The Time of The DoctorBookmark and Share

Saturday, 28 December 2013 - Reviewed by Matthew Kilburn

Doctor Who - The Time of The Doctor
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Jamie Payne
Broadcast on BBC One - 25 December 2013
The Time of the Doctor made an already difficult task more complicated than it needed to have been. Doctor Who has been shifting formats recently, with two years of short runs which stood unsteadily between major series and boutique television, culminating in red button short and an anniversary special which was at home in the cinema as it was on the small screen. It would have seemed to make sense to deliver another blockbuster, to follow The Day of the Doctor with something reminiscent of Voyage of the Damned in terms of spectacle, sending Matt Smith out in a towering inferno of action-adventure television. Instead we received something altogether quieter and more reflective, though still ambitious and until the very end rarely taking quite the time it needed to cover all the ground required. Switching athletic metaphors, the episode eschewed the high jump for the long jump, but only broke its record by leaving out some of the inconvenient units of measurement.

Doctor Who tells its stories through image and sound as much as actors playing scripts. Incidental music reminded long-term viewers of the cause of the tenth Doctor’s regeneration, of Clara's history as 'impossible girl', of the Doctor's responsibility towards Amy Pond. The underpinning of The Time of the Doctor seemed to be repeated images deliberately referencing the past, particularly of children’s drawings, and the musical cues connecting to specific moments in previous stories. More than any of his predecessors, the eleventh Doctor has been explicitly coded as a children’s hero within the narrative. It’s a role he has had ever since bonding with Amelia in The Eleventh Hour and then a series of Amelia-substitutes, from Mandy in The Beast Below onwards through young Kazran in A Christmas Carol to the children in The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe and beyond. Here, while the Doctor protects successive generations of Trenzaloreans, he cherishes the pictures of him they have drawn as children, spreading across the walls and pillars of his tower home, much as Amy Pond grew up recounting and embellishing the legend of the man who one night had eaten fish fingers and custard at her kitchen table and then disappeared. On Trenzalore, the Doctor becomes both story and storyteller, building a culture around himself complete with Punch and Judy version of The Ark.

This wasn’t the only recycling of old visual cues. The placing of the Oswald family in a tower block acted not only as a mirror of the Doctor’s home on Trenzalore, but of Rose’s flat back in the 2005 and 2006 series. The location – Lydstep Flats, Cardiff – was the same used for the ‘back’ of the Powell Estate in Rose, encouraging a sense that Doctor Who is going back to one of its beginnings, though there’s an awkwardness about the Oswald family which is distinct from the awkwardness I felt from the Rose, Mickey and Jackie background. There, the discomfort came from the broad playing of acute if subjective social observation, alleviated a little when one realised how far the series was written and interpreted through Rose’s eyes. Here, the cumbersome nakedness-hologram gag is used as a blanket to cover the sense that we really don’t know much about Clara’s background; it’s difficult to place the flat setting alongside her work for the Maitlands and the glimpses of her parental home(s) we saw in The Rings of Akhaten. Perhaps this just means that the Doctor Who of 2013 views society as more fluid and less rigidly stratified than that of 2005; but if so, Lydstep Flats are a curious borrowing in an episode which expected and demanded that viewers remember much more detail from past episodes than has been usual.

In its revival of the crack in the universe which propelled the 2010 series, the episode’s explanation seems muffled and misdirected. The Doctor’s reminiscence of rebooting the universe following its destruction on 26 June 2010 tended to assume knowledge rather than provide it. The conversation in Tasha Lem’s chapel explaining about the Kovarian faction’s breakaway from the main body of the Church of the Silence was almost apologetically undramatic. The return of the device of a victim of Dalek re-engineering forgetting that they had died before sprouting eyestalk and gun-stick was thrifty in terms of the reuse of an effect, but the manner of the reintroduction had something hollow about it. This was redeemed somewhat by the Doctor’s successful resurrection of Tasha’s identity and his reminder of what the Daleks represent: they embody the potential for dissociated self-obsession and the destructive force isolation and lack of empathy can unleash. If Tasha has already battled this within herself for centuries, she can and does defeat the Dalek within. A pity the Doctor’s line about the inner psychopath seemed somewhat thrown away.

The rapid introduction and disposal of good ideas was almost a signature of the episode. The Doctor ate up brilliantly-sketched but underdeveloped personas, especially his James Stewart-like sheriff. (I remembered the supposed influence of James Stewart’s Destry [which I have seen] on Patrick Troughton’s Doctor, but it took Christopher Stevens in the Daily Mail to point out the links with another Stewart western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance [which I have not].) Not out of step with the episode’s obsession with clergy is the parallel presentation of the Doctor as an old priest, teleporting out from the confessional, and making better use of confidences than the memory-erasing Silence or the faith-switching Tasha Lem. All are manipulators, but the Doctor at least is conscious of the burden of guilt. A pity, again, that the audience was not presented more directly the comparison between the Doctor and Tasha, and for Tasha to be more noticeably self-aware. Driving the TARDIS is easier than driving the Doctor, but one wasn’t sure that the script had a good idea of what that meant, a pity for an episode where tone and some of the content suggested that it was to be taken as a contemplation of Doctor Who’s values and who the Doctor was.

There was little sense, too, of the Doctor’s enemies as being more than archetypal threats. The effectiveness of the Cybermen has been in decline since The Tenth Planet and variations on their physical form are perhaps the best entertainment they provide. Perhaps a chocolate Cyberman, based on the wooden model could be licensed in time for Easter... The Sontarans now seem to be following the comedic model into which Strax has fallen (nevertheless entertainingly). These three, like the Angels, were there to do their turns, the Angels seemingly being trapped in much the same way they were in Blink (though this wasn’t well articulated).

The Daleks, naturally, had the best spot on the bill and the most to do, successfully overcoming the Church of the Silence half-way through the Doctor’s sojourn on Trenzalore, though seemingly for continuity reasons as this enabled them to recover (some of) the knowledge of the Doctor removed from their data banks in Asylum of the Daleks. They were the spokesbeings too for the besiegers at the climax and had the privilege of being the first to be annihilated (presumably) by regenerative energy. The shot was spectacular, but one wonders if turning these latterday bursts of golden transmogrifative flame into destructive weapons is necessarily a good thing in story terms. Given, though, that the town of Christmas and the world of Trenzalore are largely symbols of what the Doctor chooses or is forced by circumstance to stand for, then his monstrous foes are here his inner demons and the support of friends – the Time Lords and Clara – give him the strength to overcome them. The journey into the mountain to find the new man is made again.

If town and planet are to be largely understood as figurative, then seasoned television-watchers were deliberately misled by their introduction. Tessa Peake-Jones and Rob Jarvis are both actors whom one might expect to remain in a programme for more than one scene. Their briefing about the truth field seemed to have sinister possibilities, but as it turned out they were unwitting observers of the darkening clouds around the Doctor, not the manipulators we were encouraged to believe. Once the Doctor was trapped on Trenzalore then viewers were reversed out of a narrative too drawn out to be entertaining, and shown only the more dramatic moments. It’s not surprising, though, that this could feel like a betrayal to part of the audience. To some extent this was acknowledged by Clara’s dismissal by the Doctor, a bravely undisguised borrowing from The Parting of the Ways. In clinging to the TARDIS she is battling to remain part of the story; her survival where Captain Jack expired is another mark of her uniqueness. The presentation of Clara reminded audiences of her particular status as the impossible girl while drawing more widely from the generic heritage of the post-2005 companion. It remains to be seen whether this compromises any further development of her background in the long term.

Clara wasn’t the only companion to appear in this story. Handles the Cyber-head was a metallic realisation of Tom Baker’s talking cabbage, and a reminder of the Doctor’s need for someone to talk to. The withdrawal of the Doctor from continuous human contact has been a feature of the latter part of the eleventh Doctor’s period; the Ponds became people he visited and took on trips rather than travelled with, and emphasis has been placed on Clara’s home life and latterly career to which she returns. Given that Clara provides the resolution to the problem by telling the Time Lords that the Doctor is the only name he will ever need, the Moffatian paradox at the heart of this story is one based around the Doctor’s judgement – had he not sought to protect and had trusted his human best friend more, he might not have needed to put himself and Trenzalore through this standoff and not have needed to regenerate – though may not have gained the new regeneration cycle too. At the end, of course, it’s Amelia Pond whom the Doctor hallucinates, whose face lends definition to the Doctor’s own; we are asked to wonder whether consuming fish fingers and custard delayed the Doctor’s full physical transformation long enough for him to say goodbye to Clara.

