This review contains significant spoilers for ‘The Day of the Doctor’.
Doctor Who anniversary specials always have had a knack of being a bit of a disappointment. There is an unfair weight of expectation troweled upon them. Will your favourite Doctor appear? Why aren’t the Daleks in this one? Is it the Master? Doctor Who has got such a melting pot of ingredients, it’s inevitable that you cannot include everything. The makers of the 50th anniversary special have put an even bigger pressure on themselves – by broadcasting live to cinemas and simulcasting across the world.
Yet from the moment that the original title sequence fades and Matt Smith took to the skies as the TARDIS was winched to Trafalgar Square, you knew you were in for a story that would be big, brash and bold. Steven Moffat has rarely shyed away from being controversial during his time in the show-runner hot seat, but here he is curiously restrained delivering a relatively straightforward (by his standards) story detailing a much-anticipated chapter from the Doctor’s darkest hour.
No doubt some Doctor Who fans will be aghast that Moffat has dared to bring to air the dying days of the Time War, being utterly sacrosanct for some Who fans. But being realistic, what other story could have been more seductive? Suddenly the pieces of the puzzle as to why it’s specifically these three Doctors joining forces becomes obvious. And what a scene that saw the three of them come together for the first time – a true use of the time-travelling potential of the series premise.
Of course there were several surprises in store for fans old and new – a close up of some magnificent eyebrows from the future hinting at the Doctor to come whilst the appearance of a doddery old ‘Curator’ also warmed the hearts of fans of the ‘classic’ series whilst opening up some intriguing possibilities.
Billie Piper’s return to the series also allowed her to display a different side to her acting abilities without having to go googly eyed over the Tenth Doctor. Whilst we’re denied exchanges between Clara and Rose, it prevented Rose’s angst and jealously from the past detracting from the story at hand. Jenna Coleman, now that the mystery behind Clara has been dispensed with, looks more at home as ever as Clara, even managing to upstage the three Doctors at one point. Her understated power and the relationship between her and the Doctor – to the extent where she can single-handedly stop him activating the Moment – is ripe for exploration in the series to come.
David Tennant makes a solid return to his most famous role without becoming a caricature of himself whilst John Hurt’s mysterious incarnation of the Doctor brought with it a gruff gravitas missing from the character probably since Tom Baker’s time. World weary, he is unlike any Doctor we’ve met before but the full potential of this ‘one-shot’ Doctor is never realised on screen. You never really see the ‘warrior’ that the Eighth Doctor sacrificed himself to regenerate into. Matt Smith meanwhile holds his own against both actors, cementing his place as one of the finest leads the show has ever had.
It’s not perfect, restoring Gallifrey may result in some tedious quest episodes as Peter Calapdi attempts to restore his home planet to its rightful place. The Time War has leapt off the pages of 2000AD rather than having high collared Time Lords running for their lives in a MFI recreation of Pebble Mill. The Zygon plot fizzles out without a satisfactory resolution. But it’s nowhere near as patchy or incoherent as the last couple of years worth of Doctor Who have been. For all the bluff and double-bluff that has been employed to promote the series over the last few years, ‘The Day of the Doctor’ has managed to achieve the impossible by providing an entertaining ride that delivers with panache for fans old, new and those tuning in to expect Casualty.
Once more, Doctor Who has become funny and zingy and not just for the sake of it. The complicated sub-plots were dispensed with (for one episode anyway) and all the stops were pulled out for a roller-coaster ride through 50 years of time-travelling. In many respects, this was as exciting, perhaps more so, as The Five Doctors must have been in 1983. With a Longleat style convention to match, Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary has seen the beacon shining brighter than ever.
The Fiction Stroker gives The Day of the Doctor five strokes out of five: