To start, I want to say that it’s usually Autumn who runs this blog diary, but because I love the show as well, from time to time I plan to step in. So I thought I’d be the one to write a review today as Autumn is working on some other Doctor Who articles that should be coming soon!
On to the review…
Reviewing the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special is a tricky business, especially considering the celebratory nature of the episode and all of the emotions involved from a devoted audience. Some people have been watching the show for the entire 50 years, others jumped board with the new start of the series in 2005, and then there are others somewhere in between. But no matter where or when you started watching, somehow this show grew to mean something to you. I know it did me.
Being from America, I had only heard of the series in passing from when New Who started in 2005, and I just never got around to watching it. I wasn’t sure if I’d be that into it if I’m being honest. Why I thought that I don’t exactly know. Apparently I never heard or read a good pitch. So it wasn’t until a couple years ago that my sister convinced me to watch on Amazon Prime telling me it was “the best show ever.” Having very similar taste in shows, I decided to watch. From the first episode “Rose” I was hooked. And I’ve been watching since and consider it to be one of my all time favorite TV shows.
So while I’m relatively new, I do have a passion for the series. Like anyone I have my favorite characters, my favorite Doctors, my favorite episodes and of course all of my least favorites; which brings me to my review of the 50th Anniversary Special. I warn…I am always completely honest and as objective as I can be (even though it’s subjective) with my reviews so I’m not going to say everything was perfect (because it wasn’t) nor am I going to say everything was horrible (because that’s not true either). So while I know being critical at all of such a momentous episode may not be popular, I have to be honest.
Night of the Doctor
First of all, I want to go back to the “Night of the Doctor” special with Paul McGann. It was absolutely brilliant and Moffat at his absolute best. In just 7 minutes we had a story with characterization, good writing, a possible companion, old friends and a suspenseful regeneration. The minisode was surprising and memorable. In all, I’d rate it above the actual special in overall quality. It was exactly what I think everyone wanted from the 50th Anniversary: Surprises, a past Doctor and an emotional punch.
The Day of the Doctor – What I Liked:
It was a fun episode to watch, especially since it was celebrating the past 50 years of what is an iconic show. I loved the old black and white sequence in the beginning with the music, and then I loved seeing the school Susan went to. There was humor, action, emotion and nostalgia. Not to mention a touch of transformation to take the show forward. Overall, there was a lot to like.
First of all, I thought the visual design of Time Lord Art was phenomenal. The paintings were beautiful and I’m sure incredible to see in 3D (I unfortunately have only seen the episode in 2D at this point). It was incredibly creative to come up with the idea of paintings that can freeze time or even paintings that are bigger on the inside. I love art, museums and galleries so this was great to see. It was a clever twist at the end for Gallifrey to be hidden in art in a parallel/pocket universe somewhere.
There were a lot of characters to invest in within the episode, which to me is always very important. From three different Doctors with different personalities, to Bad Wolf Interface, to Kate and even to Scarf Girl (sorry Clara, for the most part, I’m still not invested in her as a character). I actually quite liked Tom Baker Scarf Girl from the Archive. She was kind of nerdy, intelligent and fun. I would definitely like to get to know her better as a character in the future. It gave me a good laugh when the Zygon mentioned her perfect sister and she made a snarky comment in return. She has the right kind of qualities to actually make a good companion, so I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing her return in the future.
The Christmas Carol structure of the episode was quite nice. It was fun to see Billie Piper in the role of Dickens’s ghost showing the Doctor his future self so he could decide if he would commit genocide on his own people. Billie Piper played the role with a mysterious air and a cheeky snark that fits Rose, even if she wasn’t actually Rose or even Bad Wolf (or was she? I have some theories brewing).
John Hurt was of course brilliant. Could he be anything but? He had some of the best lines of the episode. My favorite though, was his sarcastic reactions to Matt Smith’s Timey-Wimey-ness. “Do you have to talk like children?” That one gave me a good giggle. It was a nice contrast to see a mature Doctor who is in fact younger in relation to the 10th and 11th Doctors.
In fact, I loved how the three Doctors played off of each other, particularly within the dungeon scene. There was comedy, drama and mystery. One moment there’s joking, the next a heated argument between Ten and Eleven over forgetting how many Time Lord children were killed. One of David Tennant’s strengths is his ability to show rage in a layered way and he pulls it off again in this scene like he had never stopped playing the Doctor. His anger at his future self is intense, heartfelt and true. And then having The War Doctor watch them, and not be able to recognize who he was in the future was emotional. One of the best parts of this scene, however, was “Rose” standing in the background hidden, unseen. Yet there were moments when she would glance at the 10th Doctor with such power and emotion. One wonders what “The Moment” was thinking; truly a great scene.
