It’s sometimes the most difficult to review a thing you love unconditionally. How can you quantify unmitigated adoration in anything approaching coherent speech? I mused on Twitter following the airing of “The Day of the Doctor,” the 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who, that my review here on Nerdist.com would be little more than “AAAAAAAAAAA!!!” and in the time since I tweeted up to now, I really haven’t found anything more articulate or profound than that. After going through each and every story in the Companion’s Companion over the last few months, I worried that my love of the show and the wonders it possesses would lessen as I was forced to think about it critically over and over. I also worried that the special would let me down in some way, like I’d built it up too much in my head for it to be anything more than a bit of a disappointment. What a dumb dummy I was.
So, instead of merely gushing for a few paragraphs, I’ve decided to tell you my 13 (yes, thirteen) favorite things about “The Day of the Doctor,” and also the one (only one) thing I was mildly disappointed by.
1. All three of the main Doctors got ample screentime/quips/moments
With something like this, it’s going to be very difficult to give every character his due, especially when one is the current star, one is the very beloved former star, and one is a brand new version played by a screen legend. Steven Moffat was able to give them all the proper due and none were left out. It’s the story of THE Doctor, not just the Eleventh, Tenth, or War one.
2. It made sense for Billie Piper to be there
Something that could have been really weird is having the character of Rose Tyler actually in the proceedings. She’s already gotten three quite-good sendoffs from the show, so having her back would have messed that up a bit, and would have meant either a) it would be she and the Tenth Doctor from Series 2, or b) it would have meant she’d somehow been brought back between “Journey’s End” and “The End of Time,” which also wouldn’t have worked. She got to be the Doctor’s conscience, which is what Rose always was, but in a way that didn’t bother with screwing up her storyline. Genius.
3. It rewrote and changed games without lessening the past
It’s integral to the Ninth and Tenth Doctor’s tenures that they believe they destroyed their own people to end the war. The battle-scarred nature of their journeys depends on them having done this horrible thing. In this, we’re able to get a hopeful resolution to the Time War without taking away the sacrifices and choices made because he thought he’d done something dreadful.
4. Matt Smith, David Tennant, and John Hurt TOGETHER
In all of the multi-Doctor stories (just three of them) that came prior to this, the best relationship/banter had been between the Second and Third Doctors. Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee had a great adversarial snap and were always taking the piss out of each other. Here, Tennant and Smith do a bit of that, but are also seen to get along really well at times and are like the best cop-movie duo in history. John Hurt is both the younger man and the older man in this instance, and the disapproving glare with a twinkle in his eye as his “mid-life crises” do their dashing thing is especially grin-inducing. It’s like he is us for a little bit as he makes fun of the way they point their screwdrivers at things (“What are you going to do, assemble a cabinet at them?”) and wear “sandshoes” and “dickey bows.”
5. Clara rocked!
Clara is my favorite companion of the new series hands down and it’s for things like what happened in this special. I figured she wouldn’t have too much to do with the three titans around, but she is in many ways the reason they’re able to be better in the end than burning all the 2.75 billion children of Gallifrey.
6. The Queen Elizabeth I stuff
This special tied up the loose end of Queen Elizabeth I knowing the Doctor (in “The Shakespeare Code”) and hating him before he knows he’s done anything. You’d be pissed off, too, if your husband ran off for a couple of decades. Joanna Page got a bit of the short shrift as more of a plot character than a thematic one, but she really did a great job as both the real QEI and the Zygon version.
7. Speaking of, the Zygons!
It was so lovely to see these beloved one-off villains (from 1975’s “Terror of the Zygons”) return and not be merely a cameo. They, not the Daleks, are the bad guys of the special, and they’re just as creepy and effective as they were back then. Fans had wanted their return since they appeared, and here we have them in all their gooey, suction-cuppy glory. Also funny, the Tenth Doctor could never figure out who or what was a Zygon.
I love the UNIT years anyway, and I thought having Jemma Redgrave brought in as the Brigadier’s daughter in “The Power of Three” was a wonderful touch. I hope UNIT returns many times, seeing as the Doctor now has a desk. The character of Osgood, clearly a Doctor Who fan, was also a welcome addition. Love for her to come back too.
9. The throwback opening titles
What better way to celebrate 50 years of Doctor Who than by starting the episode with the original main theme and titles? And fading to reveal the policeman walking by Coal Hill School, seeing that Ian Chesterton is the headmaster of the school, and knowing that Clara is now a teacher there, are all frigging wonderful.
10. It took the piss out of itself
Doctor Who is the best show ever, but it also does a LOT of silly things. All of Moffat’s sly jabs at the goofier parts of the show, and especially of the new series, were brilliant. The jokes about kissing, the aforementioned sonic screwdriver joke, the whole thing where the Doctors overthink how to break out of the cell in the Tower without actually trying the door first, and “chinny” and “skinny” were all terrific.
11. It somewhat redeemed the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration
As I’ve said a billion times, I really hated the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration because I felt like it made him seem weak and unheroic, and sort of not giving Smith and Moffat a proper welcome with his tearful line of “I don’t want to go.” This was, of course, more RTD’s doing than Tennants, and here, as the Tenth Doctor leaves, we have two wonderful moments that take a bit of it back. One, he says “It’s good to see my future’s in safe hands,” and two, when he says “I don’t want to go” again and the Eleventh Doctor says, “He always says that.” Just lovely, and finally the passing of the torch (albeit at the end) that should have happened on New Year’s Day 2010.
12. Tom Baker as The Curator!
It seemed a shame that none of the older Doctors could really be in the special because, well, they all look way too old. Moffat recognized that the history of the show was important, so including Tom Baker, the oldest living Doctor, and putting forth the idea that he could be a future retired incarnation of the Doctor who’s going through his old faces again is both intriguing and fun. He wasn’t in the hat and scarf, but it was still Tom Baker and it was still the Doctor. He and Smith play off each other really nicely in that scene and it brought an extra level of class.
13. The Thirteen Doctors!
Yes, it was fan service, but when every single incarnation of the Doctor appeared at the end to put Gallifrey into a painting, I got giddy, and when Peter Capaldi’s eyes appeared for that brief moment, signifying the future, I might have clapped loudly. In fact, I did. Such a gorgeous way to celebrate 50 years, and hopefully 50 more.
Now, the one thing I was a bit disappointed by was that John Hurt regenerated, but we didn’t see him turn into Christopher Eccleston. I understand he didn’t want to do it and that he’d met with Moffat but decided against it, but, after “The Night of the Doctor,” I had a glimmer of hope that maybe they’d have kept that secret incredibly secret. We knew what was happening, but I’d have really loved even a two second shot of the Ninth Doctor post regeneration.
That’s my only nitpick. Steven Moffat, director Nick Hurran, and all the cast and crew delivered on every possible level, and made me want to watch it 50 more times between now and Christmas. In short, after months of build-up and thinking and wishing and hoping, I still love Doctor Who, and if possible, more than ever.