Retcon of the Doctor

Review of The Day of the Doctor
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

I said recently that I could forgive Moffat almost anything about this anniversary special; I knew not everything on my personal wishlist would make the cut. And as it turned out, plenty I'd have liked to see happen didn't. Overall, though, there wasn't much to forgive.

From the get-go, there were plenty of nods to the past. Starting with the original opening credits—down to the policeman strolling by Totter's Lane—certainly set the right tone. I could go on for pages listing all those little moments, but I'm sure someone else will write up a definitive list you can find, if that's your cup of tea. I'll just say that I personally loved the reference to the UNIT dating controversy and one of the Brigadier's reactions to the events of The Three Doctors ("Codename: Cromer"—and I really do recommend watching that tenth anniversary special if you've not seen it.)

So much happened in these seventy-five minutes that it could be a little difficult to wrap one's brain around it all on a single viewing; I agree with others who have commented that it's all clearer the second time around. The things I liked the first time, I still liked, and the things I didn't... well, they didn't irritate me quite so much when I knew they were coming.

The entire Zygon gambit felt secondary—and honestly, I quite think it was there simply as a way for the meeting of these three Doctors not to be boring as all get-out—but made surprising sense by the end. It was at least self-consistent, which is more than I can say for some episodes. The entire idea of the Zygons is great, too; they're a well-loved adversary that was long overdue a return. As executed, they were proper scary, even if the change from human back to Zygon form was too CGI to be believable. At least it was gross.

Obviously, though, the crux of the thing was the multi-Doctor-ness. I grudgingly admit to liking Hurt's Doctor, even though his very existence screws up recent years' ordinal rankings... (You just know this is going to be an ongoing fan debate for decades. "He's the Eight-and-a-Halfth!" "He's the Ninth, you twit! Eccleston's Tenth, Tennant's Eleventh, Smith is Twelveth, and Capaldi's Thirteenth!" "No, they're not!" ~fistfight ensues~) I can't help myself, though. I like his crusty down-to-earth personality, snarking at his future selves ("Are you capable of speaking without flapping your hands?" and my personal favorite: [after catchphrase-a-palooza] "Oh, for god's sake—Gallifrey Stands!")

The chemistry between Tennant and Smith is also out of this world. Of course, loving both of their incarnations as I do, it would be difficult to imagine not enjoying them in combination. But it's easy to love them when they're being flip with each other. Once things turn serious, there's always the possibility that things will cool. Lucky for us, that's when the sparks really fly. I couldn't get enough of dark, tortured Tennant (oh, forget it—he'll always be Ten to me) angry with Smith/Eleven for apparently moving on, "forgetting" the pain of what they'd done. Bloody brilliant.

And let's not forget the ladies. First, I adore how they used Billie Piper. She did a bang-up job with a meaty part that just... gave me chills. No more perfect way to have brought her back for the special. Her expressions, the cheeky way she delivered a couple of those lines... I can't praise her performance enough.

But I also have to give kudos to Jenna Coleman. This is the first time I have truly, wholeheartedly liked Clara. Why? Simple: she was finally a proper Companion. Like Donna, one of my favorites, Clara stepped up to be the one who told the Doctor when to stop. "Look at you, the three of you," she says, and it becomes an Eleventh Doctor story. It's up to him to decide what to do; he's the one to save the day, but Clara has saved him.

So what do I love most about The Day of the Doctor? Aside from the performances, I'd have to say it was all the retcons. Thanks to this one story, a large number of my most-hated nitpicks from the last several years have been eliminated: the question of the Doctor's age, Ten's relationship with Queen Elizabeth I, the absence of the Time Lords, maybe even the weakness of the Bad Wolf story arc... I can almost add to the list the painful regeneration of Ten into Eleven, with his uncharacteristically whiny "I don't want to go," but Moffat had to go and get cute with Eleven's "He's always saying that" to ruin it.

