Its time to talk about the 50th Anniversary Special of Doctor Who, ‘The Day of the Doctor’. Initially I had thought to write this as a simple tumblr post, but then realized that I had too much to say so I decided to dedicate a whole (quite long) blog post for it. Some might wonder what is a discussion of the 50th Anniversary Doctor Who episode doing on a socialist lefty blog, and I’ll respond that this is my damn blog and I’ll bloody do what I want with it. So lets us then dive into the deep end of nerdom.
To begin with, I hate Steven Moffat. I hate him for his sexism, for his hack writing, for his massive plot holes, for his relying more on spectacle then substance, but overall, I hate Moffat for what he has done to Doctor Who. You can feel it in your bones every time you watch a episode since he took over, something has changed and not for the better. The crux is that Doctor Who shouldn’t have a single all-powerful show runner, it always worked better as a collective of writers working together. There was allowed far more diversity in story and themes, and the show wasn’t at risk of being warped and destroyed by one person’s vision. Though there was a show lead with Russell T Davies before, it wasn’t all dictated by him. What is more, Russell T Davies was a far better writer and even a better human being then Moffat. Davis actually seemed like he cared about people, whilst Moffat is just in it to sound clever. Pre-Moffat episodes always felt so much richer and had real heart, instead of now were everything is so forced, hollow and polished with special effects.
But when it comes to the 50th Anniversary episode, I will say this, its probably one of Moffat’s better jobs. That’s not to say that there aren’t significant Moffat-esque issues, and I will go into them, but the episode does feel like one of his better works and I actually liked it. Part of this is admittedly because they truly threw all the stops into this one, they went all out in this episode in the best possible ways, which helped significantly in covering up major internal issues of the episode. But there were still big problems.
For instance, the Moffat-esque sexism. Now I am listing this issue first not as a way to just talk about it quick to get it out of the way. No. I’m talking about it first because it remains the principle problem with Moffat. He is a sexist and his female characters are awful. Now many might take offense to, after I tell them to bugger off, I’ll point them to research the wealth of awful sexist things Moffat has said. He hates women, this is a fact. But prior to that, Doctor Who since the re-vamp in 2005 has been known for mostly really good female characters (my favorites being a close tie between the amazing Martha and Donna). But that completely went away with the rise of Moffat.
So as an example, take a look at the aliases/titles for the pre-Moffat female companions of the Doctor; Martha Jones – The Woman Who Walked The Earth, Donna Noble – The DoctorDonna, Rose Tyler – The Bad Wolf. All pretty epic and related to things these characters did and achieved. Now look at the Moffat era female companions of the Doctor; Amy Pond – The Girl Who Waited, Clara Oswald – The Impossible Girl. Notice the change? First and most glaring is the obvious infantilization. Its not “The Impossible Woman” it has to be The Impossible ‘Girl’. But more subtle is the fact that both of those titles are far more Doctor focused and dependent then the pre-Moffat companions. Though the story is always Doctor centered (who sadly thanks to Moffat is still always male) at least the female characters in the Davis days had some breathing room to develop without the Doctor as the absolute center of their universe. Not anymore. What is more I’d argue that the character depth of Amy, Clara and also River, has been greatly reduced and cookie-cuttered under Moffat’s direction.
[Note: from here on out is tons of spoilers as well as direct references to the Doctor Who series and this episode in particular, without any explanation for the uninitiated. If you haven't seen them then you will be lost. Sorry]
But in the 50th anniversary episode, these sexist tendencies took on a whole new life. In that episode there were 5 main female characters (which admittedly is nice seeing as there were 3 main male characters in the episode) Clara Oswald the companion, Queen Elizabeth the 1st, Kate Stewart of UNIT, Osgood a scientist as Unit, and The Moment console taking the guise of Bad Wolf (ie Rose Tyler). Though the episode does beat the Brechdal Test, I’d argue it presents absolutely nothing in terms of female character development.
