Sunday, November 24, 2013

In Which I Review the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary

Finally. Finally. When I began this blog, which has more or less morphed into a straight up television blog, the seventh season of Doctor Who has just ended and therefore I was unable to ever properly review an episode. Until now. 
I have a very long and lovely history with this little British show. When I was a freshman in college, in 2005, one Saturday I became bored. It was one of those Saturdays as a freshman in college where you don't want to do anything. You have homework but you can't be bothered to do it. My friends were away and my roommate was out; so I decided to flip through the channels of my incredibly tiny TV and see what I could find. Like all good nerds, I eventually stumbled upon the Sci Fi channel (when it was still the SciFi channel and not SyFy). I was rather puzzled by what I was watching. It was the final moments of some British show, where the main character (who I gathered rather quickly was called the Doctor) appeared to be glowing. I was almost positive he wasn't supposed to be glowing. There was a British blonde chick who was concerned about the glowing because then the glowing got worse and the main character, this Doctor, changed. And I don't mean he turned green. He actually changed into an entirely new actor. But he said he was the Doctor but he clearly wasn't the Doctor. The blonde girl looked like she thought the same as I. If you have no idea what I just said, let me fill you in. What I am referring to is the episode "The Parting of the Way," the season finale of the first season of Doctor Who. I was so utterly confused by the glowing and the changing, but somehow also entranced, that I got my laptop, went to Wikipedia and looked up this "Doctor Who" show. 

And then everything changed. I remember spending all day watching the marathon on SciFi, the episodes bouncing around between the 9th Doctor and the 10th so that I was never sure what was really happening. I kept my laptop with me so I could continuously look up information about the show. Surprise of all surprises, this wasn't some newly minted British show. This show had history. And I do mean history. As of Saturday, November 23rd 2013, 50 years worth of history. You see, it all started out as a mild curiosity in a junk yard, but it has turned into quite the spirit of adventure. Alright, I'm actually going to spare you all any sort of history lesson about Doctor Who. But briefly: The Doctor is an alien from the planet Gallifrey; his race are the Time Lords. They have the ability to travel through time and space using a machine called a TARDIS (that's Time And Relative Dimension in Space). When the Doctor is injured and about to die, he regenerates, literally becomes another person (hence the glowing) but with all his memories. To date, there have been 11 Doctors. (Well. Sorta. But we'll get there!) Also, The Doctor has a tendency to travel with companions, mostly of the pretty female variety. Good? Got your scarf, celery stick, umbrella, 3D glasses and Fez? Excellent. Let's do this! 

I want to admit something up front. I am having a hard time blogging this. Not because I don't have things to say. Oh, I do! But mostly they are of the "fangirl spazzing out all over the place" variety. Where do I start? Do I start with the intense mystery surrounding the whole project? How everyone thought Steven Moffat, the current head show writer, was going to keep the 50th to strictly the current incarnation of the Doctor, Matt Smith. How upset the fandom got when they heard NO Classic Doctors? Or how very slowly, bit by bit, information began to leak out? David Tennant, the 10th Doctor and the most popular Doctor (and forever MY Doctor) was coming back, as was his most noted companion, Rose Tyler? How at the end of Season 7 we got our first big hint about the plot of the 50th: a mysterious Doctor no one has ever mentioned? The Doctor's greatest crime and sin? An event that would change the nature of the show for years to come? All of this happened leading up to "The Day of the Doctor." And along the way, I think we all forgot something very important: Moffat lies. Quite a lot, it turns out. And more to the point, he lies well enough to have made a career out of it. When Moffat really sets his mind to it, he can create incredibly well honed, tight, interesting, morally gray, heart-wrenching, wibbly wobbly timey wimey works of art. His episodes can make you laugh, cheer, cry, and scream all in the course of 5 seconds. So I shouldn't be surprised that the 50th anniversary, penned solely by Moffat, was, to put it simply, everything Doctor Who is, at its core.

At its core, Doctor Who is about hope. It is about knowing that there is always hope, and though you may feel alone in this great expanse of darkness, you're not. There is always someone willing to press a giant red button to destroy your home world with you. Or, you know, not destroy your homeworld. My final year of graduate school, I wrote a paper about Doctor Who and the idea of transcendence and what I aruged, mainly, was that what an audience member gets out of Doctor Who is that there is more than just this life. There is adventure and great spirit of the heart. And by God, there is always hope. And sometimes, if you're very lucky, a little man in a bright blue box will appear in your living room and take you to see it all. As Rose Tyler put it in the 50th, "the sound of the TARDIS brings hope to anyone who hears it." And sometimes a little hope can go a long way. (say on a heroic quest to find your people from being frozen in time against their greatest enemies? Oh shoot. Getting ahead of myself.) "First things first. But not necessarily in that order" (The Fourth Doctor)

