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The Day of the Doctor (2013)

i described Iron Man 3 as being a fun mess, but being a mess nonetheless. Switch that around and you get The Day of the Doctor - it's a mess, but it's a fun mess nonetheless.

It's funny because i'd say that the stuff that i didn't like vs. the stuff that i liked lays out pretty evenly 50/50. What's different about it was the weight, meaning that the stuff that was strong was far far superior to the stuff that was weak.

I'll get to those specifics in a moment, but i wanted to first draw out an interesting parallel i see in the Rusty vs Moff tenure at this point because in the big picture i think that the weaknesses fall into the category of what happens when after some experience as showrunner you keep on trying to up and push your game. In the entirety of Russell T. Davies tenure, the only series finale that i didn't hate was the first one. Series one had its clunkiness within the season itself (i'll be happy if i never ever see a Slitheen ever again), but Parting of the Ways was very well-crafted and executed in how it brought all of the events leading up to it together. it felt tight-knit and efficient and had all of the elements that you wanted in a series finale. And as Rusty got more confident and wanted to try to up his own game and the stakes, the series finales got progressively worse and worse. Doomsday was properly emotional and all, but the plot was a mess, the action was a mess, and the whole foreshadow of Rose's death and the resolution of it was absolute bollocks. Last of the Time Lords was a nightmare with absolutely no redeeming qualities about it whatsoever. Journey's End would have been fine if isolated to the excellent portrayal of Davros and the resolution of the Donna plot arc, arguably the best new series companion out of the entire lot, but everything else about it was absolute kitchen-sinky and really annoying, leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. And i don't even want to try to talk again about how much i hated The End of Time. that might be one of my least favorite episodes of new Who to date.

Moffat's first series finale The Big Bang was pretty outstanding. Even though the crack-in-the-wall thing was a little fizzly, the story itself was very clever and all of the elements of that episode came off as a pretty well-oiled machine born of a series that gave Who a bold new personality, one which i really liked. And while i thought that series six was a stronger season overall than series five, the mystery surrounding River Song that culminated in The Wedding of River Song was a big mess. It had almost too much ambition for complexity - not something that i'm opposed to necessarily if you look at the movies and television shows that i'm fond of (Primer, Bender's Big Game, Memento), but the complexity of the River Song story arc had a surface quality to it with such a fragile base that it would collapse the entire structure when you looked at it with any degree of scrutiny. A true disappointment that made me look at the 50th anniversary special and all of the hype around it with a high degree of skepticism.

And in true honesty, The Day of the Doctor had the makings of an episode that could have failed spectacularly in true The End of Time or The Wedding of River Song fashion - there were certain scenes that made absolutely no sense, particularly in their transitions. The whole Zygon plot was underwhelming, the Elizabeth I comedy of "you're a Zygon!" was eyeroll-worthy in a way that wasn't funny at all, and the episode bordered on having too much meta in it that distracted from what meat of the episode actually existed.

But what saved it, turned it from being an utter catastrophe into something that was at the end of the day a pretty decent episode and a worthy tribute to the show's 50th anniversary, were three things.

one: I remember in an interview about The Doctor's Wife, Nail Gaiman said that the conversation between the Doctor and the TARDIS that ended with the line, "...but i always took you where you needed to go" was the starting point that shaped the entire episode. I was strongly reminded of that in The Day of the Doctor in that i felt that the entire episode was built around the scene with the three doctors, clara, and not-rose with the Galaxy Eater, with the doctors about to collectively press the big red button. That scene was absolutely breathtaking because of its intimacy - it had more fireworks to it than any of the overblown action scenes or the meta or anything else in the episode, and the two scenes that led directly to that - the conversation between Clara and John Hurt just prior to that and the conversation between the three doctors when they were first incarcerated in the tower - similarly drew me in to the characters and the heart of the story in a way that i feel hasn't really been achieved since The Girl Who Waited.

two: i know there are two distinct camps regarding Moff's tenure as Who showrunner. I belong in the camp of "he's pretty awesome" because the kinds of things he likes to do with stories and the characters, while not perfect, are things that resonate with me better than most anything that Rusty ever did, and amongst some of his missteps, he's had some amazingly brilliant moments of storytelling. After getting over the aforementioned missteps of the episode (particularly the really annoying scene where the meek scientist assistant starts to explain why "we need to leave the room right now" as opposed to, you know, actually LEAVING THE ROOM), i came away at the end of the episode with absolute admiration for how masterfully Moffat crafted the story of the three doctors and the end of the time war without contradicting the current, um, "canon" of the series (let's not get into the whole canon of who discussion, please), and the new goal and direction of finding Gallifrey.

