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DVD Review

DVD cover

Doctor Who
The Day of the Doctor


Starring: Matt Smith, David Tennant and Jenna Coleman, with Billie Piper and John Hurt
Distributor: BBC DVD
RRP: £13.27
Certificate: PG
Release Date: 02 December 2013

The Doctors embark on their greatest adventure yet in this 50th anniversary special. In 2013, something terrible is awakening in London’s National Gallery; in 1562, a murderous plot is afoot in Elizabethan England; and somewhere in space and time, an ancient battle reaches its devastating conclusion. All of reality is at stake as the Doctor’s own dangerous past comes back to haunt him...


The 50th-anniversary episode of Doctor Who isn’t entirely what I expected. In many ways that’s a good thing, but in a few respects it’s not so good.

The first big surprise is that Billie Piper does not play Rose Tyler, not as such. Instead she plays an avatar of the Moment, which takes the shape of Rose, or rather her Bad Wolf form – an image lifted from the Doctor’s future rather than (more sensibly, you might think) from his past, because the Moment always gets those two mixed up. Piper’s involvement is shoehorned into the story reasonably well, but the role of the Moment might have worked better with a previous companion, such as Peri (Nicola Bryant) or Ace (Sophie Aldred), or even Cass (Emma Campbell-Jones) from the mini-episode Night of the Doctor (also included on this DVD), whom John Hurt’s Doctor could recognise. I was a little disappointed that we never actually get to see the real Rose. I had assumed that she would accompany David Tennant’s Doctor, who is instead paired with Queen Elizabeth I (Joanna Page) – thus neatly placing his part of the adventure between The Waters of Mars and The End of Time. I imagine that the role of Hurt’s Doctor was originally intended for Christopher Eccleston, who declined to appear – teaming him with Piper would have made more sense.

The next big surprise is that Hurt’s Doctor has so many light-hearted scenes, and this is very welcome. I had expected him to be morose and burdened by guilt throughout, but he has plenty of upbeat moments, which are recognisably “Doctorish”. Moreover, he is “classic Doctorish” – and here the character works better than Eccleston’s Doctor could possibly have done. The old man’s annoyance at his less mature successors feels like the old series confronting the new. Writer Steven Moffat is clearly aware of the criticisms that have been levelled at his show, and he has fun acknowledging them and addressing them via Hurt’s dialogue. These range from the use of the sonic screwdriver as a magic wand (“Why are you pointing your screwdrivers like that? They’re scientific instruments, not water pistols!”) to the juvenile language of recent Doctors (“Do you have to talk like children? What is it that makes you so ashamed of being a grown up?”), the amount of kissing that goes on in 21st-century Who (“Is there a lot of this in the future?”) and the term wibbly wobbly, timey wimey (“Timey what?! Timey wimey?”). The younger Doctors’ contrite reactions are also very enjoyable – especially Tennant’s comment regarding Smith’s use of timey wimey: “I’ve no idea where he picks that stuff up.” I rather hope that this is paving the way towards a more mature, old-school style of performance from the next Doctor, Peter Capaldi...

On my first viewing of this anniversary special, I had resigned myself to the fact that its plot would revolve around just three Doctors, only two of which had played any substantial role in the series prior to Hurt’s cameo appearance at the end of The Name of the Doctor. Therefore, I was astonished and delighted when all of the previous Doctors turned up to save Gallifrey, albeit by means of archive footage.

Even better, we catch a glimpse of the future Doctor, though we only see his hand and his intense eyes. This shock early appearance is just the latest in a line of “I wasn’t expecting them yet” moments in recent Who history, like Rose’s cameo in Partners in Crime, the appearance of Jenna Coleman in Asylum of the Daleks, and the debut of Hurt’s Doctor in The Name of the Doctor. It’s a neat way of surprising the audience in spite of spoilers being leaked to the press and rapidly proliferated online – we knew that these characters were coming, just not yet! There is some debate as to who says the dramatic line, “No, sir! All thirteen!” My initial reaction was that it was Capaldi’s voice, though the subtitles on BBC iPlayer attributed the words to the Time Lord Androgar (Peter de Jersey). The subtitles on the DVD evade the issue by not identifying the name of the speaker. Even so, it is a tremendously powerful revelation.

However, the greatest surprise has to be the wonderful appearance by Tom Baker, as very-probably-an-older-Doctor-who’s-returned-to-a-previous-form-and-retired-to-become-a-curator. When I first heard his voice, though, I thought that was Capaldi too – I must have Capaldi on the brain!

Baker’s cameo aside, The Day of the Doctor has more to do with the last eight years of Who than the last fifty. Mind you, given the current ages of the surviving classic Doctors, I can’t really see how they could have done things much differently. For the most part, the story concerns new series concepts and characters: the Time War, the question of how the Doctor managed to survive the devastation (which is explained here), the meeting between Tennant’s and Smith’s Doctors (they have a great rapport, including nice gags about their screwdriver envy and their mutual love of “brainy specs”), and the spectral presence of Rose / Bad Wolf. Sure, we have the Zygons, but they are discarded for the final 20 minutes of the episode. I can’t believe that no one thought to use the words, “let Zygons be Zygons”!

