I adore this ridiculous thing.
This pass I watched the special together with its two mini-prequels: ‘The Night of the Doctor,’ which I previously watched many many times, the last not long ago, and ‘The Last Day,’ which I originally watched only once. ‘Night’ is as I said a gem and a tiny slice of perfection. I wasn’t so impressed on the first pass with ‘Last Day,’ but in fact it is rather cool, and sets up some of the war scenes nicely.
Both prequels are available on youtube (links above).
And then comes the main event.
We never find out how the Doctor and Clara got out of the Doctor’s timeline in ‘The Name of the Doctor,’ but we quickly don’t care. With original titles, Coal Hill School, and Clara’s Theme, details seem unimportant. Then we jump right in with UNIT, Malcolm’s ravens, Osgood, and the Queen.
(I’ve never been a fan of the Doctor/Queen Elizabeth storyline, but I suppose there are some things we just have to put up with.)
The 3D paintings are great. The war scenes are great, and terrifying. I didn’t observe it at the time, but someone quite wisely pointed out that we would never have been shown all those children if the planet was in fact going to end up destroyed. I don’t remember who that was, but they’re right: it’s just not that kind of show.
Then we get the epic John Hurt and spectacular Billie Piper. Other Rose/Ten shippers were disappointed – even distraught – that it wasn’t Rose featured in the special. I however thought it was a perfect execution. Rose’s story was complete; she’d already returned several times, and she got her happily ever after in the end. There was no need for more. On the other hand, Rose and Piper were a huge reason for the success of the reboot, and I like that the special was able to acknowledge that. Piper, older and wiser as a performer now, got to expand on her role and have a bit of fun. And the Bad Wolf was an excellent vehicle for the Moment – as well as a great moment for the Tenth Doctor.
The scenes with the three Doctors are pure joy. All the banter, all the wit, all the silliness and seriousness and brilliance a fan could hope for. Clara holds her own with the three of them. And their ultimate solution to the problem is not only brilliant but an absolute joy to watch.
Bonus points for best use of a future Doctor who doesn’t officially even exist.
Even that scene, however, is topped by the special guest feature at the end. Tom Baker’s appearance is the absolute highlight of everything anniversary-related. The man IS the Doctor, in so many ways: eccentric, arrogant, unfailingly loveable in spite of his worst qualities; the oldest surviving and longest-serving actor in the role; and the only one never before willing to return to the show. No one expected him; in fact, when I heard he said he was appearing, I was certain he was lying. The spoiler failed to spoil.
I’ve watched that scene at least a dozen times and it never gets old.
All in all, this special is a treat. It’s perfect Doctor Who: ridiculous and brilliant, hilarious and heart-wrenching, full of laughter and tears and things that make you gasp with delight. It can’t be said about a lot of things, but this one lives up to the hype.
Every bit of it.