matt smith

50th Anniversary of Doctor Who Special

I’ll be honest, I don’t like to do reviews RIGHT after watching something. I like to get into conversations, watch it a few times, read more about it and then commit my final definitive thoughts in review form. Well…Im just too excited to wait! I watched “The Day of the Doctor” with over 100 people in Cleveland as part of a really cool watch party and it just multiplied the excitement. More on that experience here.

Like many of my Doctor Who reviews, it’s easier for me to break up the special into different small sections based on what moved me the most. These thoughts might not be totally linear but, like I said, I just want to get these thoughts out there so I can be part of the discussion. This is almost ALL SPOILERS. You’ve been warned! Let’s start with…

All Fifty Years Celebrated

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There were so many teasers and call backs to classic Doctor Who in this special! I admit to have not seen every episode of classic Who (yet) so I am sure I missed a ton of references but the ones I caught were magic. I’ve been excited about the premiere of “An Adventure in Space and Time” so I have re-watched some of the William Hartnell era episodes recently (thanks Netflix!).The episode opening with the first doctor’s intro proves to me that this is a total embrace and celebration of the classic and modern. Having Clara work at the same school as original companions Ian and Barbra was both a natural evolution to Clara’s character as it was a perfect ode to the beginning of the series. One of the best quotes from The Day of the Doctor is in the Tardis – “I love the round things!”. Quotes like this really pay you back for being a fan of Classic Doctor Who

Why Companions Are Important

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Seeing Clara embrace her life and strive towards her potential has been gratifying. She knows who she is and she loves it! The bit of fun where she drive her motorcycle into the Tardis and shows off how adjusted she has become to traveling with the Doctor really nails how fun this life can be. Ultimately, Clara saves the day. Her humanity saves Gallifrey by confronting the Doctor. She has saved the Doctor physically throughout all space and time and now she has found a way to heal him emotionally as well as the lives of millions of Time Lords. She may be the most important companion ever.

Differences Between the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors

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When the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors meet they are separated by over four hundred years. That’s over half the age of Ten! How has time made a difference on Eleven? He is much less haunted by the Time War because he has spent so long forcing himself to not think about it. That’s why he comes off much lighter than Ten and certainly less haunted. Seeing them together really typifies just how different they were from each other.

U.N.I.T.

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The granddaughter of the Brigadier now has the fourth Doctor’s scarf. Before I ever watched Doctor Who, all I knew of the character was Tom Baker. That scarf was the defining visual trait that told me that was him. I didn’t know about regenerations or that there were even different actors who played the character until years later. Seeing that scarf that often in the episode put a smile on my face because, even though Tom Baker wasn’t “My Doctor” he’s the first one I had been exposed to and to me will always be the quintessential Doctor.
Besides showing lineage with the third Lethbridge-Stewart at U.N.I.T we’re treated with their involvement being important to both this story and thus showing you how important they’ve been to the Doctor’s past. Hearing Eleven tell Clara that he had a job reminds you of all the great stories from the past especially those of the Third doctor.

The Time War

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There’s no way they could compete with what was in my head. Like, Star Wars’ Clone Wars, fans have thought about what this must have looked like for years before ever getting to see it. I was disappointed by how conventional it looked. This could have been any war in space and didn’t look like what I thought a “Time War” would look like. I had pictured battles all over the galaxy at all points of time simultaneously. Sometimes seeing something isn’t as good as imagining it.

Weapon With A Conscience

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What a perfect Doctor Who story device! Nothing evokes the best of the Tenth Doctor’s reign better than “Bad Wolf” and this special utilized it perfectly. For those fans who have not seen the adventure of David Tennant’s take on Doctor Who, this was probably the most confusing portion of the show. That said, a 50th Anniversary Special is hardly the stuff of new fandom so they’re just going to have to relax.

Elizabeth The First

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I’ve wanted to know why Elizabeth has had such a distain for the Doctor in the new series. Now we know why. The idea that the Doctor was (is?) technically the King of England better come up again. Including the queen ties up a loose plot line while also including one of my favorite aspects of Doctor Who – historical cameos. She was tough and never backed down…she’d make an interesting companion!

War Doctor, Voice of a Generation

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John Hurt’s War Doctor was the voice of many old school Whovians. Everything about his future selves annoyed him! The youth of his future selves coupled with their mannerisms comes off as a dead-on description of what I’ve read many times on message boards. Perhaps, this is an indication of how the Twelfth Doctor will be returning to the “roots” of the character.

