The fact that one programme can be broadcast simultaneously in ninety-four different countries tells you more than I ever could about the remarkable popularity of the series in question. Doctor Who celebrated its fiftieth birthday yesterday and fans right around the globe gathered in front of television sets and 3D cinema screens to watch the much-vaunted anniversary episode. But did it deliver?
Judging by the response from comments on social networking site and fans interviewed on BBC television and radio last night, the answer would appear to be an overwhelming “yes”, but in this little corner of north east England, one person is going to beg to differ - slightly.
The premise of this epic adventure was to unravel the oft-quoted and therefore accepted notion that the Doctor (through a newly-revealed War Doctor incarnation) had destroyed the Time Lords and the
Daleks to bring an end to the Time War – the notion ultimately being revealed as a myth that could be dispelled in little more than an hour.
Obviously, the effects were stunning and there were some superb dramatic performances from the main protagonists. The fact that you didn’t need a Master’s degree to understand the storyline was a bonus too, but it’s the storyline with which I have fundamental issues – more of that later.
The Day of the Doctor began perfectly with the Hartnell titles, a sign for the Totter’s Lane scrapyard and a scene in Coal Hill school (with one Ian Chesteron as Chairman of Governors!).
The plot developed quickly, but was still littered with some excellent comedy moments – Doctor no.11 proposing to what he thought was a Zygon in the guise of Queen Elizabeth I, then realising he was going to become King of England when a horse was revealed as the alien was classic David Tennant. Both he and Matt Smith worked very well together, with Tennant’s incarnation having to occasionally adopt the Peterwee role to balance Smith’s zany, but brilliant Troughtonesque character.
The three-hander with War Doctor John Hurt worked well too, with a good blend of levity (“timey-wimey references included) and more serious moments to reflect the gravity of the underlying theme. It was nice to see the return of Billie Piper as the hottest of all hot interfaces. A contrived part maybe, but this fine actress remains one of the main reasons behind the success of the new series.
I saw an interesting contrast between the Zygons being under the sheets that were supposedly concealing statues and the brilliant Cyberman cliff hanger in The Moonbase: “Did they search in here?” The Zygons’ appearance was neatly done, but if you want your reveals to be genuinely chilling, look no further than 1967 – in fact, apart from some impressive shape-shifting, I’m not entirely sure the Zygons really added greatly to the story as a whole.
The story progressed and by now you all know how it ended, certainly from a Gallifreyan point of view, but there was still time for a wonderful cameo from Tom Baker, as the gallery’s curator. Tom turns eighty in January, but his appearance certainly belies his age and his appearance was a lovely surprise.
All of which brings me back to the plot. What I am really struggling with is the fact that a thread that had been so evident over the past eight years could be so cynically altered. Yes I get the whole time thing, but for me this whole new version of events undermines so much of what has gone on before. Back in 2005, the episode simply entitled Dalek was much heralded, and pitted the final surviving Time Lord against the very last of Skaro’s finest. It was gripping stuff at the time but what is its relevance in light of what happened last night?
There will be those out there with far greater knowledge of the programme than I, but if I think the new twist is difficult to explain away, then I’m sure many other viewers will have felt the same. Without the Doctor and that sole Dalek, you’ve basically got a watchable piece of drama with Todd from Corrie in it – oh and Annalese from Holby.
What next, a new “Shower Doctor”- presumably played by Patrick Duffy – suddenly appearing to suggest that every single adventure from the past half a century had in fact been played out in a false parallel universe? I’m really sorry – and I’m probably going to get pilloried for this – but much as the episode had a lot to recommend it, there is an element of Moffat self-indulgence here that I simply don’t care for.
From BBC1 to BBC3 and the “live party” that had massive potential, but verged on the toe-curlingly embarrassing at times. It was incredible to see so many companions gathered together – someone really should write a book about trying to get a signed photo from all of them…
But Zöe Ball and some bloke called Rick Edwards contrived to make a real mess of proceedings. They started by calling the companions by their real names, Carole Ann Ford stating that the current show doesn’t “bear any resemblance at all to what we were doing – I enjoyed it [the anniversary episode] but I’m exhausted.” As the evening wore on, guests were lazily called by their character names, presumably down to lack of knowledge and/or research and if you thought they deserved better, these members of Doctor Who royalty were then herded over to the bar for some meaningless competition – during which poor Katy Manning was nearly squashed by a disrespectful Edwards (below).
For me the party was an opportunity missed, the anniversary episode had some great moments, but (for me) a flawed concept – so when I eventually look back on the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who, I will probably remember two things: the truly brilliant An Adventure in Time and Space, and the fact that nine lost Troughton episodes were found just in the nick of time.
All screen stills © BBC 2013