Fifty years have elapsed since Doctor Who slipped onto the screen, never leaving it for more than a few seasons and reinventing itself every few years, but somehow staying true to its core. The lead up to yesterday’s anniversary was loaded with specials and mini-sodes. The pay-off was a super-sized episode of Who featuring what many of us had suspected since Eccleston walked onto screen in the iconic role back in 2005. I think Moffat said it best, this wasn’t just a celebration of the 50th anniversary, but trying to set the bar and direction for the 100th. And they really did give it their all to do so.
There is a lot to cover, and I won’t go into too much detail so as to avoid spoilers. I have listed the various available bits in the order I think you should watch it all–if you haven’t already gotten to them.
An Adventure in Time and Space: As with the show itself, you should start here, at the beginning. Written by the ridiculously talented Mark Gatiss, it is a wonderfully sentimental, but unjaundiced, look back the genesis of Doctor Who and the Hartnell years. The opening is also a wonderful nod to the Day of the Doctor, though you won’t know that until you’ve seen that episode. The docudrama is certainly fictionalized, but not at all treacle. Like all great things new, Who had its struggle to the screen and then a struggle to survive. It also boasts a lot of firsts in the industry. Who has a lot to be proud of, other than being the longest running science fiction show in history. There is also a sweet 5 minute tag after the credits with Hartnell’s granddaughter and some of his co-stars, so don’t turn it off too early.
Night of the Doctor: A great 6 minute lead-in to The Day of the Doctor that fills in some important gaps and, yet again, pulls together the universe of stories a little tighter around our travelling friend. Saying any more would ruin the brief story-line.
The Last Day: A 3 minute minisode that is an interesting add, but not very necessary and not particularly easy to watch.
The Day of the Doctor: Above all, this is a love letter to the 50 years that came before, with visual and verbal references galore. And it has a lot of what we’ve all been waiting for since the Series 7 finale. It felt like a very rough jump from that huge moment to the start of the special, but Moffat made it work. The show itself starts with an incredible homage to the first moments 50 years ago and then goes in directions you really aren’t expecting.
I have to admit, it most definitely wasn’t the story I had anticipated, at least in its detail. We all knew the focus was the Time War and the genocide of Dalek and Time Lords alike. How that subject is tackled and the path to get to that solution was less than straight-forward, raising memories of The Pandorica Opens. It was, however, fair in the created universe, and bloody clever at times. I will say that they are playing some Star Trek-y kinda games with time and memory to get around having to rewrite anything we have seen before. Regardless, watching multiple doctors interact is always a great treat… feeling a little like a surrealist cock fight. Smith comes off the worse for this aspect, really being overshadowed by his fellows (given that we’re talking Hurt and Tennant, it isn’t a great surprise).
I must say, I desperately wanted to see this in 3D, but will have to wait for the disc (arriving in a week or three) as I couldn’t get a strong enough streams to sustain the data. Let’s face it, getting a strong stream is a problem for most 50+ year olds. Even without that, it was a great ride of an episode, returning to old enemies and using some very cleverly thought through logic to win the day. I’m looking forward to rewatching the story now that I know the details and can leave all expectations aside. The special not only reveals the past, but has recast the entire history and sets up the future. I have no idea where that future will take it right now, but we’ve only to wait for the Christmas special to find out, rather than having to wait 6-9 months.
Behind the Lens: Some fun facts and footage from the filming of the special.
The Doctor Who Live Afterparty: Honestly, barely watchable, with some fun appearances. Scan and zap to the parts you want to see.
The Five(ish) Doctors (Reboot): An absolutely delightful, self-deprecating, terrestrial adventure of the “Classic” Doctors trying to get into the 50th Anniversary special. Worth every minute and a great follow-up to the special.
Doctor Who Revealed (1-11): A sort of fun look back at the various doctors over the decades, but with little new information. For those that only knew the reboot starting in 2005, it was probably fascinating. For those of us who lived through it all or have seen the surviving episodes, the treat was the sequence they played for each doctor following the look-back.
The Ultimate Doctor Who Guide: Lots of fun facts and old footage, but not exactly a necessary watch if you know the information or have gotten to see the companions, in particular, since their days on the show.
Coming in about a month, the annual Christmas special where the expectation is high for a pay-off to all the new information and action in the 50th special.