Three Doctors Working Together

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With three different versions of the same person in a room, you’d think it could get pretty redundant. It turns out each of these versions of the Doctor are in such vastly different places that it’s almost like three different characters interacting. I say almost because when everything is on the line, you see what makes him special in all incarnations shine at once. When a problem is too big for the biggest brain in the universe only three of that brain can win. Remembering that there are hundreds of years worth of experiences separating these versions is something that truly defines what makes Ten and Eleven so different. I believe The War Doctor is affected differently by his exposure to Ten and Eleven. He is shaken by just how haunted Ten is while angry at how Eleven forced himself to forget the tragedy of the Time War.

Peter Capaldi!

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Our future doctor made his fist cameo appearance in Doctor Who which was something I did not expect. I’m still a little unsure about how John Hurt’s War Doctor impacts the naming conventions. Will Capaldi be the Thirteenth Doctor? Has he reached his regeneration limit? I hope these are answered quickly during his run. He did look scary though, didn’t he?

Regeneration

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We finally get to see the regeneration that happens before Christopher Eccleston’s Nineth Doctor. Turns out the War Doctor’s final words are the same as the final words of the First Doctor – “This Body Is Wearing A Little Thin”. Speaking of final words, David Tennant uses the phrase “ I don’t want to go” before he gets in his Tardis. Turns out, those will be his last words eventually too.

Tom Baker, The Curator

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At first, my brain was trying to comprehend just how the Fourth Doctor could be in his personal future and have also aged. Was it a shape shifter? Another Time Lord who eventually will have been freed by the Doctor? Was his past or his future? Well, like most things with Moffat, if you really want to stress out about the specific physics of something, you’ll just get angry. I’m so glad my heart kicked in and shut up my brain and just let me enjoy this hint dropping confusing but above all perfect meeting between two beloved versions of the Doctor. I thought all we’d get was the scarf to remember Tom Baker by but we got so much more from this scene. Watch how he literally walks into the light at the end of this exchange. There were a few moments that MAY have brought a tear to my eye in this special but this is the only one I’ll admit.

Hope

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I continue to have discussions on why, overall, I wasn’t happy with Man of Steel. My biggest problem is because of the theme of hope and how central it is to the character. In the end, Superman chooses the pragmatic solution instead of finding “another way”. This is has been the central problem, for me, of the Time War. It so defines the modern era of Doctor Who because when we meet him again it’s after he has given in to pragmatism and lost sight of his greatest attribute: hope. Sure he shows gives it to others in dozens of examples but his record had been forever tarnished. He is known as “The Coming Storm” and many other dark titles throughout the galaxy which works in many dramatic ways but it’s not really who he is. I think we need a character in genre fiction who always finds another way again because so many other characters have adopted realism or idealism. Maybe this reversal of the War Doctor’s decision will usher in a new era of hope.

“The Warrior, The Hero, And You”

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You know that Moffat device where everything seems hopeless with no way out and then a Deus Ex Machina appears out of nowhere because it feels emotionally satisfying? Well, you either hate or love that moment in his writing. Personally, I look forward to them because it’s about the triumph of spirit and ingenuity over darkness. I love those scenes in his writing and Clara provided one at just the right time here.
Clara: “We’ve got enough warriors. Any old idiot can be a hero.”
Eleventh Doctor: “Then what do I do?”
Clara: “What you’ve always done.” “Be a doctor.” “You told me the name you chose was a promise. What was the promise?”
Tenth Doctor: “Never cruel nor cowardly.”
War Doctor: “Never give up. Never give in.”

Everything You’d Want From Doctor Who

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This story had monsters in rubber suits (of a sort), complicated paradoxical time travel, a companion saying just the right thing at the right time, U.N.I.T., a threat averted through diplomacy, humor, nail biting drama, Daleks, a regeneration, sonic screw driver(s) and more heart than any show on TV. The components of what makes Doctor Who special were all in this Doctor Who Special. Well done, BBC!

Series 33 Episode 6 / Season 7 Episode 6

Every Dr Who episode has a lot to live up to. There aren’t many other TV series whose fan base can match the time-(wink)-tested level of fervor that Whovians are capable of. But a season premiere (okay, HALF season premiere) that is the first regular episode appearance (kinda) of a new regular companion? That carries some extra expectations. Did “The Bells of St John” live up to ‘em? Maybe not, but who cares?

