Doctor Who: The Day of The Doctor 50th Anniversary Special (TV Show Review)

I have, admittedly, never seen an episode of BBC’s Doctor Who. A few years ago, back in college, I once made a list of some really popular SFF shows and at the top of the list was Doctor Who, but I was somewhat turned off by the fact that the show had been going on since the 1960s or thereabouts. I was rather clueless at the time and not much aware of the whole “seasons” nature of television shows in the western media. In India, television shows are broadcast 5 times a week for the most part and so the old-me couldn’t get around the concept of a show that had been alive for more than 40 years. And I didn’t really know any Whovians at the time either, so that was a factor as well.

Recently I’ve had an urge to start watching the show, mostly because a large number of my friends on social media are from Britain and most of them are Doctor Who fans, aside from friends of other countries with similar interests. With the 50th anniversary of the show this year, I thought I’d finally get onboard the whole thing and so I decided to watch the 50th anniversary special yesterday. And it turned out to be a darn good episode, for a first timer to the entire franchise.

DWLogoWhen I mentioned on Twitter that I was going to watch the anniversary special and that it was my first ever Doctor Who episode, a lot of friends told me that it was an intriguing first-watch, and that they would recommend starting off with one of the regular series than a one-shot that would undoubtedly be continuity/lore-heavy. Still, I was quite intrigued, primarily because the episode was going to star multiple Doctors and as such it would give me a good slice of the different styles. The Doctor is a character who, upon suffering some incredibly dire life-threatening injuries is able to regenerate. Doing so means that he acquires a new body and a new personality, but is able to remember what happened in his previous incarnation. Of course, it goes without saying that he’s no human being, he’s a time-traveling alien from the world of Gallifrey somewhere out there in the depths of space.

I went into the episode with the same kind of expectations I have from a prose/comics anthology, intending to sample the wider setting and get a good idea of what the whole thing is about. And that’s exactly what I got out of it, which pleased me immensely. More importantly, I thoroughly enjoyed the episode.

The frontrunners on this episode are three different versions of the Doctor. There is an unnumbered Doctor, the War Doctor, played by John Hurt. There is the Tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant. And there is the Eleventh Doctor, played by Matt Smith. In other notable roles we have the eleventh Doctor’s companion Clara Oswald, played by Jenna Coleman; Joanna Page as Queen Elizabeth I; Billie Piper as the sentient consciousness of a super-weapon and Jemma Redrgrave as Kate Stewart, the leader of the British military organisation UNIT which monitors all extraterrestrial and paranormal threats to the Earth.

What I found interesting was how all the characters are played off each other. We begin by seeing the relationship between Clara and the Eleventh Doctor, and shows that they are good friends, the kind that go on adventures together and are loyal to each other. We see the romance between the Tenth Doctor and Queen Elizabeth, a romance that later on turns into a hasty wedding. Their relationship was rather humorous throughout the episode and definitely one of the finer moments of the show in a lot of ways. It broke up the tensions quite nicely and it was really fun to see Tennant and Page play off each other, and all their banter. Then we have the interactions between Hurt and Piper’s characters, which I found to be the most intriguing in the entire episode. Hurt’s Doctor wants to set off the super-weapon and destroy Gallifrey’s enemies, with the planet itself ending up as collateral damage, and Piper’s character takes on herself to make him realise what kind of a decision that would really be.

And of course we have the little moments between Kate, Clara and the Eleventh Doctor, which serve to impress upon the reader the relationship that exists between the Doctors and UNIT. They work together when it is required but they don’t really care much for each other. It was kind of like the relationship between the Justice League and ARGUS or the X-Men/Avengers and SHIELD in comics.

But nothing beats the character drama between the three Doctors when they are all together in the same space and pretty much putting their heart out with regards to what Hurt’s Doctor wants to do. For him, its his future. For them, its their past, a past that they would like to forget but can’t. It creates some really exciting tension between all of them and for that alone I enjoyed this episode quite highly. Each Doctor has a distinct personality and attitude, which serves as a foil to the same for the others. Most notable is how Hurt and Tennant’s Doctors take Smith’s Doctor to task for his “weird” speech and phrases, which they consider childish.

And that brings me to the acting itself. I’ve seen Hurt in various films over the years and he is a truly amazing character. If there was a Doctor Who series where he was the Doctor, I’d definitely be up for watching it. He brings a certain gravitas and solemnity to the role that is appropriate with his character-arc, the decision to commit genocide for the defense of his people and to destroy them with that same decision. Tennant’s performances brings a certain aloof reserve that seems appropriate for his character, despite all the funkiness he often gets to and his fantastic monologues throughout the episode. Smith’s performance is quirky and modern, packing a lot of flash with all the substance. I enjoyed all three of them in their roles and, among other things, their performances have convinced me to watch the show as a regular.

Coleman, Piper, Page and Redgrave were also standouts in their performances. They fit the role and provided lots of diversity and variety, in addition to everything that the three Doctors brought to the episode. I’d definitely commend Coleman for her performance, which felt like a really emotional piece, especially whenever she interacts with Hurt’s character. And Page’s accent and her speech felt pretty spot on as well, reflecting the mid-century timeline that her scenes are set in.

DW50thAnniversarySpecial

Aside from anything, what immediately impressed me in this episode were the production values. This was a really good-looking episode. The special effects were excellent and I loved the concept of 3D paintings that was mentioned several times in the show (which was also shown). In the scenes set on Gallifrey during the final day of the Time War, it was as if I was watching an episode right of Stargate or Andromeda, or something comparable to Star Wars and Star Trek. The show has some strong science fiction routes and these scenes couldn’t have made that plainer, or more exciting to watch.

Of course, I thoroughly enjoyed the story as well. It was quite a touching story about dealing with the consequences of your (monstrous) actions and all the actors involved delivered a great performance in that regard. There was only one weak moment in the entire episode, as far as I can tell, and that was when the big twist involving Page’s character happens and the intentions of the antagonists in this episode are released. Otherwise, a fairly tight story for the most part.

Now I’m going to fast-forward my plans to get started with watching the show, and on recommendation and consultation with some friends, I’m going to go with Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor, the respective series lasting thirteen episodes. That definitely makes it easier to get into the show I think. I’ll update when I can!

Posted on November 26, 2013, in Doctor Who, Review Central, TV Show Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Definitely start with Chris Eccleston. That was the series reboot, and there’s some cracking episodes in there. If you aren’t creeped out by The Empty Child then there’s something not right!

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  2. Really interesting review, Abhinav. Doctor Who has been such an important part of my life for such a long time, it’s really fascinating seeing a newcomer’s perspective on something as rich and evocative as the 50th anniversary special. Glad to see that you enjoyed it.

    It only remains for me to say, “Welcome on board!” 😀

    Like

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