Clara is an empty character and my least favorite companion so far. There is really nothing to say about her, she’s not memorable, doesn’t have much in terms of a motivation or story or really anything. She just exists, initially just to be an objectified mystery for the Doctor to solve, now as nothing much more. Kate Stewart is the typically cookie-cutter “military commander woman in charge” trope that we’ve seen before done far better in the series with the director of Torchwood One, Yvonne Hartman. Osgood (no first name) is another female character trope, “shy nerdy scientist woman” with asthma. If anything she had the most character development of all the female characters as she had to face her fears and fight back, but then learn to accept and reconcile with her former nemesis, but she was a secondary character at best. The Moment was very interesting, and I feel Billie Piper did a great job at portraying the consciousness of a dooms-day weapon, which is a pretty cool concept as is. Whether or not this was a developable character is up for debate, her role was more of muse like guidance for the War Doctor (who I guess now we can call him 9 but I’ll keep referring to him as the War Doctor for the remainder of this blog post to avoid confusion) and thats about it.
And then there was Elizabeth the 1st, good lord that was painful to watch. It was creepy even. Now it does fit totally within the continuity of the show, it was established on multiple occasions that 10 had married Queen Elizabeth the 1st. But I’ve never seen a worst portrayal of this historical figure that seemed so out of tone with everything we knew about the real person. Though that rather awful line of “I may have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but at the time, so did the Zygon!” was actually based off something Elizabeth the 1st was known to have said at times, coming from that particular portrayal written by that particular writer, it just even more off putting.
The male lead characters in the form of John Hurt as the War Doctor, David Tennent as 10 and Matt Smith as 11, was all well done. At times 10 came off as a more Moffat-esque thin caricature of the character, but I felt the true 10 more often then not. At the core this was what the episode was meant for, we wanted to see 10 and 11 work off each other and interact. So on that level, the whole episode was just service for the fans, but boy did I eat it up. But in its defense the relations between those three regeneration of the Doctor allowed for some deep inspection on the nature of the character. That’s sort of the beauty of when the Doctor meets with himself at different points in his history, you’re allowed for a chance for character analysis done by the character himself, self-reflection done as a dialogue between two actors.
So in that way the chief character hurdle for the Doctor is shown to be him coming to the grips with his past and what he has done, here personified by the War Doctor. Its pretty fun to watch. What is more, we get an interesting insight into the nature of each regeneration; 10 as the hero, which was established as far back as in his first appearance in the battle with the Sycorax and truly came to define his modus operandi across the seasons; and 11 as the Doctor who ran away. Or as The Moment described them, respectively, “the man who regrets and the man who forgets.” I always had mixed feelings on 11 (thanks to the bad writing of Moffat) but the moment it was said he was the Doctor who just wanted to forget, he immediately as a character gained like 30 more points in my books. His actions and personality suddenly made a lot more sense and took on a deeper meaning.
But on a certain level, the whole premise of the plot is a gimmick.
So it’s the last day of the Last Great Time War. The city of Arcadia on Gallifrey has fallen (a point referenced many seasons back when 10 said he survived the Time War by fighting on the front lines) and the Doctor has stolen The Moment from the Time Lords. Now it has been established since 10’s first battle with the Master in ‘The Sound of Drums’ that it was he who ended the Time War, the only way he could, by killing all of both parties, all the Daleks and all the Time Lords. It was then revealed in the episode ‘The End of Time part 2’ (which I will come back to) that the Doctor did this act of dual xenocide by using the weapon ‘The Moment’.