The scene with the big red button and the two TARDIS’s was for the most part great! I have to admit my favorite moment was when The War Doctor yelled out “Wolf Girl I could kiss you!” And then Ten’s reaction to “Bad Wolf” was priceless. I’ve always loved the Bad Wolf arc. I admit I find it romantic and epic in every way. As much as I would have loved to have seen some actual interaction between Rose and the Doctors, it was still amazing to see them all in the same scene. Though it would have been even better if it had been with Nine there as well. But we can’t have everything!
There were some awesome surprises in the episode. One, we got to see Peter Capaldi, or his eyebrows at least, as the Doctor. And then we were able to watch yet another regeneration with The War Doctor. It’s unfortunate again that Christopher Eccleston wasn’t there, but I loved thinking that almost right after he’d be meeting Rose in that shop. There’s something romantic in that.
The goodbye between Ten and Eleven was memorable. I especially loved that Moffat paid tribute to Russell T. Davies and David Tennant by allowing the 10th Doctor’s final words as the Doctor to remain the same. “I don’t want to go.” It was a touching moment that paid tribute to what came before.
The best part of the episode was the very end with Tom Baker. Somehow it didn’t feel like fan service. It was raw and real and fit within the story. His performance was impassioned, emotional and yes, epic. I loved what Moffat wrote here with him as “The Great Curator.” It was simply fantastic as he entered the scene and stole the entire special. Not only that, some of his lines seemed to work as clues to the mystery behind what will be the 12th (technically 13th) Doctor with Peter Capaldi and his “familiar” face.
Finally, as cheesy as the end moment was with all of the Doctors standing there in a line at the end, it actually worked and ended the episode as a nice nod to the past, present and the future.
What I Didn’t Like:
First of all, the opening action sequence felt more like Hollywood and less like Doctor Who. It was over the top and focused more on what the 3D moment of Matt Smith hanging outside of the TARDIS would look like (in a contrived scene) than on actual story, characterization and writing. There were moments like that throughout the special. At times there was too much Hollywood and not a big enough budget to always pull it off; for instance, some of the shots of the Time War.
Part of my issue with this episode has nothing to do with the actual episode and more to do with advertising. Sometimes a good trailer to entice people to watch will make a movie seem like an apple when it’s actually an orange; so when the people go in expecting to get an apple and receive an orange they get upset and don’t like the orange even when normally they would. Giving misleading information to surprise the audience isn’t always a good thing. I personally think it was a mistake to advertise Billie Piper returning as they did. Everyone believed it was Rose or Bad Wolf based on how the advertising was done. So I’m not going to lie, having Piper turn out to seemingly play an entirely different character was disappointing and even anti-climactic. If I hadn’t known Billie Piper was going to return then it would have been a pleasant surprise. Instead it played out like a bit of a letdown. She had no interaction with anyone but John Hurt. Wouldn’t it have been better to have Bad Wolf be the one to give “The Moment” a conscience? Or even to split a part of her inside the device so as to help save the Doctor once again and take away the pain from such a horrible moment? That would be very Bad Wolf, very Rose. Not to mention it would give the audience a way to react to Billie Piper as Bad Wolf again in an emotional way; a personal connection to the character.
I’m just going to put it out there. Queen Elizabeth was annoying. And I mean like nails on a chalkboard annoying. The less she was on screen, the better. Besides her, I didn’t feel like that subplot was all that interesting. I found the Zygons to be more fitting to The Sarah Jane Adventures than to Doctor Who, let alone in the 50th Anniversary Special. They were cheesy, unfunny and well, mediocre. While this subplot did connect to the Doctor(s) deciding to take back his decision to genocide the Time Lords, it could have been done in a more emotional way. The threat of the Zygons was not intense. I felt no suspense when Kate and the Zygon had to work together in that moment (which worked to foreshadow what would happen later). Instead, I would have preferred a story that would have given more gravitas to the climax and ultimate resolution.
Also, I’m not completely sold on the idea of Clara Oswin Oswald as a companion yet. I did like her in “The Snowmen,” “The Rings of Ahkatan” and “Hide,” but in other episodes I have found her to be more of a glorified prop than an actual character, or even a layered female at that. Look at the “Cold War” for instance. When asked what her interests were she said nothing, as if she herself had none. I don’t understand who exactly she is as a human being. We know in varying degrees that she works with children. Typically she’s a nanny and now she’s introduced as a teacher in “The Day of the Doctor.” But who is she? We discovered the mystery behind her, but it never actually revealed anything concrete. She’s feisty, cute, clever, bossy and sympathetic toward others but she never feels real. Those are adjectives and not actual layers. The closest was in “Rings of Ahkatan.” Here in the special, I found her to mostly be a tad grating. I think Jenna Coleman is talented but the writing and consistency behind her character is unfortunately lacking. In the special she starts off teaching, receives a message from the Doctor to meet him, jumps on her motorbike and heads toward the TARDIS where she and the Doctor act immature and childlike together. Yet when Rose and the Tenth Doctor were immature and touchy-feely in “Tooth and Claw” their closeness felt earned. And in fact there was a purpose behind it. Queen Victoria found them to be inappropriate and it was their selfishness in the episode and lack of actual empathy for the characters dying around them as they flirted that led to Torchwood and ultimately to Rose being lost to the Parallel Universe.
