Well Steven Moffat. We loyal and trusting Doctor Who fans patiently saved the day. We spread the much publicised hashtag #SaveTheDay across social media, and throughout space and time. We were delighted when Doctor Who took over television as promised in the run up to the anniversary itself. And what did we get on 23 November 2013 as a reward for our patience, anticipation and adulation? The Day of the Doctor. The special adventure to celebrate 50 years of Doctor Who. One of the worst episodes ever.

I’ve been running all my lives… through time and space. Every second of every minute of every day for over nine hundred years. I fought for peace in a universe at war. Now the time has come to face the choices I made in the name of the Doctor. Our future depends on one single moment of one impossible day. The day I’ve been running from all my life. The day of the Doctor.

The Day of the Doctor - 12 incarnations

Earning a Guinness World Record for the world’s largest ever simulcast of a TV drama The Day of the Doctor was broadcast by the BBC simultaneously in 94 countries and six continents. It was also shown in 3D in 1500 cinemas where fans dressed up and created huge levels of excitement akin to conventions. An unparalleled global event to celebrate 50 years of the Doctor’s seemingly eternal adventure in space and time.

Just one fundamental flaw with The Day of the Doctor

The Day of the Doctor is bad. The Day of the Doctor is really bad. The Day of the Doctor is really really really bad. It lurks in the depths of all-time hideous Doctor Who clunkers alongside Time-Flight, Timelash, Time and the Rani, and Love & Monsters.

Steven Moffat spends far too much of The Day of the Doctor drawing upon and rewriting Russell T Davies’ era. Large tracts of the narrative were spent dramatising offscreen occurrences only previously hinted at. The Last Great Time War, the Fall of Arcadia, the deployment of the Moment, the Tenth Doctor’s wooing of Elizabeth 1st. All brought to life by Moffat lifting from his predecessor’s work. Imagine for The Five Doctors Terrance Dicks decided to borrow wholesale from Robert Holmes. Show the capture of Sutekh (Pyramids of Mars), the Filipino’s final advance on Reykjavik (The Talons of Weng-Chiang) and the scarring of Sharez-Jek (The Caves of Androzani). Granted Dicks ripped off his own The War Games for the game theme of The Five Doctors but stealing from yourself is reasonable.

The early indications, well the first couple of minutes, were good. The original theme tune and credits opened proceedings. A nostalgic shiver down the spine. The shadow of a policeman falling across a sign for I.M. Foreman, Scrap Merchant, 76 Totters Lane. More nostalgic chills. The camera panning across the sign for Coal Hill School with “I Chesterton” as governor. Lots more nostalgic chills. Were we back at the very dawn of Doctor Who? A new angle on An Unearthly Child? A 50th anniversary adventure with a connection to the very first story? A Remembrance of the Daleks for a new generation? Nope. It was 2013. Clara (Jenna Coleman) was a teacher at the school, seemingly just so fans could be teased with an irrelevant scene. How and when did she become a teacher? And of all the schools in London, let alone the UK, she happens to be at the one that has huge significance to Doctor Who mythology and it’s not important to the plot?

Coleman is going to have a serious problem when Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor arrives. His acting is going to blow her off the screen. She’s just about holding her own against Matt Smith, possibly due to the similar age and frivolity of the actors/characters. Capaldi is a different matter. As good an actor as Smith is Capaldi’s better. He possesses an immense gravitas. He’s going to outact Coleman just by standing there and grasping his lapels. Coleman is signed up for Series 8 in autumn 2014 but it’ll be a miracle if she makes it into 2015.

The Day of the Doctor - Eleventh Doctor and Clara

Serious money was thrown at The Day of the Doctor by the BBC.  The battle scenes of the Daleks at the Fall of Arcadia (Gallifrey’s second city) were of an astonishing scale and filmic quality. Doctor Who meets the future battles of the Terminator franchise. The Dalek fleets orbiting Gallifrey  must have also cost a few quid. Plus, all the special effects had to be filmed twice for the 3D process. Outside of these Time War elements the narrative fell flat. Given that the Daleks entered Doctor Who mythology in the fifth episode and contributed massively to the series’ success it wasn’t unreasonable to expect them to be important villains of the piece.

Instead…the main villains of the monumental 50th anniversary special were…the Zygons!


In their first onscreen appearance since 1975’s Terror of the Zygons (The Power of Three featured an offscreen cameo) the shapeshifting aliens were involved in a sparse tale of invading the court of Elizabeth 1st. One that took forever to gain traction. Having successfully carried out their scheme the Zygons then placed themselves into suspended animation inside paintings so that they could invade the 21st century rather than the 16th. Presumably because they wanted to face armies with nuclear capability rather than a few pike-wielding soldiers in need of a good dental plan?

With a unique and scary look the Zygons are good monsters, but this was a plot for a regular episode of Doctor Who not the golden anniversary presentation. David Tennant is on record as saying that the Zygons are his favourite Doctor Who monster. Moffat sweeting the deal to ensure the return of Tennant?

