Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor

No Atlantis review this week, because Atlantis wasn't on this week - instead there was this funny little special about some sci-fi show my Mum and Dad used to watch...

Spoilers follow.

I saw 'The Day of the Doctor' in 3D at the cinema, and it was brilliant. It was fantastic to see it with a big crowd - there's nothing like a group of science-fiction fans all gathered in one place to watch something they're really excited about. (I was lucky enough to see the Star Trek: Voyager finale at a convention, and it was brilliant). The 3D was nice too - I can't always see 3D very well unless things are actually being thrown at the screen (even in Gravity, although I flinched when stuff actually started flying at the screen, most of the time it barely made a difference to me). But the Time Lord paintings, aside from reminding me of my beloved Narnia, were a great idea and the 3D at the cinema really showed them off nicely.

I loved the episode - this is my second favourite thing Steven Moffat's written since 'The Doctor Dances' way back in season 1/series whatever-it-is. The whole thing is brilliantly constructed, right down to using Elizabeth I both to establish exactly where we are in David Tennant's timeline (sometime shortly before his final two-parter) and tie off a couple of loose ends from his tenure. Seeing three doctors together was great, but seeing all 12 - no, all 13! (the cinema gasped in delight) - at the end was absolutely brilliant. And of course, the Star Trek problem of wiping out half the series from the timeline is avoided because Doctors Hurt and Tennant think they burned Gallifrey and it's vanished from the current universe, so the continuity of series 1-7 is maintained.

I'm not going to list all the wonderful in-jokes and references and bits and pieces here, I'm sure there are other sites that'll do that. Suffice to say, it was a joy and I loved it. I did particularly enjoy The Hurt Doctor's horror at how young the other two are and at all the kissing David Tennant's incarnation does (though to be fair, the Eighth Doctor started it), and his mocking of the way they keep pointing their screwdrivers at things, which I've wondered about for years ('what are you gonna do, assemble a cabinet at them?!'). I was unspoiled about Tom Baker's appearance too, so that was great, even if, not being a true Whovian, my first thought was 'Puddleglum!' The opening credits and references to 'Foreman' and I. Chesterton were lovely.

Best of all, I really should stop complaining about poor Moffat, because he obviously loves Classics - to my delight, the opening line of the episode is a quote from Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius is the emperor played by Richard Harris in Gladiator, an emperor who was a Stoic philosopher but who spent the majority of his 19-year reign fighting constant wars. (He could almost be John Hurt's Doctor, except the Doctor probably doesn't have psychotic offspring who like to dress up as Hercules. But you never know). He wrote a collection of philosophical musings (in Greek) called Meditations.

Goodness knows what class Clara's teaching that involves quoting Marcus Aurelius in a secondary school - philosophy? Anyway, she quotes Meditations 10.16, 'Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.' (Μηκέθ̓ ὅλως περὶ τοῦ οἷόν τινα εἶναι τὸν ἀγαθὸν ἄνδρα διαλέγεσθαι, ἀλλὰ εἶναι τοιοῦτον. This is the Penguin translation; the Greek says 'but be one', which I think packs even more punch). The irony is, of course, that a substantial proportion of the rest of the Meditations is all about arguing about what a good man should be, but still, it's a worthy sentiment and it applies perfectly to the Doctor's dilemma in this episode. Once we get the Zygons out of the way (they're largely a distraction to get things moving and establish the paintings, plus they offer a parallel to the Doctor's dilemma in Kate's plan to nuke London) the episode takes on the qualities of a Greek tragedy, in which the characters spend a lot of time discussing an apparently unsolvable moral quandry before finally doing something about it towards the end. The Doctor argues with himself about how to be a good man - but Clara shaking her head at him prompts him to stop thinking about it and just be one.

(There's also been speculation online that the Doctor will deliberately choose the Capaldi look for his 13th life, since he told Tom Baker he never forgets a face - Capaldi's Caecilius, aside from being, yay!, a Roman, was the man the Doctor saved when he had to destroy Pompeii to save the Earth, in yet another instance of this same dilemma playing out. Kate asks the Doctor how many times he's killed millions to save billions and he says 'once', meaning Gallifrey - presumably he didn't count Pompeii because that was killing thousands to save billions, or perhaps because in that case there was more of a sense that it was doomed anyway, one way or the other).

The city in the painting is also a Classical reference, as Gallifrey's second city (so, the Gallifreyan equivalent of my hometown, Birmingham ;) ) is called Arcadia. Arcadia was a rural area of Greece that became associated with the idea of a lost rural idyll, of an early paradise full of romantic shepherds and nymphs and... somewhere like the mythical Greece featured in Fantasia, basically. Later writers used to say Et in Arcadia Ego, literally 'and in Arcadia I', meaning 'I am also in paradise', or 'I have also been to paradise' and used by artist Joshua Reynolds in his painting of two women looking at a tomb, showing that Death is also in paradise/a rural idyll.

I'm not bad on my classic Doctor Who references - I was very proud of myself for catching Kate's reference to Operation Cromer being '70s or 80s depending on the dating protocol', an in-joke referring to the fact that Jon Pertwee's adventures were supposed to be set in the 1980s but filmed in 1970s, except that seems to have got forgotten about at some point (not to mention we've all now lived through the 1980s and they didn't look like that) so now no-one's sure when they're supposed to take place. But I don't know if Arcadia has been established as a Gallifreyan city already or not, so I don't know if it was invented for this episode - but certainly the selection of Arcadia as the city that represents the Doctor's lost home, the lost idyll that now exists only in a painting, is not a coincidence.

There's an interesting moment towards the end when Clara says, 'You told me the name you chose was a promise, what was the promise?' and the Doctor answers, 'Never cruel or cowardly, never give up, never give in' (I nearly cracked up and spoiled the atmosphere because this reminded me of Galaxy Quest). It's not the same promise, but the idea of making a promise to become a Doctor is surely reminiscent of the Hippocratic Oath, the most important part of which is, of course, 'I will do no harm.' Which seems relevant.

There was just one aspect of this episode that was slightly disappointing, which was that Billie Piper was in it but not playing Rose, and she didn't even interact with David Tennant. Brother and I have worked out some head-canon to fix that, though. In my head-canon, the rumour about the weapon becoming sentient and developing a conscience was just a rumour, and that actually was Bad Wolf Rose all along, using her moment in which she could see all of time and space not just to bring back Jack and kill a bunch of Daleks, but also to save the Doctor from the worst moment of his life. Brother's version is that Bad Wolf Rose, being able to see all of time and space etc., created the weapon's conscience, or the Moment, in the first place. Either way, we attribute Rose's actions all through this to the real Rose, or the Bad Wolf version of her, not a projection of her form created by a machine.

So Moffat, all is (mostly) forgiven; this was brilliant. I've been hoping the destruction of the Time Lords and Gallifrey in the Time War would be reversed or somehow fixed ever since the idea was introduced in 2005, and this was the perfect time to do it. The only thing better than 'The Day of the Doctor' was the far too short 6-minute webisode 'The Night of the Doctor'. I'm not usually into webisodes, I just want a proper, decent length story that I can watch on my telly and that lasts a sensible episode length, i.e. at least 20 minutes. But this one was totally, totally worth it because against all expectations, we got a whole new six minutes of Paul McGann!

The TV movie was the first episode of Doctor Who I saw properly and I loved it, being a big fan of cheesy US 1990s sci-fi in general, plus McGann is really sexy and a great Doctor. Although I haven't listened to the Big Finish stories featuring him (yet), the Eighth has continued to be my Doctor, and my favourite, so it was a thrill to finally see him in action again, and to see him regenerate, though I wish it could have been a full episode. (They should make movies about the Eighth Doctor - McGann is still young enough and although the lovely shout-out to his Big Finish companions suggests those stories are canon, there's a lot more flexibility when it comes to playing about with his Doctor than if they tried to make a movie about a current Doctor).

(When he regenerated into young John Hurt, which was a very nice touch, of course I saw Caligula, but that's my issue!)

So, in summary, long live the Moff and here's hoping the new Doctor takes Clara on that trip to ancient Mesopotamia, so I can get some more blog posts out of the new series! The only problem is, we may have thought the 1980s/1970s problem was bad, but if we're now going to accept the Hurt Doctor as a proper incarnation of the Doctor, that makes Nine actually No. 10, Ten No. 11, Eleven No. 12, etc. etc. etc.... Luckily, 'Night of the Doctor' comes to the rescue again as I think, if I followed it properly, it implied that he was given an extra life, so maybe that one doesn't count. But still, I foresee a lot of online arguments about that one... Oh, and if you're a fan and you haven't seen it yet, do try to catch Peter Davison's spoof 'The Five(ish) Doctors', which throws in some of the familiar faces who couldn't be fitted into the main event and is hilarious to boot.


  1. I really enjoyed it too, although I'm definitely going to have to watch it again sometime this week to tease it out a bit more and get it all straight in my head!

    Arcadia was established prior to this ep though - it's been mentioned a couple of times since the show came back as being a significant place on Gallifrey in the Time War. Specifically, the 'fall of Arcadia' has been mentioned at least once. Don't ask me to tell you which episodes that was in though! ;)

    1. I thought it must have been! Does Ten mention it when he talks about Gallifrey in 'Gridlock'?

  2. Arcadia in Albion24 November 2013 at 19:27

    The Tardis Data Core says that he mentioned it in 'Doomsday'.

  3. I'll admit... I get completely confused anyone starts bringing up Doctor Who. I suspect it would be something that's impossible for a non-fan to understand.

  4. Well done post. The episode also makes allusions to Shelley’s “Ozymandias”. Walking on sand (crushed statues), Doctor's sand shoes, and the portrait of the figure/War Doctor in the desolate sands. Arcadia & Queen Elizabeth I also links/alludes to Shakespeare's As You Like It (implies the Seven Ages of Man). The mind wipe negotiations is the John Rawls' Thought experiment.
    I think Billie Piper's role was perfect. Her characteristics & behaviour as a type time entity demonstrate that an actress can play The Doctor very effectively.

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