Sunday, December 1, 2013

Day of the Doctor (SPOILERS!)

30/11/13 “Day of the Doctor” 
I’ve had many faces, many lives, some I don't admit to.” –The Doctor

I watch few Doctor Who stories more than once if they are available on iPlayer. I'm uncertain why. I don't want to spoil the magic? Ruin my first impressions? Whatever the case may be, I made an exception with “Day of the Doctor” because my feelings toward it verged on the manic depressive. I was so excited during broadcast that every single thing made me gasp for breath (even the things that, right off the bat, annoyed me). I missed things because I was watching with another fan and had to express whatever I was feeling. Immediately after it finished, I felt depressed, not necessarily because of the story itself (though a few things disappointed me, naturally enough!) but because a year's worth (or more) of anticipation was over. (That's how I get with Christmas, too.) This turned into a general malaise with the story, which I thought was probably unfair. The only way to give it a fair hearing, and express myself with some fluency and intelligence (though, perhaps, saying nothing new) was to watch it again.

My general impression after the second viewing is positive. There are several logistical problems and some matters of taste, but overall, I consider it a success, especially when one remembers the enormous pressures on this to be the “be-all, end-all,” once-in-lifetime multi-Doctor special. I suspect we will look back on it with increasing fondness, though, like all stories, there will come a period when we all despise it!

Day of the Doctor” knew its strengths and its limitations. Its limitations included complete practical inability to fit eleven (twelve?) actors who once played the Doctor in any meaningful sense into one, slightly-longer-than-an-hour family-friendly special with any kind of coherency and intelligence (not to mention, three of these actors were dead!). It tipped its hat to this ritual, but was not self-indulgent to do more (however much that disappointed me, on the fannish level). In the end, its approach to this was remarkably like that of Big Finish in The Four Doctors, which is one of the best, if not the best, multi-Doctor story yet produced. It could not either—despite fanciful stretches of my imagination to the contrary—fit in every single companion the Doctor ever had. Therefore, it played to its strengths: a comparatively big budget for CGI; two well-beloved, keen actors willing to share with a third guest star and recreate “The Three Doctors” all over again; tastes of the show's mythology (some might say a bit too much of that, and a bit too much rewriting!); and snappy and concise in-jokes in dialogue for the fans that wouldn't bother the casual viewers.

I will try to keep this review more sophisticated than an “ooh I liked that, I hated that,” though this story is more personal than most.

The first twenty seconds were inspired and guaranteed to make a fan wet themselves. Thank you, O Lord, for giving this anniversary special the original theme tune and opening title sequence rather than that monstrosity that had been lurching from our screens last year. The fade-in from black-and-white, the policeman, Totters Lane, Coal Hill School, all of it was an enjoyable summation of going home from where we'd started—though the inner fan was naturally disappointed when (as far as we can tell) nothing more self-referential was going on other than Clara had a new job at Coal Hill School (what was she teaching, anyway? You can quote Marcus Aurelius in just about any context). This was the first of my logistical “huh?” moments as, forgive me if I missed something, I thought we ended the last cliffhanger with the Eleventh Doctor and Clara in Trenzalore? I confess to being completely confused. That is not a comfortable vantage point from which to sit.