The Time of the Doctor deserves plaudits for its ambition; the Doctor choosing to let himself be trapped in one place for centuries to protect a people and a cosmos from destruction, and gradually ageing at and as the heart of the place, is a powerful idea. The execution was perhaps compromised by expectations and by wilfully leading those expectations on. The protracted nudity joke didn’t help many, including me, but perhaps other parts of the audience, particularly the younger ones, were more committed to it. The plight of Christmas Town and the Doctor’s relationship to it – how far could the townsfolk have blamed him for their situation? – could have been expanded upon. Patrick Mulkern at Radio Times online has rightly pointed out the debt the set owes to the Christmas Radio Times of 1977, but more than this visual allusion to an item from parental childhoods was needed to give some sense of the people of Christmas Town and their community. Again, perhaps, the children’s love for the Doctor and its resonance with the crucial younger section of the audience was crucial.

Arguably, though, the bulk of the episode was mood-setting for the final few minutes, which was the most tightly conceived and performed. The false dawn of the eleventh Doctor’s restored youth and Jenna Coleman’s portrayal of an apprehensive, relieved and then frightened and bereaved Clara were surprisingly moving after an episode which largely failed to emotionally involve. In promising never to forget ‘one line’ of his existence in Matt Smith’s form, the Doctor recognises that he is at least the subject of a history or chronicle, if not an outright fiction. Clara’s desperation to hold on to the Doctor was met with silent, shuffled retreat, denying Clara the consolation of touch as if the eleventh Doctor was already a Shakespearean ghost or even Christ between resurrection and ascension. A pity, then, that the sudden manifestation of the twelfth Doctor took the form of a ritual which understood the formula, but not the heart, of something which should never have been treated as liturgical – the remark about a transformed body part, the TARDIS crashing – with the only variation being the new Doctor’s specific amnesia over TARDIS steering.

The Time of the Doctor didn’t answer every question remaining from the eleventh Doctor’s era. We don’t know who the woman was who gave Clara the Doctor’s telephone number, for example; but that belongs to Clara’s storyline more than it did the eleventh Doctor’s. The revelation that the eleventh Doctor was really the thirteenth physical form of this Time Lord was clearly a late decision, sitting unhappily if not entirely contradicting some earlier episodes (not that this is new in Doctor Who). The grant of a new regeneration cycle by the Time Lords was a surprisingly easy solution to an anticipated problem. I’d been imagining something complex involving cracks in the fabric of the universe, the Eye of Harmony and covetous alien species.

This has been a fragmentary review of an episode which I enjoyed more than many but which nevertheless didn’t quite satisfy in the way that I had hoped. It didn’t feel as considered as The Day of the Doctor or even the first part of this trilogy, The Name of the Doctor. One wonders if there will be any consequences for the Doctor’s erasure of his tomb on Trenzalore; the discontinuity reconciler in me speculates that perhaps at some point someone – River? – established a false graveyard and a false TARDIS-tomb. It was, however, bold in conception even if the demands of the execution didn’t quite work, like a Christmas comedy show by almost anyone other than Morecambe and Wise. There was so much which could have been helped by a few additional lines of dialogue, or different intensity of performance. The central theme was just enough to carry the episode through to the regeneration itself, and all the performers made the very most of what they were given, but one hopes for a more assured set of Doctor Who episodes in the autumn.

FILTER: - Television - Eleventh Doctor - Christmas

The Beginning (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 24 December 2013 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton

1963: The Beginning
Produced by Big Finish
Written by Marc Platt
Directed by Lisa Bowerman
Released: November 2013
The 50th Anniversary year has been an unexpectedly fruitful period for fans eager to have Doctor Who’s lingering continuity voids addressed. The Day of the Doctor presented Russell T. Davies’ mysterious Time War in all of its glory, and in tandem with The Night of the Doctor, the feature-length Special even depicted Paul McGann’s Doctor in his final moments, his regeneration into the War Doctor and the latter’s subsequent transformation into Christopher Eccleston’s incarnation. Before all of those startling, immensely satisfying revelations, though, Steven Moffat took the grand step in his The Name of the Doctor of recreating the First Doctor and Susan’s initial boarding of the TARDIS on Gallifrey.

That Marc Platt, scribe of one of the final Companion Chronicles releases, The Beginning, finds time to integrate even Clara Oswald’s presence in his own representation of William Hartnell’s Time Lord and his granddaughter upon their first voyage says plenty of the success with which he crafts a reinterpretation of one of the series’ most ambiguous (untold on-screen) events. Platt’s narrative premise allows for a more direct interaction between the “original” Doctor and the beloved mythology which he was largely detached from due to the show’s executive producers only commencing their weaving in hints of the character’s past in the Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker years.

As one might expect of such a revelatory drama, Platt’s openness in chronicling the protagonist’s escape from his home planet for the most part disintegrates the enigmatic figure that first emerged from the shadows of an abandoned junkyard in An Unearthly Child. Our knowledge of the events which instigated his travels will doubtless transform our perspective on Doctor Who’s televised premiere, yet such is the great flexibility of the programme’s lore and its continuity that we could argue any interpretation of its ongoing or past storylines as valid. That’s an empowering concept if ever there was one, particularly for fans disappointed with the supposedly transparent light in which Platt has attempted to cast a previously elusive episode in the Doctor’s life.

With Carole Ann Ford returning to the Companion Chronicles series, of course, there was scarce chance that Platt’s script wouldn’t be done justice in the recording studio. While few would deny that being able to have the late Bill Hartnell with us to aid in the description of his Doctor’s learning the ways of the universe firsthand, Carole’s narration more than compensates, the script allowing her to create an immediately engaging first-person representation of the characters, locales and events which Susan encounters as she ventures out of a Type 40 time capsule. Much as time has scarcely affected the strength of Who, so too does Carole’s portrayal of Susan and several of The Beginning’s other characters appear unfazed by the decades that have passed since The Dalek Invasion of Earth.

Carole’s co-star Terry Molloy naturally needs no introduction, his return to the role of Davros alongside Sylvester McCoy in Daleks Among Us remaining one of this year’s most memorable guest performances. Quadrigger Stoyn is certainly an inspired deviation from the status quo for Molloy, an unhinged Time Lord engineer who inadvertently becomes a co-conspirator in Theta Sigma’s theft and escape from Gallifrey. However, in this first instalment of a Companion Chronicles trilogy based around Stoyn, the accomplished star’s portrayal is limited by his inevitably gradual character arc, and when he ventures into the roles of other male characters such as the Archeon leader, there’s déjà vu lying in wait, as Molloy’s portrayal of extraterrestrials rapidly becomes reminiscent of a certain Dalek creator of old. Perhaps the transpiration of such an event was impossible to avoid, for Davros’ voice must now be incredibly familiar to the man behind the mask, but if that’s the case, then Big Finish’s neglecting to find another voice for Stoyn is uncharacteristically unambitious on the studio’s part.

Of further minor detriment is the difficult narrative/tonal scenario which must have posed itself to Platt in the early stages of penning his latest Who instalment. In fact, it’s the same difficulty which seemingly arose for George Lucas in drafting his divisive Star Wars prequel outings, and for Peter Jackson with his three-tier Hobbit project. The prospect of discovering the secrets of the past must always appear enticing on the surface, yet with a vast science-fiction mythology already established in the past half-century of time travelling escapades, upon further inspection a great challenge lies in attempting to write a Doctor Who episode which almost breaks the fundamental weekly rules of the series. Just as Lucas couldn’t resist encounters with Wookies, Tatooine and Stormtroopers, nor Jackson trips to the Misty Mountains, the Shire and other fan favourite locales, so too does Platt’s narrative explore human colonies, the ethics of time travel and other familiar Who elements with only a limited level of innovation upon the endless array of intergalactic exploits which have come before.

Like An Adventure in Space and Time before it, The Beginning is a blatant, oft-remarkable homage to Doctor Who’s roots, albeit more engrained in the series’ complex mythology than the former BBC Two docudrama. Platt’s narrative and Carole Ann Ford’s portrayal of Susan are both extremely commendable in terms of their clear endeavouring to distinguish the release from everything which has preceded it. Nevertheless, this reviewer can’t help but notice that a compromise has been struck so as to balance Doctor Who’s past with its present and future. One can appreciate such a compromise in light of the three iconic spirits sent to haunt Scrooge at this time of year, yet had Platt elected to accept the inevitability of this tale’s nostalgic tone, and as such indulge in the past a little more so as to provide a few more gifts for fans in the festive time of goodwill, then The Beginning could be recalled as amongst Big Finish’s all-time greats. There’s potential aplenty, though, for Stoyn’s future encounters with the Doctor, especially if Molloy can capitalize on the unique nature of his role when we next visit his bemused Quadrigger in December’s The Dying Light.