The episode was not for the faint of heart. Like most Moffat penned episodes, it's almost unnecessarily complicated and convoluted. One of Moffat's greatest trademarks is multiple timelines that somehow weave together and eventually collide. In this case, there are three. The first is present day London with the 11th Doctor and his companion, Clara. In case you missed it, the opening scene is an exact replication of the opening scene of the first episode of Doctor Who ever; a police man walking slowly past a sign and then flashing over to a school. Clara has become a teacher and for the brief moment that we get to see her in her chosen profession, she gives us the moral par excellence for the episode as a whole, "waste no more time arguing what a good mans should be. Be one." (Marcus Aurelius). Is the Doctor a good man? Sometimes, even he doesn't seem to know. He has a host of rules to keep him in check and in those cases where he chooses to forget or ignore his own self imposed rules, he is shown as an all powerful god like figure who can control space and time. How can we call him a good man if he killed every Time Lord and Lady in existence during the Time War? But was that action a heroic action if it ensured the end of the Time War and the salvation of creation? Moral quandaries. They are replete in Doctor Who.
Clara receives a message from the Doctor to come and meet him; he wants to take her to the moon or Mesopotamia (same thing, really). But just before they can materialize out of London, they are picked up via helicopter and take to the heart of London, near the Tower of London. U.N.I.T has need of the Doctor and they know how very hard he runs when they need him. It was great to see U.N.I.T. again, now under the command of Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, daughter of the longest running companion of the Doctor. Even though the Doctor finds U.N.I.T tiresome, he knows when they need him and this is such a case. He and Clara are taken to the National Gallery where a 3D painting known as "Gallifrey Falls" or "No More" is on display. It is a piece of Time Lord science, bigger on the inside, and a moment in time, frozen. 11 tells Clara that this painting is the fall of Arcadia, the second city of Gallifrey. Specifically, this is a painting of the last day of the Time War when the Doctor decided to end the war. This moment is not one the Doctor enjoys revisiting, "the other me was there--the one I don't talk about--there is one life I've tried very hard to forget." (Yeah, all of this going to be important). Elizabeth the First of England has sent The Doctor orders (from 1562 England) that he was brought to the Gallery because something has happened. Turns out there are a few other paintings, three to be exact, with the same science as before in which the figures previously in the paintings are now missing and wandering about the gallery. These figures are dangerous and the Doctor has to stop them and their machinations. And then a time window opens up. Naturally, the thing to do is throw a fez through.

Which leads us to our second timeline: England 1562 where the 10th Doctor and Queen Elizabeth herself are enjoying a picnic. I need to fangirl for a second. When David Tennant left, I thought my heart would never recover from breaking. He was (and always will be) MY Doctor. He was the lonely god who was surrounded by love but was constantly loosing people he loved. I almost stopped watching the show when 10 left so having him back again was ecstatically wonderful and ecstatically painful all at once. The fact that they made his first word of the episode "Allonsy" induced tears. But, back to the plot. The 10th Doctor suspects that his lady Queen is not who she claims to be. You see, he has a little machine that goes ding when there's stuff and it keeps dinging around her. He suspects that Queen Elizabeth is a shape shifting alien known as a Zygon, a large red alien with suckers known from the classic episodes. There is a bit of chase and back forth trying to figure out who is really the Queen and who is the Zygon (because, you see, the horse was the alien all along). As the Doctor confronts the two Queens, a time window opens up and a Fez falls through followed shortly by the 11th Doctor. And there we go. 10 and 11 meet. They interacted spectacularly, as I always suspected they would. They are both kooky and strange, desperately lonely and haunted souls. They joke with each other, try to get the best of each other, and mock each other. The time window is still open and Clara and 11 have a chat before 11 throws his Fez back through, but it doesn't make it to Clara in 2013 London. Instead, it goes to our third timeline, Gallifrey the final day of the Time War.

This is not the Doctor. Shortly before "The Day of the Doctor" aired, a small short of the 8th Doctor aired in which we finally saw how he regenerated. But the strangest thing about 8's regeneration is that he regenerated into something new. This new man wasn't the Doctor, but the Warrior. This new man was capable of fighting in the Time War, doing what needed to be done to stop both the Time Lords and the Daleks. What he did, on that final day of the Time War, he did in the name of peace and sanity and reason, but not in the name of the Doctor. So therefore, because he is not called the Doctor, he is not really the Doctor and our numbering system stays the same. The war is going horribly; both sides are hemorrhaging losses and every weapon available to the Time Lords is gone. All except one. This weapon is called the "the moment," a galaxy eater who was so expertly built by the Time Lords of old that it achieved conscience. It is alive, can sit in judgement on creation, and destroy everything in a matter of seconds. This weapon has been locked away for a long time, but of course, the Warrior has it now. This is the final solution to end the war, kill all the Time Lords and Ladies (and their children) and the Daleks with one blow. But before he can do it, the conscience of the "the moment" appears to him. In the form of Rose Tyler, our Bad Wolf.

