“It’s not a chair, it’s the most dangerous weapon in the Universe.”
“Why can’t it be both?”
In Day of the Doctor Steven Moffat has chosen to do two things: celebrate 50 years of one of the most affectionately regarded shows on British television, and go back and examine the moment the hero committed an act of genocide wiping out two and half billion innocent children. That’s not a difficult balancing act it’s an impossible one. How can the Doctor find redemption and honour the shows continuity? Yet how can this be a celebration if he can’t?
As a celebration Day of the Doctor is a triumph. Doctor Who tradition seems to insist on multi-Doctor stories and they’ve never worked – an influx of former actors fragments the narrative with different versions of our hero vying for precious screen time – and indulging in bickering in the moments inbetween sending up their previous performances. But the decisions on who to include and how in Day of the Doctor carefully balance the rôles of the Doctors, the current companion, and the guest star. Tennant slips back into his post-Waters of Mars time-stream as if barely a day has passed. And as a bonus, we get the familiar form of Billie Piper giving an outstanding performance without resurrecting Rose’s story. And the beautiful ‘Curator’ cameo is a wonderful homage to “old Who”. It’s perfect choice – an actor who is both the oldest and the earliest surviving actor to play the role, who has never returned to the show before. And as those who played the role in the twentieth century could not plausibly pass for the age they were then (even if they ‘shorted out the time differential’) the way this is written is just utterly lovely. As is the performance.
As a celebration, 11/10. Far and away the best multi-Doctor adventure.
As a story, the first hour held me spell-bound. It’s cleverly and fluently structured across the three timelines and the two plots. It’s absolutely beautifully designed and photographed, and the 3D (the first I’d seen) won me over – although it looks very nearly as good in 2D. But as it builds up to the moment the moral dilemma has to be faced, it both emphasises that the decision we (think we) know the Doctor made has made him the man he has become, while at the same time hammering home the terrible consequences of the act of genocide he committed. It is a terrible choice: to destroy his people or let the Universe burn. What could he do be try to come to terms with the decision he made on the day it wasn’t possible to get it right.
“What we do today is not out of fear or hatred. It is done because there is no other way.”
“And it is done in the name of the many lives we are failing to save.”
So it feels like a cheat when it turns out there is actually another way after all. A cop out. When I first saw it, on the day of the 50th, this was really bothering me.
I’ve watched it twice more since then, and I’m liking it better and better. Because we know the Doctor always tries to do the right thing, and sometimes it’s not possible, and sometimes he makes mistakes. He has refused to commit genocide before The Moment (Genesis of the Daleks) and after (The Parting of the Ways). And the fact that he could ever make that decision needed to be addressed in the show, laid to rest, before the moving forward into the next 50 years. Moffatt has been exploring the question “Doctor Who” and what the name ‘The Doctor’ means, and he takes the answer from former script editor Terrance Dicks:
“Never cruel or cowardly.”
To which the redeemed War Doctor adds
“At worst we failed doing the right thing, as opposed to succeeding doing the wrong.”
I’m tempted to watch it again, as I’m enjoying it more and more each time…
Cast your mind back 10 years… How did you imagine the 50th anniversary would be celebrated? Perhaps a 25 minute clip show just after 6 on BBC 2? Doctor Who really has taken over television this week. The highlights for me have been:
- The moving play about the origins of the show An Adventure in Time and Space by Mark Gatiss
- Matthew Sweet’s culture show documentary Me, You and Doctor Who
- The deliciously funny, wickedly satirical Five(ish) Doctors Reboot by Peter Davison with him and other “classic” Doctors sending themselves up mercilessly – and the supporting cast is astonishing.
And the prequel Night of the Doctor which is a mini-episode in itself, a kind of modern “lost” story related in 7 minutes. It has all been fantastic.
10 years ago, how would the old fans (who probably kept it a bit secret) have celebrated? A DVD re-watch after the clip show interspersed with C-list celebs? So instead to pass a TARDIS on the ramparts of Cardiff Castle on my way to the cinema, with passers by pausing to admire (“doesn’t it look nice?”) and to find screen 9 of Cineworld, with its doors hand painted to look like a TARDIS, full of cheering fans of all ages, many of them wearing fezzes… What a wonderful time to be a Doctor Who fan.