FILTER: - Big Finish - Audio - First Doctor - 1781780870

1963: The Assassination Games (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 24 December 2013 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton

1963: The Assassination Games
Produced by Big Finish
Written by John Dorney
Directed by Ken Bentley
Released: November 2013
“Whoever they are, they’ve messed with the wrong planet. Ladies, gentlemen- let’s go save the world!”

It had to happen some time. After two underwhelming opening instalments in their 1963 trilogy, Big Finish have finally produced nothing short of an outright gem with the ‘series finale’, The Assassination Games. The Seventh Doctor’s journey back to where it all began commences a fundamentally human narrative which- aptly enough for the 50th Anniversary of an iconic British franchise- explores the ramifications of the history of our nation in a pseudo-present day context, establishing a grand action blockbuster tone from the outset.

That Remembrance of the Daleks’ famed Intrusion Countermeasures Group return to the fray will be a key element of the audio drama’s appeal for fans of the McCoy era, particularly those lucky enough to have experienced the Countermeasures spin-off series. The final 1963 storyline is a precursor to the aforementioned spin-off, meaning that Group Captain Gilmore and the rest of the team are still in the process of working out the kinks at this point. Nevertheless, the charming dynamic between Simon Williams (Gilmore), Pamela Salem (Rachel Jensen) and Karen Gledhill (Allison Williams) won’t struggle to captivate veteran or newcomer listeners, and John Dorney’s script does an impressive job of venturing beyond sub-standard prequel territory.

This reviewer’s appreciation of the talents of the classic Doctors and their companions has increased substantially thanks to Big Finish’s output this year, and Assassination Games only furthers that trend. Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred are each as animated and engaging as ever as the Time Lord and Ace respectively, with the latter’s performance having developed hugely since the culmination of the pair’s time on-screen in 1989. If the Destiny of the Doctor release Shockwave wasn’t enough to convince listeners of Aldred’s accomplished portrayal, then this instalment and next month’s Afterlife should both disintegrate any lingering doubts without fail.

Ken Bentley returns to the director’s chair over a year on from his last collaboration with Dorney, The Wrath of the Iceni, and contrary to the historic tone of that ancient Roman outing, there’s rightly more of a resemblance to Remembrance and The Bells of Saint John in this case. The piece’s soundtrack and fast-paced structure maintain the storyline’s momentum, such that even in Assassination’s quieter moments, the sense resides that a thrilling setpiece of some kind is only ever just around the corner. The action-driven nature of the plot does leave it lacking in the emotional department, but at the same time, what with the sheer pace of proceedings, it’s difficult to take too much note of this absence.

What does prove of notable detriment, however, is the absence of a fully-fledged extraterrestrial antagonist. A threat simply named ‘the Light’ is established in the latter half of the piece, but anyone who makes the assumption as this reviewer did that the final 1963 drama would act as a prequel (albeit belated) to Big Finish’s 50th Anniversary Special, The Light at the End, will come away sorely dissatisfied. Instead, the villains are complete newcomers to the field, and although that’s a much-needed deviation from Big Finish’s plethora of returning adversaries this year, the simplistic and one-dimensional depiction of this Empire-fuelled race is extremely underwhelming.

Bentley does at least hint at future confrontations between the Doctor and his latest foe in this audio range and in doing so holds promise for a more innovative direction for the studio’s works beyond the year of the 50th. A tangible lack of original antagonists has pervaded the various storylines in the Big Finish Whoniverse for the last few months, and to this reviewer, it’s a gap that sorely needs filling in the studio’s 2014 output. The 1963 trilogy has experimented with unexplored adversaries, yet to no great effect- a foe who creates atmosphere more along the lines of last month’s Ghost in the Machine as a regular billing would be an enticing prospect at this stage, indeed.

The Assassination Games is a fulfilling conclusion to this celebratory trio of 50th Anniversary releases, though, of that there is no question. McCoy and Aldred frequently steal the show with their refined, exemplary portrayals of their once-maligned characters, now grand stalwarts of Who’s history just as much as any of their predecessors. The reintroduction of the Countermeasures gang into the fray is instantly refreshing for the range, and begs the contemplation as to whether further and more regular crossovers of Big Finish’s core and spin-off series would provide the studio with their much-needed revitalisation beyond this year. Perhaps the greatest irony of all with regards to the 1963 range is that had it focused more extensively on the year itself in a semi-nostalgic sense rather than striving in vain to create memorable original antagonists, the end results might have been that much more worthy of their overarching title.

FILTER: - Big Finish - Audio - Seventh Doctor - 1781780803

The Day of The DoctorBookmark and Share

Thursday, 19 December 2013 - Reviewed by Dan Armitage

When I first started watching this little series at the age of seven and at the time, I was somewhat ambivalent. I suppose one would compare it to a child with a plate of untried vegetables in front of him, whom only wants desserts. You see, I was born during the hiatus. In fact, I was born right at the very beginning of the hiatus. So I missed out on watching anything from the first seven Doctors on original airing. It was only when my granddad took me to the local library and hired “The Five Doctors” that I got around to watching the series. I wanted another adventure with Laurel and Hardy – not some silly sci-fi show. And you know what; that little pepperpot (yes, I saw it as a pepperpot even then) racing through a maze of mirrors, is what brings me here today.

After spending nearly a quarter of a century catching up on fifty year’s worth of Doctor Who, I was ready to tackle the anniversary special. My wife and I had spent the past couple of years bringing our newbie friend up to date and here we were, sat in a cinema, 3D glasses on, ready to see the return of the Tenth Doctor.

With six months of speculation – the special didn’t let up. Opening up in wonderful monochrome, I think I might have had goosebumps all the way through the special. I think I must have turned to my wife over half a dozen times to whisper little things to her.

It is very difficult for me, however, because I could literally discuss in detail, every scene from the special. However, I’d much rather discuss the general spirit of the story and the general implications of the ending.

With returning elements including the Tenth Doctor, the Zygons, the Daleks, Kate Stewart, Billie Piper and the Time War – some potential viewers could be forgiven for thinking the special would fall apart under the weight of its individual elements. Far from it however, The Day of the Doctor felt like the culmination of fifty years build up. By excluding the various other Doctors from the special, Moffat allowed himself the opportunity for the two past returning Doctors to dominate, their interactions providing ample opportunity for comic interludes.

I doubt too many fans saw it coming however, when John Hurt proved to me the most amusing factor in the special, his gruff character spouting lines such as “What are you going to do, assemble a cabinet at them?” and “Oh, for God’s sake. Gallifrey stands!” The only unfortunate point being that it is unlikely we will ever see Hurt reprise the role – unless Big Finish acquire the much coveted license to produce NuWho material.

Which I suppose brings me to my next point; with the most recent two episodes being so ensconced in the classic series – is there a noticeable gap between the two sets of shows. With the recent McGann regeneration in The Night of the Doctor tying in well with the John Hurt regeneration in The Day of the Doctor; along with the many past Doctor cameos in the past two episodes, for the first time the two individual series seem to exist completely as one. Past occasions including the return of Sarah Jane Smith in School Reunion and the return of Peter Davison in Time Crash have felt like “one offs”, but to have all eleven (sorry all twelve) Doctors stood looking up at Gallifrey – I can’t help but feel that the fifty years of Doctor Who are now intrinsically bound together as one.

Which brings me to the ending. Receiving a very cryptic message from The Curator (and I’m not even going to get into how I felt seeing him!), the Doctor begins his search for Gallifrey. Now I know that when he does eventually find his home planet – he won’t even sit down for a cup of English tea before running off again and yet still, I hope that the series uses this new concept as the underlay for the next fifty years rather than confronting it directly as a new story arc – in the vein of Bad Wolf, Torchwood, and the Impossible Girl.

Did Moffat manage to encapsulate fifty (although a certain cameo may suggest 51 might be a more accurate number) years of history into one episode? Yes. And all due credit to the man. It was fun and it was heart-breaking. It was fact paced yet it had a sombre tone throughout. In my eyes, Doctor Who was truly never risen higher. Bring on the Time of the Doctor – I know that everyone in my house simply can’t wait!

FILTER: - 50th Anniversary - Tenth Doctor - Eleventh Doctor - War Doctor

The Day of the Doctor (Australian review)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 5 December 2013 - Reviewed by Damian Christie
“Am I having a mid-life crisis?”

The War Doctor upon meeting his Tenth and Eleventh incarnations, The Day of the Doctor.

As fans, we can be our own worst enemies – we’re possessive and high maintenance about our favourite TV program. We can get into such frenzied speculation about new Doctor Who episodes – long before they’re even broadcast. By the time they arrive we leave ourselves exhausted and mildly depressed, bemoaning that it was never as good as it should have been. We set the bar so high that we inevitably set ourselves up for a fall.

As Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor approached, the anticipation seemed to reach almost pressure cooker proportions. We all seemed so disenchanted with the varying quality of the episodes in the second half of Series 7 and the way the Clara/Impossible Girl plotline had just fizzled out that we wanted – in fact desperately needed – the 50th anniversary special to meet, if not exceed, our wildest expectations. Now, with the special behind us, I’d have to argue we can breathe a huge sigh of relief, assured that the series has a great future ahead of it.

Impressive ratings and box office receipts aside, the surest sign of the success of The Day of the Doctor has been the positive feedback from critics, casual observers and even some fans who have been modern Doctor Who’s biggest detractors. Of course, there will always be fans that have to rain down on the victory parade, with whines most notably about the serial’s climax but then I figure those individuals were never going to be satisfied anyway. The Day of the Doctor works because it doesn’t take itself too seriously (even though the theme at its heart is very earnest) and it is accessible to even the most casual viewers. It also manages to carry enough Easter eggs to please die hard Whovians without bashing casual viewers senseless around the head with 50 years of history and continuity.

Steven Moffat has miraculously pulled off the great escape. In just 75 minutes, he delivers an epic story that is part space opera (the Time War), part farce (the Zygon plot to oust Queen Elizabeth I), part comedy (the three Doctors meeting), part contemporary thriller (the mystery in the National Gallery and the Zygon takeover of UNIT’s Black Archive) and part morality tale (the War Doctor’s terrible decision and the effect it has on the Doctor’s subsequent incarnations). Moffat melds an unlikely mesh of genres into a compelling, exciting and enjoyable whole – and to boot manages to shoehorn in not just three but 13 Doctors and set the series up for some very exciting years to come.

So why, against all the odds, does The Day of the Doctor work so well? As I’ve said above, the episode isn’t a tortured, navel-gazing, self-obsessed and dark morass. It celebrates the Doctor with a sense of fun and optimism, despite the grim back story at its heart, and that helps to engage its audience – both fan and non-fan – from the get-go.

Whether consciously or not, Moffat employs a tested storytelling technique that was first pioneered by Charles Dickens in arguably one of literature’s first “time travel” tales – A Christmas Carol. Like that classic text (and indeed Moffat’s own Doctor Who Christmas special of the same name three years ago), The Day of the Doctor is the story of a man (the War Doctor), who with the counsel of a ghostly apparition (the Moment), visits his future in a bid for redemption. He doesn’t like what he sees (he is appalled by the immaturity and denial of his future selves) but it inspires him to change and alter course in the present. As a result, he rediscovers hope – and in the bargain restores optimism to the men that he will become. What better story could one have asked for in Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary year? This is a vastly more enjoyable, preferable tale to some angst-ridden, dark and humdrum narrative with a monstrous, sinister Doctor at its heart – something I think we all suspected the War Doctor might be when he was first introduced in The Name of the Doctor.

The standout performer of the episode is undoubtedly John Hurt, eclipsing the incumbent in Matt Smith and the returning David Tennant as the titular character. For someone in a guest star capacity, Hurt is utterly convincing from the outset as the War Doctor. There is no doubt he is a grizzled veteran who has been scarred by centuries of war and is haunted by the terrible choice on his plate - even before he has pressed the big red button. Yet Hurt also plays the role with grace, compassion, humility and dignity – there is no sense that he is a vengeful, embittered, ruthless character at all, as we’ve occasionally seen in the modern Doctors (Eccleston, Tennant, Smith) and even some of the classic Doctors (McCoy, Tom Baker and Colin Baker). He is indeed shunned and repressed by his other incarnations for doing the right thing for the common good.

Hurt’s no-nonsense Doctor is the perfect foil to Smith’s and Tennant’s more eccentric Doctors and enables Moffat to send up many of the series’ in-jokes (many of which he invented). The War Doctor’s expressions of disbelief at the inappropriate use of the sonic screwdriver – “They’re screwdrivers! What are you going to do? Assemble a cabinet at them?” – and his horror at the other Doctors’ expressions – “Timey ... what? Timey wimey?” – are priceless and make for some fantastic comedy moments in the episode, lightening the tension and bleakness that could have overwhelmed this tale.

In fact, the banter and comedy between the three Doctors is successful precisely because Moffat doesn’t shy away from bringing the Doctors together. One of the problems with other multi-Doctor reunions in the past – notably in The Five Doctors – is that efforts were made to keep the Doctors separate for the bulk of the narrative (often on the misapprehension that the actors themselves would simply not get along). Moffat avoids that trap in The Day of the Doctor and happily displays all the Doctors in their true light – warts and all!

Yet as great as the comic moments are, Moffat knows how to deliver scenes and dialogue with the three Doctors that have great pathos. One of the most powerful moments between the Doctors comes in the dungeon when they discuss the ramifications of the Time War. There are terrific performances from Smith, Tennant and Hurt as the War Doctor is appalled by the indifference of his future selves – “the one who regrets and the one who forgets” – and the Tenth Doctor is horrified that the Eleventh Doctor could almost forget the high cost of his actions.

Tennant and Smith have both said they were in awe of working with a “living legend” like Hurt but neither of them show it in their performances. They both demonstrate the vast acting range that their characters demand, with both of their Doctors slipping between moments of humour, earnestness, sadness and anger. Tennant steps almost effortlessly back into the part, as if four years had not elapsed at all, and he and Smith are both at their most imposing when their Doctors are actually staring each other down and not clowning around (eg “For once, I’d like to know where I’m going.” “No, you really wouldn’t!”).

The Day of The Doctor: Matt Smith and David Tennant as The Doctor Understandably, with such an ambitious storyline and a stellar cast, you’d be forgiven for forgetting this story features companions. It seems on a first viewing that Jenna Coleman doesn’t get an awful lot to do – but in fact Clara is possibly the most important character in the story. It is quick thinking on Clara’s part to steal the vortex manipulator from the Black Archive and travel back to rescue the Doctors (and subsequently embarrass them by revealing they’ve been in an unlocked cell!). That’s always an impressive trait in a companion but it is also Clara who proves to be the catalyst for change – it is her compassion and emotion (which Coleman conveys so well) that finally persuades the Eleventh Doctor to look for a different way to end the Time War.

It has been said numerous times through the life of the modern program that the companion is the Doctor’s conscience, that she can show him another way. This was Billie Piper’s function back in Series 1 as Rose Tyler and that sentiment was repeated by Donna Noble in The Runaway Bride when she told the Doctor he needs a companion to rein him in (something he lacks as the War Doctor). Clara proves integral in that respect. In this story, more than any other, we are again reminded that the Doctor’s conscience is not just dictated by his own morals but by his companions’ humanity. Without a conscience, the Doctor could be elevated to making god-like decisions with the most terrible consequences (as we saw with his “Time Lord Victorious” stance in The Waters of Mars).

Even the Moment – in the unexpected form of Rose Tyler – fulfils a similar role to Clara, showing the War Doctor that there is an alternative. It is to Moffat’s credit that he devises a unique way to bring Billie Piper back to the series without contradicting or undermining the events of Army of Ghosts/Doomsday and The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End. Casting Piper as Rose’s Bad Wolf persona borrowed by the Moment is a stroke of genius – and tests Piper’s own acting calibre. She meets that challenge, delivering a performance which, like the three Doctors, exudes sadness and subtlety one moment and then a cheeky, naughty and suggestive disposition the next (“Look at you, stuck between a girl and a box. The story of your life, eh, Doctor?”). This is definitely not the type of acting Piper could have delivered if she’d simply returned as Rose. Some fans may reasonably argue that the Moment could have been any of the Doctor’s companions from the modern series (eg Amy Pond or Donna) but Piper’s performance vindicates the decision to cast her – to have gone with a high profile comedienne like Catherine Tate, for example, would have actually detracted from the Moment’s characterisation and importance in the narrative.

Similarly Tom Baker’s surprise cameo as the enigmatic curator would also have not worked as effectively if it had been one of the other classic Doctors – Davison, Colin Baker or McCoy. Baker instils enough mystery and charm into his dialogue, all while reminding us of his “Doctorish” charisma, to keep us guessing about his identity (is he a future Doctor? An older, alternative version of the Fourth Doctor? A Watcher-like entity? The Moment in another guise?). Indeed, the curator’s ambiguity makes Baker’s appearance all the more memorable – and I doubt his performance could have been matched if one of his successors had taken the same part.

