Saturday 23 November 2013

Day of the Doctor - Review

The weird thing about Doctor Who is it's more than the world's longest-running TV serial, it has become part of British culture. As such the 50th anniversary episode was, before broadcast, feted not so much as an event airing simultaneously to a global audience, but a monument. Was Day of the Doctor worthy of the hype?

Well, no. Nothing could be, really. But it did a job of work. Whizz-bang special effects abounded. The rubbery monsters were a nice homage to baddies past. Loose plot lines were left unresolved (what did happen to those human/Zygon negotiations?) Daleks. And Tom Baker! All made for a canon-defining story, and Steven Moffat and team can have themselves a few tots at the after show party tonight. It was fun, jolly and entertaining.

Me being me, there are two quick points about those "deeper" things pseudo-intellectual blogs like this one tend to fixate on. First, must I go on about Steven Moffat and women again? I'm afraid I do. I've written about this on a couple of occasions, and this is just a tiny morsel of the Gallifrey-sized library of comment sitting on the internet. It's not just me saying Moffat has issues with the portrayal of women, it's hundreds of thousands of Who fans. On this occasion, women were positioned either as ciphers for weakness and indecision. Or both. Take the cameo from Good Queen Bess. Elizabeth I is portrayed as a saucy, bosom-jiggling minx who can't wait to jump on the Doctor's bones. De ja vu much? I would also have been very surprised had he not used the "I may have the body of a weak and feeble woman" line, which he did in vintage Moffat fashion. Come on, seriously, it's like she was plucked from a Carry On, complete with the unreconstructed dodgy gender politics. 

Then there is Billie/Rose/Sentient computer programme and Clara. It has been canon since the 2005 reboot that the Doctor is the sole survivor of his people (apart from The Master, of course) and that he is haunted by his "necessary" genocide of the Time Lords. Necessary, because it was to save the universe from the Daleks. Day of the Doctor takes us to the moment where John Hurt, the missing "war" Doctor is about to press the button. He is joined by his two future selves - the David Tennant and Matt Smith iterations - so he does not do it alone. Pulling them back from the brink is the indecision, the consciences represented by the women. Their resolution, their grim conviction that destroying their civilisation is a necessity is dissolved by Clara's tears and weaponised Rose's visions of hope amidst the suffering. And so a new plot is hatched in which the Daleks are wiped out, but Gallifrey is whisked away and frozen in a pocket parallel universe to be retrieved by the Doctor at some unspecified future point.

It's a good job they did, of course. Though quite how Peter Capaldi is going to play a happy Doctor no longer burdened by historical guilt will be interesting. But why did the indecisive role have to fall on Clara and Rose when Matt's hipster Doctor carries enough self-doubt around to out-miserable Morrissey? Especially when moments later he exclaims he'd been thinking about the plan they go on to put into action for centuries. An innocent slip of the script? Or because it's only women who do conscience? Who fans are too familiar with Moffat by now to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The second point is how thoroughly Moffat has ploughed into the canon. Not that a show's mythology is sacred, or is a big deal anyone but the keenest of fans. Yet how he has treated it is telling. With Russell T Davies, the Time War was the reboot's jumping off point. No more Time Lords. No more Daleks (though, thankfully, he soon got around that). We were told that both species were erased from the history of the universe and secured in a continuity known only to the Doctor and the viewer. This way, Davies could set off and build a new mythology on his inheritance while being respectful with what went before. It acted as a clear punctuation, a break separating the old from the new. So old enemies came back and were updated, but that's as far as it went. Moffat, however, has twisted, pinched, tinkered and rewritten the canon Davies took care to bury away in a bunker of plot points. And so, paying little heed to previous continuity, three episodes into his reign the Mark Gatiss-authored Victory of the Daleks properly brought them back as bad 'uns. More audacious was last season's finale, in which Moffat inserted Clara into key points within previous Doctors' stories. This included suggesting that the Hartnell-era Doctor might want to take off in the TARDIS. And finally in Day of the Doctor, the mythology established over the last eight years is done. The key psychological flaw in the character was done away with.

Taken together Moffat has stamped himself all over the work of the last 50 years. He is to Who fandom what Margaret Thatcher was to the post-war settlement. Davies was the man who brought the series back, but it will be Moffat who will leave the most indelible of marks. Were Moffat to disappear to spend more time with Benedict Cumberbatch, his successors are unlikely to have as profound an impact on the show as he. His rewriting of the mythos will echo down the decades, much like the Doctor himself.


Unknown said...

I found your review quite interesting - and it gave me a few thoughts! Firstly, on the thought of Capaldi playing a happy doctor, i don't think he'll have the chance. When the three doctors are in the dungeons; Tennant's doctor asks Smith what could possibly happen in 400 years that meant he forgot the amount of children that died on Galifrey...of course he may have been lying about forgetting but he talks about the future (referring to Trenzalore) with that same look of pain as when he talks about the time war. Also at the end of the episode when Tennent's doctor is about to leave...Smith tells him about Trenzalore and the 'dying battle among millions...and that's how it ends' - so maybe the pain this time is about what the doctor knows will happen in the future that we haven't seen yet. We don't know what happened there yet.

