day-of-the-doctor-pics-3-smith-hurt-tennantWhen Russell T. Davies and Julie Gardner brought Doctor Who back to television in 2005, the tone of the show and its titular character was defined by a single truth: The Doctor, somewhere between his Eighth and Ninth regenerations, ended the Time War between the Daleks and the Time Lords by committing an act of genocide, destroying both sides in order to save the universe. The cost of his actions left The Doctor as the lone survivor of the war, the last of his kind. The Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) was a scarred man suffering from the guilt of what he’d done. From Eccleston to David Tennant’s Tenth, and Matt Smith’s Eleventh, the guilt remained as The Doctor tried to atone for his sins by gallivanting about time and space, saving people where he could, while slowly recovering through the family of companions he formed. Ultimately, though, he would end up alone as companions and friends came and went – forever changed by the The Doctor’s presence in their lives for better or for worse. The Doctor, however, remained a man of regret, incapable of moving on completely because the crime he committed was too great. For “The Day of the Doctor”, the 50th Anniversary special of Doctor Who, current showrunner Steven Moffat took what so clearly defined The Doctor in the eyes of the viewing audience and changed him and his actions in a single moment.

tardisIn “The Day of the Doctor”, The Doctor and Clara (Jenna Louise Coleman) are flown in by U.N.I.T. under orders of Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) to investigate the National Gallery’s secret vault that The Doctor was entrusted to curate by his wife, Queen Elizabeth I, who he married during his Tenth regeneration. To prove her credentials, The Doctor is shown a “3-D” portrait that has two titles, No More and Gallifrey Falls, a painting that depicts The Fall of Arcadia. The Doctor and Clara are then shown a hall of covered statues where the floors are covered in dust and another gallery with shattered glass on the floor and figures within the paintings missing. Jumping back to the Time War, The War Doctor (John Hurt), sickened by the ongoing destruction, steals the last remaining weapon of mass destruction in the Gallifreyan vault. Called the “Moment”, the device is essentially a galaxy-eater, capable of destroying both the Daleks and the Time Lords, but in creating it the device became sentient, acting as a conscientious observer to whomever planed to use it. While The War Doctor goes about setting up the device, it appears to him in the form of Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) who shows him the consequences of his actions via his future regenerations.

The rest of the special involves a plot by the shape-shifting Zygons to take over the Earth, starting during Queen Elizabeth’s reignZygons when the Zygon’s preserved themselves in the stasis of portraiture until the time was right to invade over four hundred years later. Since the portraits were under the care of U.N.I.T., the Zygons now have access, via the Black Archives, to a tremendous amount of technology with U.N.I.T.’s only recourse being a full on nuclear detonation that would destroy all of London in order to prevent the alien threat. It’s a scenario that mirrors the same decision made by The War Doctor, killing millions for the greater good of all. Ten and Eleven, however, resolve to find another way after having spent their lives living with the regret and pain caused by their past life.

Seeing that the men he will become will carry on the name of The Doctor in a way that will ultimately save more lives in the long run, The War Doctor returns to the “Moment”, ready to do what needs to be done. His future selves follow him and decide to stand with him in his decision, ensuring that he’s not alone. A final plea from Clara changes everything when she asks that The Doctor “be a Doctor” and find another way like they did with the Zygons. This sparks a plan in Eleven, one that he’s been thinking about for four hundred years. Taking the Zygon technology, all of The Doctor’s incarnations come together and put Gallifrey in stasis, vanishing it from existence, but not destroying it, leaving the Daleks to destroy themselves in the crossfire. Unsure if they succeeded, the three Doctors and Clara are back in the present, looking at the portrait of Arcadia before The War Doctor and Ten return to their respective places in the time stream knowing that they won’t remember what’s been done. Taking a moment to look at the portrait again, The Doctor is told by the museum Curator (Tom Baker) that the title of the painting is, in fact, Gallifrey Falls No More, The Curatorindicating that the plan worked and Gallifrey is still out there. The Doctor need only find his people once again.

