Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Other Three Doctors

Yesterday, I watched Doctor Who: The Day of The Doctor on BBCAmerica. This TV special just earned a Guinness World Record for being the largest live simulcast of a TV drama in history, airing in over 200 countries at the same time. It will also be shown in many movie theatres throughout the weekend in 3D and will premiere in American cinemas Monday, November 25th.  This special celebrates the 50th anniversary of the series premiere in 1963.

Was it good? It was excellent!  I loved it! I believe it's the best episode of the current series. I was impressed with how writer/producer Steven Moffat was able to integrate a lot of continuity, nods to the past, running gags and characters eloquently in a fairly short (it's about 75 minutes long) movie. The Last Great Time War - the apocalyptic battle on Gallifrey, the Doctor's home planet, was the source of all the angst that had underpinned the characterization of the titular hero for the last eight years; with The Day of The Doctor , the chip gets wiped off his shoulder in a big paradigm shift that actually makes more sense than what we were told; given what we know of him, the Doctor, even when bred for war, is not a killing machine - he wouldn't be the Doctor,  he would be a different character altogether,  and it wouldn't be Doctor Who anymore. Moffat figured out a way to finally resolve/reconcile this contradictory plotline by introducing John Hurt as The War Doctor.

I was curious to see what this new "black sheep" Doctor was going to be. There were a LOT of theories online regarding this mayfly incarnation - happily, they turned out to be wrong. Hurt's performance is fantastic and colorful; his grizzled Doctor is equal parts Gandalf/Obi-Wan Kenobi and 1890s Klondike Gold Rush prospector (think Walter Huston in The Treasure of  The Sierra Madre), he holds his own next to series star Matt Smith and fan-favorite Doctor David Tennant (whose performance is so flawless, it's like he never left!),  which is no easy feat. Costars Jenna Coleman and Billie Piper also get to shine (Moffat's script took care in giving everyone a real part to play and avoid turning the whole works into an overlong curtain call, which is why it bugs me when people compare his & Russell T. Davies efforts to Joss Wheddon, when I believe Joss should take notes - he only knows how to write teenagers, geeks or immature adults who won't grow up). Joanna Page as Queen Elizabeth the 1st was cute as a very catty & minx-like "virgin queen" Bess; at times, she resembles Judi Dench (!), who has played the Queen as well.

Then there were the cameos. There were two BIG surprise cameos, one not-so-big, and one BIG surprise cameo in a separate "minisode" that served as a prequel and premired the week before. That minisode, The Night of The Doctor, featured the first onscreen appearance of Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor, an incarnation that was introduced in a Doctor Who TV movie that aired in 1996, but only made subsequent appearances in tie-in novels and audio plays thereafter. His appearance in this short film has revived interest in seeing him reprise his role again, and I wouldn't be surprised if he does appear in the next batch of episodes.

The not-so-big cameo was the reappearance of all the other actors who played the Doctor (living & dead) during the climatic battle sequence via footage from old episodes reedited to appear "new"...and amongst that was a quick blink-or-you'll-miss-it BIG cameo by Peter Capaldi (!), who will be replacing the departing Matt Smith. We only see his eyes and eyebrows, but they are very intense eyes and eyebrows! This Time Lord is a man on a mission - perhaps the mission implied in the final scenes...

The last BIG cameo featured Tom Baker (!). Even though the actor (arguably the most-famous, iconic & recognizeable incarnation of the Doctor - y'know, the one who looks like Harpo Marx, wears an impossibly long scarf and has been caricatured on The Simpsons & Futurama often) told the Huffington Post that he was appearing in it, nobody really believed it. The only clue that he was being truthful might be the Radio Times cover promoting the event, which offered a cover featuring Tom as the Doctor from a 1993 TV Special, "Dimensions in Time", in which he's noticeably older and not an older photo of him from the past, in his classic 70s look. He's spry for his age, even though he's lit up in this special as though he were were feeble/ghostly/spectral in appearance, although there may be something to that - Tom's final DW adventure, "Logopolis", featured the Doctor being haunted by a ghostly watcher as who turned out to be an avatar of his future self!

There's a big debate online as to who Tom was playing in The Day of The Doctor. Was he merely playing the humble museum curator his character claimed to be (with an extensive knowledge of  the Doctor and Gallifrey, even proclaiming/hinting knowledge of what lies ahead?), a future incarnation of the Doctor - one who chose to resume the form of the 4th Doctor and "retire", or maybe he's the Doctor's brother,  Irving Braxiatel, a Time Lord known for his extensive art collection? Nobody knows, but it's a surprise appearance that was loved by many...maybe it was just Tom Baker as Tom Baker, the only man alive who could get away with knowing more about the Doctor than the Doctor!

So...after three years of wobbly storylines that seemed to mark a series that was coasting on good will earned by old feats of greatness (this was Moffat's best script since "Blink", an episode that's regarded as the most-popular episode of Doctor Who of all time in most online episode that the Doctor, ironically, has only a minor part to play in!), or just support from new audiences keen on feeling like they weren't late for the party, this TV special delivered. It had the meat, the sauce, the lettuce, the spice...anyone who disagrees should go watch Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D ...because they're too spoiled from having the good stuff and could use a dose of the opposite.

Here's a fun gallery of images related to the  whole works. Enjoy!

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