Also, in terms of Smith's line about having had centuries to have thought up the plan. My perception of what was happening between Hurt's doctors and the other two can be likened to what we saw happen with the updating of the screw-drivers to open the dungeon door. Hurt's 400 year old screwdriver started called for updates, was still updating with Tennants, and by the time it got to Smiths, it had been completed. Just like the sonics...we were watching history change in real time, time being re-written as we watched; so Smith's line about having thought up a plan for centuries had started with Hurt's doctor in that moment and Smith's doctor stating that he had thought up a plan - while seeming like a second for us as the audience was actually hundreds of years of thinking between hurt's doctor all the way to Smiths...enough time to devise a plan for sure!

For me - where the episode conceptually fell short was at the very start. As viewers, we have watched the show as though the time war had already happened and the doctor had most definitely burned Galifrey. Now, we know as who fans that time can be re-written but how can time be re-written starting from the past? Whether we knew about him or not...that choice had already been made by Hurt's doctor...and the doctor's character has been centered around that choice. Hurt's doctor's future is something that we have watched happen for years.

Now we all know time can be re-written, but only makes sense to me that the doctor from the future can go back and change the past. Had Smith's doctor have wanted to change the choice...or have been persuaded to go back...or had Moffett have made the story line a bit Christmas Carol-esque - making everything that we had seen as viewers a projection of the future had the doctor have burned Galifrey that would have worked.

BUT - can Hurt's doctor have been taken into the future to meet future versions of himself who are products of a decision that he has already made. He had already made that choice - so how could the conciousness box have been able to go forward and Hurt's doctor what has happened if our whole version of the doctor's reality depends on that event already having happened.

For it to have truly worked conceptually, it needed an extra element of explanation. Like Smith's doctor programming the conciousness box thingy to take Hurt to certain moments in time...or maybe it will be explained later and it was actually Capaldi's doctor (since he was featured but unexplained) who programmed the whole thing to work in the way that it did.

Either way...for what it was...the timey wimey bits of this episode hadn't been covered all that well to make it seamless conceptually - but it's possible that i just missed a whole load of obvious stuff that made it work!! Or maybe it'll be explained later on!

Gary Elsby said...

I thought it was quite brilliant and lined up a film for the USA market.
If, could have always been was and was could always be if. surely, that makes sense?
Terminator meets Time travellers wife meets Star Wars. Time wars and Smith meeting his future companion (series) and the attack on Galifrey. It was all there.
A killer with no conscience will kill and never have a second thought, but a Doctor who has love scenes has a conscience and so does the audience. The only surviving and lonely Dalek proved this.
We know through the Time travellers wife that we can go forward or back and the Doctor has always done this but to re visit important episodes to alter time is the sole remit of Terminator.
The Doctor 50th altered this perception and conscience corrected the half century outcome.
Quite brilliant and set it up for the .....future.

Boffy said...

It rather pales compared to say Stargate SG-1 doesn't it?

I watched Brian Cox's science of Dr Who, and was left with a similar feeling. It made me feel like the description of gold as spoiling a good walk. What could have been a perfectly good science programme about the science of time and time travel was spoiled by trying to cram it into the box of the framework of Dr Who, which is based more on the kind of magic of Harry Potter.

Jim Jepps said...

I had low expectations (which is always best) so thought it was pretty good. I enjoyed it.

One quick defense of it and two holes that were pretty glaring.

Sexism: I think people are alive to this because of some pretty awful moments in the past but I think the examples you cite are a bit of a stretch tbh.

Lots of bossy, capable women characters in the episode and while I agree t5he jiggling Queen Bess was annoying in the extreme the weak and feeble woman quote was quite funny and more about having killed a huge red monster and riffing off an historical quote.

Eccleston: such a shame he wasn't there. The best of them all. the reviver of the project and the only real "war doctor". Now they've rewritten the plot he's basically an idiot grieving over something that never happened.

The time war: Apart from one reference to every moment in time burning it was basically a big laser battle. Pish.

Every time lord and doctor dies because of one localised bang? Come on. It felt to me like it shifted the war from some sort of universal existential crisis to a starship battle. The daleks and timelords stop existing *everywhen* it has to be more than this.

Also all the daleks die because they zap each other in a cross fire when the planet disappears? How is that a plan to wipe them *all* out. It's nonsense.

So, for me, when the time war was a thing elsewhere in the doctor's past it has a fair bit of power, seeing their visualisation of it turned it into something pretty mundane involving lasers.

Those two (big) gripes aside it was well written, well paced and jolly without ever being too foolish. I alo liked the dig about the over use of the screwdrivers - put them away boys!

Anonymous said...

I am guessing Boffy preferred Transformers to 2001:A Space Odyssey.

Jason said...

Emperor's new clothes time! I thought the over-hyped Doctor Who programme was actually a heap of unmitigated crap. So there.