'THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY
COLLECTION' 2-D 1080P DIGITAL DOWNLOAD FROM iTUNES
In 2013, something terrible is awakening in London’s National Gallery; in 1562, a murderous plot is afoot in Elizabethan England; and somewhere in space an ancient battle reaches its devastating conclusion. All of reality is at stake as the Doctor’s own dangerous past comes back to haunt him.
23RD NOVEMBER 2013
(75-MINUTE FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL)
is a day that I’m not likely to forget in a long time. After an almost sleepless night set to the soundtrack of a two-year-old coughing so hard that she kept vomiting herself awake, I rose to find that the diverter valve in our gas boiler had gone kaput for the second time in as many years, leaving us without any hot water upstairs. Shortly afterwards, to my horror, I discovered that the upstairs toilet wouldn’t flush in a completely unrelated, but still every bit as maddening, cistern failure. I went on to spend most of the morning building a flat-pack desk for my wife, only to discover, right at the end, that its drawer’s baroque ‘Daisy’ handle was missing, and so then had to spend much of the afternoon stood at the service desk in Dunelm trying my level best not to inflict grievous bodily harm on its staff who wanted me to disassemble and return the entire desk, rather than just exchange its unfinished drawer with that of their display desk’s, as I had reasonably suggested.
As Doctor Who’s original monochrome titles bled into a redolent shot of a bobby on the beat down Totter’s Lane, I felt something stir inside me. But such exquisite and duly reverent classic series nostalgia was only fleeting, as greyscale soon turned to colour and Nick Hurran’s visceral direction swiftly carried me through a motorbike-shaped Paul McGann movie homage and then into a sequence that exemplified the very best of new Who; a set piece that had me instantly regretting not vying for tickets to see The Day of the Doctor in 3-D at the cinema. But even in 2-D 1080i, the spectacular, consciously cinematic in-vision credits still brought a movie to mind. Compare the dark and brief Eleventh Hour pre-title sequence with The Day of the Doctor’s drawn-out daylight dangling and note the difference. Though still confined to the domestic television screen for most viewers, The Day of the Doctor exuded blockbuster ambition right from its outset.
“I’ve had many faces, many lives, but I don’t admit to all of them. There’s one life that I’ve tried very hard to forget. He was the Doctor that fought in the Time War and that was the day he did it. The day I did it. The day he killed them all. The last day of the Time War. The war to end all wars between my people and the Daleks. And in that battle there was a man with more blood on his hands than any other. The man who would commit a crime that would silence the universe. And that man was me."
And “Granddad” certainly did that.
“Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of lesser men to light
Hurt’s portrayal was devastatingly serious, particularly when viewed alongside the childlike exuberance of two of his later incarnations, who The Day of the Doctor suggested have been running from the dread conjured by his memory. This was beautifully borne out in the scene in which he asked them, “Do you have to talk like children? What makes you both so ashamed of being a grown-up?”, and the answer was written all over their faces. Throughout the story, Hurt, quite fittingly, showed us a soberer side to the character that we hadn’t seen since at least Jon Perwee’s era, perhaps even William Hartnell’s, but it was still recognisable - he was still the Doctor at heart. The coat that he wore provided a visual link to the man he would become, and his actions provided a more subtle one. Yes, to save the universe he’d wipe out two almighty races, but only because nobody else would do what needed to be done. I don’t think that’s necessarily wrong, nor do I find it “cruel or cowardly” – quite the opposite, in fact. It’s saving the universe, but at a cost, just as he’d done before, and would do again. He even tried to protect his TARDIS’s feelings by materialising miles from the site of his terrible deed and trekking to it through the desert. That’s not the act of cruel or cowardly man, or even the act of a man who’s given up - it’s being the Doctor on a day when it was impossible to be. The Doctor can try to divorce himself from his ‘Warrior’ self, lock his past incarnation away in the recesses of his mind, strip him of his name and lay all the guilt at his door, but when it comes down to it, this ‘War Doctor’ is the Doctor as much as the man in the fez who thinks that bow ties are cool or the “matchstick man” in the pin-striped suit, and The Day of the Doctor was an inspired, and really quite touching, exploration of the notion.
It’s nonetheless a heck of a testament to both David Tennant and Matt Smith that when the action cut away from the climax of the Last Great Time War, away from the gravitational Mr Hurt and Piper’s ghost of relative past and future, The Day of the Doctor remained relentlessly engrossing. It would have been joy enough to see good old David Ten-inch (or is that Eleven-inch, now, hmm?) playing his “grunge-phase” Doctor once again, and particularly in a page of history once mentioned but never before explored, as he battled Zygons in Elizabethan England alongside his bride-to-be, Good Queen Bess (played here by Gavin and Stacey’s buoyant girl next door, Joanna Page). Yet when Smith’s Doctor entered the mix, we witnessed something very special indeed. Rather than perpetuate the now-obligatory bickering first, and most memorably, demonstrated by Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee over forty years ago, Moffat presented us with two young-looking Doctors ripping the piss out of each other and indulging in some riotous, laddish banter as Chinny mocked Sandshoes’ wooing of Zygons and they compared sonic screwdrivers suggestively.
But, of course, he didn’t light that flame, and as a result my beloved iPhone 4S became the final casualty of the Last Great Time War when its screen found itself being smashed. This wasn’t an act of rage, I should stress - just the cack-handedness that follows utter astonishment.