More pros and cons awaited me. I loved the visual reference to the TV Movie as Clara rode her motorbike into the TARDIS where she was met by the Doctor. I hated that she could click her fingers and close the TARDIS (I have never liked that, dare I say it, trope). Fortunately, things improved vastly with the distinctive notes of Murray Gold's UNIT theme tune. If Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart wasn't going to be in it, then damn it, at least Kate Stewart was! She is a charming and wonderful New Who character, with faint traces of Harriet Jones (before “The Christmas Invasion”). I have mixed feelings about her daughter Osgood. (I was confused when she first appeared on the scene at the Tower and thought she was Kate's younger sister.) On one level, I feel I'm being made fun of. Osgood is the prototypical fan girl. She has a Tom Baker scarf; not Tom Baker's actual scarf, not a handknitted one, the commercial one you've been able to buy for the past few years, presumably since cosplay and younger fan girls became more mainstream. She's got a lab coat but she's no Liz Shaw. She's got glasses and is clearly dorky. For one thing, it seems a bit nepotistic for Kate to have her daughter working with her in UNIT. What is Osgood's function? To “wish” for the Doctor to come and save her! She's his fan girl! Many of my friends (who happen to be female and have been fans for thirty years) have often daydreamed about being whisked away in the TARDIS. Somehow I feel the inclusion of someone who's supposed to represent “us” is mocking rather than inclusive. Maybe I'm being oversensitive and not taking it in the correct generous spirit. And the name implies that like Clara/Oswin, she's another of the Vast Toffee's feminine puzzles to unravel. When the Zygon double mentions that Osgood's sister is prettier than her, I wondered if she was actually, secretly, Clara's sister? I have a feeling this is another sleight-of-hand that's going to come back to haunt us.

But back to the positives. The overhead shots as the UNIT helicopter transports the TARDIS to the National Gallery were duly impressive (and I'm just kicking myself that I wasn't in Trafalgar Square to see this filmed). (I thought the Doctor was going to fall out of the TARDIS and that was going to be the major dilemma of the story—the Eleventh Doctor's life flashing before his eyes before he regenerated??) As the Doctor and Clara are explained away as a Derren Brown stunt, Clara is incredulous that the Doctor ever had a job (aren't we all?).

One thing that I have to rave about in this story is its elevation of visual artwork and the written word. Great stuff for the watching multitudes of teeny kiddies. It's set in the NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY, for crying out loud! Mind you, there is a precedent: the Sarah Jane Adventure story “Mona Lisa's Revenge” which I found extraordinary at the time, giving, as it did, real life and soul to oil paintings, via alien mineral pigments. The Vast Toffee takes this in a slightly direction, personifying in No More aka Gallifrey Falls the Fall of Arcadia—“a slice of real time.” This was where the budget was well-spent, giving us a beautiful and wholly convincing 3-D image. Well-done.

I about had a heart attack as we went into the painting because inside I was screaming, “Nooooooo, I want the Time War to be a mystery, no no no no!” (And in GARAMOND, too!) Fortunately, despite the unashamed chance to blow the budget once more on scenes of cinematic sophistication that would have made Waris Hussein cry in 1963, the Vast Toffee restrained himself and only gave us a bit of the Time War. Phew. It's still (mostly) a mystery. Who are all these Gallifreyans, by the way? They don't seem to be Time Lords. They don't seem to be Shobogans.

Last time we saw the War Doctor (that's what I'm calling him; sniff in distaste if you will), he looked a bit like Ian Holm playing young Bilbo in Fellowship of the Ring with his forehead taped back not to show the wrinkles, reflected in the Ring. Countless years later, his costume has changed from the one McGann gave him, and he looks even more war-torn than the Ninth Doctor (with good reason). Arriving on Gallifrey, the War Doctor used words once again as his weapon, which totally made me geek out. “NO MORE.”

Now someone, please tell me where this bit of the Fall of Arcadia fits in with what we saw of Rassilon and the Master and the Doctor's mother (or whoever she was) in “The End of Time”? In the Time Lord War Chamber, the Time Lord generals (with interesting costumes) note a break-in in their weapon storage. “We've used them all against the Daleks.” (That Doctor, always breaking and entering.) The War Doctor has stolen the Galaxy-Eater, and he's taken it . . . to a barn? To Trenzalore? WTF?

