Thursday, 19 December 2013

Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor

"What are you going to do- assemble a cabinet at them?"

I saw The Day of the Doctor at the pictures with my good lady and a bunch of good mates from Leicester area fandom- Phoenix Arts Cinema to be precise: it's a rather arty place with none of the petty annoyances you find with the large chains, and you can take your pint of Boddingtons into the screening. I recommend it hugely.

This also means I got to see a rather amusing introductory bit by Strax, our favourite Sontaran, and an introduction to all that new-fangled 3-D stuff by Matt Smith and David Tennant. Oh, and the episode itself was pretty damn good too. The visuals, especially the opening bit with the TARDIS, were certainly cinematic.

Quite rightly, the Moff refused to saddle himself with leading men and restricted himself to three: Matt Smith, obviously; David Tennant, who has only recently left and this has not appreciably aged; and the outstanding John Hurt, on a part which was, I suspect, originally intended for Christopher Eccleston. But no matter: John Hurt is magnificent, for that is what he does, and he absolutely knocks it out of the ground for a six.

Having not saddled himself with too many leading men, Moffat manages to produce a magnificent script, one which honours the past while not overly dwelling on it and changes the status quo of the series while doing so. In this respect, it is more The Three Doctors than The Five Doctors. Oh, and it's a damn good script in its own right, ranging from epic scenes of Daleks on Gallifrey during the Time War (which we finally get to see, albeit in 3-D rather than 4-D) to deeply affecting character scenes for the Doctor. And the big, status quo-defining change also serves as a brilliant plot twist. All that plus Peter Capaldi's eyebrows, and a brief yet wonderful scene with Tom Baker as a possible future, retired Doctor with nostalgia for past faces and a future beyond thirteen of them.

The necessary narrative restrictions on how many leading men a script can bear may well restrict the number of returning Doctors, but there are many nods to the past. UNIT's engineering wallah is called Osgood. We get the Hartnell opening titles, I.M. Foreman and Coal Hill School. The Zygons are back, albeit not looking quite as co as they did back in the day. On a more recent note we also see Kate Stewart, now fully established as a recurring character. Here's hoping Osgood comes back too.

Clara is much better here, finally able to be a character rather than a plot point and spreading her wings. She's sassy, clever, brave, witty and cool. We get a glimpse into her future, too, as Kate Stewart refers to a security clearance she has not yet acquired for the Black Archive. The Black Archive is a nifty concept, a UNIT deposit of juicy alien artifacts including a vortex manipulator with belonged to the late Captain Jack, and which absolutely must be kept secret. ("Think about it. Americans with the ability to rewrite history? You've seen their movies!!!")

We also get Billie Piper, though not as Rose but as uber-MacGuffin the Moment. And we get Queen Elizabeth I whose accent occasionally betrays the origins of the Ap Twdyr dynasty. And people hiding in paintings. And Time Lords. Lots of Time Lords.

Mainly, though, the heart of the episode is about their interactions and the effect of one devastating decision made by the Doctor on "the day it wasn't possible to get it right." It is the Moment who allows the War Doctor to interact with his future selves before making said decision and, of course, despite the usual frictions, he eventually concludes that the inevitable has to happen, mainly because of a reluctant admiration for his future selves, both scarred by his decision in different ways. Tennant's Doctor's scars are raw, whereas Smith's Doctor's scars bear the sign of long years of repression: to his previous self's disgust, he no longer remembers how many children died on Gallifrey that day. Yet, as Hurt's Doctor puts it, "How many worlds has his regret saved, do you think?"

Fittingly, the B plot is resolved via a very clever third option, cutting the Gordian knot by forcing the two parties to negotiate terms while they have forgotten who is human and who is Zygon. And this leads to a fiendishly clever way for all three- no, all thirteen Doctors to save Gallifrey. It may still appear to have been destroyed (and Hurt's Doctor regenerates  into Eccleston cruelly forgetting that Gallifrey in fact survives), but Gallifrey is out there, somewhere. The Doctor has a quest. The days of post Time War angst are over after eight long years. What now...?