Doctor Who fans are still aglow over the recent fiftieth anniversary special “The Day Of The Doctor”, and for good reason! It was inventive, frenetic and most of all it was downright cool in so many ways. More importantly, “The Day Of The Doctor” was a loving tribute to the fifty-year-old program
For anyone who hasn’t watched, Doctor Who is about the adventures of a time-traveling alien called the Doctor, who can go anywhere in time and space. As a Time Lord, he often winds up in some misadventure while defending Earth and is accompanied by a long line of (mostly) human Companions. When the show first aired in the BBC back in 1963, it was more pedestrian than the madcap pace exuberated by the modern show. The Doctor was played by William Hartnell, a distinguished older actor who was more cerebral and sedate than his successors. Doctor Who was always plagued by low budgets and production values, which didn’t help its stature of being a children’s show. Still, it had an unmistakable charm and its youthful audiences loved the show. This happened after the show began steering away from historical dramas and introduced goofy aliens that were played by actors in bargain-basement costumes.
This status stayed with the show for many years and over many incarnations of the Doctor. You see, once Hartnell left the program in 1966, he was ingeniously recast. The Doctor was an alien, so it was established that he could regenerate into another person at the time of his death. Each Doctor that followed him was more and more outrageous in demeanor and attire, probably culminating in Colin Baker’s eye-hurting, multi-colored waist coat and his flamboyantly overbearing behavior. But this concept allowed each actor to add his own touch to the character, making the Doctor a rather complex person for this kind of show. It was probably why Doctor Who began to catch on past the kids.
The first significant introduction to American audiences of Doctor Who was the Tom Baker era from 1974 to 1981. His Doctor was distinguished by an overlong, multicolored scarf, and a huge afro. While he was quite daffy, Baker’s Doctor exhibited a cunning, intellectual side that was masked by his eccentric behavior. Still, the show was bogged down with horrible special effects and production values. While the show won many fans, there were just as many who dismissed Doctor Who as kiddie fare.
Eventually, Doctor Who was cancelled in 1989 and the property laid dormant until 1996 when Fox aired a TV movie pilot that attempted to jumpstart the franchise. The film was actually good, but controversial with many longtime fans, who bemoaned the semi-reboot. For instance, the Doctor revealed he was half-human and shockingly enough he had a romantic moment with his Companion. Egad! Sure, it sounds silly but fans can be recalcitrant whenever changes are made. The movie didn’t lead to a series and so the attempt at restarting the franchise was stillborn.
But like any good intellectual property, Doctor Who refused to die. Finally in 2005, a brand new series was launched that rejuvenated the stale franchise. Now Doctor Who had updated effects, the characters were dynamic and relatable and the stories were more adult. The ramifications and intricacies of time travel were explored in episodes like “Father’s Day”, “Blink”, and “The Name Of The Doctor”. Others had outlandish plots best explained by their episode titles–”The Stolen Earth”, “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” and “Let’s Kill Hitler”. Some others where actually heartfelt like “The Doctor’s Wife” where the Doctor’s spaceship attained a corporeal, sentient form . To its credit, the show still retained its sense of whimsy and charm. Episodes featured many unique images like the Doctor soaring through the air in a carriage pulled by a flying great white shark (!), or him and his Companion riding a motorcycle up a glass tower. For every lighthearted episode, there were those that were quite chilling, adventurous, wondrous, and more importantly, thought provoking.
A very important change made to the modern Doctor Who is that the Doctor is the last of his kind. His race, from the planet Gallifrey, along with their mortal enemies, the Daleks, had died off fighting in a Time War. The Doctor, as played by Christopher Eccleston, was more morose and subdued. It was even reflected in his dark attire. He was clearly suffering from survivor’s guilt and was wracked by what he did in the Time War (it was revealed that he destroyed both races). However, by the end of his run, Eccleston’s Doctor (the Ninth Doctor) seemed to be recovering thanks to the help of his Companions Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) and Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman).
Edgier, More Emotional Doctors
This change into a more optimistic demeanor was fully expressed with the next Doctor brilliantly portrayed by David Tennant. The Tenth Doctor was exploding with youthful energy and charm. He often rambled on at a mile per second and had an impish way about him. One couldn’t help but be delighted by his antics. Yet, the Tenth Doctor once in a while unmasked a haunted and frightful demeanor that was unsettling to watch. This was underlined by Tennant’s ability to convey someone who was much older than he appeared.
