“Is there a lot of this in the future?” John Hurt’s War Doctor asks, bewildered, as he watches Queen Elizabeth I kiss David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor in one of the too-many-to-count amazing moments in Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor.” To which Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor replies dryly, “It does start to happen, yeah.” The 75-minute-long celebration was everything I could have hoped for and more. I’ll refrain from spoilers here — I stayed off of social media until I had a chance to watch the special first, and I’m so very, very glad I did — although be forewarned, spoilers are likely to come up in the comments. Instead, I’ll just share some thoughts.
“The Day of the Doctor” is leagues ahead of the previous anniversary celebrations in terms of story, acting, and emotional resonance. I’ve probably watched both the 10th anniversary’s “The Three Doctors” and the 20th’s “The Five Doctors” more times than I can count, but neither story holds much weight beyond the novelty of seeing multiple incarnations of the Doctor sharing the screen simultaneously. (Though make no mistake, the comedy double act of Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor and Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor was one for the ages!) But with “The Day of the Doctor,” we get so much more. And man, did watching it make me miss David Tennant! Anyone who’s read my Doctor Who reviews knows I never really warmed to Matt Smith — and Ten referring to Eleven as “Chinny” had me in stitches — but seeing Tennant in a brand new adventure reminded me why. Smith just can’t hold a candle to him, in my opinion. Tennant oozes charisma and wit. Smith flaps his arms a lot and spins in circles.
Joanna Page makes a welcome addition as Queen Elizabeth I. I haven’t seen her much since the consistently delightful Britcom Gavin & Stacey (in which, coincidentally, she co-starred with James Corden, who played Craig Owens in “The Lodger” and “Closing Time”) so it was great to see her again. She’s very good and very funny in the role.
Regarding John Hurt, well, all I can say is we’re all the poorer for not having actual seasons of his Doctor to watch. He is an amazing actor, and he took to the role like a natural. “Oh the pointing again,” he criticizes as Ten and Eleven aim their sonic screwdrivers at the oncoming hordes.”They’re screwdrivers! What are you going to do? Assemble a cabinet at them?” I hope Hurt will show up for the 75th anniversary. With just this one performance, he’s earned his place in Doctor Who history.
Again, no spoilers here, but there are some amazing shout-outs and references to be found in “The Day of the Doctor.” Among them: Coal Hill School. Ian Chesterton. 76 Totter’s Lane. Omega. The long, multicolored scarf. Malcolm, Lee Evans’s scene-stealing UNIT scientist from “Planet of the Dead.” The 1970s or 1980s “dating protocol” of the Brigadier’s UNIT files. “There’s three of them” — “We have a precedent for that.” “Reverse the polarity.” “Wearing a bit thin,” a line that was also spoken by the First Doctor as he was about to regenerate into the Second. Kamelion. FUCKING KAMELION! I’m geeking out just typing that! And of course, so many more. I’ve had my issues with Steven Moffat’s scripts since he took over the show, but this one is outstanding. It’s fan service, yes, but fan service done right. It all fits. Nothing is just tossed in there like…well, like Daleks and Cybermen and Yetis time-scooped off their planets and plopped down in Gallifrey’s “Death Zone” for the Doctors to fight for no good reason.
I’ve probably watched “The Day of the Doctor’s” final scene in the art gallery at least ten times now, and I never fail to tear up at the beauty of it. Actually, I’d say the entire final 15 minutes has me tearing up with joy, but that gallery scene. Hoo boy. That was like finding a long-lost love letter that reminds you why your love existed in the first place. So, to quote the War Doctor, will there be a lot of this in the future? God, I hope so.
Once you’ve watched “The Day of the Doctor,” be sure to check out “The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot,” a hilarious, cameo-filled short film written and directed by Peter Davison, about the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Doctors all trying to get parts in the 50th anniversary special. It’s essential viewing for all fans of classic Doctor Who, and the perfect light dessert after such a filling feast.