I was incredibly careful about not spoiling myself on the special. The only facts I could not shield myself from where I knew that David Tennant was back, and I was pretty sure Billie Piper was back. However, I did not realize—nor did anyone?--that she was playing the interface to the Galaxy-Eater. For those who hate Rose (I am not one of them), satisfied? It's not bloody Rose, she's gone all Idris-like (which annoyed me, quite frankly, at first). Then I quite liked the idea that the interface took Rose's shape. I liked it on several levels. I remember waaaay back in 2006, in my review of “The Parting of the Ways”--well, I was then and am still a hearty Nine/Rose shipper. There was something burning and sacred in their unspoken love (in my opinion), manifest in the kiss and her incarnation as Bad Wolf. I speculated in that review on why the Doctor had fallen in love with Rose (the most obvious example of his espousing romantic love; shippers have drawn their own conclusions, of course, about previous pairings). I said something about why did Heathcliff love Cathy? Because she was Cathy. She wasn't a very good person, neither was he, but there was something linking them. Now I feel a bit vindicated, because if “Rose” was implanted into the Doctor's subconscious, the Bad Wolf is there somewhere, and that's why he fell in love with her. I also like it because it means they got around having to write Rose back into the series (and I think that character's gone as far as she can go). “The interface is hot.” “Well, I do my best.”

I confess, once all the literature kept telling us, “And introducing John Hurt as the Doctor,” I wasn't sure if I would like him as the War Doctor. I know he's a good actor, but I just wasn't sure he would fit the part. Approximately when he told the Interface “I have no desire to survive this,” I realized he would be fine, great, even. “Then that's your punishment,” the Interface told him, as Murray Gold's “The Doctor's Theme” played softly in the background. SOB. Then the Interface said, “I'm opening windows on your future,” which felt very A Christmas Carol as the Interface is a little bit of a Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (that Charles Dickens, influencing science fiction for centuries to come!).

Back in the present-day (?), the Eleventh Doctor, the Doctor has seen Elizabeth I's credentials (and a rather underwhelming portrait of her and David Tennant), been told he's the Curator of the Under Gallery (what is it with the Vast Toffee and Under-things?), and I find it a bit hard to believe that in more than four hundred years, Elizabeth's private art collection has not needed the Doctor before now? Also, what does Elizabeth I deem “too dangerous” art-wise? Isn't that like censorship? We have a flashback (or flashforward, or something?) to 1562. “Why am I wasting my time with you?” asks Elizabeth I. “I'm not English,” says David Tennant. I wondered briefly how easily we could shift back into Tenth Doctor mode, which, let's be honest, was written mostly by Russell T Davies not Steven Moffat. The answer is: very easily (“It's a machine that goes ding!” and the parody of his speech from “Voyage of the Damned,” “ . . . basically just a rabbit, aren't you? . . . carry on . . . just a general warning . . .”). The other question is, why does the Vast Toffee like to have David Tennant riding horses? (Unless that was written in as a response to certain quarters of fandom and their reaction to “The Girl in the Fireplace”?) The real problem is the characterization of Elizabeth I. I don't know that New Who has had a good track record with female historical celeb of the month (unless it's just me). I disliked the portrayal of Queen Victoria, and while Agatha Christie was okay, Elizabeth I really disappointed me. I think I could have almost believed her to be the flippant, lovestruck flibbertigibbit presented here if she was still a princess. 1562 is still relatively early in her reign, but I think the portrayal owes more to BlackAdder than to anything else. That version of “Queenie” is hilarious but not good for promoting even very vague historical accuracy! Sure, you can argue we'd all be melting goo if dating the Tenth Doctor, but I had higher hopes for Elizabeth after the hints we were going to get them getting hitched. (I can't tell you how many pieces of artwork I saw on deviantART by fans, and they were really good. I'd much rather believe in their interpretation of events than what we saw here.)

After realizing Elizabeth wasn't a princess, I thought maybe she was acting strangely because she was a Zygon. Oh, yes, by the way, Zygons! How happy must David Tennant have been to find out he was facing off against Zygons?! Although they are not my favorite monster, this was an excellent surprise, even better than the Macra in “Gridlock” (after all, the Macra were only glimpsed). I was impressed at how little updating the Zygons needed. Come to think of it, I've enjoyed every Zygon story I've ever heard and/or read (Sting of the Zygons, The Zygon Who Fell to Earth, etc).