Above: Never text while watching "event drama"
Ever since The End of the World, the Doctor’s (then only implied) actions had lent him an edge that none of the classic incarnations, not even Sylvester McCoy’s master manipulator, could match, not to mention a depth that could break hearts. Now most of that’s been torn from him in a moment of decisive victory; an ultimate save that only the unprecedented, and really quite overwhelming, presence of all thirteen Doctors (yep, even the one yet to come was thrown straight into the thick of it) could have a shot at making up for. Fair dues, Moffat’s made up for his predecessor’s cruel Christmas 2008 Next Doctor trickery, but in doing so he pulled off a much grander swerve. Gallifrey falls no more, and the Doctors wipe their collective slate clean.
But surely the last day of the Time War was the Doctor’s volcano day - if that doesn’t have to stand, then how can viewers be expected to care about anything, as it can just be undone by a future producer who doesn’t feel bound by the laws of time? Why not pop back and save Adric right now? How is this act any different to the borderline-villainous “Time Lord victorious” that The Waters of Mars so vociferously warned against? Whilst I can understand wanting to steer the show away from sinister soubriquets like ‘The Oncoming Storm’ and ‘The Destroyer of Worlds’, both of which emerged from the darkness between series and reeked of fan despair, there must be a way to push on with a nutty, dicky-bow Doctor without ripping the guts out of seven seasons of telly and a character that’s become so much more than he once was.
But the retcon wasn’t quite the end; indeed, ’twas a beginning. The Day of the Doctor concluded with a scene so nonsensically reverent that I would have forgiven the series anything. Tom Baker’s cameo as the art gallery’s curator was as beautiful as it was mischievous, radiating through both the dissolved fourth wall and the Time Lord 3-D artwork’s window to Gallifrey (meta-fiction within meta-fiction...), somewhere out there in the show’s future, yet tied to a past impossibly embodied in this eccentric old man. The whole spirit of the special is distilled right there; the collision between past and future, the disambiguation of seemingly separate titles, of seemingly separate men. It’s an all-time high point for Who.
Above: Just the twelve Doctors... so where's Capaldi's?
† Rowan Atkinson, Richard E Grant, Christopher Eccleston, and now John Hurt.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2013
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
For John Hurt's Doctor, this story takes place at the apex of the Last Great Time War and at the far end of his incarnation (from an episodic point of view, between The Last Day and Rose). The clear changes in this incarnation's face between The Night of the Doctor and The Day of the Doctor suggest that his war, and indeed his life, was a long one.
For David Tennant's Doctor, this story takes place between The Waters of Mars and The End of Time, as in the latter the Doctor recalls his nuptials (which in itself is something of a worry, as he's supposed to have forgotten these events. Perhaps he retains some edited memories). These events also offer a clue as to why Queen Elizabeth I wanted the Doctor's head when she would encounter him again (from her point of view) in the closing moments of The Shakespeare Code - he no doubt did a runner in his sandshoes soon after their wedding. Whether he deflowered the "Virgin Queen" or not first is best left to the imagination, but given his track record, it probably wouldn't be wise to infer too much from his End of Time boasting.
For Matt Smith's Doctor, this story takes place some time after The Name of the Doctor, since which Clara has had a convenient change of vocation, allowing for the featuring of Coal Hill School in the special.
All thirteen incarnations of the Doctor appear in this story, including Peter Capaldi's who has yet to be introduced to the audience. It is not explained why Capaldi's incarnation is missing from the 'Doctors montage' shot that closes the episode (nor is it, for that matter, why neither Eccleston's nor Capaldi's Doctors are shown to Hurt's by the Moment - it seems odd that she'd only allow him to see two of his future selves. Outside the fiction, of course, the reasoning behind this is purely practical).
The Doctor's age is seriously explored for the first time in the revived series, with Smith's Doctor suggesting that, as many have speculated, he might have lost track of it, albeit with the caveat that he can't remember if this is actually the case. More concrete is the firming up of the idea that Smith's Doctor television tenure has been spread across several subjective centuries for the Time Lord - he's about four hundred years into his twelfth incarnation by this point, whereas Tennant's eleventh incarnation didn't live much longer than five or six years; a mere mayfly by comparison. Of further note, in this story Tennant's Doctor claims to still be 904 (an age that he last gave in Voyage of the Damned), suggesting a very long gap indeed between The Waters of Mars and The End of Time, where he tells Wilfred that he's 906.
This story makes explicit that, at least by the time of the Last Great Time War, there were billions of children on Gallifrey. Those wishing to tie the continuity of the novels to it will have to assume that once the Pythia's curse was lifted (in Lungbarrow), those sex-starved Gallifreyans started breeding fast.
For Gallifrey, the events depicted here appear to take place immediately after those shown in The End of Time. Indeed, Rassilon's High Council are still "in session", which is likely a reference to the deliberations that preceded Gallifrey's emergence in Earth's solar system in that story and, we can assume, continued following the planet's return to the "hell" of the Time War. One particularly interesting consequence of Gallifrey's revival is that the likes of Rassilon; the Master; the mysterious woman who objected to Rassion's "end of time" endgame; and, presumably, the artist who created Gallifrey Falls No More are all alive and out there somewhere, their destinies inevitably intertwined with the Doctor's.
The Day of the Doctor's concluding retcon also offers a more plausible explanation as to how the Emperor Dalek and the Cult of Skaro survived the Time War - any Daleks not involved in the assault on Gallifrey will have now survived, whereas the implication seems to be that the Moment "originally" destroyed every member of both the Dalek and Gallifreyan races, save, of course, for one.
A final, slightly more whimiscal, point to note is that Kate Stewart's line of dialogue about UNIT "dating protocols" suggests that the age-old 1970s vs 1980s debate might have been the result of different dating protocols used in the organisation's filing system.
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