His successor Matt Smith also had this uncanny ability. But, being that he was the youngest person to portray the Doctor, that ancient quality shown in his eyes and mannerisms added to the dichotomy of the Doctor. Now that Peter Capaldi will be the new Doctor come the next Christmas special (“The Time Of The Doctor”), some of his conflicting aspect will be toned down since Capaldi is an older actor.
But what does that mean for Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman)? She will seem more like a daughter next to Capaldi. It’s doubtful there will be any romantic tension a la Rose Tyler, who started falling for the Tenth Doctor once he came into the picture. Perhaps Clara will soon leave the show. However, River Song (Alex Kingston) seems more compatible with Capaldi’s Doctor since the actress is closer in age to him.
The Doctor’s Day
While we wait for the Christmas special we can still reflect on the show’s fiftieth anniversary and the celebrations surrounding it. An excellent job was done in building up anticipation for “The Day Of The Doctor” starting with a magnificent trailer that highlighted the show’s complex history and characters to mini webisodes tie-ins. The best webisode was “The Night Of The Doctor”, which surprised fans with the return of Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor. Finally, we got to see his final adventure before he regenerated into the War Doctor (John Hurt). It was literally a juicy bone thrown to fans who have been clamoring to see more of this neglected Time Lord. We saw that the Doctor had aged since his first appearance, implying that he had been in that form for some time. The only drawback to “The Night Of The Doctor” was that it was too short. Frankly, I wanted to see more of this Doctor. There are now petitions from fans to bring McGann back for more adventures. Hopefully, they’ll succeed.
Now let’s go back to the fiftieth anniversary special. Here’s what was good, no, great about the special; it was a joy seeing Tennant and Smith together. This had been done before with older specials celebrating Doctor Who’s other landmarks, but this one resonated with fans worldwide who have come to love these two Time Lords. I just wished executive producer Steven Moffat was able to get Eccleston to reprise his role, although we did get to see a brief glimpse of him near the special’s end. Those final scenes were some of the greatest moments in Doctor Who history. The two Doctors along with the War Doctor came up with an ingenious plan to save their homeworld during the Time War. Along with the Tenth Doctor, we were shown all the other Doctors on monitors helping out the three principals, and we caught a peek at Capaldi’s Doctor. It made me go “YES!” because that just amped up the cool factor in those scenes! It’s just unfortunate that we didn’t see more of the other Doctors or that the special was longer.
At last, the Time War was shown and the magnitude of Gallifrey’s desperation–their enemy, the Daleks, were on the ground killing everyone. Hurt was perfectly cast as the War Doctor and expertly conveyed his ambivalence and hesitation over what he had to do to stop the war by using a doomsday weapon.
The special’s conclusion was a brilliant reset that brought some redemption to the War Doctor since by the end he no longer was a mass murderer. At the same time, his and the Tenth Doctor’s forgetting of the events preserved continuity. Now the Doctor has a real purpose in his life that directly impacts him, which is searching for Gallifrey. This development could lead to terrific stories and will likely carry on to other incarnations.
Let’s not forget the other surprise cameo made by Tom Baker. It was a pleasant surprise and a heartfelt nod to fans of the Classic Doctor Who. His appearance as the Curator hints at something else going on. Clearly, the Eleventh Doctor recognized him. So, is the Curator a future incarnation that is a throwback to the Fourth Doctor?
The only fault with the episode was the plot with the alien Zygons in the present day. It was largely forgettable. But Who fans were treated with Easter eggs about the Doctor’s past adventures and his many companions. However, the absence of Jack Harkness and other characters was quite noticeable.
Until “The Time Of The Doctor” airs, there is the question of the regenerations. Matt Smith said in interview (according to The Mirror) that his Doctor is the final regeneration. This statement is supported by the fact that the War Doctor is an official regeneration and Tennant’s Doctor regenerated twice in the episode “Journey’s End”. If not, then is Capaldi the thirteenth and final Doctor? How will they get around this? Do the circumstances behind the Doctor’s regeneration in “The Night Of The Doctor” give us any clues?
For now all we can do is speculate and reflect on the recent special. It was terrific how they acknowledged the show’s long history. “The Day Of The Doctor” was something that can be enjoyed by all fans and underlined how this special was just part of something larger and more spectacular.