The Episode (4.5/5)
And so the 50th Anniversary of my favorite television show, Doctor Who, has come to pass. It is an event I have looked forward to for many years with my expectations quite high (understandably so). I have been watching the show since infrequent PBS re-runs in the early to mid 90's introduced me to Tom Baker's 4th Doctor. The show with it's eclectic lead, who played a character that appeared to be more of a rebellious space bohemian, which contrasted greatly with the military-esque world of Star Trek appealed to be greatly, and I would watch the show anytime it would make it's random appearances. Since that time I have become a huge fan of the series buying much of the available classic series on DVD, not to mention the complete new series, however it's the older Doctors through good and bad that have always held a special place in my heart. The raw quality of the classic series combined with excellent writing by such visionaries as Malcolm Hulke, Douglas Adams, Robert Holmes, and Terrence Dicks made something that truly elevated the show from typical science fiction.
As the 50th anniversary approached my expectations heightened. During previous anniversaries like the 10th and 20th previous Doctors came back to join the current on an adventure, I of course, assumed this would be no different. I do not live in fear of spoilers, and ate up every single one I could get my hands on. It became apparent David Tennant (Doctor # 10) would be back, but Christopher Eccleston (The Ninth Doctor) would not. In his place came the great John Hurt playing a mysterious unseen version of the Doctor. I was certainly intrigued, but what I wanted to know most of all was would my beloved classic Doctors be back. The Doctor Who production team kept wraps on any aspect of the production that was shot in studio, so all we knew so far was David Tennant, John Hurt, Matt Smith, Billie Piper, were in the show,and that is about all we knew. It should be said many of the classic Doctors are over the age of 70 and no longer look as they did in their respective eras. However, this plot point was covered by current show runner Steven Moffat in his short Time Crash where the Tenth Doctor meets the Fifth Doctor Peter Davison, and the Fifth looks much different from how he left us in Caves of Androzani.
The episode Day of the Doctor aired, and we certainly got nods to 50 years of Doctor Who including William Hartnell's title sequence, Clara working in Coal Hill school, and a near reproduction of the first episodes opening moments. However, after that point we are treated to an excellent episode of new series Doctor Who that doesn't so much pay homage to 50 years of Doctor Who, but does a nice job of paying homage to the last 8. Did we get classic Doctors, well Tom Baker did appear, but not in the course of the main adventure, and the question of who exactly he was playing is certainly debatable. Was he an older Doctor who reverted to the 4th's face, and aged? Was he a version of the 4th, who by temporal anomaly survived his fall from the Pharos Project? It will be debated for years I'm for certain. The other Doctors certainly appeared, but only via CGI manipulation with archival footage.
For all my above ranting you would think I wasn't a fan of the episode. I, in fact, loved the episode. It is absolutely one of Steven Moffat's greatest written achievements for Doctor Who since before he took over as show runner, and was doing things like Silence of the Library/Forest of the Dead and Blink. It is one of those fantastic Doctor Who moments that plays around with the shows time travel premise in ways that make you rewatch just to figure out how and why certain events occurred. Also, as much as Tennant fanpeople have sort of killed his era for more it was a huge amount of fun to see his Doctor back, even though it has been a scant four years since the End of Time Part 2. I loved how his characterization was written in keeping in line with how Davies portrayed him at the end of his run, and his curiosity about how his time ended. Smith is so comfortable in his tenure as the Eleventh Doctor at this point, he has the character down to a science, however if there is one aspect to the episode that deserves praise above all other it is John Hurt as the War Doctor. It is, of course, a foregone conclusion that putting John Hurt into about any role, and he is going to turn in a fantastic performance, but what he does here is brilliant. I have since the start of the new series pictured McGann as the Doctor who fought in the Time War. However, from the portrayal by McGann in the TV Movie, and the limited amount of Big Finish I've heard it's sort of hard to picture him as the Doctor who destroys both the Daleks and Time Lords in an epic act of destruction. This is resolved by the inclusion of Hurt as a battle scarred, traumatized, yet determined version of the Doctor. His performance is melancholy having seen much conflict throughout the Time War, but also ready to go, and complete his duty to end the war and commit dual mass genocide in the process.
The episode involves the 11th Doctor visiting the National Gallery to inspect a Time Lord painting that was discovered in the Under Gallery. In this very gallery a series of paintings had their frames smashed from the inside. While visiting a portal in time opens, the Doctor jumps through, and finds himself in England's past during the reign of Elizabeth the first where the 10th Doctor is currently courting her, while also trying to stop a Zygon invasion. This dimensional portal was apparently opened by the War Doctor in the final moments of Gallifrey during the Time War. He had recently taken the ultimate weapon "The Moment". The Moment is not just a weapon of mass destruction, but it is a conscientious objector to it's own use, and allows the user to look into it's own future to see the repercussions of it's usage. The Moment, of course, takes the form of the Doctor's future companion Rose Tyler, and opens up the same portal allowing the Doctor to join his latter 2 incarnations in an attempt to stop the Zygon invasion which starts in the middle ages, but follows through to the present to the National Gallery where the episode began and to UNIT headquarters in the Tower of London where the 3 Doctors must stop the Zygons from invading Earth, UNIT from destroying London to prevent the Zygons from invading Earth, and then join together with the War Doctor in Gallifrey's final moments to assist him in his most infamous deed.
Doctor Who: Day of the Doctor has been presented in a brilliant 1:78:1 1080p MVC encoded transfer. For my viewing I watched the 2D version (3D gives me a headache), and was impressed by the results. The transfer looks incredibly bright and colorful, flesh tones are accurate, and fine detail is excellent. I honestly did not detect any issues on this transfer, and am very impressed by the results.
Day of the Doctor has been presented in an excellent DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that is similarly excellent. The dialogue comes through nice and clear, as does Murray Gold's score, and the sound FX. I did not detect any audio related issues such as pops, cracks, or hissing.
Not an impressive array of extras, but still better than a single episode of TV is likely to get. The disc kicks off with a 47 minute featurette that looks back at the entire shows history, and does an admirable job with so short a time span. We also get two mini episodes one essential entitled Night of the Doctor that features the final moments of Paul McGann's 8th Doctor, and one called The Last Day which is interesting, but far less essential viewing. Night of the Doctor, btw, is absolutely one of the highlights of the 50th anniversary for me. We also get a 14 minute behind the scenes featurette for the special, and the trailer for Day of the Doctor in HD.
While it did not meet my not-so-lofty expectations Day of the Doctor will certainly go down as one of the finest episodes of the current run on Doctor Who. The A/V quality of the Blu-ray is quite stunning, and the extras are a great addition to the package. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.