three: when i heard that Billie Piper was going to guest-star in the special, i internally groaned - i've disliked Rose as a companion ever since series two, and the shadow that she cast all through Rusty's tenure always made me roll my eyes because of the whole romance angle between her and Tenant, particularly in the series four finale. I dreaded the idea of Rose reuniting with Ten or even meeting Eleven in a context of their character histories in the 50th special, and was pleasantly surprised at the way that Moff decided to use Billie as a not-really-Rose-Tyler character, stripping Billie of everything about the way that she was written that was weak that was and accenting everything that made her strong.

finally, one word about the ending cameo with Tom Baker. so far, i've watched the episode twice, and the first time i watched the cameo, i disliked it because it felt way too meta. I don't know what it was about the second time i watched it, but for whatever reason, the second time i really liked it despite the meta because of what the scene was supposed to do - invoke nostalgia and pay tribute to Baker's legacy as the Doctor. Memories of watching Baker as a kid came flooding back at me the second time, as Baker played the curator with a lot of initially forgotten nuance of what made his Doctor so magical, despite me tending to favor Davison and McCoy over Baker overall in the classic series.

And in that sense, i guess the series and its history can be forgiven for the sort of meta that it can put out at times, things that i normally can see as annoyance and a distraction. Unlike the way it was handled in Journey's End or The End of Time when everything felt so "let me bludgeon you over the head with everything we've done in the new series so far with absolutely no context whatsoever", here it felt like those more nostalgic elements were a part of the series progression and looking forward more than being stuck and looking back, and it even made me miss the stuff about Tenant that i actually liked, which is surprising given that he's my least favorite doctor out of all the ones portrayed on screen to date.

i could have done without that Capaldi cameo though, because it seemed to me an unnecessary foreshadow given how public it's been that he's going to be number 12 or 13 or however they're going to number him now in retrospect. Which creates some complications, right? because now, technically, 9 is 10, 10 is 11, and so forth? i'll let the official people deal with that "canon", whatever that means in Doctor Who, while i sit in the corner with an urge to eat some jelly babies.

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Comments

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girfan
Nov. 25th, 2013 05:10 pm (UTC)
lifeofmendel
Nov. 25th, 2013 05:33 pm (UTC)
yup. quite charming. :)
(Deleted comment)
lifeofmendel
Nov. 25th, 2013 07:31 pm (UTC)
I felt like the Zygons were an element that they wanted to add in somehow mainly for the publicity of it, as in, "oh, we need to fit some other classic monster into this story, it can't just be about the daleks in the time war." it was filler, and gave the doctors some sort of pretense to do more scenes together.

I don't think that Gallifrey being saved was canon. The impression i got from the end of the end of time (the end of the end of...) was that Rassilon was trying to escape the end of the time war where Gallifrey destructed and Tenant thwarted that plan by putting Gallifrey back into the time war. The Time Lords in this episode made an allusion to the fact that the High Council had other plans in play, and i think that that was supposed to imply the Rassilon plan at the end of time.

That's also tricky because the implication of that statement is that that plan hadn't been executed yet, but locking Gallifrey in a stasis bubble also implies that it *did* happen, which leads me to the murky conclusion that the events happened in a "blip of an eye" during the events of this episode.

Agreed about the Tom Baker cameo.

As far the scripting, i think the tough thing about that is that for someone to edit Moff's scripts properly, they need to be more intimate with his long story-arc than they probably are. That was kind of the issue with Rusty's era too, the fact that his long plot arc stuff was probably in his head better than anyone else's, so the ability to critique it for the better of the series isn't as easy as it would be.

I tend to place faith in Moff for trying to make adjustments based on retrospection. I remember him admitting that "The Beast Below" was an outright mess of an episode, and i think that series 7 in general was a deliberate attempt to scale back on the complexity and have a much more "standalone" attitude towards each individual episode. I liked series 7 pretty well because of that - even though there were a string of episodes in there that i thought were pretty inferior, overall i thought that the whole attitude of the series overall was much better.
(Deleted comment)
lifeofmendel
Nov. 25th, 2013 09:08 pm (UTC)
That is why they hire continuity editors. People who have been in all this for a long time and can track all these things.

fair enough.


Moff has stated that he keeps on asking Rusty to write episodes for his stint as showrunner and Rusty always says no. I get the impression that Rusty decided from the getgo that he wanted to properly move on and distance himself from the show creatively.

We feel somewhat differently about the strengths and weaknesses of Rusty vs Moff, but i agree that they're both great writers. The biggest fear that i have is when Moff stops, the next logical person to take over is Gatiss, and 90% of the stuff i've ever seen him have control over has been utter crap.
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