Monday, December 30, 2013

Blu Ray Review: The Day of the Doctor

Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor
3D Blu Ray/2D Blu Ray/DVD Combo  (Main Feature: 75 min)
Released by BBC Home Entertainment on December 10, 2013. SRP $29.98 (Blu Ray)
Subtitles: English SDH 4:3/16:9 DTS-HD 5.1  HD: 1080p

It is actually really difficult to find the words to start this review. For us to get to this point seems impossible. The fact that I am writing a review for the 50th anniversary special to Doctor Who still seems to be a surreal experience. I am a life-long fan of the series. I have been watching it continuously since 1984. It was never mainstream. It went away for many years. When the series came back in 2005, it was a sizeable success in the UK and took a while to catch on again in the US. Over the past 3 years, I have been watching the stunning rise in popularity in this series. The amount of people who are fans is mind-numbing to me. If there was ever a time to see proof as to how far this series has come in popularity, it would be the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who with this episode, The Day of the Doctor, as the anchor.
The story itself is a feast for the eyes and memories of the series. Almost more than anything else this was the bridge between the classic series and the new series but done in a very unorthodox way. The biggest revelation was given to us at the end of Series 7 with The Name of the Doctor when we found out that there was another Doctor that no one knew about before now. This was an incarnation that the Doctor had tried really hard to forget even as going as far as saying that this person does not deserve the name of the Doctor. It was clear almost immediately this version (played by John Hurt) had something to do with the Time War.

Ah yes, the Time War. This concept was introduced to us when Doctor Who returned to our screens in 2005. This changed much of the series for us long-time fans. The biggest change was this Time War pitted the Time Lords against the Daleks and both races were obliterated leaving just the Doctor left to bear the weight of his actions. The mystery of Doctor Who soon became about what happened in the Time War to turn the Doctor into someone who mourned his actions in the Time War and was the man who ended it all “in the name of peace and sanity”. How this was achieved has been a mystery.
By the time we get to the start of the Matt Smith era, the Time War takes less precedence in the series. It is still mentioned but not as a prevalent as it had been. The idea that it would take the center stage for the 50th anniversary seemed right. The concept had been around long enough that it was now a cornerstone of the mythology of the series that it seemed right to be included.

The special melted my heart immediately when this episode opened with the original title sequence from 1963. It sets the perfect tone for the special reminding us how this series started. It even goes a step further with an updated recreation of the first episode with a police officer walking past a sign for the I.M. Foreman Junkyard and in black & white no less. I am impressed that a junkyard can stay in business for over 50 years. I wonder if Steptoe’s rag & bone yard is still around?
The story starts off so happy. Clara gets a message from the Doctor at the school she teaches at. It’s called Coal Hill School. Not everyone is going to get it which is fine. I get it and that is all that matters, to me. Clara takes her motorcycle and rides out to where the TARDIS is located. It is such a happy moment. The music and visuals paint a fun atmosphere fitting of a celebration. It is clear that the Doctor and Clara have become really close. Soon something happens. The TARDIS gets picked up via a helicopter and is transported to the National Museum. UNIT is responsible for this. UNIT was featured in the 10th anniversary story, it is seen in the 20th anniversary story, and is even a part of the 30th anniversary Children in Need special Dimensions in Time. It is so appropriate that it is a major part of this story.

The Doctor has been brought there for a specific reason but is sidetracked by a painting. The painting is called either “No More” or “Gallifrey Falls”. The 3D painting reminds the Doctor of the worse time of his life; the time where he killed the Time Lords and the Daleks to finish the Time War. We, as the viewer, are transported to the Time War, which we saw a little of in The End of Time. This is where we get a proper introduction to the Doctor also known as the War Doctor. We find out that he is done with the years and years of trying to get the war to end. He is tired.
We get a glimpse of the Time War being fought on Gallifrey. We are seeing horrible carnage. Daleks invade Arcadia. This is a lush scene with lots of action, explosions and Daleks. We get cities built in CG and are treated to a lot of visually stimulating imagery including watching the TARDIS used as a weapon against invading Daleks.

The War Doctor steals The Moment. The Moment is a powerful weapon of Time Lord technology where the operating system became sentient. From there, this tired version of the Doctor takes the weapon and decides to use it to end the war. It will destroy Gallifrey, the Daleks and himself. He brings the weapon to an unknown planet and we see The Moment up close. It is a box that has an intricate clockwork style innards. What the Doctor doesn’t realize is that the interface takes a familiar form. Perhaps not familiar to the Doctor (yet) but familiar to us. It looks like Rose Tyler but it is in fact meant to be Bad Wolf.
She is aware that the Doctor wants to end the war in a horrible fashion but she devises a way for him to see the lasting effect on himself if he does this. The Doctor does not want to live through this but this is what The Moment will make sure happen if he uses the device. She will make sure he lives as punishment for destroying everything.

