not only because I’m partial to a McGann here and there, but because it rewarded him for his tireless efforts. I reckon it’s about time I checked out those radio plays of his!

With little knowledge of the episode, then, I sat down to watch on Saturday night, already in a celebratory mood due to finishing exams and F1 in the same week. Once the extended hour and a bit long episode had finished, my immediate reaction was this:

And here’s why.

They’re screwdrivers! What are you going to do, assemble a cabinet at them?

The beauty of this episode was the little things. The small nods to inside jokes and rewards for those who have been watching long enough to get them. The little snippets of dialogue that can only work when you get two or three of the same eccentric characters in the same place at the same time.

Highlights include the reference to screwdrivers, the kissing, the reaction to the old and new TARDIS layouts, timey-wimey, the return of Allons-y! There’s so much to love. My only disappointment on that front was my own fault, it took me a long time to be able to take John Hurt seriously… “In a time of myth and a land of magic, etc, etc.”

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Of course, as a fan of David Tennant’s Doctor, his return was particularly special. It was painful to watch The Doctor and something shaped like Rose be in the same room without interacting, but I can understand why that had to happen. We had the joy of Billie’s return without what would have had to be a pretty dismissive reunion if the rest of the story was to be fitted in. Doctor 10’s reaction to the Bad Wolf reference showed that we’d need more than a few minutes to get the pair back together.

What’s our cover story for this? Um, Derren Brown.

It’s fair to say that the story of the Zygons was really just there for the rest to hang on. It allowed us to see more of the lovely Kate Stewart and the quite fun Osgood (great scarf), but it wasn’t a strong narrative. The big epic conclusion ended with two of Kate negotiating at the same table, never to be heard from again.

The paintings were great, 3D designs that blew the mind just a little bit. I also particularly enjoyed the bit where the guy took a phone call and we didn’t know what it was all about, but later on it was all revealed. That’s the time travel stuff that makes me tingle.

I didn’t think an awful lot of Joanna Page as the Queen. She’s great, but the Welsh accent was barely disguised at all! And there’s nothing wrong with a Welsh accent, except I don’t think that Queen Elizabeth had one. Still, when has Doctor Who ever been historically accurate? Maybe, along with having a husband all of a sudden, this is another thing that can be rewritten.

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Calling the War Council of Gallifrey, this is the Doctor.

The bit that really mattered, aside from the side-plot of Zygons and the light relief of many-Doctors, was the saving of Gallifrey. The home planet of the Doctor doesn’t mean all that much to me, only that it clearly means an awful lot to him. The guilt of being the only survivor was also the guilt of being the one that caused the destruction – sacrificing some to save many.

It reminded me of the episode about Pompeii, (oddly also starring Peter Capaldi), where the Doctor has to push the trigger for the volcano, knowing exactly what it will do. And there’s Donna to help him out with it. Here, it was not about the companion, though, it was about the Doctor helping himself and freeing himself.

I was worried for a little while that they were going to suddenly save Gallifrey, and then all of the many episodes we’ve witnessed with our new Doctors would be rewritten, and he would wake up in the shower and it would all have been a dream. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. The result was a nice halfway point, where, as the Doctor so eloquently put it, there is hope which is more than what they had with the other option.

The appearance of all the other Doctors as the planet was frozen in time was brilliant, but quickly overshadowed by the curator. Even if Tom Baker isn’t known to me as a Doctor, I knew it was a special moment and it still felt special. Matt Smith’s sort of bumbling excitement looked all too genuine.

It really was a great hour of TV, and one I will happily rewatch over and over again. Which is more than can be said for a lot of the recent episodes! And now there is just a short time to wait until the Christmas special, where we will see how Matt Smith makes his grand exit, and the circumstances surrounding Peter Capaldi’s entrance. Anyone know what number Doctor Peter is actually going to be!?

2 thoughts on “Doctor Who: 50th anniversary special – The Day of the Doctor

  1. Tom Baker is my doctor so the last bit was great. Saw it live then later in 3D at the cinema, which had a couple of extras before it started. Strax warning people to keep quiet & the doctors introducing the show.

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed the episode (which I only watched yesterday). I did think the Tom Baker appearance was a step too far that slightly spoilt it for me, as the doctor would have to go back to a previous incarnation and age considerably for Tom Baker’s elderly appearance to make any sense, which made me feel it was shoehorned in. (At least they did not bring that third-wheel drip Rory back, who died or disappeared from existence with regularity, but kept popping back like a bloody cartoon character.)

    I think Paul McGann was a great Doctor, but the TV-movie pilot was so painfully abysmal (plus how appalling Doctor Who had become by the Sylvester McCoy era) that it was a miracle it was resurrected. I was delighted to see McGann return in the teaser, and only sorry it was so brief.

    Some episodes are better than others, but overall I have immensely enjoyed the Big Finish McGann episodes that BBC Seven/Radio Four Extra have broadcast most of. The most interesting was the adaptation of Shada, written by Douglas Adams in 1979, but not completed for TV because of industrial action. It had one or two ideas that were reused in his later work, including a professor with a time-travelling room that recurred in a Dirk Gently novel, which character in Shada was a retired Time-Lord.

    The week before last, there were loads of Doctor Who adventures on R4X, much of it new (which I have yet to listen to) to the station, but unfortunately the McGann episodes included were repeats.

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