The Day of the Doctor - Jenna Coleman as Clara and Jemma Redgrave as Kate (Credit: BBC/Adrian Rogers) With the gallery of multiple Doctors and companions, and the broader implications their presence has on the broader Whoniverse, it’s all too easy to forget about the UNIT and Zygon sub-plot. The Zygons, making a comeback after almost 40 years, are sadly peripheral to the story and could just as easily have been any other shapeshifting monster, eg the Slitheen, the Krillitanes or (perish the thought) the Abzorbaloff. Nevertheless, the costumes are beautifully recreated and menacing and the transformation of Kate Lethbridge-Stewart into the Zygon leader is downright creepy. Credit goes to the supporting cast who play both humans and Zygons interchangeably, especially Joanna Page as the Queen. In the scenes where she plays both the real Elizabeth I and the Zygon duplicate, Page’s performance is so flawless that even on repeated viewings it is difficult to fathom who is the Queen and who is the impostor! The Zygons are recreated well enough to warrant a return appearance in the near future.

Aside from the impressive scope of the story, the episode is a visual tour de force. Growing up as I did in the last years of the classic series, Doctor Who was often ridiculed for its phoney monsters and cheap production values. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that one day I would sit in a cinema and not only watch an episode in 3D but an episode that is almost a feature film in its own right. Nor could I ever have imagined, given the contempt the brass had for the program in the late 1980s, that the BBC would finally realise that Doctor Who was a program worth spending money on.

In just the opening minutes alone, we see impressive aerial shots of the London cityscape as the TARDIS is hoisted to the National Gallery, followed by the CGI flashbacks to the Dalek attack on Arcadia. Nick Hurran’s direction also features some lovely visuals such as the imposition of the War Doctor’s eyeline on the Eleventh Doctor’s face as he recalls the final day of the Time War. The 3D elements also impress, notably with the Gallifrey Falls oil painting (although 3D tends to get lost on yours truly as I become engrossed in a story!). It’s taken 50 years but finally with The Day of the Doctor, Doctor Who has peaked – it has gone from being a shoestring program in the dingiest studio on the BBC’s backlot (the infamous Lime Grove Studio D in the 1960s) to occupying its own backlot in Cardiff and being made with the money, care and love that it truly deserves.

Most importantly, The Day of the Doctor proves to be not just an “eighth anniversary” episode (some devotees of the classic series worried that the episode would only honour the modern series) but a true 50th anniversary instalment that homages the whole series. The recreated Hartnell title sequence and the opening sequence at Coal Hill School (which bleeds from black and white into colour) beautifully recreates the opening moments of An Unearthly Child (even the brief exchange between Clara and Tom in the classroom is reminiscent of one Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton all those decades ago). The various other Easter eggs – encapsulated mostly in dialogue (“I didn’t know when I was well off – all 12 of them!”) echoing famous lines from across the years and some subtle visuals – also show that this is a serial that respects Doctor Who in all its eras, and not just the modern era.

The climax has obviously been controversial with some fans who contend that Moffat has blatantly rewritten history (again the types that would have been dissatisfied no matter how the story ended). Far from contradicting continuity, Gallifrey’s fate offers exciting story possibilities (and in my opinion was inevitable - if the Guardians of the Green Lantern Corps in the DC comic book universe can be similarly destroyed and revived, why not the Time Lords?). It also ties in with the episode’s theme of hope. The Doctor provides the Time Lords with a fighting chance for life, seemingly against all odds, and in turn gives himself hope and a new purpose. The closing moments of the serial are a wonderful visual spectacle – the Doctor is finally at peace and unison with his other selves, looking to the future. Steven Moffat promised to deliver an episode that would set up Doctor Who for the future – and he has succeeded beyond our wildest expectations.

In years to come, The Day of the Doctor will no doubt come under increased scrutiny from fans and its skeletons will be laid bare. But for now, as a tribute to the program’s 50th anniversary, the episode has been an outstanding success. Far from having a mid-life crisis, there is plenty of life in the old Doctor yet and there has never been a more exciting time than now to be a Doctor Who fan. I personally hope that the modern program, as it moves into its eighth full series and into another era with a new Doctor, will use The Day of the Doctor as a platform to go in exciting future directions and scale even loftier heights. Only the sky’s the limit!

Long live the Doctor! Many happy returns!

FILTER: - Television - Tenth Doctor - Eleventh Doctor - 50th Anniversary

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Wednesday, 4 December 2013 - Reviewed by Matthew Kilburn

Doctor Who - The Day of The Doctor
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Nick Hurran
Broadcast on BBC One - 23 November 2013
Over a week has gone by since The Day of the Doctor was simulcast around the world and screened simultaneously in cinemas before enjoying a further limited theatrical release of surely unanticipated success. The madness in which Doctor Who 'took over television', earning jibes from satirists which they once reserved for John Barrowman, has passed. The general medium-term implications and consequences of the way the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who was marked are still taking shape, but The Day of the Doctor contended that the episode presented a paradigmatic shift in content as well as in distribution.

It's tempting to say that The Day of the Doctor was a soufflé of a story, expansively frothy with fan-pleasing references, self-aware retroactive continuity, ironically-realised old monsters, and actors doing familiar turns. Instead it was more of a meringue - a solid enough pudding, not over-egged, and densely stuffed with sweetmeats to suit a variety of palates.

The density of the episode's construction is revealed in the opening scene. What looks like a homage to one particular point in the series' history moment turns into the first use of arranging references as part of the foundations for Doctor Who's revised manifesto. The policeman leads the audience past I.M. Foreman's sign, towards Coal Hill Secondary School, before the camera reminds us that our involvement is at its grace and that we are on the other side of the screen from our characters. In a shot more powerful in 3D than in 2D, Clara's hand impresses on the screen and us the much-quoted sentence from Marcus Aurelius's Meditations: 'Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be', leaving out the injunction 'Be one'. Summoned by her Doctor to the TARDIS, Clara nonchalantly says she's not taught anything good, and the Doctor says he hasn't learned anything; but this story completes an arc of the Doctor's moral re-education begun in 2005 and echoing fan readings of the first two seasons of Doctor Who, in which Ian and Barbara teach the Doctor to turn his abilities outwards towards helping people.

Billie Piper as Rose in The Day of The DoctorClara's hand is mirror-writing to us, and Doctor Who is a mirror of our own universe. Here it is a mirror of our own (presumed) experience of Doctor Who. Classrooms and galleries and televisions are our TARDISes. Clara's classroom even has a 4:3 ratio television on the wall, a modern echo of the original TARDIS set. For Clara to leave Coal Hill at 5.16pm she is presumably supervising an after-school club or in-school homework, or else the clock is as broken as the TARDIS's navigation system appeared to be in the 1960s. I[an] Chesterton is the chairman of the board of governors - perhaps this is who appointed Clara or makes sure that no questions are asked about her sudden disappearances from work. The Cwmdare Road location provides the Cardiff-as-London familiarity of latterday Who. The street bears some resemblance to that where Clive lived in Rose, leading those so minded to wonder whether Clive was staking out Coal Hill eight years ago, but also foreshadowing the return of Billie Piper as the Moment-Rose. Clara's biking and outfit bridge the 1960s of mods and rockers (arguably as much a media confection as Doctor Who) and the present day; but recall previous uses of motorcycles in Doctor Who, most recently contemporary Clara's introductory episode, The Bells of Saint John, but also (given the ride into the TARDIS) the 1996 TV Movie which The Day of the Doctor's distrib counterblasts by challenging Hollywood dominance of cinema and television rather than seeking to be assimilated by it. The Doctor is reading a book on quantum mechanics jacketed in an approximation of the old livery of the 'Teach Yourself' book series, but bearing the imprint of the TARDIS's police box shell. The implication that the ship is attempting to teach the Doctor recalls the relationship between Time Lord and ship in The Doctor's Wife.

The Day of the Doctor - Matt Smith as The Doctor (Credit: BBC/Adrian Rogers)The opening scenes continue to revisit beginnings. The start of Doctor Who and the introduction of Clara are followed by a reprise of the eleventh Doctor's first episode's pre-credits sequence, the gangly Matt Smith again hanging from the TARDIS prop but this time with the mechanics showing. Instead of one redhead, Amelia Pond, he lands at the behest of another, Elizabeth I of England, and instead of a private domestic garden, the TARDIS is brought down in a public commemorative square used for entertainment and national and local ceremonial. It's right that the adventure should begin there, given the claims this episode makes for Doctor Who as part of British or English national mythology, but the setting also marks one of the episode's jumps between modes of presentation, as a scene led by CGI, greenscreen and mechanical special effects merges seamlessly with one which comes close to being a recorded performance of live theatre. There can be no attempt to hide the crowds in Trafalgar Square watching Matt Smith's descent clinging to the undercarriage of a police box and so they are incorporated into the scene with a reference to illusionist Derren Brown as provider of a cover story, one of the references to contemporary real-life personalities more frequent when Russell T Davies was showrunner than now. Illusion, though, is also a theme of the episode, where even the ravens at the Tower of London are artificial, part of a tourist-heritage setting which conceals a future-facing bastion of planetary defence. Likewise, Doctor Who seems here to be looking backwards to its earlier history, but is celebrating its recent success as a consolidator of large and broad audiences as much as anything.