Other references to the old series are more in the way of background details, Easter eggs for the hardcore fan to watch or listen out for. These fall mainly into two categories: 1963 and early 1970s / UNIT era. From 1963, we have a version of the original title sequence at the start of the show, segueing into the policeman, the Totter’s Lane sign and Coal Hill School, all references to the very first episode, An Unearthly Child. Actually, this confused me a bit, because at first I thought Clara (Jenna Coleman) had gone back to 1963! From the early 1970s, we have a nice joke from Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) about the UNIT dating controversy, the photo wall and space-time telegraph in the Black Archive, and references to Terrance Dicks’ description of the Doctor, who “never gives in”, “never gives up” and “is never cruel or cowardly.”

There are also some interesting commonalities between this and previous multi-Doctor specials. As in The Three Doctors and The Five Doctors, a key plot point is that the Time Lords face a dire threat. There’s a nice Three Doctors vibe going on between Hurt’s Doctor and his two younger-looking selves, even down to Tennant echoing Patrick Troughton’s dislike of the current Doctor’s TARDIS décor. Coincidentally, Tennant had been away from the role for about as long as Troughton had been when The Three Doctors was made. Another quirk of fate is that the actor who had played the Doctor eight years previously couldn’t make it into the studio, appearing only in prefilmed or archive footage in each case (William Hartnell in The Three Doctors, Tom Baker in The Five Doctors, and Christopher Eccleston here). Tennant’s parting comment to Smith, that he is glad “my future is in safe hands”, are the very words used by the First Doctor in The Five Doctors.

Coming back to the Time Lords in trouble, there has been much head-scratching over how Gallifrey’s fate in this episode fits in with the events of The End of Time, in which the Time Lords, led by the ruthless Lord President Rassilon, attempt to break through time and space to escape the war and begin to materialise their planet alongside present-day Earth. Well, at the end of that story, Gallifrey was sent back to its proper place in time and space (“Back into the Time War, Rassilon. Back into hell,” as the Doctor says), from where the Doctors save it in The Day of the Doctor. Of greater concern to me when I first watched this episode was that Moffat seemed to deliberately overlook the fact that the Time Lords had turned bad during the Time War. As the Doctor explains to Wilf in The End of Time, it was: “An endless war, and it changed them right to the core. You’ve seen my enemies, Wilf. The Time Lords are more dangerous than any of them.” On second viewing, things are clearer to me. The opening dialogue between the Time Lord General (Ken Bones) and Androgar suggests that these events are more or less concurrent with the High Council’s discussions in The End of Time. Androgar reports, “The High Council is in emergency session. They have plans of their own.” The General responds bitterly, “To hell with the High Council! Their plans have already failed. Gallifrey’s still in the line of fire.” This makes it clear that not all of the Time Lords back the High Council’s actions, that not all of them have been corrupted – though it will be interesting to see how the President is depicted if and when we ever see Gallifrey again...

Less easy to rationalise is how the Doctor manages to cling on to the underside of the TARDIS during the opening stunt. Nor is it apparent for much of the episode how Elizabeth I came by the painting of Gallifrey’s fall – the answer does eventually come, but it is strange that neither the Doctor nor Clara considered the question worth asking sooner.

A question definitely well worth asking is: what special features are there on this disc? Well, there are the mini-episodes The Last Day (three and a half minutes) and the essential viewing that is The Night of the Doctor (seven minutes) starring Paul McGann, the Early Trailer (90 seconds) and the awesome 50 Year Trailer (60 seconds). For maximum effect, I recommend watching them in the following order: 50 Year TrailerEarly TrailerThe Night of the Doctor, The Last Day, The Day of the Doctor. Behind the Lens (13 minutes), presented by Colin Baker, is a fairly insubstantial look at the making of the episode, though it does reveal that Hurt’s casting was rather hasty, perhaps lending weight to the theory that he was a late replacement for Eccleston. We also catch a glimpse of all the Doctors’ stand-ins from the final shot of the episode. Doctor Who Explained (45 minutes) is a useful primer for those less familiar with the show. It’s low on clips, but it contains some particularly sage comments from Peter Davison, Sylvester McCoy and David Tennant. In fact, with the dramatic roles played by Tom Baker in the main feature and McGann in The Night of the Doctor, as well as contributions from Davison, both Bakers and McCoy in the documentaries, all of the surviving classic Doctors put in substantial appearances on this DVD.

The Day of the Doctor isn’t perfect, hence my mark of 8 rather than 10 (or indeed 11, or even all 13!), though I do seem to get more out of it each time I watch it. This anniversary special is a gift that keeps on giving.


Richard McGinlay

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