17 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 837: The Day of the Doctor

Dear diary,

Oh, d’you know, as the TARDIS was hauled across London and David Tennant’s name flashed up on the screen, I felt really excited for this one. I’ve been excited by several episodes through the course of this marathon - one’s I’d never seen before, ones that have been recently recovered, ones that I’d recalled liking a lot on first run through… but this was somehow different. There’s something in the air about this 50th anniversary episode that even eighteen months on still makes it something really special. A chance for the programme to stop and congratulate itself for being something so brilliant for so long. Steven Moffat is right when he says you couldn’t do a story like this every week, because the series would drown in self congratulation, but let’s be honest, when you reach the golden anniversary, it’s only fitting that the show should get something so good.

I think there’s also an extra thrill because this episode is very special in terms of The 50 Year Diary - because it was supposed to be the final entry! The 50 Year Diary. The clue is in the name, really. The plan devised way back in the dying days of 2012 was to start the marathon with An Unearthly Child on January 1st, and then watch every episode in order, one a day, until I hit the 50th anniversary story. The first 50 years of the programme neatly summed up. Only then Matt Smith went and threw a spanner in the works by announcing that he’d be leaving in the episode immediately after the 50th. Right, okay. Not an issue, I’d go the the 50th and then finish the marathon off with his final story. Done. Easy. Oh, but those decisions were made way back when, and now I’m here… well, as someone pointed out when I raised the question with you lot, it would be a shame to end here, only a handful of episodes short of doing them all in this format, so you’re stuck with me for another two weeks yet.

So. The Day of the Doctor had a pretty unenviable task, didn’t it? Work as a standalone episode celebrating the first 50 years of the programme for an audience that would no doubt be significantly higher than usual, while at the same time provide the kind of fitting multi-Doctor extravaganza that we fans are always so keen on, just like they did for the 20th, 30th, and 40th anniversaries. I can remember watching the Tennant era and thinking ahead to the 50th anniversary which felt like just a million miles away. As things always tend it, it came round rather fast and I think it did the best possible job of being everything it needed to - I still see people complain that it’s an ‘8th anniversary special’ as opposed to a ‘50th anniversary’, but frankly they always come off as stubborn for the sake of it. Did they miss the frankly brilliant ending in which all the Doctors turn up to save Gallifrey?

You might have noticed that I’ve not really got a particular focus today, because it’s tricky to do that with an episode quite as expansive as this one, so I think I’m going to have to resort to simply going through things in brief as I think of them. Bear with me…

First of all, that multi-Doctor thing. I think we all assumed that it would be happening because that really is the template. I think we also had a fairly good inkling that Christopher Eccleston wouldn’t fancy popping back to Cardiff for a bit. What we didn’t expect, I feel pretty confident in saying, was a whole new incarnation of the Doctor that we’d never even known about before. Oh, but it’s clever done, isn’t it? John Hurt (also, while I’m on the point: John bleedin’ Hurt!) doesn’t just get dropped into the programme and left for us to accept as a whole new Doctor - they went to the trouble of getting Paul McGann to come in for a regeneration scene! Oh, all those years where his regeneration only took place across a million YouTube videos! Hints and suggestions that we’d be getting such a scene were fairly thick in the air, but it didn’t stop it from being any less amazing when a friend text me at work to say that the scene had arrived on the website, and I found an excuse to leave my customer for ten minutes while I went and watched the birth of the War Doctor. And he’s good, isn’t he? I mean, obviously, when you canst John Hurt as the Doctor, you’re bound to get something a little bit special, but I mean he’s really very good. A world weary soldier who still can’t quite shake off that twinkle that the Doctor always had in his eyes. He plays so well opposite Tennant and Smith, and really is a fantastic edition to the world of Doctor Who.

As for the story itself, I rather like that, too. I remember coming out from the cinema screening of this (which I’d told myself I wouldn’t go to until about eleven pm on November 22nd, when I realised that of course I would), and wondering what happened with the whole Zygons plot. Not even a cursory line to the effect of things being resolved. And yet, watching it again today, I realise that you don’t need that line. That’s part of the point - the Zygons adventure is something the Doctor would usually be all over (and indeed is with queen Elizabeth), but not today, because before the adventure can even get started, he’s been whisked off to meet his former selves and start devising a plan to end the Time War without killing them all. As stories go, it’s a pretty perfect idea for the 50th - it’s an excuse to pick up on all these elements of the programme’s mythology, and to bring back lots of Doctors, while also taking something the show has been for the past few years and shaking it up again, setting up the next stage of its long history. Well played, Steven Moffat.

And then there’s that moment at the end - ‘you know, I really think you might…’. Oh, the chills that caused. A whole ripple of emotion across the entire cinema screening (and, if it doesn’t sound too hokey, right across the world), because of course Tom had to be in there somewhere himself. Even after all these years, he still very much is Doctor Who. I remember people being incredibly impressed because he’d never come back to the programme before (which is wrong, he came back for Dimensions in Time, too, which is surely a career highlight), but I was just impressed that they’d managed to slip such a wonderful moment in right at the very end - the final treat in this great big box of chocolates. Had this ended up being my final entry in the Diary, I think I’d have been pretty pleased with it. 

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