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Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Day After the Day of the Doctor

So, here we are.  We've now had the awesomeness that was the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor.  So I felt like taking to the blog to just share my thoughts.

I should issue a spoiler warning.  As I began live-tweeting my reactions yesterday, had quite a few friends tweet back "SHUT UP!  I'm doing stuff today and I'm recording it!"  So for those who have lives and such and haven't watched it yet, turn away now.

Still here?  Good.

To borrow the Ninth Doctor's catchphrase:  fantastic.  I thought it was a little slow to get going at the outset, but once we got halfway through and started ramping up the emotion, it was so great.

So wonderful seeing David Tennant back as the Tenth Doctor.  (Or is he the Eleventh now?  I see the debate is raging as to how/if they should be renumbered.)  And the interplay between him and the Eleventh Doctor was great.  They bickered like brothers, which was a great way to take it.

John Hurt, as the mysterious War Doctor.  As briefly alluded to in the end of Series 7, this Doctor is the one that ended the Time War by annihilating both the Time Lords and the Daleks.  And when we meet him in this special, he's made the decision to do it, but he hasn't yet.  He knows he's turned his back on the name and concept of the Doctor, but he hasn't just yet, so he still has that twinkle in his eye.

And it was very interesting how they brought back Rose.  Well, not really Rose.  See, the doomsday weapon that the War Doctor uses to end the war has never been used, because it gained sentience.  As the one Time Lord general said about it, "No one wants to use a weapon that will judge you for having used it."  So as the War Doctor goes to activate the weapon, it's sentience takes the form of Rose.  Well, actually, it takes the form of Bad Wolf, the omnipotent form of Rose from the end of Series One.  Very clever, and such a tease that she wound up being in scenes with the Tenth Doctor, but there's no interaction between them.  (She's projected telepathically into the War Doctor's mind, so only he can see her.)

It was just so much fun.  I enjoyed it immensely.  As our three Doctors team up to stop an alien invasion on Earth, and in doing so, help the War Doctor make his terrible decision to end the great Time War.

But not.  Thanks to that wibbly wobbley timey wimey stuff, they determine a way to end the war and save the Time Lords.  As the Eleventh Doctor eventually realizes, he's had 400 years to think about how he would have done things differently.  And now he has the chance to.  Leading to one spectacular climax where the Doctor finally saves Gallifrey, thus earning a spot of redemption.

But of course, the Easter Eggs and callbacks to other aspects of the franchise.  My top 5:

5)  The donor of the Vortex Manipulator
4)  The retro opening, which re-creates the opening of the very first episode
3)  The blink-and-you'll-miss-it brief appearance by the forthcoming Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi
2)  The Tenth Doctor's final words in the special. 
1)  The identity of the Curator. 

I do kind of wish I did pay the money to go to the theatre and see it in 3D.  Something tells me the effects of the 3D oil paintings were probably pretty spectacular.

I'm still kind of sad that Christopher Eccleston chose not to be a part of it, and therefore no Ninth Doctor, but why lament the awesomeness we could have had?  It was pretty damn spectacular as it was.

And while I'm on the subject, I may as well offer up my thoughts on the other 50th anniversary special, An Adventure in Space and Time, the docudrama which told the tale of the show's creation back in the 1960s.

Again, it was good, if a little...perfunctory.  When you do a project like this, one of the traps you can fall into is getting too wrapped up in recreating the time, place and events, and thus you really don't get to know the people involved.  This definitely fell into that trap.  You never got sense of why these people believed in this project so much.

For example, Sydney Newman, the head of the BBC Drama department at the time, who created the general concept for Doctor Who.  Brian Cox plays him like a big cartoon character of a Hollywood producer.  It feels a little...out-of-place.

We do get to meet Verity Lambert, Newman's former personal assistant whom he promotes to being the first producer of Doctor Who.  She was a bit better character, as she battled both her nervousness at being given her first show, and the sexism in the BBC offices, as her role producing Doctor Who made her the BBC's first female producer.  But again, her character arc quickly fades into the background as the show takes off, and the movie becomes more wrapped up in recreating how the show was made back then.  The coda tells us that, upon her death in 2007, she'd become revered in the British television industry as a bona fide legend.  I'd almost like to see a movie purely about her.

But still, it is great watching her transform and start really, truly becoming a producer.  There is the one scene where she's battling with Newman about the first Dalek storyline.  Newman wants to axe it because killer robots is one of the sci-fi tropes he really wanted to avoid with the show.  But Lambert fights for it because it's a very good, very thoughtful, sci-fi script with meaty concepts.  Newman does get this strange mix of pride and fear seeing his protege turn into this tough-as-nails producer he knew she could be...and all of her new found skills and confidence are being unleashed on him.  

On the other side, a character that could have gotten a little more attention, I feel, is Waris Hussien, who was the first director of Doctor Who.  As they show in the film, he also had hurdles to face as the BBC's first Indian director.  He and Lambert form a fast friendship, as they both battle the racist and sexist old guard.  I would have liked to have seen a little more of him.

But the heart and soul of the film was David Bradley, who played William Hartnell, who played the First Doctor.  It was fun seeing him transform.  When we meet him, he's a gruff old actor who's getting typecast as gruff old soldiers.  But when Lambert and Hussien pitch this new TV series to him, it does catch his attention.  And as the show becomes popular, and he sees how he's becoming a hero to children everywhere, it really does start to soften him up.  He begins taking his role as hero to millions of children quite seriously.  It's fun watching him change, and thus makes it all the more heartbreaking when his ailing health eventually forces him to quit the show. 

Which leads to my objection about the film's end.  It ends with Hartnell filming his final scene, and as he wonders if the show will go on without him, he looks to his side and sees a vision of...the Eleventh Doctor, played by Matt Smith in a cameo, just looking back at him and smiling, thus assuring Hartnell that the show ill go on.  Something about this whole scene just felt awkward.  Because Smith does nothing more than stand there and twitch, I can't tell if he really did film the cameo, or if it was digital footage of Smith awkwardly inserted.  Definitely feels like the latter. 

That being said, though, I'm glad it shone a light on the bumpy road the show had in its beginnings.

And before I wrap this up, I have to share this bit of hilariousness.  There was a third 50th anniversary special.  I mean, lots of fans were upset that the other classic Doctors didn't make an appearance.  And we weren't the only ones.

Peter Davison, who played the Fifth Doctor, wrote and directed this special called The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, in which he, Colin Baker (The Sixth Doctor) and Sylvester McCoy (The Seventh Doctor) launch their campaign to appear in The Day of the Doctor. 

Oh my God, you guys, this is so funny.  I don't know how many of the cameos I should spoil for you.  But trust me, this is just a nice way to cap things off.

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