Now prior to this episode we didn’t know a number of things. We didn’t know which regeneration of the Doctor fought in the Time War and carried out the xenocide that ended the Time War, and thus we didn’t know where the War Doctor fit into things after his reveal in the end of ‘The Name of the Doctor’ (which I will also come back to). But with the mini-episode ‘The Night of the Doctor’ we did finally learn that our old friend 8, payed by Paul McGann, who hasn’t been seen since the one off made for tv movie in the 90s, had initially tried to avoid fighting in the Time War but was then convinced to regenerate as a ‘warrior’ and do so. This act itself was pretty heart-retching cause its been established that though the Doctor remains the same entity throughout his regenerations, the act is very analogous to death since his personality does indeed end in the process. So 8 was willingly killing himself so as to fight in the Time War, which just shows how much he didn’t want to be a warrior. (On a side note it was nice how 8 gave a nod to the Doctor Who books and other media that had sprung up around that character, making them all official cannon).
Another thing we didn’t know what ‘The Moment’ was, but with ‘The Day of the Doctor’ we actually get to sit down and talk with this dooms-day weapon. And there lays the gimmick that makes the plot of this episode. Cause the War Doctor is wrecked with guilt over the decision to exterminate all of his species (as you would) along with the Daleks. And when realizing that he would have to live on after all of the rest’s destruction (a very morbidly ironic move by The Moment to make it so that the price for her to destroy all the Daleks and Time Lords, I liked that) he muses on what sort of person he’ll become. So The Moment whisks him away to meet himself post Time War. Now that didn’t really need to happen, The Moment didn’t need to introduce the War Doctor to 10 and 11, it was all a gimmick to bring them together. But lord knows we loved it.
But back to the Time War and continuity discussions. For that’s where I feel the episode was at it’s weakest (after the sexism). As I said, the story about the Time War, that big scary event that occurred between the made for tv movie of 8 and the return of Doctor Who with 9 (expertly played by Christopher Eccleston, and I will fight anyone who says anything negative of 9), was revealed to us over many seasons bit by bit. And scarier and scarier as it went along. Then with the final episode with 10, ‘The End of Time part 2′ (and by far one of my favorite episodes) we finally got a more complete picture. In conversation with the master he said;
The Master: But this is fantastic, isn’t it? The Time Lords restored.
The Doctor: You weren’t there. In the final days of the war. You never saw what was born. But if the time lock’s broken then everything is coming through. Not just the Daleks, but the Star of Degradations. The Horde of Travesties. The Nightmare Child. The Could-Have-Been King with his army of Meanwhiles and Neverweres. The war turned into hell! And that’s what you’ve opened. Right above the Earth. Hell is descending.
Wow. That sounds epic. “Horde of Travesties”, “The Could-Have-Been King with his army of Meanwhiles and Neverweres”, “The Nightmare Child” who (or what) the Doctor had thought in ‘The Stolen Earth’ he’d seen swallow Davros’ command ship in earlier years of the war. All sounds horrible and scary and maddening. In truth, we should have only been left with our own imaginations when it came to the Time War. Any attempt to portray that on film or tv would have always been a disappointment. But then they tried with ‘The Day of the Doctor’ and I would say they failed.
During a flash back of sorts to the Time Lord high council on Gallifrey on the last day of the Time War in ‘The End of Time’ episode, a council member remarks after its revealed that the Doctor has stolen The Moment and will soon destroy them all;
Perhaps it’s time. This is only the furthest edge of the Time War. But at its heart millions die every second. Lost in bloodlust and insanity. With Time itself resurrecting them to find new ways of dying, over and over again. A travesty of life. Isn’t it better to end it at last.
One; this is just an epic image, the idea that Time War as a swarming mass of time paradoxes and destruction, raging throughout the universe. Two; this is not what we saw in ‘The Day of the Doctor’ when they showed us Gallifrey again on the last day of the Time War. We instead see Gallifrey as the front lines of the Time War, not the furthest edges, about to fall by relatively conventional means of Dalek lasers. There was no Nightmare Child. No Could-Have-Been King. No armies of Meanwhiles and Neverweres. No millions dying every second only to be resurrected to find new ways to die. What we saw was pretty mild in comparison to the expectations.