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I enjoyed this episode. It felt like a throwback to the one-off adventures from the David Tennant/Russel T Davies era like “Fear Her” or “The Idiot’s Lantern.”  It also made me think of other new companion debuts, like Donna Noble’s “Partners in Crime” or Martha Jones’s “Smith & Jones.” Dr Who stories can be divided into 2 categories: stand-alone adventures like these, and episodes that are part of the larger mythos and involve a lot of continuity. If you feel like “The Bells of St John” didn’t have enough of the numerous plot threads that we had to juggle through most of the Amy & Rory Pond era, I say that we were due for some relief. This episode cleaned the palate. Besides, before long we’ll be hip deep in Moffat-style brain twisters as the Doctor begins to unravel Clara’s origins.

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Matt Smith was in reliable form – we got to see him be clever and a bit fierce, which he is so good at, even tho’ the fierce bit was courtesy of his doppleganger.  The appearance of someone that was a hold-over from the Christmas Special (other than Clara) was a neat surprise and something the show doesn’t often do, so I thought that was refreshing and I look forward to seeing more of him, it? As to the quantum-charged-chronological-matrix-paradox in the room, the question of whether or not Jenna Louise Coleman works as the Doctor’s companion? The question of whether or not she’ll stand up to the long list of beloved companions in the show’s history? Well, there are a lot of traits to tick off on the Good Companion checklist, and she meets a lot of them. She’s not annoying (I’m gonna allow for a little extra coyness in the getting-to-know-you episode). She’s not useless or TOO smart. It’s tricky, cause making her too much like Amy would be a mistake, but too far from the Amy mold might wreck Matt Smith’s performance. A good job was done, walking a tightrope between those two missteps. In a few years, we might look back and say that Clara was to Amy as Martha or Donna was to Rose. But what I expect is that the Mystery of Clara will lessen that comparison and much of how we feel about Clara will lie in her secret.

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What was your favorite moment, if you had one? Mine was the ceremony that was given to the new bow tie. That was wonderful. The fact that the Doctor didn’t have to share that moment with anyone else on screen was a smart move. It was just for him and us. Although, I wanted some reasoning given onscreen as to why the change in wardrobe. I was hoping it would be used to inform us a little more about his attitude since the Ponds’ departure. Least favorite mo’? Asking Clara to repeat, “Doctor who?” A little too cutesy and too beat into the ground. We’ve seen that word-play before and it worked then, but it already feels dated, as if it’s from another era in the Doctor’s life.  But these minor nit-picks are the most I could find to complain about while I’m already chomping at the bit for another new episode this week and Whovians don’t always get to say that!

Goodbye Ponds

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This is goodbye to Rory and Amy. Amy had to choose one final time. In fact, she had to choose to be with Rory twice this episode. Thematically this episode covers a lot of old ground without covering anything new. The first half of this episode feels like a very typical time travel mystery with Rory and Amy as secondary characters. With all the hype surrounding this episode, expectations of some final revelation about these characters was expected but, dare I say it, not delivered. I wish I could tear out the last page and write my own ending.

I have more problems with this episode than any I’ve had so far this season. Why? It has a lot of live up to. Finales need to end leaving you feeling SOMETHING. This is the end result of the journey years in the making and it felt rushed. I wish last week’s episode was their final episode because it at least gave Rory and Amy a potential emotional ending.

Because I have more problems than praise, I’m going to start with the problems…

1. Rory’s Farewell. Rory’s final end didn’t do anything for the character. He seems just like a device of Amy’s. When he disappears, he leaves on a note of confusion. Not the most heroic end. His jump was heroic and felt like a good ending but then he comes back and…he appears to just disappear. In fact, the Doctor tried to convince Amy to just leave Rory and come with him in the Tardis (that’s how LITTLE the Doctor cares about Rory and for their relationship…in my opinion). I felt like his character got short changed but I’ve felt that way most of this season and off and on through his tenure. I feel terrible for his father Brian because this was just the sort of thing he feared would happen. I am just going to assume the first thing the Doctor does is tell him and then Amy’s parents. Maybe even pop in to Rory’s job and tell them he is never coming back… oh, and Amy’s friends.