Back at the Under-Gallery thingee, the Doctor has met Osgood, whom he doesn't recognize as a fan girl despite her scarf-- “I've always wanted to meet someone called yes.” He wants reports from her about the dust in the gallery (my first thought was Weeping Angels!) in TRIPLICATE! :-D I practically had a spasm when Kate showed the Eleventh Doctor and Clara that something had gotten out of the painting. Total freak-out! Now, why did Kate stop Clara from going into the time portal? Was she already a Zygon duplicate? Codename Cromer and “ the '70s or the '80s” certainly raised a chuckle.

The Tenth and Eleventh Doctor together are charming (except for the bit with the sonic screwdrivers. Just STAAAAP). “That is proper skinny,” Eleven says of Ten. “That's like a special effect!” At this point, Ten has the two Elizabeths. “I'm not judging you,” Eleven says. Very enjoyable was the Mounting of the Specs. The addition of the War Doctor was hilarious and very poignant as his frustration with his successors' flippancy seemed very natural but also a rather touching way for the production team to address real criticism from some fans on the youth and levity of the more recent Doctors. The War Doctor has a point. The other Doctors also have a point. Why can't we all just get along?!

Are you his companions? They get younger all the time,” the War Doctor says cheerfully. “Am I having a midlife crisis?!” he asks, very understandably, once he realizes he is seeing his future selves. He criticizes the constant sonic screwdriver use that has become common. “They're not water pistols! What are you going to do, assemble a cabinet at them?” There is a brief and rather disappointing run-in with the Elizabethan authorities which gets the Doctors taken to the Tower. The War Doctor is also aghast at “timey wimey?! . . . Are you capable of speaking without flapping your arms about? . . . Grandad??!” Put in the same cell in the Tower, the three Doctors are having a moment not unlike the Tenth Doctor and Jack in “Utopia.” Certainly the Eleventh Doctor is scoring a code into a stone pillar.

In the present-day, Kate (not real Kate!) is taking Clara to the Tower, the Black Archive, where it seems she's been before and had her memory erased (Captain Jack, eat your heart out). I thought “Americans, with the ability to rewrite history? You've seen their movies” was a bit of low blow! Kate is producing Captain Jack's vortex manipulator, the Black Archive is alien tech that the Doctor is not supposed to know about (did Torchwood Canary Wharf and Torchwood Cardiff have their collections, if there was anything left, transferred here?). There's a very graphic transformation from Kate into Zygon as they wait to get the code to the vortex manipulator, which the Doctor knows they have and is even then (even then?!?!) scraping into the stone pillar for discovery four hundred years later). There's a tiny glimpse of companions (including Kamelion?!?).

The War Doctor wants to use his sonic screwdriver to open the low-tech door, “help to pass the timey wimey? Do you have to talk like children?” The Eleventh Doctor says some garbage about his age, “1200 and something—I can't remember if I'm lying about my age.” “I don't know who you are,” the War Doctor says to his future selves. The Interface has followed him, unseen by anyone but him. Clara then arrives and opens the unlocked door? Or something? She has outwitted the Zygons and taken the vortex manipulator, but it's only good for a one-way trip. Elizabeth Zygon arrives and finally earns a bit of respect from me, having actually killed and outwitted her Zygon double and allowing the Doctor(s) and Clara in on the plan. Then Elizabeth wants to get wed to her Doctor, as he promised her (“the Virgin Queen, so much for history!”). Elizabeth has been kissing the Tenth Doctor a lot, which is a bit annoying but I don't think the Eleventh can really talk considering he's kissed a lot more people (and with less consent) than Ten. “Is there a lot of this in the future?” asks the War Doctor. Methinks when the Tenth Doctor says, “I'll be right back,” he probably never sees Elizabeth again until the meeting (was it 1591?) with Martha and Shakespeare.

We get an enjoyable trip down memory lane as the TARDIS goes into different modes due to the different Doctors. “It's his grunge phase, he'll get over it.” “The round things—I love the round things!” I was disappointed, though, as I thought they were going to go back all the way to the first Console Room. “You've redecorated—don't like it,” said Ten to Eleven. The Doctors speak, via space time telegraph, to Kate Stewart at the Black Archive, along with her associates and the Zygon doubles. Osgood was able to rescue the real Kate who now wants to put on the self-destruct for the Tower which will, of course, destroy London. The War Doctor has the great idea to be transported in through the Gallifrey painting via the cube things that create the slice-of-time paintings. “What is Cup o' Soup?”