I'm sort of torn about how Moffat brought back Rose and the fact that she only ever interacts with the Warrior. As someone who loved the story of Rose and 10 and will never get over that particular heartbreak, I do appreciate that I was spared more emotional turmoil involving those two. On the other hand, though, it would have been nice to see Rose and 11 interact. I've always been curious about how 11 feels about Rose, having moved on to other companions and love stories, like his wife River Song. But I have to hand it to Billie Piper; she hasn't lost a beat when it comes to playing Rose. Even if this Rose is slightly devious, she did it wonderfully. And of all the companions the sentient Interface could have chosen, it chose Rose, knowing how deeply she reverberates through the Doctor's life. The Interface/Rose wants the Doctor to be absolutely sure that this moment is what he wants. He can't take it back once it happens. Billions will die and his punishment for killing all those souls is that he will be forced to live, alone in the universe. It's a hard decision to make and so the Interface/Rose decides to help him out and opens a time window, and a Fez falls out. The first twenty minuets of this episode could really be summed up as, "follow the Fez!" Because of course, the Warrior follows the fez and goes in search of the Doctor to see his future, to see if it is worth killing all his people.

10 and 11 are not happy to see the Warrior. There is a sense of dread about seeing him again; both have worked their whole incarnations to forget the Warrior, to erase from their minds what he did because it was not done in the name of the Doctor. I have to applaud all three actors and the writing here. The banter between the three of them was spot on. The Warrior's incredulousness about how childish 10 and 11 can be was reminiscent of how the the 1st Doctor reacted when he met the 2nd and 3rd Doctor, horrified at what he would someday be (a Dandy and a Clown). And here is where things are going to get even more complicated because we still have those Zygon's to deal with. The Queen (or not the Queen) surrounds all the Doctors and orders them taken to the Tower of London. Conveintely enough, the Tower is now Kate's office and with some wibbly wobbly timey wimey explanation, she can get the Doctors out of there. Except, there is a hitch. Kate isn't Kate! She's a Zygon! There are Zygons in present day London! The Doctors, back in ye olde London, learn that the Zygon's master plan was to someday invade Earth and take it over, but only when Earth had reached a state of advancement that would suit the Zygon's. In order to preserve themselves, the Zygon's put themselves into paintings, frozen in a moment in time. So those figures from the paintings the 11th Doctor was called in to investigate were Zygon's. While the Doctors and the Warrior are locked in the Tower, waiting to get out, they discuss "the moment." The Warrior wants to know how many children were on Gallifrey that day--how many young souls he killed. Turns out it's 2.74 billion, a number the 10th Doctor has rattling around in his head, but a number the 11th Doctor has forgotten. And that really does sum up the difference between the two: 10 is the Doctor who regrets and wears his scars on his sleeve; 11 is the Doctor who forgets because after the Time War his losses continued to pile up in an alarming amount to the point where it's better to not think of his crimes and misdeeds. 10 is an old soul who thinks too much on his past; 11 is an old soul who refuses to think on them anymore and so acts childlike.

Through a bit of science mumbo jumbo (the time manipulator from Captain Jack Harkness), Clara manages to get to 1562 London and rescue the Doctors and the Warrior and now the four of them get into the TARDIS. I love that the TARDIS glitches when all those time streams converge. We got to see 10's TARDIS, a classic TARDIS "desktop" before it finally settled on 11's new TARDIS (which 10 doesn't like). They speed back to 2013 London where the real Kate has been found and his having a stand off with her Zygon doppleganger. The real Kate is willing to destroy all of London if it means saving the world from a Zygon invasion. This should sound familiar; it's essentially what is happening back on Gallifrey on the last day of the Time War. Is this destruction the lesser of two evils? And does that make it "ok?" The Doctors don't think so. They know how this decision sits in the heart(s). They made that decision a long time ago and they don't want Kate to make the same mistake. They force the Zygon and humans to come up with a peace treaty. Meanwhile, The Warrior watches all this carefully, but knows that "the moment" must happen. He cannot change his own personal history and this is the only way to ensure that creation doesn't fall. What are 2.74 billion lives if it means that the Universe is still here?

