Doctor Who Day of the Doctor Matt Smith David Tennant John Hurt

One of the downsides of being so busy is that I haven’t been able to blog about Who’s 50th Anniversary at all. And now that I’ve got the time, it’s over a week later, and it all feels in the past now. So here’s just a chance to put down, in quick style, my thoughts:

In short, I’m happy. My love of Who has been through a very rough patch recently – this year’s clump of episodes was the weakest since the show’s return (I don’t even want to consider the trifecta of disappointment that was Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, The Crimson Horror and Nightmare in Silver), and Moffat’s approach to the series has a whole selection of problems that I feel may be a bit more entrenched and a larger issue than some of RTD’s flaws. However, The Day of the Doctor turned out to be overall great fun – it suffered from many of Moffat’s excesses, Clara is still a 2-D character mostly consisting of perkiness, and the plot frequently felt like it was in danger of falling to bits, and yet it never quite did. It managed to do something genuinely emotional with the multi-Doctor story rather than the understandable coolness of “Hey, wouldn’t it be great to get all the Doctors in a room together?”, and also managed to move the story on in a way that’s probably what the show needs right now. For better or worse, Who is able to keep going because it keeps changing. Sometimes that change is good, sometimes it isn’t, but The Day of the Doctor was a rambunctious bit of fun that mostly captured the best aspects of New Who, while summing up what makes Doctor Who truly unique.

There were also unexpected surprises – like the mini-episode The Night of the Doctor, with the unprecedented sight of Paul McGann returning to the role of the Eight Doctor on TV, and finally getting a regeneration scene (along with an awesome level of continuity references). There was also The Five-ish Doctors (Reboot), a wonderful half-hour slice of in-joke and comedy featuring Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, and which played like a cross between Galaxy Quest and Curb Your Enthusiasm. A little rough around the edges at times, but hilariously funny and weirdly touching at the same time.

However, for me, it didn’t matter that much how The Day of the Doctor turned out, because my 50th Anniversary needs had already been satisfied by the beautiful dramatisation of Who’s early years, An Adventure in Time and Space. I was misty-eyed within minutes (just the sight of David Bradley’s Hartnell staring with despair at the nearby Police Box was enough for me), and the whole thing was executed with a wonderful amount of style. There were occasional weaknesses early on – especially Brian Cox’s take on Sydney Newman, which felt a little *too* much like the classic cigar-chomping American – and some elements of the story just had to be folded together, or enhanced for dramatic purposes (the recording of the pilot episode was extremely rough, but it wasn’t that much of a disaster). But I can barely voice how wonderfully weird it is to see a story that I’ve known about for most of my life, which I first read about in articles in Doctor Who Weekly and books like Doctor Who: A Celebration, turned into an actual drama, and I was amazed at the way they managed to make it both a testament to the risk-taking that made Who possible, and a portrait of the tragic side of Who’s biggest strength – its capacity for change. From the farewell between Hartnell and Verity Lambert, pitched as a traditional Doctor/Companion farewell scene, to David Bradley being simply phenomenal as Hartnell finally comes to terms with what he’s losing, it was a stunning bit of drama, and the best tribute to the strange wonder of Who that they could possibly have managed.

And if you need me, I’ll be over in the corner, still trying not to think about how the 50th anniversary of Who means that the 20th Anniversary – which I can still remember – was thirty damn years ago… (*weeps for lost youth*)

Doctor Who Adventure In Space And Time David Bradley William Hartnell