She devises a way for this version of the Doctor to see the future by opening up a time portal. Once opened something immediately falls through. It is…….a fez.
To me this is one of the most fascinating aspects of this story. The storyline gets very complicated very quickly but Moffat and director Nick Hurran do an incredible job of making this whole segment work seamlessly. In a matter of minutes, the War Doctor gets a Fez through a portal, we catch up with the Tenth Doctor, we find out there is a Zygon plot, Tenth and Eleventh Doctor meet and the War Doctor catches up with both of them. It is handled brilliantly through clever editing and great storytelling. I am seriously impressed by this segment. The overriding plot becomes the War Doctor seeing what has happened to him since he destroyed Gallifrey which will ultimately help him to decide if he should still go ahead with this plan.

The interesting thing about this story is that the Doctor (really any of them) are not put into any danger. It’s more of a long decision the War Doctor needs to make. I have been critical in writing and in podcasts about the Steven Moffat era of the show. I think Matt Smith is brilliant but I have found the writing of the series from Series 6 onwards to be disappointing but I feel this episode captures the right amount of celebratory goodness that I really needed from this story.
I think anyone going into this needs to have seen the new series more so than anything else. As I mentioned, this story features heavily on the back story of the Time War. Something introduced to us when the series came back. There are things in this that I feel like I would normally be pulling my hair out over in dislike but I really enjoyed in The Day of the Doctor. Simple things as the use of the phrase timey-wimey which is a huge annoyance to me these days. The use of the sonic screwdriver as a weapon is also hugly disappointing but these are OK down to one man. John Hurt.

Perhaps it’s not down to John Hurt solely as the War Doctor but more to do with how Steven Moffat wisely chooses to make a distinct split in how the Doctor sees himself and his place in everything and it mirrors the shift in how the Doctor has been portrayed as a character between classic series and new series. It’s not an us versus them scenario but a comedic reflection on how the series have changed. It’s bound to in 50 years, right? Examples of this are the War Doctor confusing the 10th and 11th Doctor for companions of the Doctor, the lack of the 10th and 11th Doctor speaking properly (such as phrases like time-wimey), not using the sonic screwdriver a scientific instrument, and making note of the kissing between the 10th Doctor and Elizabeth. These are all examples of how the War Doctor makes comments to how the Doctor has changed. It’s nice to see the series make fun of itself but also serves a dramatic purpose of the Doctor trying to forget and move on from the horrible conclusion of the Time War.
I think everyone gave a real stellar performance in this episode. Matt Smith was very gracious to allow these other actors and characters so many great lines and situations while the whole time nobody questioned this was still his show. One small example as to why he is going to be missed so much! Jenna Coleman is his current companion Clara. I have not warmed to her up until now. This is mainly because Moffat set her up as one of the most important companions in the Doctor’s own history even before we had a chance to know her. I think she is perfect in this. She is lovely and makes a huge impact on this story. She is a big part of the climax to the episode without getting in the way. Welcome to Doctor Who Clara!

Returning to the series is Billie Piper as The Moment. It is such a bold and wonderful decision to bring her back but have her only seen by the War Doctor. I know there are a couple of fans who were disappointed by the lack of interaction between Tennant and Piper in this episode but I loved it. Every time Piper had returned to the series after Doomsday, I felt she wasn’t as good. It didn’t work for me. Here she is beyond excellent. She is funny, sexy and so pivotal to the Doctor’s future. The first scene between her and the War Doctor is probably my favorite as she keeps saying “No More!” It is also edited really well too.
David Tennant returns as the 10th Doctor. As you can read here, I am not a big fan of his version of the Doctor. Yet, I loved him here and I was so happy he was back. There was a kind of self-effacing, self-deprecating quality to his Doctor that I felt wasn’t there during his era. If this is what we would have got if he stayed an extra year under Moffat’s watch, I would have been very interested in that. Just as I would be completely interested in a series of adventures between Smith and Tennant both as the Doctor. They play so well together. Even I got a bit fan-girlish when Tennant put on the fez. Next thing you know, I’ll start to use the word squee!

John Hurt is the War Doctor. I had no idea what to expect from him. I literally thought he would be evil. It turned out, he was the Doctor. It just goes to show us, the Doctor is always the Doctor. If you wonder why after 50 years, this series is still important, it is because of this statement. The Doctor is always the Doctor.
This isn’t a detailed synopsis of the story but it is a Blu Ray review so I will not give away the ending. At some point I will write a full on article but this isn’t it. I am saying this because I want to talk about the ending. Not to give it away but if you look at Doctor Who as a whole, not separating new series from classic series, then for me, the ending was a defining moment in the history of the series. There is a moment where a decision will need to be made and it is a wonderful chilling and emotional moment that makes me so proud to be a fan of this series.

