Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Doctor's Carol: An Overanalysis of "The Day of the Doctor"

Have you ever thought what it's like to be wanderers in the fourth dimension? Have you? To be exiles? Susan and I are cut off from our own planet, without friends or protection. But one day we shall get back. Yes, one day. One day. -The First Doctor in An Unearthly Child

Once upon a time, an old man got bored.  So he ran away from home, and shit got crazy.  It's a simple story, and it's held up for 50 years, and now thirteen different actors playing the titular role.  The infinitely flexible premise could potentially go on forever.  No show has ever proved as flexible and as durable.  And yesterday, the whole world celebrated how powerful, flexible, and ultimately endearing the show has become.  16 years of cancellation failed to kill it.  Much like the title character, the show has proven infinitely regenerative.  And just because it's hit the 50 year mark doesn't mean it shows any signs of stopping.  This was far from a finale.  This was a statement to the world that the show is still going strong and has many more stories to tell.  I regret that I'm a late-comer to this fandom, but, in case you haven't noticed, I'm damn well dedicated it, and was glad to join in on the celebration.

The old saying goes that bad writers steal, good writers borrow.  If that's the case, then Moffat is very good at borrowing from Charles Dickens.  Because that's what this was.  I mean, I'm not the only one who got that, right?  Billie Piper as Bad Wolf as The Moment as The Ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.  It's a 12 Wonderful Lives!

The 1963 opening titles?  Nice touch.

I have to admit one thing I was completely wrong about.  Some people suggested that Billie Piper would be playing another role other than Rose.  Their reasoning was that her outfit was bizarre and she was only seen talking to True 9 in the trailer.  I insisted that the stuff about her only talking to True 9 in the trailer was a coincidence, and that Rose had often tried out some bizarre outfits that didn't quite work (like the Union Jack shirt).  I was wrong, but I have to admit that I was happy to be wrong.  Billie Piper as the guide was a way more interesting idea than somehow awkwardly trying to put Rose into an episode where she clearly would not have belonged.  And, while I'm not crazy about Rose, I loved Billie Piper as The Moment.  Her first few moments as The Moment were probably the best acting she ever did on the show.  She played a sly, sexy, wise, and powerful entity that was ultimately smarter than the Doctor himself.  Bad Wolf as the Doctor's savior.

I was going to write a big Eve of the Doctor write up to go up on Friday and give some of my opinions on things you should know for the episode, as well as a few predictions.  Unfortunately, I pulled a back muscle at work, and it's hard to write a blog while you're lying with your back flat on the floor to try to realign your spine.  I was going to try to give a little explanation of the Zygons.  Actually, at one point, I wanted to write one of my Doctor Who Book Reports on the Zygons.  But there's not enough information--or enough interest in me--to fill up one entire blog about them.  They're not a bad villain, but they're mostly unremarkable.  The only significant thing about the Zygons is that they have the technology--not the biological ability, mind you, but the technology--to turn themselves into other living creatures.  I knew that there was nothing else Moffat could possibly want them for other than their ability to shapeshift.  And boy, did he use that one.  Although, I don't understand why they needed to keep some humans hooked up to their machine to turn themselves into humans, and some of them they could pull it off on the fly.

There was a poll I saw asking people what they were most looking forward to in the special, and one of the options was the return of the Zygons.  It got the least votes, but I fail to see how it got any votes at all, or why it was even included on the list at all.  Who cares that much about Zygons?  Even Moffat didn't intend to use them for anything particularly big.  The Zygon plot was a parallel story designed to do nothing else but show the Doctor what he needed to do.

I was about 20 minutes from the end of the episode and thought "Why is Moffat focusing so much on this mediocre Zygon storyline?"  Then came the moment where Kate asks the Doctor if he's ever had to make the calculation of sacrificing the few to save the many and he said that he did it once, but that it was the wrong decision, that's when I realized what Moffat was doing.  I realized that this was the story that was going to teach the Doctor that he had to save Gallifrey, not burn it.  It was a parallel story to teach a lesson.  And I realized it was going to result in the Doctor saving Gallifrey.

That's when I started crying.