Clara is the only one immune to the power of three Doctors. “Show-off.” The Doctors try to convince Kate/Zygon that it's not right to “murder millions to save billions.” I thought this point was beautifully illustrated in Deimos/The Resurrection of Mars. They cause Kate and Zygons to have to work the situation out peacefully by making them all forget who is human and who is Zygon. As a diffusion of self-destruct, it seemed a bit feeble, but at least it was non-violent. Meanwhile, the War Doctor was resting (and drinking Cup o'Soup? Tea?). There's something about a Cyberman head that's significant . . . I read a review that said the person wasn't convinced that Clara knew the Doctor well enough to have moral authority she asserts here over the War Doctor and later over the Twelfth Doctor. Sure, she's somehow been split through his timeline, but likewise, I'm not convinced. I like Clara, but it doesn't wash for me. “You're the Doctor, too” (causing a million headaches for fans). “Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame.” The War Doctor is very loveable because of his humility (not something the Doctor is known for), which yet seems like it could have very easily be born of the Eighth Doctor.

The War Doctor goes off to hit the big red button, but the other Doctors and Clara follow him. (How??) “Make it worthwhile,” the War Doctor pleads with them. The other Doctors, somewhat sappily, have come to join him so he doesn't have to make the decision alone. “Never cruel of cowardly, never give up, never give in.” It did rock my sox to hear that! “We change history all the time,” notes the Eleventh Doctor, thus the incredible conceit takes place that the Doctors are going to hide Gallifrey inside one of these cubee things so that the Daleks fleet will annihilate itself and it will look to the outside world as if Gallifrey has been destroyed. This plan irked me exceedingly on first watch, but now I accept it as an okay solution to an extremely distressing problem that might have seriously screwed up some kids' minds if they'd actually watched DR WHO destroy his own planet to save the universe. “We'd be lost in another universe”--E-Space? Or something? It's audacious, and I admit it still rankles a bit because it makes some of the power of Eight, the War Doctor, and Nine diffused by their fixing this problem (yes, I know they said they wouldn't remember, but I REMEMBER, DAMMIT).

Anyway, off the Doctors go in their TARDISes to enact their magic, irritating the Time Lords in their War Chamber a bit. Then there's the truly WTF moment, multiplied by thirteen. I accept that the War Doctor, Tenth, and Eleventh Doctors are doing this (I even accept that the Twelfth Doctor is doing it). HOW do the other, earlier Doctors know and how are they even allowed to? I can't write this one. I can't explain it. Can someone, please? Anyway, I admit I did have a heart attack with the Capaldi teaser, and while I was disappointed at the minor inclusion of the other Doctors (why do it at all, if that's all you've got), as I said at the beginning of the review, it kinda ticked some boxes. “Geronimo!” “Allons-y!” “For God's sake, Gallifrey stands!” They don't know if they've succeeded, however.

They defuse the tension by drinking a nice cup of tea back in “present-day” in the Under-Gallery. We still don't know how the painting got to Earth, but I suspect it's another Vasty thread that might someday get tied up. The Tenth Doctor leaves by saying, “I don't want to go,” which is rather hilarious. “He always says that.” The War Doctor creates the the manic depressive spike in mood o' all time for me when he gets into his TARDIS, announces he's wearing a bit thin, and proceeds to regenerate. Then. There. To Nine. WHAAAAA? And then you have to dangle this carrot in front of me, this ever-so-beautiful carrot, that, as an extra-special, even-better-than-Paul-McGann-in-the-mini-sode surprise, Christopher Eccleston was actually going to come back for thirty seconds. DAMN YOU.

