Bullet Points: Doctor Who 50th Anniversary

Well, at long last, it’s here.

After a prelude…

…and a mini-episode…

…not to mention tons of specials to promote it and the history of the show, including an acclaimed television movie about the creation of the show

…we have finally, finally arrived at the 50th Anniversary Special of Doctor Who.

Now, the big question: How Is It?

Answer: Aside a few quibbles, it’s (as the Ninth Doctor would say) FanTAStic!

“The Day Of The Doctor” has three overlapping stories going at the same time: In the present day, the Eleventh Doctor and Clara are summoned by U.N.I.T. to the National Gallery by a demand from Queen Elizabeth I.  Meanwhile, the Tenth Doctor and the same Queen Elizabeth I are trying to fight off an attack by the shape-shifting Zygons. Meanwhile, the War Doctor has stolen from Gallifrey a weapon called The Moment; a galaxy destroying weapon with a sentient conscience, which unfortunately for him takes the Bad Wolf form of Rose Tyler.

I’ll start with my quibbles. First off, I have to yell at director Nick Hurran. The shooting style is too reminiscent of Sherlock with all of its weird jump cuts that it didn’t feel like a Doctor Who episode visually. But my biggest quibble comes with the ending. While I like the notion that all of the Doctors saved Gallifrey by sending into a pocket of time, in a way it invalidates what Russell T. Davies did with the relaunch and not only takes some of the culpability of the Time Lords in their part of the destruction of The Time War. Not only that but it softens the impact of the Ninth Doctor’s path as a war victim healing from PTSD.

That said, this episode was fun as all get out, and a fitting salute to the current era of Doctor Who. To start, Matt Smith and David Tennant are absolutely hilarious together, and have some of the funniest lines together. And John Hurt is fantastic as The War Doctor, bringing a much needed gravitas to the role of The Doctor and serves as a tonic to Tennant and Smith’s shenanigans. It also serves as a mission statement going forward for the show; in lieu of warriors or heroes, the universe needs a doctor and a symbol of hope. Speaking of hope, how awesome to see all thirteen doctors together saving Gallifrey together. And while that was stock footage of Christopher Eccleston, that was indeed the first appearance of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor (well, at least his eyes). I also liked the slightly somber touch at the end that each of the earlier Doctors will not remember it and will meet their ends: for the War Doctor, it’s a regeneration into the Ninth incarnation, and for the Tenth, it’s the start of the chain of events that lead to his final adventure “The End Of Time.”

The guest stars were fantastic this episode. Jemma Redgrave is a fantastically steely presence as Kate (Lethbridge) Stewart, inheriting U.N.I.T. from her father (R.I.P. The Brig!) and Joanna Page is hilarious as a besotted Queen Elizabeth I. Best of all, Billie Piper does her best work of her entire tenure in the series in this episode, and I have to agree with the theory that this is Rose Tyler’s handiwork using her brief god-like powers by going back in time to help heal her friend’s pain in the most timey-wimey way possible.

And then again there were all the callbacks to the history of the show, starting with the original theme music and title sequence into a modified recreation of the first shot of “An Unearthly Child,” into the shot of Coal Hill School, where Clara is now teaching at and was the alma mater of The Doctor’s granddaughter Susan. The biggest callback, and biggest surprise cameo was that of the museum curator, played by none other than the Fourth Doctor himself, Tom Baker. In a way, it makes sense that of all the older Doctors he should be the one to appear in the special considering that he had the longest tenure as The Doctor. And in a speech loaded with double meaning and double entendre the “curator” (who might be an actual future self of The Doctor) points him on the new mission statement for the show: finding where the time-lost Gallifrey has gone.

All in all this was a fitting tribute to The Doctor and his 50 year history, but as we all know, the end is coming for the Eleventh Incarnation…

Photo & Video Credits: BBC

Originally Published on 25 November 2013 as part of “The Idiot Box,” my column for l’étoile magazine.

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