Doctor Who‘s 50th Anniversary has come and in its wake we have a brand new special that delves into the important questions of its universe. What happened during The Great Time War? What is the true meaning behind the Time Lord’s “Doctor” title? How much squeeing can fangirls possibly spout when Matt Smith and David Tennant are onscreen together?
Our current 11th Doctor (Matt Smith) and his companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) are off on another adventure as they’re called by UNIT agent Kate Stewart (Jema Redgrave) to investigate something mysterious at London’s National Gallery. Said mystery ends up involving two three-dimensional paintings that depict The Doctor’s home planet of Galifrey in the middle of The Great Time War, which infamously forced The Doctor to destroy the planet and all remaining Time Lords during a previous incarnation. Before he has too much time to question anything, a fissure in space and time opens, which pulls the 11th Doctor into contact with the 10th Doctor (David Tennant), who is in the middle of a debacle with Queen Elizabeth I and Zygons. As the two old incarnations become familiar, The War Doctor (John Hurt) who fought during the Time War, also pops through the fissure as he’s about to make the crucial decision to destroy Galifrey. Now with three Doctors in one place, the fabric of space and time hangs in the balance as old and new faces come to light and The Doctors have to face the ghosts of their past… or future, depending on the Doctor.
I’ll start this review proper by admitting my handicap; I’m not that familiar with Classic Doctor Who. I started with Christopher Eccleston’s 9th Doctor and pressed forward, so I don’t have the best knowledge of Doctors 1-8. That being said, a big plus about this 50th Anniversary special is that knowledge of that past isn’t a necessity. Most of the special’s main plot deals with elements that were introduced during the revival of Who, though there are still elements that reference the classics, including the Zygons, a few fleeting visual gags and one big cameo that I dare not spoil.
The main attraction here is obviously the collision of three Doctors, particularly of Matt Smith and David Tennant. The two have such fun chemistry, playing off the similarities and differences in their approaches to The Doctor. Whether their delivering comedic banter or having dramatic confrontations about each other’s actions, the two feel very much like the same man at two different periods in his life. The real question preceding the special was how John Hurt’s War Doctor would fit in, given that this was a previously unheard of incarnation that occurred between the 8th and 9th Doctors. Yet, despite all odds, he managed to fit in quite well. Hurt obviously brings his A-game to the part, giving the role of a bitter jaded Time War-era Doctor his all. He has this sadness and regret that shines through while at the same time still managing to embody the jovial spirit that makes The Doctor such an enjoyable character. His much older demeanor really does benefit from his scenes with Smith and Tennant though, particularly whenever he comments on how childish they act in comparison to him.
There are obviously other characters and elements that are featured throughout the special, but they never distract from the main point of story; a character driven exploration of The Doctor as a character. Whether it’s the appearance of Billie Piper as kinda-sort-a Rose Tyler, some solid support from Jenna Coleman as Clara, the spectacle of the Time War or the aliens beasts like the Daleks or Zygons, all of them are mainly there to help build up the internal struggle The Doctor has with who he is as an immortal being that has to shelter the weight of the universe on his shoulders. That’s ultimately what I loved about Doctor Who as a show; it’s not really about the fantastical space adventures or the sexy companions or the goofy creatures. It’s about a man who protects the universe above all other things, including his own life. The fact that a show that on it’s surface seems really damn silly can evoke so much emotion through so much goofy shit really is a testament to the power of writers like Steven Moffat and the rest of the staff.
Well, there’s not much else to say. The Day of the Doctor earns its place as a 50th anniversary extravaganza by getting to the core of what has made the series endure for as long as it has; The Doctor himself, through all the goofy laughs and serious emotional turmoils. It manages to accomplish fan service without ever drawing too far away from the story at hand, making it a special that’ll probably age quite well. Plus, it’s got enough fezzes and giant scarves to please fans new and old.