This review is essentially one big spoiler. River Song would not approve.
The Day of the Doctor is a tricky episode to rate. It’s packed full of little treats for Doctor Who fans young and old but the logic is all over the place, the boundary between sci-fi and fantasy blurred confusingly. In a normal series run it would be a damn good episode; as the long-awaited 50th anniversary episode, it feels slightly too tepid.
…Hurt’s ninth Doctor expressed comical dismay at his older yet more childish regenerations…
You can’t accuse it of not being lovingly done though. The episode throughout was a harmonious patchwork of old and new, from the original 1960s credits to U.N.I.T. to the TARDIS being helicoptered into London to the thirteenth Doctor. Let’s take a moment to dwell on that “thirteenth Doctor” bit. It may have only been a hand on the console and a glimpse of scarily intense eyes, but when Peter Capaldi made his brief appearance the cinema I was burst into one united scream. It was moments like these that made the episode truly worth watching; sometimes flooring, usually hilarious.
The Day of the Doctor perhaps excelled most in poking fun at its own titular character(s?). Hurt’s ninth Doctor expressed comical dismay at his older yet more childish regenerations while Ten and Eleven revelled in trying to one-up each other. Viewers who are too young at the moment to understand Doctor Who’s more *ahem* adult jokes are in for a treat in a few years’ time.
…Seriously, what happened to them in the end?…
But somehow I wish there had been time for more character interaction. The meeting between Ten and Eleven felt a little rushed, their shared amazement quickly passing. Neither can I be the only one who’s rather disappointed that Billie Piper didn’t appear as the Rose Tyler we know; it would have been fascinating to see Eleven’s reaction to her. Still, the idea of a weapon so powerful it has a consciousness – played by the aforementioned Piper – was among the sparks of brilliance that lit the episode up.
Those sparks helped to glamour the viewer somewhat into forgetting untied plot threads, like the Zygons in the Black Archives beneath the Tower of London. Seriously, what happened to them in the end? Did they and the humans they were imitating ever work out who was human and who was Zygon after the Doctors wiped their memories? Where in time and space was that room in the last scene? The Hurt and Tennant Doctors won’t remember the events but will Eleven? Some questions are good, but too many aren’t. Stephen Moffat seemed to be firing all cannons with this episode, and not all of them hit the mark.
…The Day of the Doctor couldn’t live up to the weight of the hype…
The Day of the Doctor ultimately felt like a quieter episode than all the hype led us to expect. There were plenty of laser guns and explosions in the Gallifrey scenes but these had a sense of being obligatory, something shiny to look at. In a way, An Adventure in Space and Time which dramatised the beginnings of Doctor Who as a programme in the 1960s felt more emotionally satisfying. But The Day of the Doctor packed a real punch with its musings on utilitarianism – was it worth taking the lives of 2.47 billion Gallifreyan children to save the rest of the universe from the Daleks? This time, the three Doctors decided it wasn’t. It’ll be interesting to see if the events of The Day of the Doctor have immediate implications for the thirteenth Doctor when he arrives on our screens.
As with many things, The Day of the Doctor couldn’t live up to the weight of the hype that the BBC spent months building up. But it is essential viewing for all fans, and hopefully a fun 75 minutes for the uninitiated or ambivalent.