As soon as the 50th anniversary special was announced it was a no-brainer that David Tennant would be involved given his love of Doctor Who and previous multi-Doctor outings (having already experienced one with Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor in Time Crash). Although nearly four years had passed since his explosive regeneration, Tennant slipped back into the role of the Tenth Doctor as if he’d never been away. An incumbent Doctor could feel threatened by the return of a predecessor but this clearly wasn’t the case with Matt Smith. He and Tennant sparked off each other wonderfully, fulfilling the traditional tropes of the different Doctors joking, arguing and ultimately respecting each. But something massively important in a leather jacket was missing…

John Hurt is incapable of delivering a bad performance, and he was on especially fine form here, with wonderfully barbed dialogue aimed at his future incarnations and their clothes, mannerisms and general behaviour. But as The Day of the Doctor progressed it became blindingly obvious his “War Doctor” only existed because Christopher Eccleston had declined to participate. An incarnation wearing a battered leather jacket; an incarnation haunted by the Time War, an incarnation whose serious personality conflicts with David Tennant and Matt Smith’s more frivolous Tenth and Eleventh Doctors? That’s the Ninth Doctor. Watch again and imagine Eccleston in place of Hurt. The revived era trinity of Eccleston, Tennant and Smith would have been a sight to behold.

Christopher Eccleston had a couple of meetings with Moffat about reprising his role as the Ninth Doctor. The actor ultimately decided to pass – as most people, including the writer himself, expected. Like the Doctor himself Eccleston rarely looks back. Too often labelled “grumpy” and “serious” Eccleston loves and admires Doctor Who more than he’s given credit for. One day he’ll be the Ninth Doctor again. Sometime. Somewhere. Somehow. The Ninth Doctor will return. Aptly for a Time Lord the time needs to be right – and for The Day of the Doctor it wasn’t.

Doctor Who - Boom Town

Interestingly on the occasion of Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways being shown at the British Film Institute, as part of their Doctor Who at 50 celebratory season, a message was read out from the absent Eccleston:

“I love the BFI. I love the Doctor and hope you enjoy this presentation. Joe Ahearne directed five of the 13 episodes of the first series. He understood the tone the show needed completely – strong, bold, pacy visuals coupled with wit, warmth and a twinkle in the performances, missus. If Joe agrees to direct the 100th anniversary special, I will bring my sonic and a stair-lift and – providing the Daleks don’t bring theirs – I, the ninth Doctor, vow to save the universe and all you apes in it.”

Within Eccleston’s message a huge subtext screams out. If Ahearne had directed The Day of the Doctor might the Ninth Doctor have joined the party? Ahearne helmed Dalek, Father’s Day, Boom Town, Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways. His and Eccleston’s vision for Doctor Who gelled. Far better than with the director of the first block of episodes (Rose, Aliens of London, World War Three). On-set conflict between actor and director are rumoured to have initiated Eccleston’s decision to do a sole series rather than the two or three he’d originally considered. The “one series” only mantra of the production team at the time is widely considered to be a smoke screen to obscure serious behind the scenes issues. Perhaps for the 100th anniversary in 2063 there will be The Trip of a Lifetime – a docudrama covering the revival of Doctor Who in the early years of the 21st century.

Whatever the factors involved in Eccleston’s decision Moffat was shouldered with a huge problem. He wanted to tell the story of the last day of the Last Great Time War. “The day of the Doctor” – when the Time Lord committed genocide against his own race and the Daleks. An interesting notion, except he didn’t have the Doctor he needed. So, instead of telling a different story, or possibly using the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) to compensate for the absence of the Ninth (McGann’s massively popular return in The Night of the Doctor proves that this would have worked), Moffat royally screwed with Doctor Who mythology. And, lo and behold! Let there be light! A “hidden incarnation” between the Eighth and Ninth Doctors! A War Doctor! A blatant replacement for a Doctor who didn’t want come out to play and twirl his sonic screwdriver…

The Day of the Doctor - Tenth, Eleventh and War Doctor

Every new era of Doctor Who brings change, renewal and evolution. The notion of regeneration is the beating heart of the series’ longevity, arising from the necessity to overcome the departure of an ailing leading man. The series also regularly engages in retroactive continuity (retcon) and alters established facts. Robert Holmes was the master of retcon – most especially the entire mythology of the Time Lords in The Deadly Assassin, including the twelve regeneration limit. When Holmes engaged in retcon it was beneficial. By introducing the War Doctor Moffat has retconed in a way that doesn’t benefit. He’s unnecessarily rewritten established continuity in order to compensate a key character’s absence. He’s also created an almighty muddle in the number of the Doctor’s incarnations used.

Before The Day of the Doctor the number of the Doctor matched the incarnation number. The First Doctor was the first incarnation, the Second Doctor was the second incarnation, and so on. All of a sudden the Ninth Doctor is the tenth incarnation and the Tenth Doctor is the eleventh incarnation. Oh, and the Eleventh Doctor is suddenly the thirteenth and final incarnation, because Moffat considers the aborted regeneration of Journey’s End to have used up the twelfth incarnation. It’s highly unlikely Russell T Davies thought so. All this meddling smacks of Moffat wanting to be the saviour of Doctor Who in its 50th anniversary year. By overcoming the twelve regeneration/thirteen incarnation limit at the end of The Time of the Doctor and making the Twelfth Doctor the fourteenth incarnation Moffat will have saved the series for the next half century. All hail Moffat!

As the Fifth Doctor declared in Warriors of the Deep. “There should have been another way”.

Bringing Billie Piper back and effectively making her a ghost only visible to the War Doctor was another of Moffat’s increasingly bizarre decisions. Choosing Rose Tyler to be the avatar of the Moment would be far more meaningful and emotional had been with one of “her” Doctors – particularly the Ninth Doctor. Getting Tennant and Piper back into Doctor Who and not permitting the resurrection of their fabulous chemistry for viewer enjoyment is pretty damn stupid. Once attempting to be “clever” trumped giving the fans what they wanted.

It’s reasonable to argue that the needs of telling an effective story should override evoking nostalgia but within The Day of the Doctor there’s sparse acknowledgement of Doctor Who having existed before 2005. Thankfully some links to the past did crop up. Most especially in a connection to a character first seen in 1968.

Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) first appeared in The Web of Fear. He was a beloved stalwart of the Doctor Who universe right up to his final appearance in Enemy of the Bane for The Sarah Jane Adventures. With Courtney’s passing in 2011 the Brigadier passed away in The Wedding of River Song in a scene that eulogised the actor. But the Lethbridge-Stewart line continued with the appearance of his daughter Kate (Jemma Redgrave) in 2013’s The Power of Three. Redgrave proved to be one of the best parts of The Day of the Doctor. Her dilemma as to whether to destroy London with weapons of mass destruction in order to prevent the subjugation of humanity acted as a parallel tp the Doctor’s actions during the final moments of the Last Great Time War. Her presence continued the tradition of a Lethbridge-Stewart and UNIT appearing in the significant television anniversaries. And she still needs to get new batteries fitted to the “ravens of death” at the Tower of London.

Given its phenomenal levels of hype it was inevitable that The Day of the Doctor would fail to deliver on its potential. It wasn’t a celebration of 50 years of Doctor Who. It’s a celebration of the eight-and-a-half years of the revived series with an occasional nod to the 20th century original.

The highlight of The Day of the Doctor came as Matt Smith shared a scene with a man aged nearly 80. White-haired, walking with the aid of a stick, the Curator of the National Gallery was Tom Baker! Thought it wasn’t stated explicitly that this was an alternative version of Fourth Doctor we’ll take it as written that it was. A version of the curly haired, long scarf wearing, jelly baby distributing incarnation who’d never regenerated. For a brief instant old and new Doctor Who met. Tom Baker was joyously funny and emotionally moving. The force of Baker’s genuinely eccentric personality shone through. What a shame Moffat didn’t bring back the other classic era incarnations in a similar fashion. Though Paul McGann got a deserved moment of glory in minisode The Night of the Doctor, he and the other living Doctors from the classic era (Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy) deserved an onscreen appearance equal to Tom Baker’s. Imagine them scattered throughout as characters who may or may not be alternate Doctors. Baker’s appearance is possibly due to his status as the elder statesman of Doctor Who and the most easily recognisable with his booming voice.

The Day of the Doctor - Twelfth Doctor

As it was all the classic era incarnations, plus the absent Eccleston, appeared courtesy of archive footage alongside the War, Tenth and Eleventh Doctors for the finale of The Day of the Doctor. There was even a one second cameo of Peter Capaldi’s eyes to mark the first appearance of the Twelfth Doctor. All the Doctors came together to establish the new direction for Doctor Who. For the first 50 years the core of series has been about the Doctor on the run from the Time Lords. Now that’s been inverted. The Doctor has saved Gallifrey from destruction but it’s lost somewhere in space and time.

Instead of hiding from the Time Lords the Doctor is now on a quest to find them. Given that it’s Doctor Who, perhaps the Doctor should start by looking behind the sofa?

Has anyone considered the fact that the ever-so-slightly bonkers Rassilon (Timothy Dalton) from The End of Time has also been spared?

  1. […] award-wining early successes, such as Blink, faded away to be replaced by painful tripe like The Day of the Doctor and The Time of the Doctor. Despite the questionable quality of recent stories, the series’ […]

  2. bck1402 says:

    As much as I enjoyed The Day of The Doctor, it’s like the parts are so much better than the whole. There are scenes, there are moments, all enjoyable and fun but seemingly stitched together with a oh-so-loose narrative thread. Sure we could accept some logical fallacies – it is the Doctor after all, and he’s always impossible – and the energetic verve of the tale does propel the ‘movie’ (maybe a full length 90+ minutes might have helped a little more) to the point where we might not care about the niggling details.
    Wonder how much of the history has changed already, or was the Great Time War time-locked so no one would really really know what actually happened, until now? Time travel’s funny in that way. Maybe Rassilon’s gang did whatever they did to end up in that dimension right before the events here. They were mentioned after all.

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