Much as I desperately wanted Eccleston to be there for the regeneration scene, and didn't find the final cameo to make much sense (though I loved it), I consider myself well served by Day of the Doctor. I've always known I couldn't have everything, so I kept my expectations low. All in all, I'd say it exceeded those expectations and set up some exciting possibilities for the future. Overall, I call it a win.



PaulGreaves's picture

I'm not going to go into huge detail here but I actually rather enjoyed it. In much the same way as The Five Doctors is a celebratory story that is better off if people don't analyse it too much, The Day of the Doctor follows a similar pattern. Personally, I felt it was more of a celebration of the last eight years rather than the last fifty but there were plenty of nods to the past that made me smile.

The Zygons were doing so well until their plot fizzled out. Sitting around a table deciding on a peace treaty? To quote Hurt's Doctor "Oh, for God's Sake!" That's the way to de-monster a monster. Broton would be spinning in his grave...

The Doctors relationship was excellent and, as I think I said on the TimeVault Facebook group, Jenna Coleman showed just how good a companion she can be when stripped of all Moffat's arc-plot nonsense. In fact, the whole episode proved that. Not sure about all the Doctor's helping at the end (how would they know?) but, as I said, if you pick too hard it will unravel in the most embarrassing way.

The Five(isn) Doctors was still my favourite event of the 50th but this did pretty well. Unlike every episode for the last four years I didn't get any moment where I put my head in my hands and wept for the future of our little show. I had no WTF?! moment and despite the fact it was a bit of a slap in the face for all the other Doctor's, bringing Tom back was a nice touch.

It's certainly the only episode I can rewatch since The Stolen Earth. Even The Doctor's Wife struggles on repeated viewings for me now.

By PaulGreaves --


mrfranklin's picture

I'm glad it was at least enjoyable for you. :) I think your nitpicks are valid, but as you say, I could ignore them and be fine. And yes—having Clara be a real Companion was, as I said, one of the highlights for me. Finally!

Still sad not to see more familiar faces, but "The Five(ish) Doctors" made for an excellent complimentary bonbon. When we put those two together with "Night" and "An Adventure in Space and Time," I'd say we made out pretty well for the anniversary.

By mrfranklin

I don't think I ever squeed as hard as when Capaldi shouted "No sir...thirteen!" I can see some faults in a plotline structure, but I can forgive it for being such an absolutely FUN adventure.

By RyoC (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

That's very much it. Much can be forgiven because it's such a romp.

I know not everyone feels that way, but I'm willing to be happy for a change. ;)

By mrfranklin

Oh, the legions of the butthurt are out in force on other boards whining about the numbering issue and how the retconning of the Time Lord's fate doesn't wok for them (the Moffat haters are out in full force), but I totally agree with you folks: it was the most fun I've had watching the Doctor in years, if not decades.
Agree with everything that's been said about how great Jenna was in this but I also thought it may have been Billie Piper's finest moment too. She actually made Moment "Rose" a totally different-and again, FUN-character.
My favorite line: "Again with pointing! They're SCREWDRIVERS!! What are ya gonna do, assemble a cabinet at them!
And I'm in love with Osgood. Hope we see her again...

By Chuckyl (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

There are things that could irritate if you let them, but why get your knickers in a twist when there's so much to love? I also love that line, and thought Piper's performance was top notch. ...and I bet there'll be approximately a million Osgood cosplayers at Gally. :D

By mrfranklin

Still not sure about the numbering of whether Hurt is 9 or something indeterminate but I reckon it is analagous the UNIT dating and will generate internet discussion for decades to come and doesn't really matter anyway

Personally I would prefferred it if he had been some form of negated version of the Doctor because as I viewed it, War Doctor is Doctor 9. Unless Night of the Doctor somehow addresses this?

By Wholahoop (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

Yeah, that's gonna cause fan fights forever. I was also kind of hoping the War Doctor would get written back out, but whatever; it's all a matter of semantics now, I suppose. :P

By mrfranklin

For completeness you will need a War Doctor cartoon on your homepage :-)

By Wholahoop (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

Oh, don't you start!

By mrfranklin
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