The other thing I was going to do in my "Eve of the Doctor" blog was remind you all about the significance of Queen Elizabeth.  Trust Moffat to take a one-off gag and turn it into a major plot point of the most important episode in the history of the series thus far.  Gareth Roberts, one of the better writers on Doctor Who right now, introduced the joke in the end of "The Shakespeare Code" where the Virgin Queen is ready to kill the Doctor for reasons that he didn't know because he was meeting her out of order.  Davies and Moffat seemed to appreciate the joke, as they both took it and ran with it.  Davies had the Doctor marrying Queen Bess in "The End of Time (Part 1)," and Moffat brought it up in "The Beast Below" and "The Wedding of River Song."  Not only is it hilarious to blow up such a small joke into something big like that, it's also the only thing that tells us where this episode takes place in the 10th Doctor's timeline.  Presumably, this has to take place, for him, between "The Waters of Mars" and "The End of Time," as that's when he said he married Queen Elizabeth.

Similarly, the "it doesn't do wood" line, which began way back in "Silence in the Library," became such a major plot point, it actually resulted in the ultimate outcome of the episode.  The Doctor finds a way to finally take down a wooden door using his screwdriver, just that it would take 400 years to pull it off.  It turned out that that wasn't necessary, but it was the inspiration for the end of the episode.  Because the same exact logic used in taking down that door was used to save Gallifrey.  If anyone is going to come in and try to tell me that saving Gallifrey was some sort of "Deus Ex Machina," I will again direct them to the fact that the definition of a Deus Ex Machina is a solution that comes out of nowhere and was not set-up in the episode.  The scene with the screwdrivers and the doors is what set up the plot to save Gallifrey, and that, by definition, is not a Deus Ex Machina.

In related news, I want a smaller word or phrase to have to type out than "Deus Ex Machina" because it comes up a lot when writing about Doctor Who.

The last thing I was going to predict in my post--and I swear this isn't just 20/20 hindsight--was that the Time Lords would be re-established in the Universe by the end of this episode.  I was half right.  The cool thing is that he saved Gallifrey (probably), but now has a new mission in life:  to find the planet he saved.  But there's a problem now, and one they never addressed in this special:  In "The End of Time (Part 2)," the 10th Doctor says that he had to kill the Time Lords because they wanted to basically destroy all of time, space, and existence itself and ascend to a higher plane of existence.  It could be that they were only planning to do that to destroy the Daleks, but it sounds like the kind of megalomaniacal plan that wouldn't change once its original justification is removed.  So basically, I think they would probably try and pull it again once they're removed from stasis.  This means the Doctor has a pretty tough task ahead of him when he does find Gallifrey:  he still has to deal with some crazy ass Time Lords after he's rescued them.  That's not entirely unprecedented.  Honestly, the Doctor's relationship with his own people is a strange one, one of antagonism, but not hatred.  He disapproves of his own people's actions, and they disapprove of his.  But that doesn't mean he wants them to die.

My friend Dawn pointed out that Osgood is probably, somehow, Clara's sister.  I didn't think of this until Dawn told me, but now it makes perfect sense.  Her name sounds a lot like Clara's last name (I'm assuming Osgood is a last name), and her Zygon copy said she was jealous of her more attractive sister.  But, while Osgood and Clara didn't share much screen time, they did see each other enough that, if they knew each other, one of them should have said something.  The most likely scenario I can imagine is that Clara doesn't know she has a sister, and Osgood knew but kept it a secret for some reason.

Speaking of Clara, the idea of her teaching at Coal Hill School was a stroke of genius.  I mean, is it a bit of a stretch for her to go from being a nanny to a teacher?  Maybe a little.  But she's teaching at the same school as the Doctor's first companions, Ian and Barbara, and a sign says that Ian is now the Chairman of the Governors at the school.  So, clearly, it was a little nepotism that got her the job, with the Doctor calling in a small favor.  Still, a great idea.  I hope she's still working there when we see her next.

I'm not touching the part about Clara meeting Kate out of order.  I can't think of a less interesting or important mystery to bring up in the episode.

I have one apology to make.  Months back, I did a write-up of a trailer that turned out to be a fake.  I didn't realize this until yesterday when I realized that not a single shot from that trailer appeared in this episode.  I don't know how a fan made trailer was that deceiving.  I didn't recognize a single shot or line from the trailer from a past episode.