Reacquainting the audience with the Doctor's past is also a reminder of the post-2005 series' advertising of its emotional literacy, widely regarded as part of its audience-unifying appeal. The renewal of interest in the Time War is aimed as much as those who might not have watched since David Tennant left in The End of Time as at committed viewers. The introduction of the painting 'Gallifrey Falls'/'No More' through another demonstration of 3D isn't merely a gimmick but a way of emphasising Doctor Who's interruption of the mundane with the otherworldly as well as representing the multi-dimensional nature of the war itself. The painting is one of the few effects designed for 3D which is almost as impressive in 2D; it's designed for the illusion of depth and the added texture of 3D was a bonus.

The painting also chimes with this episode's invocation of memory. The Day of the Doctor knows that viewers will watch to see their recollections of past adventures flattered, and exploits this in ways that seek to surprise. One of these is the much-trailed appearance of John Hurt's War Doctor; another is the removal of the veil on the appearance of Billie Piper as the interface of the Moment, both figuratively and explicitly recalling Rose's transformation into the Bad Wolf. This manifestation is also a memory, Billie Piper's performance and the editing choices of the decision-makers behind the camera making the flippant 'I always get those two (past and future) mixed up' absolutely credible without provoking even a sympathetic snigger. The use of rapid cutting as the Moment found her new personality has been used before in Doctor Who in a similar situation, the post-regeneration orientation of Matt Smith's Doctor. It's refreshing to have Billie Piper back in a new role which borrows within the narrative from her previous one; but it also celebrates how the programme has benefited from performers and others seizing the opportunities it's presented to transform their careers. Indeed, the reintroduction of Clara in her classroom recalls not only An Unearthly Child but also the earlier career of Jenna-Louise Coleman playing a schoolgirl in Waterloo Road; Clara's reappearance as a teacher could be interpreted in terms of the move of the actress who plays her to a post-juvenile professional identity as Jenna Coleman.

The hut in the desert to which the War Doctor brings the Moment is intriguing as a playing space. The depiction of a vast conflict through the reactions of a few participants or observers in a small space is an old device. The restrained use of music in the hut scenes allows The Day of the Doctor to again echo as-live performance and recall the ancient conventions of the programme's former homes in west London. The hut is more than just a studio or theatrical stage; it becomes a camera obscura which can not only capture and project the image of distant environments, but make those projected environments real. Despite the War Doctor's attempt to escape the judgement of the TARDIS, the hut is a TARDIS-substitute and the Rose-Moment, as in-narrative director of the hut scenes, even places the crucial 'big red button' front central as if it were the TARDIS console. The hut becomes an analogy not just for the TARDIS, but for the programme. Doctor Who's title character once insisted he was only an observer, but soon developed a habit of becoming involved in things. All three principal Doctors here try at some stage to limit their exposure and their moral ambition, but when they hide in the hut, the universe comes to them and demands they recognise the choices beyond the limits they have defined.

The War Doctor goes to the hut to make an end, but there are clues scattered throughout its design that it is a place of beginnings. After his long trudge through a scorched desert, the Doctor's feet rest on dry straw and a few fresh green leaves. Agricultural implements sit in corners. It's one of many deceptively simple set designs from Michael Pickwoad. The place of destruction is introduced subtly as one of cultivation.

The Day of the Doctor benefits from such skilful use of rhetorical devices, though they are sometimes glib. Moments of crisis are always prefigured by less portentous parallels. The sequence where the three Doctors believe themselves trapped within the Tower dungeon leads them first to look inward, though it is the War Doctor, relatively unburdened by guilt, who provides the pseudo-scientific solution to their captivity. It's Clara, though, who turns up to point out that the door wasn't locked in the first place, just as she later expresses her belief that the Doctor she knows wouldn't have wiped out the Time Lords but would have found another solution. Here she complements the Rose-Moment without interacting with her, as if guided by the patron saint of latterday companiondom.

The appearance of Gallifreyan art in the National Gallery emphasised more directly than ever before Doctor Who's identification of Gallifrey with England/Britain, just as the placing of the TARDIS in Trafalgar Square proposed Doctor Who itself as national commemoration as well as public entertainment. The inclusion of Elizabeth I in the story builds on the identification of the Doctor with the English and British monarchies established by Steven Moffat in The Beast Below, elaborating two minor sequences in earlier stories by other writers into a scheme by which the Doctor has a close if achronological and irreverent relationship with the royal lineage. Indeed, Elizabeth's letter to the Doctor explicitly dedicates him to England's service.

The Day of The Doctor - Matt Smith as the Doctor with Joanna Page as Queen Elizabeth (Credit: BBC) reviewer Ben Lawrence criticised the casting and performance of Joanna Page as Elizabeth, but this was unfair and missed what The Day of the Doctor sought to achieve. Page's Elizabeth was woven from several skeins of audience appeal. Her performance accorded with that briefly established by Angela Pleasance in The Shakespeare Code and with the half-told anecdote about Elizabeth's nickname in The End of Time. Casting Page acknowledged latterday Doctor Who's Welshness by drawing from another BBC Wales success of the last decade, Gavin & Stacey. While warmer and more balanced, Page's still capricious Elizabeth owed some of her spirit to Miranda Richardson's Elizabeth of Blackadder II, and probably more than anything (though I'm less familiar with it) to the Elizabeth of Horrible Histories, perhaps the realisation of the last Tudor queen now most current. Elizabeth R and Glenda Jackson's methodical exploration of the queen's character is lost in the remote forgotten traditions of intensely researched BBC history plays, and though still a point of comparison for critics has little contribution to make to modern Doctor Who's playfulness. In any case this Elizabeth was based on all the parts everyone thinks they remember, a kind of '1562 and All That' where the tenth Doctor finds that he was misinformed about Elizabeth's strict adherence to a non-matrimonial policy. In the spirit of the Doctor's perilous journey hanging from the TARDIS, Elizabeth's easy grasp of the TARDIS and implausible skill in impersonating a Zygon is another case where The Day of the Doctor resembles a greatest hits package, building upon Shakespeare's intuition of the non-sixteenth century origins of the Doctor and Martha in The Shakespeare Code and for that matter Henry Avery's grasp of the TARDIS and then of space travel in The Curse of the Black Spot.

The Doctor's marriage to Elizabeth is more than the fulfilment of a tag scene and a throwaway line from earlier episodes. In marrying Elizabeth the Doctor casually marries England and eventually Great Britain given Elizabeth's emblematic immortality in post-Union mythology as patron saint of protestant Britain. In a multi-faith, secular age Doctor Who has provided a sort of national religion, aware of its own fictionality but (most consciously under Russell T Davies) borrowing iconography and language liberally from Christianity. Britain's obsession with its royal family was once compared to Japanese Shinto and the role the Imperial family plays there; it's tempting to compare the Doctor's marriage to Elizabeth to the ritual marriage of the sun goddess to the Japanese Emperor, were it not that the Doctor immediately evades his responsibilities.

Since 2005, UNIT has been tied closely to British symbols too, with its headquarters established at the Tower of London, the English crown's stronghold since Norman times. The Tower of London is explicitly introduced as Kate's office, implying a rough parallel between Kate and Elizabeth I, whose fortress it is. There's a possible echo too of the identification of Kate's father with Arthur in Battlefield, though as someone who has always found the shoehorning of the Doctor into the Merlin archetype problematic it's good here that it is the Time Lord who marries Elizabeth, a virtuous knight as well as a mighty sorcerer; though Elizabeth is some years off from being Spenser's Gloriana, and the audience knows the tenth Doctor will abandon his marital commitments.

In 1562 there are two Elizabeths - human and Zygon. Likewise in the present day there are Zygon copies of Kate and her two junior colleagues. The move from a single monarchical figure to a collective feeds into the episode's theme. Responsibility, to mean something and be capable of change, has to be collective and sufficiently pluralist to accept different points of view. Absolute monarchy, unquestioning military command or self-absorbed withdrawal, whether by human, Zygon or Time Lord, leads to cutting off heads or destroying planets. Discussion without preconceptions leads to solutions. Removing the assumption that genocide (or anything) is inevitable enables everyone to escape from their dungeons, real and metaphorical. The message is one of hope: assuming the worst means that you never know whether to push or pull the door.

