Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Idiot Box: Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special - "The Day Of The Doctor" Review

Did anybody notice that the 50th anniversaries of the Kennedy Assassination and Doctor Who happened in the same week? I didn't realize this, but I looked it up and apparently they're even closer than I thought. Turns out the original premiere of the series all the way back in '63 was on the night of Kennedy's death. In fact, because of so much attention naturally being drawn to the tragedy in Dallas, the BBC went so far as to air the first episode again the next week, assuming that a lot of its target audience may have been too preoccupied to give it a chance. Thinking about all the movies that bombed on the weekend after 9/11, I wonder if there would still be a Doctor Who today to celebrate if they hadn't had the foresight to give it a second chance, or if it would just be some weird little footnote of history. Watching The Day Of The Doctor, the culmination of 7 years of awesome following the show's second second chance, I'm just thankful its still here.

The Day Of The Doctor begins literally as the very first episode did, with the classic black and white theme leading into a shadow across a wall, only now it points away from the scrap yard where we first saw the TARDIS in An Unearthly Child. This is the first of about a million little fan service references littered throughout the almost feature length special, each one cheekier than the next, and while some of them were a bit eye roll inducing ("I don't want to go...again!"), its to be expected and all in good fun for an affair like this. I continue to be amazed at how well the new Doctor Who is able to handle its big event episodes, finales, specials, and Doctor changeovers always getting bigger and bigger despite the previous one seeming to get as big as they could possibly get. The Day Of The Doctor would seem to be as far as they can go, unleashing the last quiver they've got by showing us the Time War in full bloom, but then we've got the Eleventh's last coming up just next month, so who knows?

But then is he still the Eleventh? Do I have to start calling Matt Smith's Doctor Twelve now? A surprising hint at the Capaldi Doctor suggests he might just now be considered the Thirteeth, and I honestly don't know how I feel about the possibility of rejiggering my numerical conception of all the new series Time Lords. Its only a fan convention to order them anyway, though Moffet in particular has been keen to throw 11's everywhere Smith's Doctor goes, and I guess if we can already consign the Valeyard to the same numberless limbo as the The Watcher, the Shalka Doctor, The Cushing Doctor, and the Mr. Bean Doctor, I can live with treating John Hurt's incarnation as the War Doctor and just skipping him for now. Then again, that does mean the next Doctor would have to be the last according to series continuity (as if they couldn't possibly screw with it at all), and considering rumors that Capaldi might only be on for one season, I hope they have some plan to reconcile the confusion.

For what its worth, John Hurt's take on The War Doctor was certainly good enough to make the character a welcome addition to the already messed up continuity, and enough that I almost regret that we likely won't be seeing much of his past exploits going forward. I feel like I imagine fans of the audio plays feel about Paul McGann, who I'm told has grown more popular since his one on screen canonical appearance in the TV movie (which for the record still blows ass by the way, and The Night Of The Doctor prequel minisode only kind of redeems it). Given the promised setting of the Time War, I was pleasantly surprised by how little of the action we actually got to see, just enough to establish the problem without turning what should be and thankfully was an introspective character piece into a CGI spectacle. I loved that this was a story about the Doctor's choice and not just the consequences of it, and it effectively closed the door on something that had been a part of this series since its relaunch in 2005 and opens the door for something both new and old at the same time.

On that score, I do wonder if this doesn't just completely invalidate some of the things we've been told about the Time War and how and why everything ended up the way it did, and not in the fun way this show is usually able to forget or alter continuity without consequence. Wasn't The End Of Time all about how the Doctor had no choice but to do what he did? The Day Of The Doctor posits that his decision to end the Time War was a mistake caused by lack of vision, but we saw how insane the Time Lords became by this point, which is what prompted this whole thing in the first place, and that problem isn't solved by shunting the planet into another dimension, which is kind of what I thought he did originally anyway. Wasn't the whole Time War time locked, which is what allowed Rassilon to come back in The End Of Time at all? When the Doctor finds them now, wherever they are, aren't they just going to want to blow up the universe again? Maybe I just didn't get it the first time, but I went back and re-watched The End Of Time right after just to make sure, and it only makes this more confusing.

I suppose I can't complain too much about being left befuddled by the end result of so many timey wimey shenanigans, and in the end, the unabashed fun of the episode more than makes up for any incidental problems. This is a Doctor Who special in the grand tradition of the Three Doctors, The Five Doctors, and The Two Doctors, and might as well have been called The Thirteen Doctors, more about watching people we love and in some cases miss playing around in the sandbox they've all helped build over the years. The Tennant fanboy in me wants to rant about just how much his presence clearly and obviously outshines his successor, but in the interest of comity and goodwill I'll recognize both the old and new cast for all bringing something to the table, even if Bad Wolf Rose felt a bit wedged in. Everybody just seems to be having such a good time that it becomes infectious, and if the last minute surprise cameo didn't make your heart grow three sizes like the freaking Grinch than I don't know what will.

What a luxury it is to live in the age of Nerd, where I even have the ability to struggle with the retconning of a Time Lord senate vote that led to the implication that a woman who might be The Doctor's mother might have also been the first Weeping Angel, thus possibly robbing me of yet another interesting story. The end of The Day Of The Doctor leaves the series with what may be a new sort of mission, assuming the writers are as interested in picking it up as they seem to be, and I can't help but question the efficacy of doing something like this so soon before the current Doctor is scheduled to exit the role. I also can't help but question the gall to even call this a 50th Anniversary as if to ignore the decades between cancellation and renewal, though in retrospect dodging the bullet of the Cartmel Master Plan was probably worth waiting a few years for new Who, and almost ten years later, I can't argue with the results. The Day Of The Doctor was everything I expected it to be and more, just as frustrating and just as wonderful, and I for one can't wait for the next 50 years.

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