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2. The way they went out. This was like a fireworks show where, after the finale, there are a few small explosions that leave you wanting more. The rooftop scene was done so well (albeit a little fast) that the graveyard (Back to the Future like gravestone scene) exit felt unnecessary and weird. How did the Angels know where to find them? Did the paradox not work? Are they stuck in one room for 60 years? If so, that’ s like a prison sentence!

3. Never to be parents. After hints this year I really thought that they would get to go back and raise River as a child before she regenerated and became their childhood friend. With as much attention this season on Amy and Rory wanting to be parents…why was it just dropped?

4. Choosing to save the world. Last episode took me to a place I didn’t think I would go after the beginning of this season. I was back on with the idea that Rory and Amy SHOULD be with the Doctor on his adventures. The problem was…I knew that this was their final episode. To me, that meant a lot had to be covered for the reversal to happen so quickly. it made it feel like last week’s resolution didn’t matter.

5. Mortality vs. the Doctor. A lot of hints were given this year on aging and the Doctor. This episode was rife with them! Between wrinkles, reading glasses, River’s warning to Amy about growing old, and Rory seen as an old man…what were we suppose to take from that? The Doctor never gets to see these two grow old. That is totally unresolved. The same goes for River. We know she is fated to never grow old. What were we suppose to take from that?

6. The Doctor can never go back to 1938. This reminds me of when the Doctor could never go to the dimension Rose got trapped on. THAT felt a little bit more permanent than this copy of an idea. What we are left with is the feeling that time is fixed…when it fits where they want to take the story. It’ s not fixed when they want to break it. I wanted there to be an emotional reason that they separated not a fakey science fiction reason.

I hate being negative but this had a lot of live up to. Rory and Amy are two of my favorite Doctor Who characters of all-time now and I had really high hopes for a finale AT LEAST as important or profound as the others of Moffat’s run. This didn’t feel like a finale. This felt like a quick and dirty ending to something that was forced to happen.

What I Liked:

1. 1930s Noir. The movie genre of the week concept done this season was fun! It’s something I love about the possibilities of Doctor Who. He go from the Old West, to a spaceship to 1930s New York and you love him for it. This private investigator novel angel was a great plot device that worked perfectly in a time travel story (even though reading a book to find the answers has been done by Moffat before). The opening to this setting really put me in that world and was expertly crafted.

2. The Weaping Angels. I felt like they redeemed in this last episode as true monsters important to the Doctor Who mythos. They will forever be on the Doctor’s radar now. In fact, he has more of an axe to grind with them now than the Daleks.

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3. River Song. The return of River makes a lot of sense with her parents leaving the show. She was around before Amy and Rory and, it seems, will be around after. When she watched Amy go towards the Angel…THAT was powerful.

4. Closure. I didn’t like how we got there and the implications but the scenes between Amy and Rory on the top of the building and then with Amy and the Doctor in the graveyard…POWERFUL. I wish those scenes were a bit more earned and meaningful in the grand scheme of the world and universe but they were really great moments between those characters. We got to see Amy choose possible death over life without Rory…one more time.

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My favorite quotes:

The Doctor: I always rip out the last page of a book. That way it doesn’t ave to end. I hate endings.

 

Doctor: Weren’t you the person who killed The Doctor?
River Song: Doctor Who?

 

Amy: Together or not at all.

 

River Song: One psychopath per Tardis, don’t you think?

 

River: Never let him see the damage. And never ever let him see you age. He doesn’t like endings.

I’ll end this from the episode where River died because I think it says a lot about this episode that came years later:

“”When you run with the Doctor, it feels like it’ll never end. But however hard you try you can’t run forever. Everybody knows that everybody dies and nobody knows it like the Doctor. But I do think that all the skies of all the worlds might just turn dark if he ever for one moment, accepts it. Everybody knows that everybody dies. But not every day. Not today. Some days are special. Some days are so, so blessed. Some days, nobody dies at all. Now and then, every once in a very long while, every day in a million days, when the wind stands fair, and the Doctor comes to call… everybody lives.”

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“This Is What Happens When You Travel Alone For Too Long”

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Season 7 continues to be the season of overly fun locales and fantastic premises. What it also continues to be a continuation of certain themes. A quick overview of the premise of the episode:

A woman tells the story of “a man who fell from the stars”. This is meant to lead you to believe she is talking about the Doctor and yet it starts off with the story of who this story is really about…The Gunslinger. The gunslinger is the name given by the the towns folk to an alien cyborg bent on revenge in this episode that is all things Old West (with a Doctor Who spin). As the cyborg dispatches his prey you are teased with his next intended target: The Doctor (another great misdirect).

