Sunday, December 8, 2013

TV Review: The Day of the Doctor: The Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special

As long time readers of the blog probably already know, my feelings towards Doctor Who are mixed. At times I love it and at other times I grumble with my friends over what the show is doing and a lot of the news about the 50th had me grumbling. There were two ways they could have done this, one would have been a silly thing that was more about celebrating the show itself and the other was using the 50th as a chance to have a big story that would affect the entire show. Given the fact that the pre-revivial Doctors were saying that they hadn't been invited, and the news that they were suddenly adding in another Doctor, which really messed with the "mythology" of the show, it was clear they were taking the second route and I was getting rather nervous about it. I felt a bit reassured when they put out the Night of the Doctor short just before, and interested to see that in doing so they seem to have canonized a lot of the Big Finnish radio dramas (which I still really need to get around to listening to), but I was still a bit nervous going into the simulcast, who knew what was going to happen!

The Day of the Doctor (Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special)

Summary: The Doctor has just been summoned to UNIT (with Clara in tow, having just picked her up for another round of adventures) where he runs into a series of curious things, a painting of Gallifrey as it burned, pictures with their frames broken from the inside and missing figures, and a time vortex which seems to lead him to a past self we never knew of who is just about the destroy his home planet. Wait huh?!

The Good: I really did like about 2/3rds of this story (the part I liked the least was of course the ending so I can't really talk about it here) and the story was a far better one than I expected. The story was a large enough one that it made sense that there were multiple Doctors involved and it was fun to see Smith and Tennant bounce off of each other (and the show did a good job at keeping the side characters involved but without dominating the story and detracting from that interaction, I feel like the writers have finally hit their groove for how to balance Clara into the story and I like that). Really that's what made it for me, the UNIT side of the story would have been a pretty good episode if it had been just a regular tv one and I enjoyed it quite a bit. It's just the other half of the story, dealing with the impending blowing-up of Gallifrey, that I had some problems with.

The Bad: I'm still confused as to what the purpose of the UNIT lab assistant wearing a homemade version of the Doctor's scarf was, I've seen people say she was supposed to be a stand in for the fans (and the show has done that several times since the revival) but I'm still rather confused about it. Minor quibbles aside, it's been two weeks and I'm still a bit torn on how I feel about how the story ended. On the one hand it does neatly tie up a problem that the story has had since the revival and gives the Doctor new purpose again, on the other hand I feel like it cheapens some of the emotions the Doctor went through and considering that the current doctor is going to regenerate in his next appearance, well, I feel like that quest just won't have the same emotional punch as it could have been. So I am left with the same feeling I have had after many an episode of the show, while I really did like parts of it I can't help but feel like they tried to write a "cleverer" story than needed and in the process made it weaker instead. I know that a lot of people liked John Hurt in this as the War Doctor but honestly I never warmed up to him, I can see they were trying to imitate the dynamic that The Three Doctors had but for one it just didn't work since we didn't have that connection to him (I saw a lot of people saying that you could tell the lines were written for Nine and, while I didn't feel that way when watching the show itself, I have to admit it would have worked so much better if he had consented to come back*). Two, you have to be a broken person to truly believe that eliminating every man, woman, and child of two races is the best solution to an unwinnable problem and Hurt didn't seem that broken to me, I just had a hard time believing that this character was supposed to have already been pushed to that point which made a lot of the conflict feel rather flat. Finally, I also feel like the plotline with Queen Elizabeth I was just odd, yes I know it culminates in a call-back (multiple ones actually!) but her acting just felt odd to me the entire time.

The Production Values: I guess the BBC realized they needed to give the show a larger budget than usual considering how many sets the characters go through. I thought everything looked fine, the zygons didn't quite work but having seen some 3rd/4th Doctor stories with some terrible alien costumes I'm just thankful it wasn't worse. Honestly I don't have much to say on it other than the fact that I really did like how the story had so many different sets and all the visual bonuses in them, that should make rewatching it with friends sometime rather fun.

Despite how lengthy that bad section is I did enjoy this way more than I expected and even if my expectations hadn't been super low I feel like I would have said the same thing. In many ways the ending is fitting but if it had just been a bit different, if it had been Nine's struggle, a character whom we've already seen deal with the fall-out, and knowing that Eleven would be the one to deal with a different kind of fall-out from the event, then I think I would have been much more satisfied with the event.

For those who have already seen the series and need more to watch, or haven't and want more to watch anyway, in addition to the short mentioned earlier I recommend The Five(ish) Doctors for people who are fans of the original show (in short, the fifth, sixth, and seventh Doctor's all team up to try and appear on the finale with a heck of a lot of in jokes and shout-outs for classic fans) and I still need to see An Adventure in Time and Space, a documentary on making the show, myself. Sadly it looks like neither of those are legally available online at the moment but since Netflix currently has all of NuWho streaming I bet both of them will pop up in the next few months or so, just when we need something to tide us over between the Christmas Special and whenever the next season starts!

*and from what I've read I understand why he didn't, sounds like the tensions were high when he had to leave and it has to do with the particular set of classism that still exists in Britain and not quite anywhere else.

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