The Day of the Doctor
The Eleventh Doctor: Hey! Look! The round things!
The Tenth Doctor: I love the round things!
The Eleventh Doctor: What are the round things?
Doctor Who Season: Between S33 and S34 (50th Anniversary Special).
Story Number: 240.
The big event for the 50th Anniversary…
This is indeed an event. The first time the actual BBC Doctor Who has included a cinema-release movie as part of its ongoing narrative.
Make no mistake. This is a cinema-release movie. It’s not a television programme shown on the big screen for selected cinemas. It’s a cinema-release movie that was also broadcast for television – and released globally.
The epic achievement of cinemas and televisions across the globe showing this was down to the brand of Doctor Who being built up worldwide these past few years – the actual Doctor Who story though really lives up to the expectations of this first cinema-release. (Yes there was Dr. Who and the Daleks but that was Dr. Who not Doctor Who. Yes there was the 1996 TV Movie, but that was, err, a TV movie.)
Watching The Day of the Doctor (as a cinema release) was a hugely cinematic experience. Not only that, but a very 21st Century experience, with the 3D aspect fully integrated and playing a big part in the “wow factor” of it all.
There are three sequences early on in this production that really emphasise this is the Big Doctor Who Movie, with their emphatically cinematic nature.
The opening theme music for 21st Century Doctor Who stories punctuates the action – marking the end of one scene, often a cliffhanger, and the pause before the start of the next – except for this one, it’s a lyrical beginning as the start of the movie is the original theme (and Delia Derbyshire gets her first ever screen credit for this) over a floating 3D Hartnell-era logo, which transitions smoothly to Coal Hill.
The first of these three emphatically cinematic sequences though – the actual “theme” that plays over the credits, (“MATT SMITH”), is the Eleventh Doctor theme – and if not quite a cliffhanger, then hanging from the TARDIS by fingertips is the Eleventh Doctor, it’s how our hero is presented as the music heralds “THE DAY OF THE DOCTOR”.
Murray Gold crafts the score for the television programme in the classical tradition of movie-music, and some people argue (and argue wrongly) that such big music is not correct for the small TV screen – though with the orchestral epicness of the soaring theme for this opening set-piece for this movie it’s exactly appropriate. The 3D is given a moment to shine too, with the depth of the London sky, thanks to UNIT and their helicopter.
It also shows that this movie will be about the characters – by playing to their strengths. Matt Smith has talked of antecedents to the physical comedy of his Doctor – Clouseau and Frank Spence influenced him, and the antics that characterise his Doctor are on display.
Another early-on sequence that emphasises the movie-nature of this is the introduction of the Doctor.
“And that man was me”
The long camera-move, zooming down amongst the painterly detail of the Gallifreyan landscape – it’s another moment when the soundscape of this cinema experience is cleverly utilised to maximise the drama, with the introduction to this Doctor happening amidst a hail of Dalek rays with the accompanying Sound FX (a huge contrast to the quiet of the gallery thanks to the cinema soundsystem).
A wheezing, groaning sound.
The third sequence that says this is no ordinary Doctor Who story. The TARDIS is the Doctor’s getaway and means of saving some of his people, for a while, from the Daleks – by smashing through them with the TARDIS itself. An astounding sequence made even more so with its kinetic surprise in 3D.
As John Hurt’s Doctor – and we only properly see it’s the great actor after the action has cooled – strides through the desert, another icon of Doctor Who, (after the iconic TARDIS noise) is part of a great scene.
That icon is Billie Piper, she was one of the main reasons the show did so well for the first two years of its revival – so a movie that, as well as celebrating the past 50 years, also closes the chapter on the first 8 years should really include a role for her.
The story of Rose is over though – as the Moment she gives a stellar performance, and it’s nice that this seeming lone wolf Doctor has a companion, even if she is a computer program.
So, two Doctors introduced – the introduction of our third Doctor again is a scene playing to the strengths of the character: just as 11 isn’t quite as cool as he thinks he is, 10 isn’t quite the ladies’ man he thinks he is.
Moffat’s understanding of the unnerving idea of the underside – the Underhenge, and now the Undergallery – and some new art as it has a painting of 10, (we’ve seen the War Doctor’s painting). And 11 joins 10.
From the physical comedy of the Clown, to the “great hair” of the Dandy.
All that is needed then is the older, seemingly wiser, character, to voice his doubts about his replacements.
“Timey-wimey?” “I have no idea where he picks that stuff up”
It’s not all comedy, as there is some really dark drama with 10 and 11 arguing over their shared angst regarding the conclusion of the Time War – as the War Doctor and his companion look on. (Actually this incarnation – during this scene, doesn’t even think of himself as “the Doctor”. And neither do the other two.)
“The Zygons are invading the future – from the past”
The way the three Doctors stride into the future from the past is another wonderfully cinematic moment. That the Time War is sketched in with painterly brushstrokes seems appropriate – we see this one landscape and can imagine the universe’s turmoil beyond. The minisode The Night of the Doctor was helpful though at building a larger picture of how exactly the wider universe is fearful of this war.
If Doctor Who is about anything, it’s about jaw jaw being better than war war – the way that the Osgoods (representing Zygon and Humans) decide to share rather than war is very Doctor Who, and the other Doctor’s gleeful joy at being part of this plan underscores he isn’t so different to his “younger” selves.
The War Doctor must return to the war – to end it.
Hope is not lost though. VWORP VWORP. Again the ethos of Doctor Who is on display, whether quoting Terrance Dicks, or emphasising the importance of the companion to the Doctor, (and the Moment and Clara together help the Doctor to see he must, well, be the Doctor).
“I’ve changed my mind”
It’s a great scene that has the audacity to include not just all twelve Doctors we’ve seen but the next one.
As we see the end of the War Doctor – joining the long narrative up to the start of of the story Rose, it’s not just a moment of fan wish-fulfillment but a very emotional scene too.
“I could retire and be curator of this place”
“YOU KNOW I REALLY THINK YOU MIGHT”
Tom Baker’s surprise cameo, a magical and bewildering thing, is the perfect end to this movie, alongside the dream of the twelve Doctors together, accepting the “lost” incarnation as part of themselves.
(The end-credits are a marvelous coda. They emphatically show the lost Doctor joining the others as part of the sequence of faces looming from vortex, the theme tune and listing of twelve actors joyfully underscoring this acceptance.)
For the first Doctor Who movie, this was a fantastic start.