Multi-Doctor stories (which would include The Two Doctors, Time Crash and, even, to some extent, Deep Breath) and anniversary stories (which would include Remembrance of the Daleks and Silver Nemesis) are difficult to be objective about. There's a certain level of nostalgia that goes on in these stories. Or fanwankery, as it is more commonly-known. Such sentiments can cloud one's critical thinking. Let's face it, watching verbal sparring matches between two or more different incarnations of the Doctor can make up for a pretty threadbare plot. Deliberate nods to the past in a way that pays tribute to the long history of the show can get us to ignore all kinds of poor characterization. And so on...
When these elements combine and we have an anniversary tale that is also a multi-Doctor adventure - then objectivity withers even more. Let's be honest, there's not a whole lot to either The Three Doctors or The Five Doctors. But we don't really care. Doctors Two and Three arguing with each other in the TARDIS console room throughout all of Episode One is just so much fun that we can gloss over the many problems of The Three Doctors. Just as the Cybermen slaughterfest at the hands of the Raston Warrior Robot gets us to totally forget that The Five Doctors has the most slender of storylines.
And that's why Day of the Doctor is the thing of beauty that it is. It is the first time that an anniversary tribute with a multi-doctor plot device really remembers to have all those other important elements that good story-telling contains.
First off, there’s enough plot. We’ve got a good strong Thread A involving the Zygons and their Sinister Plan to Overthrow Humanity at a More Convenient Time. It’s a clever tale, really. Told a bit backwards so that we only truly understand what’s going on near the end of the episode (Oh neat! They’ve used Time Lord technology to hide in paintings!). And then there’s Thread B – The Time Wars Happening Not Quite the Way We Thought. A perfect subplot that will, basically, take the show in a whole new direction. Thankyou Mister Moffat. You’ve given us just enough story so that we’re not blushing when people with only a casual interest in the show decide to watch this because it’s an anniversary special and a lot of attention has been drawn to it. But you’ve still made sure that said plot doesn’t get in the way of multi-incarnation verbal sparring and all that other good stuff.
There’s a couple more features that really make this the most beautiful of anniversary tales, though. Elements that any good anniversary special should have. First off, there’s the Reveal That Turns Established Continuity On Its Ear. A secret incarnation of the Doctor that we’ve never heard of?! What?! This could have backfired hideously, of course. But John Hurt is so magnificent as the War Doctor that we fall in love with him, instantly. In just one story, he becomes as great as any other incarnation of the Doctor. Just like Paul McGann, we want to see more of his adventures.
Another important element that any good anniversary special needs is the Significant Change In The Show's Direction. Until Day of the Doctor, The Three Doctors illustrated this best with the Doctor getting his exile rescinded at the story's conclusion. After being stuck on Earth for several years, he was a free man, again. The show can revert to its original format. It was perfect to have this occur during the Tenth Anniversary Special. It makes the moment all the more special. Day of the Doctor pulls off that same trick and does it beautifully. It starts with that oh-so-solemn moment as the War Doctor returns to his own time to finally push the big red button and Doctor Eleven has different ideas. As the multiple Doctors arrive to triumphantly save Gallifrey during its greatest moment of peril, the Significant Change In The Show's Direction is set in stone. But its true revelation doesn't come until the delightful Tom Baker cameo. From hereon in, the Doctor will be trying to find Gallifrey. He will do it in his usual roundabout way, but this will be his mission. We shiver as he makes this vow in the dream sequence at the end where all his incarnations stand in the dry ice cloud.
Deciding to save Gallifrey after it had been destroyed for a good seven seasons was a move that even Moff has found himself doubting. It was a very bold choice for RTD to make when the series re-started in 2005 and restoring the Time Lords does run the risk of cheapening the whole gesture. But, as Moff said, himself: it was the fiftieth anniversary and the Doctor needed to get a gift. This was the best present we could give him. Even though the showrunner seems to now regret doing it, I actually think it was the best thing he could've done. I'd even go so far to say that the story wouldn't have been half as good if he hadn't.
But all of this would come to ruin if we didn't get what every good Doctor Who anniversary special needs most: multi-incarnation sparring. For some reason, Bob Baker and Dave Martin decided way back in The Three Doctors that the Doctor is not a man who gets on with himself. Since then, whenever different incarnations meet up, there's been in-fighting. And, for an even odder reason, the fans seem to love it. The First Doctor calling his Second and Third selves' a clown and a dandy. The Fifth Doctor mistaking the Tenth for a fan. Even the Sixth and Second yelling "Snap!" at each other simultaneously. We adore that stuff. And Moff makes sure to give it to us all over the place. In so doing, he also creates a sort of "Classic Series Doctor judging how New Series Doctors behave" undertone that makes the arguing all the more succinct. Of course, I could point out that the War Doctor comes after Doctor Eight, who was already behaving like a teenager, but I won't be that pedantic (Oh wait. I just was!). Still, it adds an extra dimension to the disagreements the Doctor has with himself that makes it even more fun. And makes that final resolution made at the Moment all the more touching. Because, despite himself, all the Doctors are coming together to do something amazing. Which creates that one more element that every good anniversary special needs: charm.
The Fiftieth Anniversary Special seemed like an impossible task. There was no way it could be as good as we all wanted it to be. And yet, somehow, Moffat makes it better than anything any of us expected.
Previous Pretentious Reviews:
Fave Story #10 - http://robtymec.blogspot.ca/2015/12/book-of-lists-top-ten-who-stories-10.html
Fave Story #9 - http://robtymec.blogspot.ca/2015/12/book-of-lists-top-ten-fave-who-stories-9.html
Fave Story # 8 - http://robtymec.blogspot.ca/2015/12/book-of-lists-top-10-fave-who-stories-8.html