First of all, as Doctor Who episodes go, I really enjoyed myself. Aside from “Blink” and the two-parter of “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead”, this is probably one of Steven Moffat’s finest pieces of writing for the show. And with the help of director Nick Hurran, “The Day of the Doctor” is well paced, well acted, and gives the audience a story that’s easy enough to follow but clever enough to still surprise us. There are wonderful little shout-outs to the 50 years of Who History, starting with the opening credit sequence from the first season in 1963 to Captain Jack Harkness’ time vortex manipulator in U.N.I.T.’s possession. All of it really culminates in the uniting of The Doctors, past, present, and future, to save their home world, as well as the final shot of the episode with The Doctors standing alongside each other, looking towards the cosmos. It’s a beautiful shot, one that’s sure to make any Whovian smile wistfully. I can tell you right now that I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face when Tom Baker showed up and the brief glimpse of Peter Capaldi’s eyes already have me excited for what’s to come.Capaldi's Eyes

The interactions between the three Doctors is the highlight of the special, but it’s the way in which they bounce off of each other that shows how they’re different versions of the same man. Tennant and Smith put the right amount of disgust and awe into their sideways glances at Hurt, but that never stops them all from excitedly jumping about or smiling smugly when they’ve done something clever or figure out the solution to a problem. Their imprisonment in the Tower of London and the scene where the plan to save Gallifrey takes form are especially fun to watch. I did find John Hurt to be a delightful surprise as well. Not that he isn’t a brilliant actor, but his comedic timing and the gravitas he brings to The War Doctor make him disappear into the role. Plus, his cranky grandfather attitude is hilarious when you realize he’s supposed to be younger than Tennant and Smith.

Clara and KateJemma Redgrave holds up the Lethbridge-Stewart legacy by making Kate as no-nonsense as her father. She’s willing to make the bigger sacrifice because the outcome means saving lives. It’s also a fitting way of bringing aspects of Who History together by including Kate in an episode with the Zygons since the last appearance of the creatures in “Terror of the Zygons” was also the last regular appearance of Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. Jenna Louise Coleman and Billie Piper equally hold their weight as a lot of the actions taken by The Doctors are directly influenced by them. Piper’s Bad Wolf Rose is wonderfully enigmatic, embodying the spirit of Gallifreyan technology like Suranne Jones did as the TARDIS in “The Doctor’s Wife”. She never takes over a scene entirely, staying in the background while keeping the “Moment” alive and present in The War Doctor’s eyes as a sort of portent of things to come. Coleman’s Clara proves to be The Doctor’s savior, once again, since it’s her sympathy for The War Doctor and her final plea for Eleven to do what he does best that sparks the plan absolving Hurt’s Doctor and lifts the lingering burden from Eleven’s shoulders. Billie Piper

Which brings us to the underlying question of this special. Did Moffat erase eight years of character development (as far as the actual show is concerned) in order to absolve The Doctor and make him more heroic in the eyes of the audience? When I watched “Day of the Doctor” I watched it with a friend of mine and both of us took away different understandings of the special. I thought the twist in altering what it is The War Doctor did was a fantastic way of redefining The Doctor’s recent history while maintaining the integrity of the past series. My friend, however, thought that altering his actions was a cheat that diminished the character of The Doctor in the eyes of the audience. Instead of being a man of pain and regret atoning for his sins, he was now a figure to be pitied because everything he’d done since the Time War was based on a lie.

While I don’t begrudge my friend’s opinion, it’s a perfectly valid one, the end result doesn’t change anything in terms of who The Doctor is and what he’s done since the Time War. The fact of the matter is, The Doctor has never been the type of man to wear the white hat of a tried and true hero. He’s a figure more like Shane, a flawed man with a dark past who rides into town, rights a wrong, and moves on. The episode “A Town Called Mercy” made this very clear. To be as old as The Doctor is to carry a great weight because time will ultimately bring loss and tragedy, but The Doctor’s greatest burden is his ethics. He tries so hard to do what’s right, to find the solution that will benefit everyone, but he will, at some point, have to make the decision no one else is willing to make. The ethical dilemma doesn’t mean he’ll make the right choice in the eyes of others or his past and future selves. That’s what defined him before the Time War.

12 DoctorsAnd with this new information, it’s made clear that all of the incarnations of The Doctor, up until Eleven implements the plan, won’t remember what they did to save Gallifrey. As far as the universe and The Doctor is concerned, Gallifrey and the Daleks were destroyed during the Time War and The Doctor was responsible for their destruction. Even though we now know that Gallifrey is only lost in some pocket dimension, it doesn’t change the fact that the aftermath of the war still leaves The Doctor as the lone survivor. In the end, he receives a form of punishment for his actions in the belief that he is the last Time Lord. It doesn’t change or diminish anything he does after the war, nor does it make him any more or less heroic. Technically, he’s responsible for the destruction of all those Daleks and it’s not like The Doctor hasn’t tried to help them in the past either. The only significant change is that the Eleventh Doctor can truly let go of the weight he’s been carrying and put all of his energy into finding his people. He has other burdens to carry, but this isn’t one of them anymore.

But those are only one person’s opinion. No doubt there are many more since the episode offered a lot in the way of analysis. So, what did you think of “Day of the Doctor”?

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