I’m very late to offer my opinion on “Day of the Doctor,” due to a variety of things, but not due to any lack of feeling on my part, because I thought it was utterly fantastic. I would not have wanted the task of writing the 50th anniversary episode of the show, but that is probably the difference between me and Moffat, and it’s probably a good difference, because we needed somebody to jump in and write the episode, and I thought Moffat did a spectacular job with it. I’m not sure he completely hit it out of the park but it was, to continue with my baseball metaphor, a hard-hit triple. And I’m not sure that my feeling that it wasn’t a complete home run isn’t due to the fact that I’ve only had a chance to watch it once, and then with various interruptions because of various things, and so I didn’t get to really immerse myself as much as I wanted. Actually, wait, I take it back: I do know why I didn’t think it was a home run, and it’s because of a failing on my part: I don’t know enough about Classic Who. I mean, I know vague amounts, but not enough to really catch everything that was happening. I was sure that there was stuff that was going over my head (and Tumblr afterward confirmed it).But, to give you an example, when the Curator showed up at the end, I was like, “Well. I bet that is someone who has a lot of meaning to Doctor Who. It’s probably Tom Baker.” But that moment would have been better if I’d actually, you know, recognized Tom Baker. (NB: It doesn’t help that I have legitimate facial recognition issues, so I am the worst at being “surprised” by cameos, I never know who the cameo is until I can use context clues to get there. Which was what I did with Tom Baker.)
So, anyway, I thought it was brilliant, and here are the things I loved about it:
• Timey-wimey. Both the fun that was poked at the line (that was so a classic Moffat touch and I thought it was actually the best joke of the episode) and the fact that it was all over the place. This was an episode that was, I thought, unmistakably Moffat’s style. You either like Moffat’s style or you hate it; I happen to like it. He always feels to me like he’s having an absolute blast with the fact that his show is about time travel and he can be all over the map and it doesn’t really make sense but I’ve actually always thought that was the point he was making: time travel doesn’t make sense; it’s a mess; the Doctor has no idea where he’s been or where he’s going because after a while you’ve been too many times and seen too much. When the Moment says that she gets the past and future confused, I thought that was the motto of Moffat’s Who: If you stick around too long, that’s what happens. Anyway, I like that the episode felt a bit like, “And then what if THIS happened?” I sometimes write the same way, and it’s a really freeing and fun way to write, to push against the walls of what your storyworld can do just to see what happens. When Moffat’s at his best, he feels like that to me, and I thought this episode was a lovely example.
• The tribute to the past. I actually thought all the little touches of the past were perfect, an acknowledgment of the show that came before the show we have now without bogging it down too much for people like me who are terrible fans and have no idea what came before. I really adored using the old credits at the beginning, and the I.M. Foreman school, and the clock showing the time that the first episode of Doctor Who had aired. And I loved all of the Doctors showing up together, in all of their incarnations, to stand united. INCLUDING TWELVE (or Thirteen, whatever he might be at this point). Best. Fantastic.
• And the gift of the future. Okay, I know this has been controversial, the whole Gallifrey retconning, or whatever you want to call it. But I loved it. I loved it. Because here’s the deal: We’ve done the Gallifrey guilt thing on this show. We’ve done it kind of ad nauseam. And that makes sense, because if you had to do what the Doctor had done, you’d never get over it, I get that. Certainly I always wrote him that way (speaking of, I loved so much that in the end the Moment was a great, big, red button, just as I wrote it in “Something About Stars”). And what Moffat did, in a gesture that still makes me a little bit teary-eyed, as he gave the Doctor back his home. And maybe it doesn’t make a ton of sense, but this show never has made a ton of sense, no matter who was writing it, and I am fine with a little bit of hand-waving if it’s done in the service of making your characters happy instead of unnecessarily tearing them to pieces. Here’s what Moffat did in this episode of Doctor Who: He took the Doctor, this character he’s loved since childhood, and he gave him the best gift he could have given him, and that was so lovely. So lovely. There are a lot of things I like about Moffat as a writer, there really are, but one of the most enduring things is that I like how much he worships his characters. He has a reputation for being this really mean creator and I’ve never understood where he gets that from, I’ve never seen a head writer so reluctant to truly harm the people he’s created, the people whose lives he’s in charge of. Even the sad things that happen—like Amy and Rory being separated from the Doctor, like River and the Doctor being on opposite life paths—they are done so kindly. Amy and Rory are separated from the Doctor but they live out their lives happily, with each other. River’s life trajectory is doomed, but we’ve seen how it ends and actually it’s not so bad (depending on how you view that; I’ve always thought Moffat was going for a happy ending, because that’s what he does). (I actually think the one genuinely sad thing Moffat has written has been Reinette living out her life waiting for the Doctor to come and never having him show up. Which might be proof that actually Moffat didn’t like Reinette all that much.) So, anyway, Moffat gave the Doctor the best birthday gift he could think of for him, which was to assuage his guilt, give him new purpose after 1,200 years, provide a balm for his loneliness and make him no longer the last of his kind. If we knew someone like the Doctor, or if we were the Doctor’s companion, if we loved him, if we could do anything in the world for him, it’s what we would have done, too. Moffat had the power to actually do it. And maybe it’s dishonest and cheating to give the Doctor a fix like that. But the show is a fantasy, and maybe, in the middle of a time in human civilization that seems a little bleak and hopeless, maybe it was time to give the great defender of the Earth a little bit of hope in gratitude for everything he’s given us. I’m okay with a plot hole if it leads to the look of cautious, disbelieving joy on Eleven’s face. There’s your family, Doctor. Go get ‘em.