Peter Capaldi's brief cameo made me stand up and applaud.  (I was watching this with a group of Whovians on a projector at a store that was primarily used for Magic: The Gathering tournaments, so it was not that weird to stand and applaud at a science fiction show.)    It was a brief moment, but it was a glorious moment.  As the Doctors unite, 12/13 won't stand idly by.  He's certainly going to lend a hand.  I like him already.

When the girlfriend saw the mind eraser devices in the Black Archive, she thought this was going to be the convenient way to make it so the 3 Doctors don't remember each other.  She thought this was a little lazy, but she didn't find it nearly as lazy as what actually happened.  She thought they were going to intentionally erase True 9 and 10's memories because, otherwise, the 11th Doctor couldn't ever get involved in this situation and keep himself from destroying Gallifrey.   Cool idea, but the show's never really been that worried about that type of paradox.  And the simpler explanation that, once the timelines cross, the memories of the other Doctors were erased, has two benefits:  1) It explains all the other multi-Doctor episodes (except "Time Crash," which it actually contradicts directly) and 2) It allowed for the 13 Doctors United scene without anyone having to stop off and erase 8 other Doctors' memories.  (The girlfriend found the Doctors United scene lazy as well.)

The Doctors United scene was beautiful and touching.  Yes, it required a bit of a stretch in logic.  Yes it was a little cheap to bring in all the Doctors in stock footage rather than in live action.  But, come on, that scene was fun!  For the first time, all of the Doctor's regenerations worked together.  The man who has saved so many worlds is finally able to save his own, united with all of his selves.

Tom Baker's cameo, however, was a little bit more interesting of a moment.  Rule 1, Rule 1, Rule 1!  Why do I let Moffat convince me that he's not lying about things?  He's proven himself to be a big fat liar before, and then he does it again and I believe he's not lying this time.  He's kind of like my ex-girlfriends in that way.  So I let him convince me that he was telling the truth when he said there would be no classic series Doctors in the special.  He's going to try to couch this into language, saying that "No, he's not playing a Classic Doctor," and he'll be wrong.  He knows what we really meant when we, the fans, bombarded him with questions about which past Doctors would come back.  He knew full well that we didn't think that past Doctor actors playing different parts (which may or may not be future Doctors) didn't "count."

So Tom Baker is a future Doctor?  The character of The Curator was left very ambiguous so as to explain the significant difference in age between Tom Baker as the 4th Doctor and Tom Baker now.  But basically implies that, somewhere in the distant future, the Doctor will "revisit" some of his old faces.  But only his favorites.  A bizarre idea, to be sure, but one that makes a little more sense than pretending Tom Baker is the same guy he was in the 70s.

The return of Tom Baker is so significant simply because of his obstinate refusal to return for decades.  It was 2009 before he agreed to come back to do audio adventures.  Hell, he even refused to do the 25th Anniversary special!  Thankfully, Moffat must have been more persuasive than the late Jonathan Nathan-Turner was.  I'd have to look this up, but this might give Moffat the record as the person to have written for the most different Doctors in the series:  4, 5, 8, True 9, 9, 10, 11, and 12.

Moffat has said that the next regeneration, Peter Capaldi's, is going to be dark.  I thought this made sense, as Season 7 was pointing the show in a darker direction.  But, after this episode, I don't see it.  This should be the happiest and least-dark era of the Doctor's life since before the Time War started.  The Doctor will always have blood on his hands, but now he has gallons less than he thought he did.  Why would the 12th Doctor go darker?  It seems like he should be facing the Universe now with a much lighter heart than he has for the past 7 seasons.

I guess it all depends on what happens on Trenzalore.


  1. Do we call Capaldi 12 or do we call him 13? I like true 9, 9, 10, and 11. But wouldn't it make sense to then simply just call Capaldi 13?

    1. Moffat insisted in a recent interview that Hurt's isn't a "Doctor," so the numbering stays the same. But the War Doctor ended up fulfilling the promise of the name of the Doctor in this special, so I don't see why he wouldn't count at this point.