Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Whoniversary: Phantom Who – The Day of the Doctor

Image from because I thought it was neat. I hope they don't mind.
***WARNING: Here there be SPOILERS!***
Although honestly, if you haven’t seen “The Day of the Doctor” yet you probably don’t care.
Okay, so I already did my intro yesterday about having seen the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor” three times now. First during the simulcast on Saturday thirty years to the day after I first saw Doctor Who, next with a huge crowd of Whovians at the TimeGate/Earth Station Who/Forgotten Doctor event, and finally on Monday evening on the big screen in glorious 12D!
No, wait – it was just 3D. Hardly worth mentioning, really.
But just wait until the 100th Anniversary special with all 57 Doctors!
If you don’t get those references, hang on – I’ll get there.
There were obviously huge differences in the three viewing experiences. The first was just me and the family. I got to sit back in the comfort of my own home and enjoy a quiet first viewing where in theory I would be able to absorb every detail of the story. But I never absorb every detail of any story on the first viewing. This one was especially tough because there was a lot of detail and so many individual moments of wonderful that left my brain reeling just long enough to miss the next two moments. It was also somewhat of a tense viewing because I knew that the second it was over I had to get dressed, mask up, and drive to the event for a panel. No – I did not sit there and watch the special in my suit and mask.
Side Note: I am so irritated that there aren’t any good pictures of me from the event. I looked great.
The second viewing was at the event itself, later in the night. I had shed the mask and suit for the sake of comfort. There just weren’t enough people there in costume – or finery – for me to be able to justify not changing. I got to sit and enjoy the story for a second time in the company of friends – Mr. Beau Brown, the Grand Hoff, Sara, and Sharron – and a whole ballroom full of Whovians, many of whom (Whom?) had not actually seen the special yet. So I got to feel their raw reactions to all of those wonderful moments – the gasps, the cheers, the applause. That many people sharing fifty years of love and fandom was an experience that I don’t think will be matched (until the 100th Anniversary, anyway; I’ll be there – 87 is the new 40).
The third viewing was a whole different kind of magic. It was Doctor Who in an actual movie theater, with all of the technology and quality available therein. The sound was amazing. The picture quality was unbelievable. And the audience was… young. I was shocked by the fact that most of the people in the theater with us were under thirty. It was a very young crowd, but a crowd that obviously had a knowledge and appreciation for the franchise. Not just because they paid fifteen bucks to see the special that had aired for free on television just a couple of days prior. They reacted in all of the right places. They had their Sonic Screwdrivers. And the gasps and squeals when Tom Baker’s voice came booming out of the speakers were magical.
But the best thing about the theatrical viewing and what made it so special – aside from the 3D, which I’ll get to in a minute – is the thing I said up in the intro that I’d get to in a minute.
The story was preceded by a series of Doctor Who-specific… um… theater stuff. I don’t know what you call all of the mindless nonsense that movie theaters throw up on the screen in the endless minutes preceding a screening – trivia, commercials, trailers – but this time around it was great because all of that stuff was Who-related. There were many stills featuring trivia and history tidbits about the franchise, followed by the greatest PSA I have ever seen.
After the lights dimmed for the official start of the presentation, the screen was filled with a shot of a theater. A theater full of armored Sontarans. Before I was able to adjust my brain to the fact that I was sitting in a movie theater looking at a screen depicting a movie theater full of completely armored Sontarans, Strax strode onto the screen and delivered a message about theater etiquette in the way that only Strax could. I was crying from laughing so hard.
But that was not all.
After Strax finished, another short feature started and none other than the Eleventh Doctor appeared on the screen to welcome us to the theater, introduce the story, and instruct us to don our 3D glasses. This is where 12D for the 100th Anniversary featuring all 57 Doctors come in, because initially that’s where Eleven thinks he is. Or when, I suppose.
After Eleven’s intro, Ten shows up and despite the fact that I knew he was in the story and had even seen the story already it was a treat. He did his own bit, had an exchange with Eleven, and then the War Doctor even made a brief appearance. It was a wonderful little extra for the theater goers and something that helped make the experience seem even more worthwhile.
After the feature there was a behind-the-scenes short about the filming and production of “The Day of the Doctor”. Lil’ Troublemaker was ready to go and I had been called into work the next day, so we didn’t stay for it. I assume it will be on the Blu-Ray, which I have already preordered from Amazon.
Okay. Time for that review.