The Day of the Doctor: ZygonThe Zygons aren't always served especially well by this script. Monstrous villainy in The Day of the Doctor has a pantomime aspect, with several early Zygon appearances unapologetically calling for cries of 'Look behind you!' accompanied by comedic playing from other cast members. This does make their attack in the undergallery store more frightening, when they threaten and assault and the danger from their touch is made more explicit than in Terror of the Zygons. Jemma Redgrave clearly signposts that she is playing a Zygon by using a subtly lowered tone of voice; the tension nonetheless subsists in Zygon-Kate's scenes with Clara, because Clara has no reason to suspect Zygon involvement. The transformation of Zygon-Kate into Zygon form is pleasingly and disgustingly organic and more consistent with the realisation creatures' technology than the electronic effect used in Terror of the Zygons. Aidan Cook plays the lead Zygon (presumably the deputy commander, Elizabeth's counterpart having been slain by the knife of a king, and a king of England too) as aiming towards the back of the stalls, and a rubbery face following it even without the aid of 3D. Elizabeth I seemed unbothered as she explained that she wasn't a Zygon after all, despite presumably within the hearing range of the Zygons in the pit below.

Several commentators in the past few years have had difficulty with Steven Moffat's idealisation and emblematisation of women. In Moffat's world, women learn things which men do not, and are beings held in awe. The female companions and disciples of the Doctor represent those who hope and those who learn to turn that hope into action. Clara and the Rose-Moment enable the Doctor to see that the destruction of Gallifrey isn't inevitable. When we meet Osgood, she has not yet understood her potential. She's burdened with asthma and a history of being bullied. She's a grown-up child dressing as the fourth Doctor, with a history many of the writers and fans of 'old' Doctor Who could empathise with as well as many younger members of the present day audience. Following her (out-of-character for plot convenience and unwise) revelation in the gallery, that she knows why the statues have been crushed, she hides in a corner with her eyes closed, praying for the Doctor to save her from the painting-smashing and scenery-chewing Zygons. Instead, realising that she has copied more from the Doctor than his scarf, she saves herself and everyone else, moving afterwards from addressing her superior in deferential tones as 'Ma'am' to the familiar 'Kate', though there will still be room later for one more prayer which confirms her faith. Ingrid Oliver's performance was assured if like others a little broad, but television acting conventions have evolved and diversified from the hard-nosed days of absolute conviction and she still conveyed belief; though I can't have been the only viewer finding it difficult to imagine what a prettier sister might have looked like.

UNIT here move closer than ever to LI'n'DA from Love & Monsters. Thankfully Lee Evans's overacted and misconceived Malcolm from Planet of the Dead is absent except on the other end of a phone, but the unspoken purpose of the Black Archive seems to be a fan-like reconstruction of the Doctor's adventures. Pictures of former companions are joined by string, as if UNIT staff spend their days trying to work out a chronology of the Doctor's adventures and associates. The appearance of Mike Yates in an otherwise very well-known Sara Kingdom photograph must surely inspire a thousand fanfics. We at last see the Space-Time Telegraph referred to in Revenge of the Cybermen and Terror of the Zygons, as if closing a loop between first and second Zygon stories.

Sadly the Black Archive section of the plot fizzled out somewhat. This may be the result of harsh editing and this author's willingness to be misled, but when watching in the cinema, music and performance seemed to suggest wariness and possible betrayal when the two Osgoods shared an inhaler, rather than the conspiratorial reconciliation we were presumably meant to take away and which I could see, eventually, on later viewings. I wanted and expected to return to the Black Archive and see what settlement humans and Zygons achieved; it would have helped maintain the symmetry already established. Perhaps the outcome will be explored in the more Zygoncentric story we seem to have been promised.

Osgood has discovered her own maturity. Doctor Who since 2005 has, one way or another, been about growing up, where it was only intermittently so in the 1963-1989 period. The fourth Doctor asserted that there was no point in being grown-up if you couldn't be childish sometimes, but often maturing was equated with falling in love and getting married, though not always as the end point. (Jo's decision to find adventure and purpose in her trip to Llanfairfach is the point of change, not her marriage to Cliff. Sarah rediscovers childhood wonder, triumphing over cynicism.)

Failing to grow up is an early theme of the War Doctor's conversation with his older/younger selves. The War Doctor has lost his enthusiasm for life and discovery. The first crack in his resolution to use the Moment and end the war comes when the Rose-Moment informs him that if he operates the device, he will survive. Much of the strength of John Hurt's performance comes from his delineation of slow realisation that there is a future to live for, even at great cost. It's an old story, of course - Scrooge has met Christmas Past and Christmas Present and we discover him meeting two unexpected futures. The twist is, here, that the futures aren't especially certain that they deserve to exist. Where the War Doctor rebukes his successors for being ashamed of adulthood, the tenth and eleventh Doctors are ashamed of having been the War Doctor. Throughout, though, the War Doctor is clearly delineated as the Doctor, from his sense of theatre (the carving of 'No More' on the wall at Arcadia, the wish for a big red button) to his relationship with the TARDIS and proprietorship of the Sonic Screwdriver.

Hurt has not played the Doctor before, but his seniority and reputation as an actor are combined with his novelty within Doctor Who to lend authenticity to his running critique of his future - the current programme - from the undercurrents of folk memory. The current Doctors are too youthful; there is too much kissing; the sonic screwdriver is waved about like a weapon when it's a scientific instrument with a specific function. It's tempting to view the saga of the War Doctor as a grumpy old fan reluctant to accept the post-2005 iterations of Doctor Who and slowly reconciled. The occasional appeals to The Three Doctors - probably the most artistically and critically successful previous multi-Doctor anniversary story - recalls Jeremy Bentham's article in Doctor Who Monthly 58, where he argued that Troughton's return had brought many Doctor Who fans of the 1960s who had been alienated by the Doctor's exile to Earth back to the fold. It's surely not an accident that Elizabeth's guard is captained by Lord Bentham, perhaps a fictional forebear of Jeremy. As The Three Doctors built up to a recodification of the series' format, with the Doctor's freedom to travel in time and space formally restored (though it already was in practice), so The Day of the Doctor approaches with greater deliberation the event which has since the series' return, though with varying intensity, defined the Doctor's character and actions.

Before the Moment can be activated the War Doctor has to accept his successors for who they are. The tenth Doctor appears more flippant and less responsible than before. It's unclear whether this 904-year-old Doctor is seen after The Waters of Mars, in denial about his actions and his fate, or in the period between that story and Journey's End. This could allow for the origins of the double portrait of the tenth Doctor and Elizabeth; though given that the portrait bears only a general resemblance to Tennant (though it seemed more precise in 3D) and lacks the precise lines and narrow faces of Elizabethan portraiture, perhaps we are to take it as drawn from Elizabeth's memory, before she turned against the Time Lord king who left and never returned. There's a parallel with The Five Doctors there after all.

One of the ironies of The Day of the Doctor is that the Doctor who has tried hardest to erase himself from the record seeks to save himself - and inadvertently rescues Clara - by inscribing the activation code for Jack Harkness's vortex manipulator on a stone at the Tower of London. In seeking to be forgotten, he's tried also to forget. Instead he has become the version of the Doctor with the greatest number of active friendships, for a while even with a wife and family. He knows how he is shaped by the people who trust him, something with which the tenth Doctor had difficulty. Where the tenth Doctor shaped his friends into his proxies as weapons of war, the eleventh Doctor is himself a weapon, recognised by the Daleks as a predator, by the Cybermen as a battle computer, by the Pandorica coalition and by the Silence as something to be isolated and obliterated to avoid mass destruction. As with his apparent death in The Impossible Astronaut, the Doctor has not been in posession of the full historical record. He is, like the Moment, a weapon with a conscience, but in the Doctor's case that conscience has been misinformed until the last phase of The Day of the Doctor.

Something like The Day of the Doctor has been evolving in Steven Moffat's imagination for a long time. The idea of the Doctor's name as a promise which his actions can break first took shape in The Beast Below. Those commentators who have noted the greater prominence of children in Moffat scripts and those he has supervised compared to those written or executive-produced by Russell T Davies are vindicated. Though I didn't notice her on screen, the official website reports that there is a small child wearing a multicoloured scarf in the Gallifrey scenes, a direct parallel with Osgood. It's not only on Earth that people hope that the Doctor will save them. There seemed to be no place for children in Davies's Gallifrey, a planet of the deranged and many-times resurrected, inhabited by phantoms from its history devoted to victory at any cost, but Doctor Who is a collaborative enterprise open to reimaginings. Moffat imagines a people who are not necessarily at one with their leaders and so have not descended to the level of the Daleks, supported by a military who are exasperated with and on the verge of revolt against the High Council revealed in The End of Time to be dominated by the ruthless ideology of Rassilon. The Time Lords are successfully recalibrated as sympathetic and worthy of rescue in a way they were not in their previous appearance.