But we also, more importantly, didn’t get to see the dark side of the Time Lords, of what they become. As was said in ‘The End of Time':
Wilfred: But I’ve heard you talk about your people like they’re wonderful
The Doctor: That’s how I choose to remember them. The Time Lords of old. But then they went to war. 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
The underlying notion and the big reveal of that episode, and why I love it so much, was that the Time War by the end had truly warped and destroyed all that was good and noble about the Time Lords. That they had grown bloodthirsty and twisted. That when the Doctor made the choice to end the Time War for good by destroying all Time Lords and Daleks, there was more to it. The Doctor wasn’t trying to save the universe from the Time War. He wasn’t even trying to save it from the Daleks. He was trying to save the universe from his own Time Lords.
Again from ‘The End of Time';
The Doctor: Just listen! ‘Cause even the Time Lords can’t survive that.
Lord President Rassilon: We will initiate the Final Sanction. The end of time will come. At my hand. The rupture will continue until it rips the time vortex apart.
The Master: That’s suicide.
Lord President Rassilon: We will ascend! To become creatures of consciousness alone. Free of these bodies. Free of time. And cause and effect, where creation itself ceases to be.
The Doctor: You see now. That’s what they were planning. In the final days of the war. I had to stop them.
To re-cap. In ‘The End of Time’ it is revealed that the Doctor stole The Moment in order to end the Time War by killing all Time Lords and Daleks. That he did this because he found out that the Time Lord high council, under the leadership of the resurrected Rassilon, had decided to end the Time War their own way, by destroying the entirety of the universe, all time and space, and then ascending above the fiery crucible of a dying universe as gods.
All of that is completely absent from ‘The Day of the Doctor’. That isn’t to say that any of that was directly negated or contradicted by what we saw on ‘The Day of the Doctor’, but rather that a far different picture is implied. The implied and altered story is that Gallifrey is about to fall, thus meaning the Daleks will then have nothing to stop them from spreading across and destroying the universe, so in order to prevent that, the Doctor must end it all with The Moment. Its a subtle change but with big ramifications for the depth and the complexity of the decision. For it seems any and all reference to the Time Lord’s degeneration in the later days of the Time War is completely absent from the 50th anniversary. That, to say the least, is disappointing for me. That critical edge of grey is gone and what remains is the standard “good v evil” black and white story.
But anyway, after a minor little side-quest with Elizabeth the 1st and shape shifting aliens, involving 10, 11 and him, the War Doctor returns to activate The Moment and put it all to an end. But this time 1o and 11 join him, the Doctor has reconciled with his past (literally) and wishes to join himself in that fateful moment when he takes the lives of all Time Lords and Daleks so that he’s not alone (well, I guess he’s alone with himself in way, he’s really been talking with himself all episode). Its all actually a very touching moment, there’s probably a deeper message of learning to love yourself and positive mental health that can garnered from the scene. But 11 has a plan, he’s figured out a way to save the Time Lords and Gallifrey by hiding it away in a pocket dimension (which the cameo of Tom Baker who I believe was full cannon 4, assures us is the case) utilizing the skills of all 13 Doctors (including Capaldi), and letting all the Daleks destroying themselves in the cross-fire.
Now, a bunch of people have issues with this. I actually don’t mind this ending. Its been felt by some to take away the pathos that the Doctor has as a character by removing remove this key source of guilt and inner torment. That I don’t mind it. The Time War guilt complex, they have been relying on it for character development since 2005 and they’ve gotten all they could get out of it. Its time for them to move on.
(On a side note, initially I had thought this ending would have left this big plot hole that if Gallifrey is saved in a pocket dimension then isn’t Rassilon and the rest of the Time Lords planning the destruction of the universe so as to rise above it, is also saved? But then I remembered that Rassilon was killed by The Master in ‘The End of Time’ so it should be fine).