Clara seems to change from episode to episode used as a way to further the plot, rather than to reveal layers of who she is. This special is no different. Snappy one-liners do not equal characterization. When she gave her big speech to the Doctor(s), if felt shallow. Again, she didn’t feel like a real person, nor did her lines sound like they came from a normal human being. It didn’t sound natural and it felt contrived. “The Fires of Pompeii” had a similar ending when Donna pleaded to the Doctor to just save one. In that moment, I felt the emotion. It was real and with only a few episodes in with Donna as a character I knew exactly who she was and why she would plead to the Doctor in that moment. While Coleman did a believable acting job, I couldn’t connect emotionally to her performance because I can’t connect emotionally to her as a character. This is a weakness that hopefully will be fixed in future episodes. It’s a shame that Clara would be the companion of focus for such an important episode when we don’t know who she is yet or why the Doctor would listen so much to her like an angel on his shoulder.
There were contrived moments as well in the episode so as to wink at the audience which felt superficial at best. I prefer moments that feel real, rather than shallow. When Clara looks at the pictures of some past companions, it didn’t feel like a genuine moment. It felt like fan service (which I’m sure Moffat felt obligated to do) with Clara again being used as a prop. And while I liked that all 13 Doctors were brought in, it was done in a way that was slightly cheesy. It reminded me of Alternate Universe fan videos that use old footage to create a new story. While I get why Moffat did it, there were moments that took me directly out of the scene because the suspension of disbelief was lost. Especially with the 9th Doctor saying a line that we know refers to saving Rose in a previous episode. But I know I’m being picky here. I’m sure this couldn’t really be helped and everyone really did want to see all of the Doctors, including me. Also the mere mention of Captain Jack Harkness does not in fact actually make up for there being no Captain Jack. He could have easily been written into the Archive plot and the actor was willing, so his omission felt contrived especially since he was brought up.
There were also some issues with continuity in this episode as well as many unanswered questions still left. (Who was the woman in the shop for instance who led Clara to the Doctor?) Not to mention that we left the season on a bit of a cliffhanger. I know we can “assume” they got out but it felt jumpy and disjointed. Nor was it ever really addressed besides the end with the 11th Doctor mentioning Trenzalore to the 10th.
I know it drives people crazy but I am obsessed with continuity. That doesn’t mean, however, that there can’t be open-ended moments, but they must work within continuity (though I guess I can’t say that anything is completely unanswered until the end of Moffat’s run). That all said, what happened to the Time Lords that Cass in “The Night of the Doctor” said were as bad as Daleks? I would have liked to have seen them, the Time Lords that were so evil this girl Cass would rather die than be saved by one. Without them, it just feels like an actual rewriting of what we’ve seen continuity wise in previous episodes about the Time Lords themselves and them wanting to end reality itself. In “The Day of the Doctor,” they just came across as the victims. Moffat likes to rewrite history and rewrite timelines so often that one gets confused as to what’s actually happened and what hasn’t (The Big Bang for instance and the humans forgetting about aliens). Beyond that when you really start to think about it, your head starts to hurt because everything doesn’t add up. How will this have changed past episodes for instance? The 9th Doctor said he watched Gallifrey burn. Guess that’s not true anymore since he won’t remember. I wonder what kind of Butterfly Effect that would create. I’m sure this will never be addressed. Nor are we meant to actually think about it. Does that mean I didn’t perfectly understand the episode? No, not at all. I understood it perfectly. That doesn’t mean there weren’t continuity issues though.
Which brings me to my final point: I’m not sure how I feel about the new direction of the series. I like that the Doctor goes on adventures with companions and saves the day from time to time. I even liked that he was the last of the Time Lords. So to remove that element could arguably take away the emotional depth of the first four seasons from Russell T. Davies. Beyond that, by giving the Doctor a new focus, a quest to go home feels more like the beginning of the end. It’s a significant change, one that I can only wait to judge as the Christmas special airs, Matt Smith leaves and Peter Capaldi enters.
On a final note, are we ever going to address Sarah Jane? It felt wrong to bring up the Brigadier again with still no mention of Sarah Jane, especially since the actress passed away two years ago now.
As much as I’ve picked it apart, overall I think it was actually a decent episode if not the epic grand event I was expecting. Because my expectations were so high, I had to go back and re-watch it a second time to actually enjoy it. I may even like it more a third time around. And it will probably continue to improve on future viewings after that. That said, the pacing didn’t always work, some of the humor fell flat, there were leaps of logic in connection to continuity that didn’t quite hold up and the whole Zygon subplot was weak. But with the return of Tom Baker, David Tennant, Billie Piper and even a surprise cameo from Peter Capaldi, who cares right? If not a brilliant episode, it was a good episode and a nice tribute to Doctor Who.