• And, also, in a really weird way, Moffat’s plot twist there introduced an element of genuine surprise into what I thought was a plot whose conclusion I was going to know. The whole time the Doctors were debating with each other, I was like, “But…they have to use the Moment, that’s what happens…” And when they didn’t I was like, “!!!!” And I know this is the other problem that people are having with this episode, that it undoes RTD’s era of the show. Even though the episode overtly tells us that it doesn’t, that it’s all still there. It’s a reset, yes, but they happen. RTD’s era itself was a reset. It’s a long, HALF-A-CENTURY OLD show and it’s got to evolve. I didn’t think it was overly disrespectful to introduce the possibility of Gallifrey coming back. After all: RTD HAD ALREADY INTRODUCED THAT POSSIBILITY HIMSELF. Let’s face it, “End of Time” has always made less than no sense to me, and the inexplicable return of Gallifrey in that episode was just one of the things that I hated about it. Talk about being emotionally dishonest: Gallifrey being gone WAS RTD’S OWN THING and he couldn’t be bothered to stick to it. So I’m fine with a bit of a re-write of a plot point that was so constricting even the original inventor of the plot point found himself having to write around it. (Also, incidentally, I liked Moffat’s Time Lords on Gallifrey a lot better than the scenery-chewing ones in “End of Time.” I don’t know anything about the classic Time Lords but the exasperated and exhausted generals in Moffat’s Gallifrey were a lot like how I would have written them in “Something About Stars,” had I not felt myself a bit constricted by the overdramatic caricatures that RTD used. I felt for these Time Lords, fighting their unwinnable war; I understood why the sacrifice of these Gallifreyans, this society, would have actually hurt the Doctor as much as it clearly did through Nine and Ten’s tenures. In EoT, when the Time Lords were crazy, I was like, “God, Doctor, no wonder you got rid of these tiresome idiots, why have you been moping around all this time, they’re lunatics”).
• Ten and Eleven were fantastic together, and John Hurt was great as the snide commenter who was saying all of the things we’ve always thought about those two. John Hurt was, in a weird way, us in that episode, and that was an interesting thing to do, to push the viewer into the perspective of the War Doctor. Now, maybe that should have been Nine (although Christopher Eccleston didn’t seem inclined to come back) or Eight, but, because I don’t know Eight at all, I was fine with the idea that there was A Doctor who only was around for the war, who didn’t exist before the war and stopped existing after the war, A Doctor who the other Doctors tried to forget. (Forgetting and remembering are such huge Moffat themes, which I also think tie into the morass of time travel.)
• I was so glad that Rose was there, but not as Rose. I thought it was just enough Rose and Bad-Wolf-ness to offer respect for the position she occupied in the history of the show (and Rose, no matter how you feel about her, was undeniably a huge part of New Doctor Who The Show, regardless of what you think about her role in the Doctor’s life) without going too overboard. I was, honestly, terrified we were going to be doing some parallel universe nonsense, and I’m so glad we didn’t, it was a huge relief to me that we left that storyline where it is so that I can continue to pretend that it never happened.
• Speaking of, seeing Ten was weird, because it was a little bit like seeing an ex and realizing that you’re over him. Like, there was no real rush of nostalgia that overtook me for Ten. The rush of nostalgia overtook me for the fandom the way it was back then, but I realized that I have forgiven Ten for how much I hated him at the end, and now I’m okay with him and can remember how much I used to love him but I don’t feel consumed by that love any longer. He was on the screen and he was charming and he said “Wellllllll” the way he always used to say “Wellllllll,” but I’m fine with never seeing him again. I’m past him. I’ve moved on. When Ten said that stupid “I don’t want to go” line that I have always hated more than almost any other line of dialogue, I was like, “Ugh, are you serious?” and then Eleven said, “He always says that,” and I basically died laughing because YES, TEN WAS SUCH A WHINEY BRAT BY THE END, ELEVEN, I’M WITH YOU. But I’m no longer furious at Ten, I no longer have this visceral reaction to him. I don’t want to be friends with him on Facebook, but I wish him well.