As late as The Night of the Doctor, the idea that there could be a distinction between Daleks and Time Lords in the Time War was dismissed as a delusion which the Doctor clung to as consolation for his losses. His faith in human beings acted as compensation for his inability to stop the Time Lords descending into destructive hatred, but it was constantly challenged and at times - such as in Midnight - overwhelmed. Here, hope in both humans and Gallifreyans is shown to promise vindication after all. It's Clara and the Rose-Moment who steer the Doctor towards the realisation that there is no need to destroy Gallifrey. 'No More' need not mean 'Gallifrey Falls'.

The revision of Doctor Who history here has angered some writers who have argued that the integrity of the Christopher Eccleston series in particular has been undermined, or that Steven Moffat's writing absolves all characters from the negative consequences of their actions. This isn't so. Gallifrey is still ravaged by war. Arcadia (realised more prosaically than I'd imagined when its fall was first mentioned in Doomsday) is still a ruin, even though the Dalek conquerors are dead. The people of Gallifrey are left like the Doctor and Susan in An Unearthly Child - cut off without friends or protection, with the aspiration that one day they will return to their own universe. This is a doubtful kind of rescue. Additionally, the fact that neither the War Doctor, the ninth Doctor or the tenth Doctor - or their predecessors - will remember their efforts gives the affair an extra poignancy. Lost in time and with the person who could help them find their way back unable to remember their existence, until The Day of the Doctor the Time Lords might as well be all dead.

The Time Lords might be lost, but their prominence in the story reflects how Doctor Who has been discovered by a worldwide public. In an age of box sets and downloads and streams of various legalities, and just as importantly of numerous reference sites on the internet, backstory is assumed to be much more accessible than it was even when Doctor Who was revived in 2005. The sense of humour expressed by The Day of the Doctor assumes a familiarity with the conventions of the series, even if it isn't what the fandom-literate might recognise. The gag about the 'round things' plays on long-term popular memory without using the 1980s series jargon term 'roundel', though it also maintains the mystery of the TARDIS. The ripple of laughter across the cinema when Kate made her dating protocol joke while requesting the 'Cromer' files confirms the wide dissemination of fan culture at least.

We've seen the end of the tenth Doctor, so here he can only have limited character development. David Tennant's physical appearance is slightly more weathered than it was when he last played the Doctor and it lends emphasis to the nostalgic evidence in his performance. He becomes a caricature of the David Tennant Doctor's image, irresistible to (most) women, emoting but patchily empathic, and suppressing a deep anger with a veneer of nonchalance. At the same time Tennant's timing has if anything improved; his energy is undimmed and the passion in his catchphrases enhanced. These allow for jokes which lightly deconstruct the tenth Doctor's persona: his Mockney accent earns him the label 'Dick Van Dyke', his branded trainers genericised with the archaic regional term 'sandshoes', and Clara's assessment of him is 'nice suit'. At the same time the tenth Doctor's disgust with the eleventh Doctor when he realises his future self has forgotten the number of children alive on Gallifrey at the activation of the Moment jars with what we thought we knew; as the eleventh Doctor says, only partly defusing the awkwardness of the situation, this is what it's like when he talks to himself. The tenth Doctor's departing gag is a gift to local radio quiz hosts everywhere in that the tenth Doctor's last line remains the same, but it also allows him a moment of gravitas. This draws on the reality that David Tennant played the Doctor before Matt Smith and thus enjoys seniority, but that he's playing a younger Doctor who doesn't know the circumstances of his own departure. 'I don't want to go' becomes an almost paternal injunction urging that the eleventh Doctor find a way of avoiding his final death at Trenzalore.

The destruction of Gallifrey is presented as an experience which the Doctor had isolated within his own timeline, the work of an incarnation explicitly created (within and without the narrative) to fight and end the Time War. In contrast the salvation of Gallifrey is the work of every known iteration of the Doctor. It's the act which brings John Hurt's Doctor into the fold. It's one of those moments dubbed fan-pleasing, but it adds, tongue-in-cheek, a unity to Doctor Who which doesn't really exist. John Guilor's lofty and authoritative impersonation of William Hartnell is all the more trans-temporally spine-tingling because this version of the first Doctor sounds authentic but has lines the historical first Doctor wouldn't have said. Bar Guilor-Hartnell and the interpolated Hurt, all the Doctors up to and including Christopher Eccleston are represented by old clips and sampled dialogue. The determination of all concerned that this story look forward as much as it looks back made the inclusion of Peter Capaldi's Doctor inevitable; the new Doctor remains mysterious, a silent presence marked only by his tense grip on the TARDIS controls and angry, fierce eyes which seemed to fill the air in front of the cinema audience.

The Day of The Doctor - Matt Smith as the Doctor (Credit: BBC/Adrian Rogers)In Doctor Who looking forward and looking to the past can end up being the same thing. John Hurt's Doctor's regeneration into the ninth Doctor seemed to use one of the publicity images which dominated billboards across Britain as winter became spring in 2005. The undergallery to which the Doctors return 'Gallifrey Falls' seems to be a different place to that we saw earlier; none of them, nor Clara, note the roundels on the walls. Visual art might be a viewer's TARDIS, but it's been pointed out to me that in The Invasion of Time part of the TARDIS was an art gallery too. Perhaps the undergallery was part of a future TARDIS all the time. Projecting a remote future in which the Doctor once more looks like Tom Baker is unsurprisingly reassuring to someone guided through their childhood by the fourth Doctor. It's a final grand indulgence, but it works; a sage who talks in riddles but offers hope that even after fifty or twelve hundred years it's far from being all over. One day the Doctor will get back, perhaps (given how hackneyed the quest narrative can be) sooner than we think.

The final image of The Day of the Doctor dovetails narrative with marketing imagery in the form of the montage of Doctors, Hartnell set apart but not assuming the overwhelming prominence he did in some early examples of multi-Doctor fan art such as that which adorned the Doctor Who Appreciation Society's information leaflet in the early 1980s. Especially in the cinema, it appears like a poster image or, with the benefit of 3D, a set of collectable action figures. If so, it's a fitting tribute to Doctor Who as licensing phenomenon, as much as earlier scenes have built upon other aspects of the programme's history. It's not an exposition of that history, nor is that history seen as something to rest upon. The laurels are still to be won and this situation can never change in a medium obsessed with new ideas. Current Doctor Who knows this and The Day of the Doctor is forever puncturing the bubbles of self-congratulation until the end.

Earlier in this review I compared The Day of the Doctor to a meringue. Meringues have spaces in them, and there are gaps in The Day of the Doctor. As previously acknowledged, the UNIT-Zygon plot is left unresolved; the audience never sees whether the Doctor is right to hide the preconceptions of humans and Zygons behind the philosophers' veil of ignorance. It's not clear how the Zygons obtained the Time Lord stasis cube, though perhaps we are to infer that Tom Baker's future Doctor orchestrated this situation in order to guarantee a particular future. Of Doctor Who's creators, C.E. Webber might be proud of this, though Sydney Newman would assuredly have written 'Nuts!' Nevertheless, it's these gaps which have contributed towards Doctor Who because they encourage audience speculation; to extend the meringue metaphor, breaking into a meringue placed over fruit and cream lets those flavours seep into the gaps, and those extra flavours were definitely there. Perhaps dessert comparisons are wrong; all the straw in the hut suggests wholemeal bread was ground there, perfect for soaking up cup-a-soup.

Maybe the contrived food analogies are mistaken. Doctor Who is an edifice of mixed materials, a modern storytelling structure of indefinable something but which has some of the qualities of reinforced concrete. It needs frequent repairs and renewal but survives as long as expert care can be found. There are always going to be gaps in some places because they are essential for absorbing the weight of multiple expectations. On the basis of the manufacture of the anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor is now and then and will also continue to be, so long as those responsible for it understand just where the spaces in Doctor Who should be, and what is needed to keep the rest of the structure resilient and flexible. Transformational moments are part of the process of reconstruction. As the eleventh Doctor says, the Doctor changes history all the time; correspondingly, the historical environment in which Doctor Who is made changes the Doctor. The traumatised soldier seeking to atone for the crimes of war was appropriate for the post-9/11 environment, an adventurer for a West struggling to deal with the myriad complexities of a new geopolitics just as its leaders thought their financial sector might have solved want. With a few years of hindsight, The Day of the Doctor might seem part of popular culture's involvement in the delayed reaction to the 2007 crash, an aspiration to the belief that one can make great leaps of ethical responsibility and principle in a universe where it's difficult to distinguish the merely expedient from the greatest moral good.

FILTER: - 50th anniversary - Tenth Doctor - Eleventh Doctor - War Doctor