Steven Moffat’s tenure as showrunner for Doctor Who has been a hit and miss. It started out very strongly with the 11th hour and Matt Smith bounding out of the TARDIS to wave his hands around and talk quickly. However the last three years have had their share of turkeys including the unwatchable Let’s Kill Hitler and cringworthy Cold Blood. So when it was announced that Moffat was to pen an extended episode to mark the 50th anniversary of the show expectations where divided to say the last.
The anti was certainly upped for The Day of the Doctor, David Tennant and Billie Piper were brought back, British cinema legend John Hurt was signed up and classic villains the Zygons were resurrected. The plot jumps between the last day of the time war where the Warrior Doctor (John Hurt) is considering using a weapon called The Moment to destroy both Time Lords and Daleks. The Moment itself appears in the form of Rose (Billie Piper) to show the doctor what he will become if he uses The Moment. The plot then moves between Elizabethan England where the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) is attempting to stall a Zygons invasion and present day where Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and companion Clara (Jenna Coleman) are investigating strange events at the National Gallery
Moffat’s has packed a lot of plot into 76 minutes and the episode did benefit from a second viewing, as a result some of the impact was lost on the night due to confusion. However what did come across was the excellent interplay between the principal actors especially the three Doctors. Hurt can out act the other two in his sleep but David Tennant reminded us all why we loved him so much with a few snappy one-liners. Coleman also turns in a strong performance, especially considering her character is underused in this episode. She provides the heart for the main emotional climax to the story and almost steels the scene from Hurt. Smith continues to be a charming as the foppish, dandy Doctor but he cannot manage the seriousness that Tennant had to balance out his own take on the character.
The plot itself does work well when you can follow it. The Zygons have a full story are not just rolled out to add some nostalgia value to the special. Their story has a clever twist resolution that Doctor Who can do so well when it gets it right.
For those who have hated Moffat’s term as showrunner, there is more ammunition here. It is unclear where this story fits into 11’s chronology - he was last scene in his own grave on Trenzalore but is now out and fine. However the most dislikeable part of the Day of the Doctor is the show’s ability to rewrite the rules of its own universe. The plot makes fundamental changes to the world of Doctor in a manner which is unfair on the audience. In a show that is as free as Doctor Who, what rules and events that have been established need to remain written in stone and not be changed whenever the writer feels like throwing on an extra narrative barbule.
Despite this, Day of the Doctor is a welcome addition to the cannon of Doctor Who episodes. Director Nick Hurran bring a grand, cinematic look to this episode which works well to increase the sense that this more than the average Doctor Who special. The plot is tense and well placed with a fitting emotional conclusion. Where this episode really shines is the interplay between the Doctors and the excellent acting from all three performers.
Day of the Doctor is not strong enough to silence all of Moffat critics, but considering how up and down Doctor Who’s important episodes can be (contrast The Parting of the Ways with The End of Time Part 2) this episode certainly falls into the up part of the spectrum. As a long running fan of the show I enjoyed it a lot, especially the little nods to the fans such as Nicholas Courtney’s cameo in a photograph and brief glimpse of the twelfth Doctor. As the history of Doctor Who continues to be written I can say that this important milestone has been properly observed.