• Moving on to current characters who have their teeth in my heart and who I’m hoping not to have a messy break-up with, here’s the deal: Doctor Who came back for one glorious, giddy afternoon in which the show was everywhere, and I was happy to see it. I always forget that I miss Doctor Who until it comes back and then I’m like, “Awwww, silly show, I do enjoy you.” In stark contrast to Sherlock, which I miss as a show every single sodding day that I don’t have a new episode. Which is, basically, you know, THE VAST, VAST, VAST MAJORITY OF MY LIFE. So Doctor Who finished and I thought, “Oh, that was lovely, well done,” and I went on Twitter to say that and what was on Twitter but A YOUTUBE LINK TO THE SHERLOCK TRAILER THAT BBCONE PLAYED AFTER DOCTOR WHO. And you know what? That trailer showed me almost nothing I hadn’t seen before, including at several points the same shots that had been in the previous trailer, and I didn’t care, I forgot all about Doctor Who and watched the new trailer 1327972 times in a row and squeed every single time at that last glorious shot of Sherlock on the rooftop in that coat looking out over London and OH MY GOD, SHERLOCK, I HAVE MISSED YOU SO MUCH FOR THESE TWO YEARS THE SAME WAY THAT JOHN HAS AND I LOOK FORWARD TO YOUR RETURN. Don’t break my heart.
I really liked the episode and I could totally see Ten marrying Elizabeth because he was trying to prove it wasn't her. That was a totally feasible explanation to his line in the End of Time. I liked the Time Lords and seeing ALL the Doctors!!!
I'm glad you've found a new love in Sherlock but I do miss your writing Who! I sure did enjoy your Chaos'verse!
"Speaking of, seeing Ten was weird, because it was a little bit like seeing an ex and realizing that you’re over him".
I wish I could say the same. But I fell hard for Ten and this week I've suffered all the well-remembered symptoms. It's done nothing for my productivity or my peace of mind.
Having said that, I feel we lost Ten at "Journey's End." The rest of his story was like hanging around at a wake getting steadily drunker and more maudlin. I wish RTD had regenerated him at the end of Stolen Earth, packed him off back to Rose in Pete's World and started over with Eleven. Because JE was the end of Ten as a character I could have any empathy with. After that he was a self-pitying dick who'd brought all his troubles on himself.
Rather a shame that I've only just really warmed up to Eleven. Seeing his lovely, cautiously hopeful face at the end of DOTD was wonderful. And I like his rapport with Clara, now we've got all that daft Impossible Girl stuff out of the way.
Funnily enough, I thought of your story all through the bits with the Time Lords. It's still one of my very favourite bits of your writing, and that's saying a heck of a lot.
As for Sherlock...meh. I'll watch it, I'll really enjoy it, but it doesn't have my heart on a skewer, and I like it better that way. Mostly.
No more pain - no more strain
Now I'm sane - but I would rather be Ga-Ga
I wrote (which is rare for me) a comment about it too in my own LJ a few days ago... I *really* liked it. I loved the interaction between the three Doctors... the idea that their oral banter is what goes on in his head when he's alone, all the previous regenerations talking at once, trying to influence what he does... to have it acted out between three physical men makes it HILARIOUS (having it happen inside his head probably made him start to question his own sanity)
But one of the main reasons is that, honestly, I agree that RTD broke his own mythology by having the planet time-locked and able to come out of it to descend on Earth. His own story line was that Gallifrey *burned* and everyone died and that's why Nine was the tortured soul that we, and Rose, loved. This makes far more sense. That 8.5 in fact locked it away and implanted the memory that it was burned so that his future regenerations would not go looking for a way to bring them all back. So this shows that happening and solved the biggest reservation I had about TEoT.
I disagree with you on everything you said about Ten, I miss him *desperately* and was SO excited to see him on the screen again (not that I don't like Eleven... I do, but I don't adore him the way I do Ten). I don't think he was whiny at the end, I think he was broken... perhaps nearly as broken as Nine was at the start, but he'd had such an auspiciously happy start that he didn't know how to deal with the overwhelming pain anymore and so he went overboard. but I especially disagree with you on "I don't want to go" - it made every single person in our group sob, young and old, male and female - but it also has a historical 'classic who' place... at least one, if not two of the previous Doctors said it too. As does the 'you've redecorated, I don't like it' thing... all the way back to early Doctors and even Eleven does it to (I think) Craig.
But we can agree to disagree, which is why I like you :)