Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Review: "The Day of the Doctor" and "The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot"

Spoilers aplenty, so don’t say you weren’t warned. If you haven’t seen the 50th anniversary episode yet, watch it first. No, really, I mean it.

At the risk of adding yet more verbiage to what’s already out there, and repetitive verbiage at that, “The Day of the Doctor” was fantastic. The episode started with the original, black and white opening and theme song. We got an amazing new Doctor in John Hurt - who played the War Doctor as both arrogant and yet desperate to avoid the solution that he sees as the only way to end the Time War -, some explanation for why Queen Elizabeth I doesn’t like the Doctor, more Kate Lethbridge-Stewart in U.N.I.T., some Doctor-on-Doctor banter, a glimpse of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, a sob-inducing resolution to the Time War, and then, just when you think all the twists are don, a scene with TOM BAKER!

In 80 minutes, we had two interwoven stories: the War Doctor on the last day of the Last Great Time War and his decision to end the war; and a Zygon invasion of Earth, starting in the 16th century and culminating in the present day.

I was sure the resolution of the Time War wouldn’t just be the War Doctor pushing the button, as we were told he did prior to this episode. Having brought viewers into the war, the outcome had to be different. I thought the resolution was when Ten and Eleven said to Hurt (shall we call him Eight Point Five?), “You’re not alone this time,” forgiving him/them from pushing the button - three hands resting on the Moment, ready to activate it. But Clara urges them to rethink the solution and find one that the Doctor - all of them - can live with. They devise a plan to use 13 TARDISes to zap Gallifrey into a pocket universe in order to save its inhabitants and let the Daleks kill one another. Perfect. (Except now we have to search for Gallifrey and bring back those insufferable boors, the Time Lords.)

Better yet, the two key aspects of that solution, the Zygon device to stick people into pictures and the property of the sonic screwdriver to do calculations in the background over a period of centuries, were foreshadowed earlier in the episode in other contexts, so the ending didn’t seem so made up on the spot. Thus, the B plot - the Zygons - was integral to the A plot - the Time War.

My biggest quibble is that we never got a resolution to the Zygon plot. We leave them negotiating something with U.N.I.T., but negotiating what? The Zygons want Earth and the humans aren’t inclined to give it up. Not a lot of room for bargaining in what seems like a zero-sum game. Otherwise, an amazing episode that lived up to all the buildup.

Another superb 50th anniversary show was “The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot,” a half-hour show written and directed by Peter Davison. The title is a takeoff of the 20th anniversary episode, “The Five Doctors” (which itself needed an “-ish” attached to the title, as Tom Baker appeared only through clips from “Shada” and another actor stood in for the late William Hartnell).

The “reboot” is a sweet shout-out to the fans of the classic series, bringing back Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, and, briefly, Paul McGann. It’s best to think of them as playing actors who once portrayed the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Doctors. Davison, Baker, and McCoy all want to wrangle roles in the 50th anniversary episode but no one will cast them in the show. (Steven Moffat plays himself, frustrated with their repeated calls, and Russell T. Davies appears later on.) Davison induces the others to picket BBC’s Television Centre, to complete indifference from passers-by. John Barrowman arrives, telling them the show is now made in Cardiff. After an amusing bit playing off his sexual orientation, Barrowman takes them to Wales. They swiped their old costumes from The Doctor Who Experience, sneak onto the set, and… well, you’ll have to watch to see if they’re successful.

The number of in-jokes and cameo appearances by actors who have appeared in Doctor Who - David Tennant, Georgia Moffett, Lisa Bowerman, Nicholas Pegg, and more - along with sons of both Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee, were enough to satisfy the nerdiest fan of the classic series. The actors were willing to poke fun at themselves as being obsessed with participating in the show. (One might also think they were poking fun at fans obsessed with seeing older Doctors in the anniversary show.) McCoy has a running gag about appearing in The Hobbit, Davison’s grandkids are unimpressed with his past as the Doctor, and Tennant forgets to ask his wife (Moffett) how it’s going as she is giving birth. Well done, and kudos to those involved for making it.

Add to that the two mini-episodes, “The Night of the Doctor” and “The Last Day,” and it was a great anniversary celebration. I can’t wait for number 100.*

*By then I hope that modern medicine will have found a way to keep me going in my late 90s.

No comments: