John Hurt and Billie Piper in Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor
Let us state this clearly, so there’s no confusion: The Moment was absolutely Bad Wolf and the Old Curator was the Doctor, very late in his life, recycling some old favorite faces. We will brook no argument on this.
Ah, we so love opening sentences like those. Separates the lookie-loos from the real fanboys and fangirls. Well, pull up a chair, fanboys and fangirls. Let’s have this thing out.
GLORIOUS, amirite? What a wonderful (and painfully brief) hour-plus. What a beautiful balancing act achieved, of serving the needs and desires of a half-century of ardent fandom while at the same time giving us a story for the modern era; one not bogged down in too much minutiae. In fact, the theme could not have been more straightforward. It was the opening line of the story, provided to us by Marcus Aurelius (by way of the newest teacher at Susan Foreman’s old secondary school, Miss Clara Oswald): “Make no more argument about what a good man should be. Be one.” Moffat was making a very clear declaration here: We’re done with the mopey Lonely God character. We’re on the brink of something new. And by God, he did it.
But before this devolves into a pile of bullet points and quotes, let’s get back to The Moment and The Curator, shall we? The Moment was Bad Wolf and Bad Wolf was Rose Tyler. We will hear no handwaving about this being an interface who plucked an image from The Doctor’s future and took its form. No, that was Rose, right down to the smart-alecky playfulness and sheer joy in seeing The Doctor pull off another miracle. Yes, The Moment is sentient and has a conscience, but something more was going on there. “I hear you,” it said to the Doctor. Now sure; this sentient weapon might have coincidentally taken the form of a god-like being who could bend time to her will and then proceeded to spend the next hour actually being a god-like being, bending time to her will (opening time rifts and removing the time lock surrounding the Time War, something that would seem beyond The Moment’s capabilities, but right in line with Bad Wolf’s), or we can cut right through this Gordian Knot. Bad Wolf appeared briefly all along the Doctor’s timeline before flaming out. This was just another of the stops along the way for the entity; the most important stop of all. Rose, at the time of her becoming Bad Wolf, would have known how much the Time War cost the Doctor and how much he wished things went differently. “Bad Wolf Girl, I could kiss you!” “Yeah. That’s gonna happen.” Moffat loves his word play; loves for you to figure out that what you think is being said is not what’s being said. The Moment wasn’t being sarcastic there. She knew that it was going to happen, because they did kiss.
No, this was absolutely Rose Tyler, reaching through time and space during that brief moment when she became a god, and fixing her dearest friend’s pain. Witness her face when she tells him how the wheezing sound of the TARDIS brings hope wherever it goes, to anyone who feels lost, even him. Look at the sheer joy at seeing the other two Doctors come to save him from himself. Sure, that weapon has a conscience, but there’s no reason for it to be feeling so much affection and concern for The Doctor. That was all Rose. And kudos to Billie Piper, who did her best ever work on the show here. She was playful, soulful, deadly serious, and even melancholy. You could feel the power and the sadness in her voice.
As for The Curator, come now. He stated outright that someday The Doctor might return to a couple of his favorite old faces. And Queen Elizabeth I appointed The Doctor Curator of the Under Gallery. It’s not too much of a leap that he might have taken that and run with it in his old age. Of course, this opens up a TON of questions about the Doctor’s future. It was implied that The Curator was much older than eleventh Doctor, which would seem to indicate many more regenerations and adventures down the line, not to mention the implication that he somehow achieves true old age and retirement instead of dying in battle. He’s said more than once that he’d prefer the former for his future and here he was, letting himself know it was going to happen. It was a scene designed to give goose bumps and boy, did it ever. Tom Baker was wonderful in his few moments; twinkling, rambling, nonsensical (“Who. Nose.”), smarter than everyone else in the room, and with perhaps a bit of an ego. He was, in every sense, his old self; the Fourth Doctor. “Ohhhhhh, you have a lot to do.” And with that, the oldest of the Old Guard pushed the show into its next half-century of storytelling and gave the character its new sense of purpose. No longer is he merely an adventurer or hero; he’s a man who’s looking for a way home.
But we’re dancing around the main event here, which was watching Tenth Doctor David Tennant and Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith go at it, old school rap battle-style, tearing up the scenery and having a hell of a time playing off the other one. We can safely say that no companion ever had the chemistry with either of these actors as they had with each other. What a pleasant surprise. We had every reason to expect them to be good together, but they exceeded every single expectation. Like two virtuosos playing a duet. We couldn’t possibly pick a favorite quote or moment, but we did love that Ten saw a fez on the ground and the first thing he did with it was to put it on his head, illustrating wordlessly that no matter how different the Doctors may be on the surface, they really are the same person. And the screwdriver-measuring moment was utterly hilarious. “Compensating?” “For what?” “Well, regeneration is a lottery.” “Ohhh, I see! I’m the cool Doctor! Look at me, being all cool! Oh wait; I’M WEARING SAND SHOES!”
Even better, Moffat used the War Doctor to make some rather scathing commentary on the modern version of the character, and how he’s both too child-like and too romantic (“Does this happen a lot in the future?” he asks Eleven at Ten’s wedding. “It does start to happen, yeah.”) for his tastes. While it would have been wonderful to see Ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston in this special, John Hurt more than made up for it, by playing the most scarred and wounded version of the character to date, bringing tremendous gravitas to the story. We couldn’t have asked for a better person to play this character and have no problem seeing him inserted into the official history (although it seems the numbering on subsequent Doctors will not be changed).
Other things we loved: The cameo of the Twelfth Doctor (or at least his eyes), which was a total FUCK YEAH! moment. “The Man Who Regrets and The Man Who Forgets.” Moffat likes these types of titles (“The Girl Who Waited”) a bit too much, but we have to admit, an involuntary “Ohhhh, that’s good” escaped our lips when that line was uttered. Maybe it’s a little trite, but it does sum up several years’ worth of storytelling nicely.
Also loved the ways in which War and Ten both instantly accepted Clara. Any companion of a Doctor got to be one because she’s earned the right and neither of the other two men thought for a moment to question who she was or why she was there. We have to say, though, Moffat tends to make his companions The Most Important Companions, which gets to be a bit old after awhile. We accepted everything about her here, but felt that moment when she tearfully pleaded with her Doctor to find another way felt just a little unearned. We haven’t spent enough time with this character to really buy her as someone that influential on him. Then again, that’s the whole point of companions: to save the Doctor from himself. On that level, she was continuing a long tradition.
Things to note: All three Doctors leave this adventure and head straight to their “deaths.” War regenerates immediately into Nine; we know that Eleven’s next adventure will be his last one; and at the very start of Ten’s last adventure, he mentions that he just got married to Queen Elizabeth I. Moffat is letting us know that, even though this was a very happy ending, all three Doctors paid the price for tampering with their own timeline.
On the other hand, the existence of The Curator creates a fixed point on the Doctor’s timeline, all but ensuring him a happy ending. The real world implications of this are interesting: It means we’ll never see the endpoint for The Doctor. Tom Baker will not be around to portray the end, whenever it comes, which means it will never come. It’s kind of a nice thought. Not only does the Curator give the Doctor a happy ending, he ensures that we the audience will never see that ending. He will continue indefinitely.
And hey, just for some time paradox fun, try tracking the trajectory of the fez. It’s never less than 450 years old throughout its existence. In fact, it’s always 450 years old.
This is already running a bit ridiculously long and we never managed to touch on the Zygons or the return of UNIT or the almost uncountable number of callbacks to the past. But really, that was all just window-dressing. For us, it was all about seeing Ten and Eleven play with each other and Moffat did not disappoint. We’ll just close with our favorite quotes from what has probably been the wittiest episode of the series:
- “Look at you. Stuck between a girl and a box. Story of your life, eh Doctor?”
- “ASAP. Pronto. LOL.”
- “Someday, you could just walk past a fez.” “Never gonna happen.”
- “Venom sacks in the tongue.” “Yeah, I’m getting the point, thank you.”
- “They’re scientific instruments, not water pistols!”
- “Are you capable of speaking without flapping your hands about?” “Yes. No.”
- “Brave words, Dick Van Dyke.”
- “Timey wimey?” “I have no idea where he picks that stuff up.”
- “Do you have to talk like children? What is it that makes you so ashamed to be a grownup?”
- “Okay, so. Backtracking a moment just to lend some context to my earlier remarks.”
- “Aaaah, it’s his grunge phase. He grows out of it.”
- “Hey. Look. The round things.” “Oh, I love the round things!” “What are the round things?” “No idea.”
- “Oh, you’ve redecorated! Ooh, I don’t like it.”
- “This is not a decision you will ever be able to live with!”
- “Gentleman, I have had 400 years to think about this. I’ve changed my mind.”
- That moment when the other two doctors figured out Eleven’s plan: “Oh! Oh! Oh! I’m getting this too! That is brilliant!”
- “No, sir! All THIRTEEN!”
- “I don’t want to go.” “He always says that.”
- “I know where I’m going. Where I’ve always been going. Home. The long way around.”
[Picture Credit: BBC America]
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