By Arturo R. García
On Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary, Steven Moffat decided to give the Doctor a birthday gift. But as with all things Moffat, it comes with strings attached.
SPOILERY-WOILERY UNDER THE CUT. And since enough of us here watch the show (often despite itself), call this a weekend special.
The short version is, Moffat has given the Doctor all but explicit confirmation that his home planet of Gallifrey is still out there, frozen in time. But to do that, he essentially chose to undo one of the guiding principles of the revived series: the Doctor’s role in ending the war between his people, the Time Lords, and the Daleks by committing double genocide.
On one level, the move comes off like a rebuke to films like Man of Steel, where the hero makes the Impossible Choice and emerges wiser for it; remorse has been a defining trait for The Doctor ever since he returned in 2005. But now we’ve learned that his guilt began as far back as the closing moments of the Eighth Doctor’s life, which led him to renounce his title entirely and become the man some fans have labeled The War Doctor (John Hurt).
But instead of “going rogue” or becoming an outright villain, it’s soon apparent that Hurt’s Doctor has lost his faith. And more curiously, the case for letting Gallifrey burn isn’t given much in the way of a voice. Even the living consciousness of the doomsday weapon known as the Moment (Billie Piper, playing Rose Tyler by way of The First) would rather he find another way.
To do so, she enlists two of the War Doctor’s successors, leading to the long-awaited meeting between the post-“Waters of Mars” Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and the present-day Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith). We don’t hear why she would skip the Ninth Doctor, which hurts the proceedings for reasons beyond fan service; Christopher Eccleston’s rough, authoritative version of the Doctor — the one most directly reeling from his decision to unleash the Moment — could have at least been a more compelling contrarian than the throw-in villains for this episode, the Zygons. Of course, there’s also the possibility that Hurt’s Doctor was written as Nine’s stand-in, making it more “believable” that he would be amenable to Ten and Eleven letting him off the hook. But the big question remains unanswered: is a Doctor without trauma a better one?
You might notice that this is all rather white-guy centric. You would be right. Weeping Angels aside, blink and you’ll miss Peter De Jersey as the only Time Lord of Color left on Gallifrey.
And after Moffat’s ham-handed response to having a woman play the Doctor, it’s tough not to notice that almost every woman in this episode either borders on Manic Pixieness — Jenna Coleman’s Clara continues to lack the material to match the actress’ chops — or is a go-between. More specifically, the inclusion of UNIT chief Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) and Queen Elizabeth I (Joanna Page), which might have boosted a normal episode, is used solely to maneuver the Doctors into position to begin their undoing of history. About the only woman to come out of the episode elevated is Stewart’s assistant, Doctor fangirl Osgood (Ingrid Oliver), who should become a go-to cosplay at conventions to come. And, sadly, there’s no WOC to be seen.
Similarly, some of the War Doctor’s barbs toward his younger colleagues (“Am I having a midlife crisis?”) smell like deeper rebukes. Moffat isn’t just paving the road for Peter Capaldi’s Twelth (Thirteenth?) Doctor here, he’s defending his decision to cast Capaldi all over again. (“Time to grow up,” the War Doctor muses. Indeed.) Which makes the follow-up from this episode especially crucial. If Capaldi’s Doctor is to be defined by his quest to save Gallifrey, does that mean Moffat is setting course for a proper series ending?
We probably won’t begin to get clues one way or another until after Smith bows out this coming Dec. 25. But in the meantime, it’s worth saying that even if “The Day Of The Doctor” had some notable miscues (much like Tennant’s own finale) it manages to ring true with some affection for the show, thanks primarily to the men behind the three Doctors, as well as Tom Baker’s appearance as The Curator, in a valedictory moment for Smith. Likely the last bit of joy his Doctor will enjoy.
- The Doctor’s renewed purpose lends credence to a theory my former podcast partner, Peter Pixie, once offered: The show will “end” with him returning Gallifrey and his people from the void. And/or, he’ll be granted a whole new set of regenerations.
- That would lend credence to the idea that The Curator is indeed the “retired” Doctor, now old enough to enjoy being away from adventuring. At least for a little while. Maybe, along the way, he could find time to start a family?
- The decision to excise the Doctor’s greatest shame from his life brings to mind another superhero-related decision; years ago, Grant Morrison wrote Batman to stop marking the anniversary of his parents’ death, instead choosing to celebrate their birthdays as a sign of moving on. Not much has come of that, of course, but the idea strikes me as similar.
- This episode stands in remarkable contrast to this weekend’s other 50th anniversary special, An Adventure In Space And Time, which not only chronicled the show’s origins, but shows that a white woman and a POC were the two people who willed it into existence. It also contains a legitimately moving third act, with perhaps the single most heartbreaking callback I’ve heard in my years watching the show. Definitely recommended.
- My theory on the big rally sequence involving all of the Doctors: Eleven’s idea permeated through the time stream all the way back to his earliest self, allowing for them to converge on Gallifrey thanks to the Moment’s interference. (Funny, though, that nobody mentioned the irony of them using an old Dalek trick to save the day.)
- Speaking of the Daleks, was this their worst appearance yet or what?
- The episode’s biggest OH SNAP moment: The Capaldi Glare. Guess we can forget about Twelve (Thirteen?) being a kindler, gentler Doctor, then?
- Lastly, Racializens, how do you feel about the apparent re-numbering of the Doctors?