MAJOR SPOILER ALERT! This review assumes that you’ve viewed the show I’m discussing (and if you haven’t by now, then shame on you!). So you’ve been warned.
Before I tackle this 50th-anniversary event, you should be sure that you view the Dr. Who mini-episode The Night of the Doctor. Click on the link or find it on YouTube. It’s less than 7 minutes long, but it’s essential to Dr. Who continuity. Go on, watch it; I’ll wait.
MAJOR SPOILER ALERT! This is your last chance. I mean it. Really.
Here’s all the information you need to know about The Day of the Doctor: the show is very good; now take the first hour and a quarter, roll it into a ball and chuck it – leaving only the last 5-10 minutes that you can save, rewatch a hundred times and savor over the total geeky nirvana of it!
In two words: TOM BAKER!!! Yes, the actor who played the fourth Doctor, still impishly spry in his 79th year, puts in an appearance as…who? Or should that be Who? Who cares? My doctor, the doctor who first invited me into this magical world of whimsy and adventure, was back. I nearly wet my pants when I heard that still-vibrant voice speak and saw Matt Smith’s face when he recognized him.
And then that final scene, with Smith standing head-to-head with all of the other Doctors! Awesome beyond belief, and the most fitting final scene imaginable for the anniversary show.
Deep breath! OK, let’s start at the beginning. As stated, the show was a very good adventure, if somewhat average. Realistically, I don’t know how any episode could surpass David Tennant’s End of Time masterpiece. I don’t think that they even try here, and that’s a good thing. Instead of trying to one-up previous epic episodes, Day takes a somewhat muted course that nevertheless tells a sweeping story, while throwing in enough references to the past to excite long-time fans without making the novice viewer feel as if he’s being left out of the loop. Tying together three Doctors (or two Doctors and a War Doctor) from three different time zones proves initially cumbersome; but the snappy dialogue amongst the three Time Lords (“Am I having a mid-life crisis?”) carries the show forward.
The plot is a bare framework over which to place the theme of the program. Shape-shifting Zygons, who have invaded Elizabethan England (where the tenth Doctor uncovers their plot), are using three-dimensional Gallifreyan time-art to transport themselves into high-security areas where the artworks are being stored in the 21st century (where the eleventh Doctor becomes involved). Meanwhile, the War Doctor (John Hurt) has stolen The Moment, a sentient doomsday machine with a conscience, in order to violently end the Time War. The presence of two Doctors in the same place and time gives The Moment an opportunity to show the War Doctor how his decision will affect his future regenerations (Christopher Eccleston’s absence is keenly felt here)
The main villains of the show may have been the Zygons (a brilliant choice that emphasizes the continuity of the new series with the old without falling back on villains used ad nauseum throughout the show’s run), but the theme of the show is definitely one of redemption – not only for Hurt’s War Doctor but for his successors as well (and indirectly for all of the Doctor’s other incarnations, as seen from cleverly inserted archival footage of Hartnell through Eccleston). Hurt’s redemption lifts the weight of guilt from Tennant’s and Smith’s Doctors. Where this will take the Doctor next is anyone’s guess, but it’s clear that showrunner Steven Moffat wanted to explain and resolve the Time War that has hung over the series since its return. Now he can start again with a clean slate and move the Doctor in any direction he choses.
It should be noted that the acting is outstanding on everyone’s part, and that production values shine in every scene. Continuity suffers the most here: try wrapping your head around the numbering system for the Doctor now that Hurt’s character is worthy of the name; try reconciling the Time-Lords-on-Gallifrey scenes from this show with those from End of Time. Don’t bother. Just enjoy the totally awesome geekiness of it all and wallow in the sheer joy of those last 10 minutes.