First of all, “The Day of the Doctor” must be seen in 3D. It is one of the examples of 3D done the right way. It isn’t intrusive or distracting. It enhances the big action sequences and gives the visuals more depth. The effect isn’t as spectacular as Resident Evil, but it isn’t overdone, either. Once you see this thing in 3D you will understand the purpose of the helicopter sequence – holy shit. All of the particulates floating around in many of the scenes make sense now, as well. The Battle of Arcadia looks wonderful. Dalek eyestalks poking out of the screen – intense. Watching the War Doctor blast a wall to pieces as the chunks fly out towards you is phenomenal. There were a couple of times where I actually caught myself reacting as though a chunk of Gallifreyan masonry was going to bounce off of my head. So not only was the theatrical experience magical, seeing the story in 3D was epic.
The story itself is nearly perfect. It has taken my three viewings for me to arrive at that conclusion, as I only rated it 4 out of 5 TARDISes at the event. But now that I have basically experienced this thing in every way possible I think I have the right perspective and have caught on to all of the nuances and all of the quite frankly brilliant storytelling decisions I might have a different score.
Matt Smith is transcendent as the central Doctor. While Tennant and Hurt are just as important to the tale (as a matter of fact, Hurt is technically the main character), timeline-wise this is still an Eleventh Doctor Story. And Matt Smith owns the screen every time he is on it. I was very curious beforehand as to how Tennant and Smith would work together. Both are larger-than-life and have a tendency to be the center of whatever is going on. I didn’t neccesarily think they would have issues working together, but it was going to be fun to see how well they shared. And while Tennant was every bit the fun and energetic soul he was prior to the latter days of his run, he did almost seem to tone himself down a tad in deference to Smith. I mean this in the best way possible – as a credit to Tennant and not a critique. He still played his role perfectly, but in service to the story.
I wasn’t worried one bit about how John Hurt would play. He’s John Hurt.
The interactions between the Doctors were the high points of the feature. That’s the case with every multi-Doctor story, but it’s even higher praise in this one, as “The Day of the Doctor” is far and away the strongest multi-Doctor story I have seen. But I’ll get to that. First I want to talk about the rest of the cast.
I have been critical of Clara and her character arc, but I have to say that I am thrilled with how she was portrayed here. While she still isn’t quite the fiery riffing machine she was in “Asylum of the Daleks”, she is fun and clever and really feels like a companion. But I do have to say that I think that the “Asylum” version would have handled being a Well Witch in a much more entertaining fashion.
Side Note: An interesting thought about Clara – I believe she will be the first companion that is familiar with regeneration and is certainly the one that is most familiar with the Doctor himself. It will be interesting to see how her relationship with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor plays out, as well as how she handles the impending regeneration.
Billie Piper was gorgeous and fun and awesome. I think using her as the conscience of the weapon that ended the Time War was a clever move and she played the role perfectly. I even liked her little “No More” dance. I look forward to the inevitable Megan Lara Tee Fury shirt featuring this character.
The supporting cast ranged from good to awesome. I loved seeing Kate Stewart again. Queen Elizabeth I was a lot of fun and I appreciate that they didn’t cast a supermodel. I wasn’t crazy about Osgood (scarf girl) at first, but I think she’s grown on me. I also think we’re going to be seeing more of her. That whole thing about her sister was just too much to be a throwaway. You don’t stick throwaway plot points in a 50th Anniversary special.
The two main Time Lords were very good as well. The military leader reminded me of one of the classic Doctor Who guests stars that was there just having a blast and the more government-seeming guy (the one with the fancy filigreed collar) had a great presence to him.
I thought the Zygons were perfect. They looked fantastic and were a smart update on par with the Ice Warrior armor (not so much the creature within). And they were the exact right aliens for this story. Recognizable without having all of the expectations of Daleks, Cybermen, or other major villains attached to them. They were important to keep the plot going, but not central to the actual narrative, if that makes sense.
Which brings me to the story.
I do believe it was genius. It accomplished an astonishing number of things in less than ninety minutes.
It bridged the gap between classic Who and new Who by using the talents of John Hurt and the magic of special effects. The way Hurt’s War Doctor interacted with Tennant and Smith was a very meta interaction of the classic series with the new. The line he delivers asking why they are afraid of growing up might be the smartest line in the history of Doctor Who. And to actually see the classic Doctors interacting with the modern Doctors is so amazingly powerful. My eyes welled up each time that scene happened.
Side Note: I think it’s a shame Christopher Eccleston was not directly involved in this, but that would have changed the whole dynamic of the modern Doctors. Ten and Eleven (Eleven and Twelve?) are childish and silly. Nine (Ten?) was not. But at least we have an unbroken line of regeneration scenes now. Yes – if McCoy-Baker counts, the CGI fudging of Hurt-Eccleston counts.