But still, this newly established quest has potential. Finding Gallifrey, there is something fitting about it. The Doctor, first ran away from home, then ran away from his past, now is reconciled with his past and trying to find his way home. I like it. I’m hopeful. I’m probably going to be disappointed.
For sadly this reminds me last time the Doctor, or at the very least the series as a whole, had been given a mission. Since the start of Moffat’s running of the show we’re been treated to a number of cryptic warnings about, “the silence will fall.” Then after we get introduced to ‘The Silence’ (a rather clever idea for an alien species, you lose all memory of them once you’re not looking at them) we’re finally given a better understanding of these cryptic warnings in season 6 finale of ‘The Wedding of River Song':
Dorium: On the Fields of Trenzalore, at the Fall of the Eleventh, when no living creature can speak falsely or fail to answer, a question will be asked. A question that must never ever be answered.
The Doctor: “Silence will fall when the question is asked.”
Dorium: “Silence must fall” would be a better translation. The Silence are determined that the question will never be answered, that the Doctor will never reach Trenzalore
Still cryptic, still not telling me the whole story, but you’ve peaked my interest. Tell me more Dorium, which he does at the very end of the episode (now as just a severed head in a box for unrelated reasons) when he drops this bombshell:
Dorium: So you’re going to do this—let them all think you’re dead?
The Doctor: it’s the only way. Then they can all forget me. I got too big, Dorium. Too noisy. Time to step back into the shadows.
Dorium: And Doctor Song, in prison all her days?
The Doctor: Her days, yes. Her nights… well. That’s between her and me, eh?
Dorium: So many secrets, Doctor. I’ll help you keep them of course.
The Doctor: Well you’re not exactly going anywhere are you?
Dorium: But you’re a fool nonetheless. It’s all still waiting for you. The Fields of Trenzalore. The Fall of the Eleventh. And the question.
The Doctor: Goodbye Dorium.
Dorium: The first question! The question that must never be answered! Hidden in plain sight! The question you’ve been running from all your life! “Doctor Who?” “Doctor Who?” “Doctor Who!”!
Holy Fucking Shit! Oh my god oh my god oh my god. I literally lost my shit when this happened. All of season 6th was pretty forgettable as far as I was concerned, a whole lot of meh. But that one freakin line delivered from a disembodied blue head made it all worth while. What does it mean? What does it mean!
Well we still don’t know. See in the episode ‘The Name of the Doctor’ the Doctor went to Trenzalore, which was revealed to be his grave (he’s a time traveler, so its possible to check out his own death if he wants), and he was asked the question hidden in plain sight that mush never be answered, “what is your name?” And, nothing really happened. The Doctor didn’t say his real name, the silence didn’t fall, even though the question was asked. If anything was revealed that episode was the existence of another regeneration of the Doctor in the form of the War Doctor, which was totally neat, but not what we were wanting. It was a whole bait and switch. There is a possibility that the upcoming Christmas special ‘The Time of the Doctor’ might resolve this as we know it will be Matt Smith’s last, but I remain suspicious. Fool me once and such.
So where does this all leave Doctor Who. I don’t know. Peter Capaldi will be coming on as the next doctor, which under the updated continuum puts him at 13, who by all accounts will probably be able to bring a refreshing amount of gravitas to the role compared to Matt Smith’s wackiness. But Moffat will remain. We all want a woman or person of color Doctor, but we’ll have to wait until at least after Capaldi is done, and most definitely until after Moffat is kicked out.
I’m trying to be hopeful. This show always has so much potential, not just because its more fantasy then sci-fi and can take you anywhere in time and space. But because it can do that while maintaining (or at least use to) a real socially critical edge.
‘The Day of the Doctor’ was good, it looked good, it had a good pile of easter eggs in it, it all fit together well enough plot wise and got good enough performances where it needed it most, but it could have been so much more. And thats really all you can say about the Moffat episodes in general. At best, they could have been so much more. But we’ll see.