Sunday, November 24, 2013

Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor

Rarely is there such hype for one episode, even when that episode is marking an extraordinary 50 years for a television show. The expectations for "The Day of the Doctor" were sky high. Here's the amazing thing: The special doesn't disappoint. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's fantastic. One of the best Doctor Who episodes since the reboot. There is so much going here on that 24 hours later, my brain is still processing. But I'll do my best to set aside the squee! and share some thoughts on what we saw and what's coming next. I have a lot to say, so here we go.

From here on out ... massive spoilers!

The Doctors
All 13 make an appearance in some form or another, but I'm going to focus on the big three: John Hurt, David Tennant and Matt Smith. The Warrior, the Hero and the Doctor. My main joy from this episode came from watching the three of them interact. Tennant steps back into the role of Ten like he never left, and Hurt makes for a great addition to the canon, especially when he voices his curmudgeonly disapproval for the "younger" Doctors' antics. I'd love to list all the wonderful lines and exchanges among these three, but then I'd be transcribing quotes all night.

The actors and the writing are equally good when the tone goes serious and Hurt's War Doctor comes to understand how his destruction of Gallifrey affects his future selves. Ten carries the immense pain and regret with him, and Eleven tries to convince himself that it never happened.

Then, of course, they choose to rewrite their own history (sort of, seeing as it really always happened that they time-locked the Time Lords instead of killing them, but only Eleven remembers it correctly, and my head hurts thinking about it) and it's happy and hopeful and gives the Doctor (and the show) new purpose for the next 50 years. Or at least the next four or five.

The companions
Let's talk about Bad Wolf Rose first. Billie Piper isn't playing Rose, for starters, and I am so glad of that fact. Rose's story as it relates to the Doctor is done and should be left as it is. So, Rose is actually the sentience of a Time Lord weapon called The Moment that Hurt's Doctor is threatening to use to end the Time War. In that way, she's a lot like the TARDIS. The Moment chooses a form from the Doctor's future. It makes sense that she settles on the companion who arguably has had the biggest personal impact on the Doctor -- or in the War Doctor's case, will have an impact. She plays the Ghost of Christmas Future to the Doctor's Scrooge. There's a tiny part of me that wishes she and Ten had gotten the opportunity to interact, but I can't see how it would have gone well. After all, this isn't really Rose. Ten's double-take upon hearing the term "Bad Wolf" was enough.

Now onto Clara. I complained last spring that Clara wasn't a character so much as she was a plot device, i.e. The Impossible Girl, a mystery for the Doctor to solve. Dalek Clara and Victorian Clara had purpose and personality, but current-day Clara did not. I had hoped that would change after the Impossible Girl mystery was solved. Since this is the first time we've seen her since then, this was the test. And she kind of, sort of passed. There's an understanding between her and Eleven now that she has seen the whole of his time stream. They are comfortable with each other, and that seems to give Clara more confidence to be her own person. She has a job as a teacher. She drives a motorcycle into the TARDIS and shuts the doors with a snap of her fingers. She steals Jack Harkness' time vortex manipulator. She persuades Eleven to change what happened to his people. It's a step in the right direction. I like this Clara. I hope she hangs around.

I'll admit it. I let out a spontaneous crazy-sounding laugh when a 13th TARDIS joined the others around Gallifrey and we were treated to a half-second shot of Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. Or rather, Capaldi's distinctive and fierce eyes. I am more excited than ever to see what he does with the role after he makes his first official appearance in December.

I was spoiled on the Tom Baker appearance, unfortunately, so that wasn't as much of a surprise. And -- don't all throw tomatoes at me now -- but I have never watched a Tom Baker episode of Doctor Who. Still, he was great here as the Curator, and I love the strong implication that in some future incarnation, the Doctor becomes the keeper of Britain's secret trove of alien artifacts.

The one cameo I really wanted to see that didn't quite happen was Christopher Eccleston as Nine. When Hurt's Doctor started his regeneration, I had a moment of hope that all we had heard about Eccleston wanting nothing to do with the 50th was a lie and we were about to get a glimpse of Nine. Then the scene cut away, darn it. If there's a letdown in this episode, that was it.

Where do we go from here?
To Trenzalore. When Eleven answered Ten's question about where they were headed, he was setting up the final chapter in his own story. And as we saw in the preview, the Doctor will be taking a Christmas holiday, unintentionally, on the one planet he wants to avoid above all others.

After the season finale last spring, I said if that episode was intended to wrap up the Silence Will Fall arc, it was a seriously disappointing way to do it. Turns out "The Name of the Doctor' was the appetizer. We get the main course one month from now with the Fall of the Eleventh and the Silence and, finally, regeneration. This won't be a sweet Christmasy special like the past few years but rather something akin to "The End of Time." Bittersweet as we say goodbye to Eleven but also hopeful with the introduction of Twelve.

But that's still four weeks away, and Steven Moffat and Co. have given us plenty to chew over until then.

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