It established Clara in a way that the last half of Series 7 did not.
The Day of the Doctor” satisfied my desire to see the Time War without going into exhaustive detail. “Oh, it’s Daleks shooting at Gallifrey. That looks cool.” Because as all things should be with Doctor Who, it’s about the Doctor, not about the Time War.
We got to enjoy Billie Piper again without reopening the old Rose/Ten wound. And she was brilliant.
A whole new paradigm was established for the future of Doctor Who. The Doctor has a mission now, which is something he has not often had before (and almost never willingly). The quest for Gallifrey began with this story. If my suspicions are correct it will conclude with the end of Peter Capaldi (and likely Stephen Moffat)’s run. Because…
There is now a clean way out of the Doctor’s limited regenerations without just glossing over previously established rules. I think Moffat added the War Doctor just so he could get to the issue before the end of his time on the show and once again noisily insert himself into Doctor Who history.
And yes – I do give Moffat a lot of crap. I feel like his run has been on a steep decline. But I cannot deny that “The Day of the Doctor” was brilliant. It’s the best thing he’s written – and he has written great things – and easily the best multi-Doctor story.
And then Tom Baker.
I’m still conflicted about this. Tom Baker is My Doctor. He’s the best. He’s The Doctor. But I found the way he was used in the story to be so odd. Yes, I have now heard the line about revisiting old faces three times. And his performance and dialogue is just weird enough to be a crazy meta, yet in-canon thing. He could be the Doctor in a new/old face, retired after thousands of years of adventuring. But as much as I love Tom Bake, it just seemed odd to include him and not the others (Davison, Other Baker, McCoy, and McGann). I felt like if you have one you should have them all. But having watched the scene thrice now I can accept it a bit more and appreciate it.
Also, watching Peter Davison’s short film The Five(ish) Doctors pretty much made it all better.
If you haven’t seen it, watch it immediately.
Peter Davison (the Fifth Doctor) wrote and directed this hilarious and moving short about himself, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy (and Paul McGann) attempting to get into the 50th Anniversary special. It’s one of the best things I have ever seen, and as good as “The Day of the Doctor” turned out, this is the real 50th Anniversary special.
Pretty much everybody involved with modern Doctor who shows up in this and it is a non-stop riot. I can’t count the number of times I teared up – both from laughing and from sentiment. I saw this one for the first time at the event on Saturday and roughly every three minutes I would hear an, “Awww…” from behind me as an inebriated Sara in her femme Fifth Doctor costume would experience new feels.
So, in closing, the Fiftieth itself ended up being immensely satisfying. We didn’t get the year-long celebration that I had been hoping for, but between “The Night of the Doctor”, “The Day of the Doctor”, and The Five(ish) Doctors we got an absolutely incredible level of quality to celebrate our beloved franchise. It’s a shame there wasn’t more merchandise ready because I would have spent a lot of money on stuff directly related to those specials. As it is I’m just left frustrated by the fact that I won’t ever own any of these characters in the proper 5” scale. Although I could see them doing a new McGann as an Exclusive.
The Day of the Doctor”
5 out of 5
The Five(ish) Doctors
6 out of 5
 Also, Episode 55 of Earth Station Who is available now! It's the one we recorded live immediately after watching "The Day of the Doctor"!

Yes – Needless Things is still in the midst of a Whoniversary!
My original plan had been to take this week off, but there is more Who to be had. So to speak. I had this review, my review of The Day of the Doctor and the associated specials and webisodes, and a very special post from Earth Station Who’s own “Howdy” Mike Gordon. I think there might be a day where nothing goes up due to the fact that I just didn’t have time to write over the weekend, but the Whoniversary will go on for one more week!
We had Guest Posts, Toy Reviews, and more. We had a ton of content with lots of different viewpoints and I think one of the better themed projects we’ve done. Go back through and check everything out and share the ones you like on the social media. And if you’re so inclined, throw a few dollars at the Needless Things family. This is all out of pocket for me, so anything I receive during this time will got to site costs, hosting, and possibly new merchandise if I get really ambitious. Blogger doesn’t facilitate any sort of fundraising, so GO HERE and click the PayPal box to the right.
Also, you can buy the Limited Edition Luchador vs. Owlbear t-shirts here. I can’t say they’re selling fast, but once this style is gone, they’re gone forever. And I do intend on being famous one day, so wouldn’t it be cool to have the first shirt I ever designed?

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