Sunday, 24 November 2013

Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor (Episode Review)

There's no easy way to say this so i'll make this clear from the get go: 

The episode has some very visible flaws and these will be brought up. This isn't going to be a rose tinted review, it will look into the many issues the anniversary special has and compare it with some traits in the recent series. 
That said, this episode was still the single most entertaining piece of Doctor Who media I have seen in the past year or two. It has fantastic kinetic energy, the chemistry between actors is fantastic and the sheer level of fan-service still makes it prevail. This will be made repeatedly clear throughout, it is a fun episode with many great elements which ultimately do the show service. That said, I will not be overlooking its many flaws and will be judging it by both its failings and triumphs.

That done, let's begin.

Quite literally dragged back to UNIT. the Doctor, Clara and the TARDIS are taken to the National Gallery at the behest of Kate Stewart. Something which was once contained within the Gallery has seemingly broken out, running amok within the building and lurking within there. Worse still is where it originated from. A number of time locked portraits displaying locations capturing specific locations of time are located within the Gallery, and one has been smashed open with something, or someone, having escaped from within.
Meanwhile, on a distant planet, a man weary of the constant fighting which has dominated his entire existence seeks to end a timeless war no matter the cost...

Joining together three incarnations of the Doctor, with so much material surrounding the program linking it into other works and building upon the anniversary, it should be of no surprise much of it runs of fan-service.

Like the many which came before it, it serves as a massive tribute to the years prior. There's an old enemy returning and the joy of seeing the characters interact with one another. Easily the biggest and best points are where you have each of the trio of Doctors playing off of one another and considering the events of their lives. It would be very surprising if the writers and actors didn't take inspiration from the Three Doctors, as there are shades of how Pertwee, Troughton and Hartnell played off of one another with the right amount of enjoyment and mild hostility. They are obviously very much playing their own characters, but that same vibrant chemistry and it's only enhanced by Moffat's usual witticisms. Yes, i'm actually praising that element of his work for once. Even Hurt, who is having to play an effectively new character, easily slides into the role without any issues, holding up next to Smith and Tennant, both of who have been playing their figures for years by now. The core of the story is ultimately made up of how each of them plays off of one another and the fact the actors nail is so perfectly is half the reason the episode holds up.

This isn't to sell the other actors short. While they are not given anywhere near as much material to work with, and largely shunted to one side, Jenna Coleman and Jemma Redgrave both play their parts extremely well. While perhaps not given the character moments they quite deserve, we'll get to why in a minute, they are none the less a welcome addition to the story. As is Billie Piper. Many were split upon their inclusion within the story, especially those with understandable criticisms to the character she played on the show, and what happens here will likely cause a further split. While the character she plays is linked into Rose, more fan-service, it is not exactly here. This allows Piper to try something a bit different and it definitely proves to be a move for the better, especially in the early introductions. While used more than her fellow actresses, she still remains underused but strong. However, it's not with her where the cracks begin to appears.

The flaws start to open up with the inclusion of the villain. While not the most prominent of villains, ranking even lower than the Sontarans in terms of being a nemesis of the Doctor, they do have a popular fanbase. Ultimately that seems to be the reason why they are here as they feel extremely superfluous. It's as if the writers felt the story needed to be punched up by a more direct villain. One to help keep the narrative going forwards and selected one we'd not seen yet in modern Who. However, they are abruptly dropped almost as fast as they are introduced, shooting in and out of the story well before the end with very little actual resolution. They prove to be something to heighten the stakes and for the Doctors to work off of, but they fail to be integrated into the actual plot itself. Instead feeling as if they were thrown in as a last minute addition.

The Zygons are not the only point which is introduced and then dropped either. You could honestly make a drinking game based upon the number of times something is thrown into the anniversary episode and promptly dropped a few minutes later. Or, if you really wanted to punish your liver, added without much reasoning. To discuss these would be to delve deeply into spoilers however, and as such it does reduce the episode to a structural mess. Yes, sticking to a basic plot structure has been a major failing of the series of late but it is especially bad here and it does weaken the story overall. Some of the minor fan-service additions also don't make much sense as a result. Some work extremely well, most do in fact, but when you get to things like Tennant repeating the "I don't want to go" line, its placement feels pointless. It's just there, adding nothing to the story and doesn't feel relevant. Hell, David Bradley stating as such while playing William Hartnell in An Adventure in Time and Space resonated much more strongly due to the themes of the episode.

Above all however, there is the ending. There is a major twist which changes a great deal about the story and serves to unify all incarnations of the Doctor. It ends on a note of hope, having changed things significantly for the better and perhaps heralding a bright new future for the Doctor and even a new status quo for the show. Unfortunately, it does this at the cost of not making much sense. This has nothing to do with the science involved, but for all that's been established it effectively opens up a massive series of Gallifrey sized plot holes and problems. Both for what we've seen thus far and, given a small note about the Doctor's memory of events, perhaps for the future as well.

The conclusion makes for a huge ending, much more grounded than the last few series finales but still feels massive in terms of scale and impact. What diminishes it is the fact that the involvement of the past Doctors is ultimately put down to stock footage and brief pre-recorded lines from old episodes. This is understandable for some but it feels as if, for all the reasons why the classic era figures couldn't be included, it would have been extremely easy just to approach each person, get them to record a few lines or shove them onto a set for a few minutes. The charity special Time Crash already proved that viewers are more than happy to have an actor's age hand-waved away by techno babble. Okay, one does and his scene is brilliant but you'd be forgiven for spending the whole thing being extremely confused and wondering what he's doing there. Again, hard to detail without spoilers.

Still, for all this, for every failing and flaw, the Day of the Doctor still ultimately succeeds at one thing: Being fun. It's entertaining, fast paced in the right way and knows what elements to work with most of the time. The production values are still high, the direction is good and the soundtrack great. You likely won't have too many complaints while watching it, and even when you do question something, at least up to the end, you'll be quickly distracted by something else which emerges within the story. Furthermore, it ultimately avoids my previous fear of being directly locked into the previous series and manages to mostly work as an isolated piece if you have general knowledge of modern Doctor Who.
That said, once it is over and you look back, problems do appear. This is ultimately the episode's greatest flaw: It will not age well and as time goes by and the excitement begins to fade, it may well diminish in the eyes of fans. I'm happy it existed, but it just feels that with a better editor or direction there could have easily been so much more.

Watch it, enjoy it and have fun, but don't expect it to be timeless.

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