Going back to Gallifrey, the Warrior is ready to press the big red button the Interface/Rose has provided him. But 10 and 11 have followed (and 10 put on his coat!!) because while they know it has to be done, they don't want the Warrior to do it alone. Let it be the three of them this time. Just as they are about to press the big red button, 11 sees Clara out of the corner of his eye crying and shaking her head. "When you told me you killed all your people, I just never thought it would be you," she tells 11. Clara argues that there has to be another way. Any other way. Ok, so remember how the subplot of this whole episode was the idea of a moment frozen in time? Well, that's the solution of course! Remove Gallifrey and the Daleks from the universe, put them in a parallel pocket universe, frozen in time. Everyone in the universe will think that the Daleks and the Time Lords killed each other, but really they are just missing, tucked away in their own corner of time and space. But performing such a task is going to require a few friends. Enter EVERY SINGLE DOCTOR EVER. I about had a spazz attack when 12 TARDIS's surround Gallifrey, the image of every Doctor lighting up in the Gallifrey War Room, preparing to haul their beloved planet out of danger. And then, lo and behold--a flash of steely eyes, and a 13th TARDIS. Hello, Peter Capaldi. I'll see you in another month, 12th Doctor. I look forward to it. Instead of Gallifrey falling, it stands. The Time Lords have hope that someday, just maybe, they can be saved. Hope. Always at the core of Doctor Who. Hope for a tomorrow, hope for a future, hope that sometimes there are second chances. And for the Warrior, hope that for one bright shinning moment, helping out his former and future selves, he got to be the Doctor. Honestly, it was a beautiful moment.

But all great moments come with a price. While for one shinning moment, the Warrior was the Doctor, once the time streams straighten back out, he won't remember any of this. He'll think he killed all his people and be forever haunted by it. But he's ok with that and he steps into his TARDIS and begins to glow. His time is over; he did what he needed to do. I wish that the 9th Doctor would have agreed to come back, if only for this one brief moment. The Warrior's regeneration happens off stage but at least now we know how it happened. The 10th Doctor also needs to leave, go back to his stream, which is slowly coming to a close. 10 asks 11 about what is coming and all 11 says is that he has seen Trenzelore (where the Doctor will finally die) and 10 tells him, "we need a new destination. Cause I don't want to go." And that is his final line in the episode. And you better believe I about died from the feelings. "I don't want to go" was 10's final words before he regenerated into 11. You don't throw those words around lightly. And in the final moments, Clara tells 11 that the Curator wanted to see him before he leaves and then she goes to wait in the TARDIS. The Curator, of course, is the Doctor himself. The magnificent, irreplaceable Tom Baker, the 4th Doctor. If you were to gather up 200 Whovians and put them in a room together and ask them who is the most iconic and beloved Doctor, most of them would say Tom Baker. Still the reigning champion of longest tenure as the Doctor (7 years), his poofy hair, 12ft long scarf, and penchant for Jelly Babies are iconic images of the show. He represents the show when it was at its height, the best it ever was. His Doctor was part mad man, part funny man, and incredibly wonderful. I saw him appear and I lost it. I had cried several times at this point, but nothing shook me like seeing the 4th Doctor there. Moffat told us no Classic Doctors and then the most classic of all classic Doctors appears. The 4th Doctor tells the 11th that the name of the painting of the fall of Arcadia is actually titled, "Gallifrey Falls No More," and that they are out there somewhere. Waiting. And now it's time to find them. YES. Give me Time Lords in funny hats again! And with that, we are ready for the next great adventure.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Day of the Doctor

--So many funny or epic piece of dialogue or speeches.
"Stuck between a girl and a box. Story of your life, eh Doctor?"
"Someday you could just walk by a Fez"
The 10th Doctor's entire epic speech to a bunny rabbit.
"Look the round things!!"
"I love the round things!"
"What are the round things?"
" idea"
"Great men are forged in fire, it is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame" 

--Obviously the entire plot was complicated and even with 4 pages of notes, I had to sit and really think all this through. We'll never know what the Zygon and Human solution was, but it was a subplot that was only there to serve the larger story of the Doctors and the Warrior, so I'm ok with it.

--My heart did leap when 10 and 11 realize that The Warrior is talking the "the bad wolf." 10 looked like all he wanted was to see her, and 11 had a sweet smile of remembrance.

--The Christmas special is up next, complete with a regeneration. It is going to be hard to say goodbye to Matt Smith. While it was a long road for me to warm up to him at first after loosing 10, I've come to really care for 11 and loosing a Doctor is never easy.

--That final shot of all 11 Doctors standing next to each other was gorgeous. Thank you Steven Moffat for remembering the history of this show. I've gotten so wrapped up in other shows, like ONCE, that that I forgot just how much Doctor Who means to me. I've been avoiding all spoilers about this episode, wanting to be totally surprised by everything. And I was. It really was one of the best episodes I've ever seen.

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