Clara asks the Eleventh Doctor if he wants to be alone with his painting and shoves off, while there's another surprise in store. The Eleventh Doctor meets the Curator, who is Tom Baker looking dapper and extremely mysterious. Good Lord! That was a good surprise! “I never forget a face.” “I can only tell you what I would do. Perhaps I was you. Perhaps you were me. Who knows, eh? Who knows?” Right, I know I was talking about excessive cheese. The Fourth Doctor is by no means my favorite Doctor (though I don't have favorites). Yet I LOVED THIS and cannot say it stunk of cheese. I don't care if it's explained in story terms (the Watcher is still suitably vague); this moment was like “Time Crash” when David Tennant told Peter Davison (before he was his father-in-law!!) that “you were my Doctor.” Doesn't make any sense in the story, but it was real. So is this Curator scene. The chemistry is uber-out-of-this-world. Thank you, Tom, for coming back in a big way. Err, and yes, the Curator tells the Eleventh Doctor that the title of the painting is Gallifrey Falls No More.

Home, the long way round,” is a wonderful coda to this piece. I kind of hope the Doctor doesn't find Gallifrey, but maybe home means something else to the Doctor, even if he doesn't know it?


Erin Macdonald said...

Great review... I was wondering what you thought of it. I, too, was displeased with some things (mainly the characterisation of Elizabeth I, as much as I love Queenie) but overall I have a nice, warm fuzzy feeling. The Five-ish Doctors helped quell some of the loss I was feeling, but I do think it was a little unfair to have the Fourth back (as much as he is loved) and none of the other 'Old' Doctors.

Aya Vandenbussche said...

I need to watch the special again, before I can comment on everything you wrote so eloquently and I have decided to do that after I finished my whole rewatch, so it'll be in tandem. But I can say a few things of the top of my head.

The discussion of the connection between The End of Time and Day of the Doctor has come up in the TTZ thread. I don't remember exactly what was written, but I think it was something along the lines of for the Tenth, this was temporary and, as far as he knew they went back to being destroyed right after. I don't know if that's is what it is, but I'm sure it'll be explained.

I disagree with you about the diffusion of Eight, War Doctor, Nine and Ten, I think that quite on the contrary, the fact that we the viewers know and the above Doctors don't know, makes them all the more tragic characters and when I'm rewatching them now, knowing, they break my heart.

As someone who's dislike of Rose grows bigger with every rewatch, I can answer, yes I am satisfied, she was much much MUCH better as the Interface, personally.

As for Liz I, well, I generally tend to prefer Moffat ladies and romantic relationships to those of RTD, this is not to take from the genus-ness that is RTD, but that is how I generally feel, so I was very happy to see the Eleventh getting a romance I vastly preferred to the larger than life one with Rose. I will have to watch it again to make a deeper comment, but I can tell you, and I guess you know that from knowing me, that I prefer Drama over historical accuracy. It's been a long time since Doctor Who has been an Educational show, I personally think it stopped taking the education aspect of it seriously halfway through Hartnell and definitely since Troughton, and that's OK for me. The best it can do and, I don't hopefully it might to some extant, is get people curious about Liz I. I doubt that anyone watching Doctor Who would base a historical POV of Liz I on Doctor Who, and if they do, I'd like to believe no one would take them seriously.

About the past Doctors, I don't really understand what was your issue with that and why did it bother you? Did it bother you when Clara was planted into their lives as well? Of course they have all been written already, but why can't if be a reference to an off screen time in each of them? I actually found it rather a beautiful nod, I don't know whatever you want to call it, toward ALL Doctors, make all of them a part of the 50th, just as they all are an inseparable part of the show. I don't know, maybe I'm a bit naive and watched it through a fan's eyes that leaped with joy to see everyone included in the 50th.

Finally, I was and am exactly the same as you re Tom Baker at the end. Not my favourite Doctor and yet I was in tears and it was just beautiful. I'm absolutely fine with him being the only older Doctor in this special, even as a Davison fan. To me this moment alone was kind of perfect.

cackle_jr said...

Excellent review and I enjoyed watching it with you recently. I need to rewatch it hopefully without it jumping all the time because I missed the bit about Osgood being Kate's daughter. I also missed quite a bit of the explanations with the Zygons.