Channel: BBC One
Cast: Matt Smith, David Tennant, Jenna-Louise Coleman, Joanna Page with Billie Piper and John Hurt
Doctor Who’s biggest problem these days is that it is so hit and miss. It should be great television every time, but Moffat’s last season only really hit its full potential in the final episode. Therefore, as the hype for the 50th Anniversary episode nearly hit breaking point, I was sceptical. Thankfully, despite the sheer amount of pressure on this episode, it delivers at one of the best Doctor Who episodes in a very long time.
I think one of the main reasons the Day of the Doctor works so well, while the smaller episodes often crumble in on themselves, is that all of Moffat’s annoying tendencies actually work here. For one, it is a stand-alone episode (with the exception of some foreshadowing last season), so Moffat’s craziness is marginally contained. We are not given major over-arching plot points to worry about, so we can take this episode at face value. Also, Moffat’s love for epic TV absolutely works here, as it is the 50th anniversary. The stunning Gallifrey set-pieces are totally right for this mood and it all works tremendously well. However, Moffat never forgets to include the smaller beats. There is one moment near the start, where Matt Smith’s Doctor is clearly under duress from the weight of his dark past, yet he still finds time to compliment the scarf of a stranger. It is a nice touch and there are several of them dotted around the episode that reminds us why Doctor Who is still some of the finest TV around. Finally, Moffat’s annoying habit of getting over-nostalgic is the whole point of a milestone episode, so when we get cheesy throwbacks to the older (and newer) Doctors, it fits the bill perfectly. It was also nice that as well as Classic Who Easter Eggs, we got some nice memories of the good old Tennant days too. There is something for everyone hidden away here.
The other thing I was worried about was the Doctors trying to steal the limelight from each other. Matt Smith and David Tennant are the kind of actors that totally dominate their time on the screen. One of the more recent flaws in the series is that no other actor can match Matt Smith’s energy. On top of that, we have John Hurt, one of the most legendary and well-known actors in British history playing this mythical anti-Doctor figure. Surely that is too much for one show. However, the different Doctors complement each other and their relationships work really well on screen. Smith and Tennant bounce off of each other so well that you could easily spend the next hour watching them criticise each other’s regeneration. Matt Smith in particular is game for letting the script mock his little traits that some hard-core Tennant fans might find annoying, something that made me realise how much I am going to miss the actor when he leaves next episode. I must also applaud John Hurt for standing up against two well-established Doctors. It would have been easy for the writers to phase him out, but Hurt takes the single episode he is given and builds an interesting character that we feel upset we cannot spend more time with in the future.
I also noticed a few things about David Tennant’s performance. In many regards, this is a reflective role for him, as he can look back on his fans’ comments and mould his Doctor on the characteristics that worked so well, when he was in the role. There is a certain amount of ‘arrogance’ about his role. No, arrogance is the wrong word, because I don’t mean it in a negative way at all. He seems to know that he is probably the statistically most liked Doctor in recent years, so he has the most screen presence. (Now I want to use the words ‘Swagger Jagger’, but I want this review to be taken seriously.) At the same time, Tennant understands that this is still Matt Smith’s time, so he stands back and lets his successor do his thing, without getting in the way. It is refreshing to see him return to the role that he really brought life into. Also, while some people said that Matt Smith just stole the best bits of Tennant’s Doctor, seeing them both together makes it very clear just how different the two of them are. Moffat highlights certain traits that really make this an interesting dissection into the evolution of the Doctor. We might never look at the character in the same way again.
I have also come to a massive decision, during this episode. Clara is my favourite companion. In an episode with larger than life characters, she holds her own, yet never compromises her core character, like we could argue Donna Noble did. Clara is funny, memorable and a strong female figure, yet she stands back and lets the Doctor do his own thing. The thing that annoyed me with Rose and Amy, and more recently Vastra and River Song, was the fact that they seemed to try and share the lead with the Doctor, when, in all honesty, we showed up for the titular Time Lord and no one else. Clara will keep her distance for the majority of the show, but always picked her moments, so her character could have her time to shine. In many ways, it is Clara that saves the day in this episode (and also ‘The Name of the Doctor’), making her the quiet hero. Sure, we are at the start of her road as a companion, so her character might get distorted a few more seasons in, yet for the moment she is a welcome addition to the show and I hope she transitions to the next Doctor a little better than Billie Piper did.
I have minor problems with the episode. Plot holes are the bigger ones, as this episode changes up the dynamic of the show slightly and I am sure that if I thought a little harder about it, earlier episodes would start to fall apart under scrutiny. Also, the Zygons, despite Tennant saying they were his favourite old enemy, were a little disappointing. A cool idea, but they weren’t overly scary or exciting. At the very least, they made for some good twists and jokes (Tennant has a fantastic scene, where he tries to decipher which Queen Elizabeth is the shape-shifter). They did fizzle out eventually, but after all, this episode is about Gallifrey, so the Zygon’s lack of threat didn’t get in the way too much. Overall, I was much more impressed than I thought I would be with the episode. My only worry is that now the Christmas episode will be poor in comparison and Smith will not get the send-off he deserves.
Final Verdict: Epic, explosive and funny, yet at the same time, it never loses touch with the Doctor Who show we love.