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The story takes us away from the alien landscape it began on and next to the Doctor, Amy, and Rory in the Old West to…a town called Mercy. They are greeted with signs that say “Keep Out” as well as a curious population of 80 crossed out and the number 81 written over it. The Doctor starts adding up all the things wrong with this city (Keep Out Signs, Electric Lamps before they are invented, and aggressive stares) and he decides to investigate further. The Doctor eventually determines that an alien genius has set up shop and is helping this town.

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Garrick Hagon (Biggs from Star Wars) as the Undertaker of Mercy

He eventually finds out that this alien (who calls himself…”The Doctor” as well) committed atrocities in a war before fleeing to Earth. He took unwitting citizens and turned them into cyborg death machines and other wartime evil. This is the heart of the story and where the parallels of these two doctors begin. Watching our Doctor realize what the other alien did was disturbing. His anger was so strong and overwhelming that it eventually resulted in one of the angriest I have ever seen this typically controlled character. His anger in the middle of this episode speaks to one of the chief reasons, I believe, the companions are necessary to the Doctor in the modern Doctor Who. He has almost limitless power and influence and because of this he needs to be grounded at all times. Those he inspires, at times, need to inspire him with his own words.

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The ending of this was both tragic and redeeming for the two aliens of the story. Central to the plot of this story was the question that if things done in war can be judged in times of peace. It made me thing of President Truman’s decision to drop the Atomic Bomb on Japan. More specific to Doctor Who, it then made me think about the Doctor’s decision to end the Time War by killing the Daleks and the Time Lords. This choice, in a time of war, still haunts the Doctor and you could tell it was exactly what he was thinking and where his anger came from (although it’s not often that THIS version of the doctor has sooken on the subject directly).

Murray Gold’s score to this episode is spot on! It’s a perfect mixture of Doctor Who and a Western. The Western tropes were well utilized in this episodes. The point where the Doctor becomes the Marshal and the showdown at high noon…it’s the stuff of pure fun.

Season 7 has shown a more removed and colder Doctor. His time apart from the Ponds has changed him and Amy can tell. I don’t believe Rory cares too much about the Doctor at this point. He seems to just be going along for the ride. Amy also seems…tired of these adventures. Her disinterest in being part of the Doctor’s life has done a lot for me to be more willing to let them go. I think they both want to get on with their lives and gradually I’ve come to want the same for them. Speaking of the Doctor’s chilly behavior, lets look at the last three episode’s uncharacteristic behaviors:

  • Episode 1 – He kills Daleks by blowing them up…with no remorse.
  • Episode 2 – Needlessly kills Solomon by sending missiles after him.
  • Episode 3 – Is about to kill Jex in a fit of anger.

In addition to the fact that no one recognizes the Doctor, his growing coldness, there is also the theme of the Ponds wanting time away from the Doctor. This third theme seems to be central to the next episode. The Ponds are almost off the show. Will they make it out alive? In addition, each episode has had something egg-like involved (the Dalek “eggs”, the dinosaur eggs, and an egg-shaped spaceship). There has also been a few references to the Doctor’s Christmas List (a lead in to the Christmas episode?).

This episode had lots of amazing quotes. Here are a few:

The Preacher: His name is Joshua. It’s from the Bible. It means “The Deliverer”.
The Doctor: No it isn’t. I speak horse. His name is Susan and he wants you to respect his life choices.

Jex: Looking at you, Doctor, is like looking into a mirror. Almost. There’s rage there…like me. Guilt…like me. Solitude. Everything but the nerve to do what needs to be done. Thanks the gods my people weren’t relying on you to save them.

Amy: This is not how we roll and you know it. What’s happened Doctor? When did killing someone become an option?

The Doctor: They keep coming back, don’t you see? Every time I negotiate, I try to understand them…not today…no. Today, I honor the victims first. His, the Masters, the Daleks,…all the people who die because of MY MERCY.

Marshall: You’re both good men…you just forget it sometimes.

Doctor: Frightened PEOPLE… Give me a Dalek any day…

Check out the sneak peak at next week’s penultimate episode of the first half of the Season’s new episodes: