Be warned, there are spoilers below:
This has been a real hard weekend for me because I had to wait until 10:00 Monday night to watch The Day of the Doctor while most everyone else saw it over 48 hours ago. This was because my wife and I scored some tickets at a (relatively) close theater in order to watch the special in 3-D on the big screen. We almost missed our chance because the original 7:30 showing sold out in a few days, leading the company to create a second showing. This wasn’t just an isolated case either, my area (the greater Kansas City area) had around 6-7 theaters that were ALL sold out.
The reason I was initially slow at getting tickets was that I stupidly underestimated the popularity of the show in 2013. This is of course because I recall being one of the few people that had ever heard of the show back in 2005-6, and assumed I could roll in late and still get tickets. Back then, I was basically mocked for liking “a show nobody has heard of” from a few people that shall remain nameless (You know who you are!). I’m so happy that Doctor Who seems to have such a large dedicated fanbase here in The States today. I should have known that younger folks enjoyed it, as you often see tons of cosplayers at anime and comic conventions in the area. Thanks to AMC and their events company for opening a second showing, that was a great thing for the fans (and AMC’s cash tills!).
When we got there, a huge line suddenly appeared about 60 to 90 minutes before the showing, and I have never seen so many fezzes in one place in all my life. There were cosplayers of a few Doctors (mostly Matt Smith) including someone rocking an awesome First Doctor costume. We were there super early, and chatted up some of the other people in line. We got to hear some pretty good theories and even some pretty ridiculous ones from everyone, but all in all it was a great crowd.
I figured I’d go into the general theater experience, since people may want to know what was different, and how the crowds were. Any UK readers will be happy to know that we seem to have got the full experience over here as well. When we were finally seated, the usual asinine movie trivia on the screen was replaced by Doctor Who trivia. In many instances you could hear people in the audience participating, and it was cool seeing some of the younger fans, or at least newer fans, gasping at some of the answers. One in particular was a question like “which of these rock bands appeared in the 1960’s episode, The Chase?” When it was revealed to be The Beatles, you could hear a sudden enthusiastic murmur, where one could tell that minds had been blown.
There was a funny moment where there was a ridiculously long pause before the 3D “reel” was switched on (I’m aware they do it with hard drives now), and about 25 sonic screwdrivers suddenly appeared from fans, young and old, attempting to fix the problem. This atmosphere was awesome to behold. I’ve been to midnight releases and special events in the past, and the most you’d ever see might be the odd clapping at the end of the film. These fans let out many “squees” during the episode itself, and I’ll later post what got the biggest reaction. You could tell that many saw this as a “once in a lifetime” experience. Everyone was excited, energetic, and happy.
Before the show, we did get treated to two short intro videos that I’d assume were not on the TV broadcast. One involved everyone’s favorite Sontaran warrior Strax briefing the audience on general theater rules. He apparently brought his own clone batch to the theater and wanted to make sure there would be no trouble from us “flesh creatures”. He reminded us not to use our cellphones, and showed what happened to the last guy he caught with one. He walks by a man trapped in restraints on a wall behind him. Accused of sending spy messages to his field commander, this man was not in good shape after Strax got done with him. Another complaint was “talking during the film” which was illustrated as having a similar punishment. Strax did approve of our cultures obsession with torturing “small corn creatures” until the exploded, then eating their fluffy bodies. He remarked how the “tiny screams” of the popcorn made him happy. The audience seemed to love Strax, and this vignette.
The second mini-episode, if you could call it that, was one of Matt Smith and David Tennant (in character) hyping up the crowd. It opened with Smith’s Doctor in a white room congratulating the fans on making it to this “100th anniversary special, in amazing 12-D” someone came out and reminded him that this was only the 50th anniversary, and he seemed bummed. Apparently 12-D is something to behold, and mere 3-D is quite boring. The Doctor assumes it has something to do with budget cuts and apologizes. We get some banter from Smith and Tennant in the form of instructions on how to use the 3-D glasses and a special warning that Matt’s chin “could be unnerving” in 3-D. Eventually they both ask “wait wasn’t there supposed to be a third dimension” as John Hurt appears facing the other direction. You could have heard a pin drop in the audience after the initial GASP of shock on seeing “The War Doctor.”
There was also a “making of” featurette after the credits, narrated by Colin Baker, it was really good, but wasn’t anything earth-shattering.
NOTE: Before I talk about the actual episode, I’d love to hear if anyone else had similar theater experiences, feel free to drop a comment! Man, I’ve written quite a bit already for not actually talking about the episode!
Right from the opening seconds of The Day of the Doctor I knew I was in for a treat. Instead of the new opening title sequence that we got used to seeing throughout series seven, the episode opens with the original 1963 opening titles. The camera pans over the shadow of a policeman, and a sign that reads “I.M. Foreman, 76 Totter’s Lane” advertising a local scrap merchant. For those that do not know, it’s basically a remake of the very first scene of the very first episode, An Unearthly Child! To completely drive it home, we even see that Clara has some sort of teaching position at Coal Hill School, yet another callback – that was the school Susan attended, and Ian and Barbara taught at. According to a sign inside Ian Chesterton has even been promoted to a governorship in the school! At this point, I knew that this episode was going to be an “Easter egg hunt” for little tidbits that look back at the show’s past.
Before I get to far into this, I’ll mention the 3D. I’m generally not a huge fan of 3D in movies because it often distracts from the film. I loved Avatar, Coraline, and Tron 2, but those are exceptions that used the effects well. Usually studios have a tendency to abuse the effect and make films nearly unwatchable. I’d say The Day of the Doctor uses it pretty well for the most part. Some scenes seem overdone like the helicopter scene and others use the effects to add depth to the picture. Sort of like having the picture be “bigger on the inside” :P I’d say it wasn’t necessary to see this in 3D, but it helped the theater experience immensely.
Right from the very beginning, one can see that The Day of the Doctor seems to have a noticeable budget increase over it’s normal TV brethren. It looks expensive (but not flashy), important, and movie-like, if that makes any sense. Just the way the opening titles are presented, the Tardis being airlifted to Trafalgar Square via helicopter, seems like the opening of something like a James Bond film. I think seeing this in a theater was a great decision on my part, because you can tell it was designed for it.
The story follows The Eleventh Doctor as he is summoned to The Tower of London by U.N.I.T.’s very own Kate Stewart. She has special instructions from Elizabeth I of England, to have The Doctor check out a secret stash of Timelord art. It appears that Timelords create moments of time preserved in stasis that take the form of “3-D pictures” in frames. It seems many “paintings”in this gallery have been smashed from the inside, implying that something has escaped the pictures themselves. With this we are shown a painting called either ”No More” or “The Fall of Gallifrey” that depicts the final day of the Great Time War. This was the very day that The Doctor’s unmentionable past incarnation “The War Doctor” (John Hurt) ended the time war.
I loved this scene because the “Time War” has been so vague in the past, that seeing the Dalek invasion of Gallifrey’s “second city” Arcadia was awesome. It is at this point that we see “The War Doctor” steal a devastating super-weapon from the Timelord armory, one that has the power to annihilate entire galaxies.
This weapon, called “The Moment” is classified as a “Galaxy Eater” and was locked away because it gained sentience and could not be controlled. With this weapon, “The War Doctor” heads to a desert and plans his ultimate sin against his own people. Suddenly a manifestation of “The Moment” appears, looking exactly like Rose Tyler, and rips holes in space and time in order to show “The War Doctor” his own future. This causes cracks to appear near The Eleventh Doctor and “War Doctor” causing them all to end up in Elizabethan England, the exact place where “The Tenth Doctor” is trying to stop a Zygon invasion. This is where everyone puts it all together and realizes that The Zygons are the ones that escaped the paintings using Time Lord Technology.
Once the threat is eliminated in a peaceful manner, “The War Doctor” goes off to activate “The Moment” as he believes his ultimate sacrifice causes peaceful things to happen such as the end of this Zygon invasion. He is headed off by Ten and Eleven, and they all discuss the situation. All incarnations after “The War Doctor” hated what happened, and blamed this forgotten incarnation for all sorts of bad things. They decide to help him not be alone in his decision, to lessen his burden. That is until Clara’s tears inspire a new choice: not killing everyone on Gallifrey. Eleven proposes that they could conceivably lock the entire planet of Gallifrey away, much like those paintings, and only make it appear that it was destroyed.
This following scene is one of the best scenes in all of Doctor Who in my opinion, and involves a co-operative effort by these three Doctors to save their planet. The Arcadian leadership seems less than thrilled to find out that they have been targeted by three versions of one man they really can’t stand, and are even more annoyed when they find out “All twelve of them are here”. This cuts to a scene where you see twelve TARDISes heading into battle, and footage of EVERY SINGLE DOCTOR helping out. This was of course stock footage pulled from old episodes like the trick used in The Name of The Doctor, but it was still awesome. I nearly teared up at this point, probably because I had something in my eye, but held it back like the badass dude that I am. I was shocked when one of the Gallifreyan higher-ups said “No, Sir all thirteen”, since I had no idea that Peter Capaldi was going to make a “teaser” appearance in this. I have no idea how the internet kept this quiet, and I thank all of you.
The Doctors Thirteen saved the day (hopefully) and went their separate ways. Happy in the fact that he did the right thing, “The War Doctor” starts regenerating from all the stress he had and we briefly see a glimpse of Doctor number Nine. It sucks that Christopher Eccleston didn’t want to help with the anniversary, but I’m glad we have finally seen all of the regenerations now.
Everything winds down and fans are treated to the cameo of all cameos – Tom Baker’s return to the show. He is introduced as “The Curator” and seems to have a bit more knowledge than he should about the Doctor, Gallifrey, and Timelords in general. This character is kept fairly vague as to his true nature, but it was pretty great seeing Tom back after all these years. Finally, there is one more shot to hammer the point home that we saw something special:
It may have been the atmosphere, it may have been the theater experience, and it may have been the 3D, but I feel that this was the most fun I’ve ever had at the theater, and it may have been the best episode of Doctor Who I’ve ever seen. It had awesome side characters, although there were very few. Elizabeth I was cool, and I loved seeing Kate Stewart and her assistant Osgood, and hope they show up more often in the show. I love multi-Doctor stories, but generally find them somewhat confusing and borderline nonsensical. That wasn’t the case with The Day of The Doctor, it all fit together, filled in some plot holes leftover from the Davies era, and made me excited for season 8’s search for Gallifrey!.
As Promised, here are the biggest audience reactions of the night:
- The first scene with David Tennant got a big “Squee” from some fangirls.
- Seeing Billie Piper got a similar reaction.
- A lot of big laughs in certain scenes like “The Wedding”, The Banter between Doctors, Clara opening an unlocked door etc.
- When the fans saw 12 TARDISes in in the climax there was some cheering, then it exploded once you saw Peter Capladi say “Make that Thirteen”. I was happy because some fans are concerned female fans will reject him next year.
- The scene with Tom Baker went over VERY well.
- The final scene involving all 12 Doctors standing together got cheers.
- The end credits exploded in cheers and applause.