I will say there are some great moments that I must share. I love the opening of the episode from use of the Hartnell title sequence to Clara leaving Coal Hill School and riding out to see the Doctor. He is wearing Amy Pond’s glasses which is such a nice touch. The opening is fun, inspirational and fresh. Something that shows this 50 year old program is showing no signs of slowing down. I love the use of familiar music cues from Clara’s theme to the Dalek theme to Martha’s theme which is also a way to re-introduce us to the 10th Doctor. I heard that there was no budget for a new score for the music but if that is the case, it turned out well for us. I love the use of familiar dialogue said by other actors such as “You’ve redecorated! I don’t like it!” and others.
I love Doctor Who and I really enjoy the new series but I will be honest, I don’t watch it as much as the classic series. I have probably, in a very short amount of time, have watch this episode more than any other new series episodes possibly bar Rose. I truly love this episode to bits. I hope you enjoy it too.

I feel for this being a one-off Blu Ray release, there is actually quite a lot of value for money here:

There are two mini-episodes that were released online prior to the broadcast of The Day of the Doctor. One wasn’t as good but the other was a fan’s dream come true.
The Night of the Doctor: This is something many of us fans have wanted to see since the series returned in 2005. In a surprise to us all, this mini-episode featured the return of Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor. The story, as short as it is, gives us some great background as to what has happened with this incarnation of the Doctor as well as a bridge between the classic and new series plus serves as a way to set up the anniversary special. I love how Paul McGann has so little time in this but he comes across magnificently. It almost makes me sad to know that there wasn’t a whole TV series made for his Doctor. Of course for those of you who want to see that can find whole seasons of his Doctor done in audio form from Big Finish productions.

The Last Day: This is a slightly odd mini-episode that focuses around the defense of Arcadia, the second city on Gallifrey. There is some strange re-use of people (Time Lords?) going on who are reconstituted as new guards that is not really explained. Their responsibility it to watch the skies to make sure no Daleks are invading even though the thought of such a thing is impossible. Then, the impossible happens.
It is clear that both mini-episodes don’t really have a huge budget. The Night of the Doctor strength lies in Paul McGann and other guest cast members. Any of the special effects in the episode are minimal. The Last Day is a little different. It is a little more effects heavy and stuff like the appearance of Daleks look to me at least a little rough. I highly recommend The Night of the Doctor which to me holds an essential place in Doctor Who history.

Doctor Who Explained: This is a documentary by the people who made the individual Doctor documentaries for BBC America, The Doctor Revisited. Its 50 minutes in length and I feel does a really good job of spreading the wealth between classic series guests and new series guests. I don’t feel it is to heavy one direction over the other. It has interviews with the following Doctors: Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, David Tennant, and Matt Smith. It has loads of companions such as William Russell, Carole Ann Ford, Frazer Hines, Nicola Bryant, Sophie Aldred, Arthur Darville, Karen Gillan, and Jenna Coleman. Just when you think you see all the people who are being interviewed, suddenly people like Matthew Waterhouse shows up. Once again, I gave praise to David Tennant above for his portrayal of the Doctor and here he comes across with intelligent thoughtful answers. I felt he has been this way through all of The Doctor Revisited specials.
Behind-The –Scenes Feature: This is a short look at the making of The Day of the Doctor narrated by Colin Baker. It is a fun feature keeping in the same fun vein as the anniversary special. Some nice moments on here and it is short enough to not outstay its welcome.

Comic Con Trailer: This is the trailer for The Day of the Doctor shown at Comic Con that was a big secret. No one uploaded it to YouTube which was frustrating as it was the very first look at this much anticipated special. Now seeing it, I have to admit that I am glad this was not the first promo I saw for the anniversary special. The ones shown on BBC1 in November were much better in my opinion and the one on here is only alright. It does beg the question, why are the BBC1 trailers/promos not on this disc? That is a miss.
Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Tribute Teaser Trailer: This is one of the coolest trailers ever done. When I first heard there was going to be a trailer for the 50th, I just assumed clips and the theme music. This is a wonderfully creative look at our favorite series. I have read complaints online about how people didn’t think it was technically interesting or that it doesn’t look like Jon Pertwee for the Third Doctor, blah, blah, blah. I am sorry but I love it and I love the fact I now own this in 1080p. I still tear up a bit when I watch it and it gets to the part with Sarah Jane. Wonderful stuff!

First off, this release is a 2D/3D Blu Ray & DVD combo. I find the 3D element of the story to be interesting but not great. It almost feels like the 3D was an afterthought. There are moments that I feel opportunities were missed to enhance something in 3D such as when the 11th Doctor throws his fez into the time fissure. This could have a huge 3D impact but didn’t. Other things had a 3D effect that felt uninteresting such as the Doctor pointing to something off-center but it was oddly profoundly 3D. I will admit, I think 3D is a fad and is uninteresting to me. I do not need to be immersed in the action to be immersed into the story. So I may not be the best person to pass judgment on this aspect of the release.

What I am impressed with is that with this release is the DVD that comes with it. Normally on some of the releases by other studios that include a copy on DVD, we may only get the main feature and nothing else. With this Blu Ray set, the DVD is a complete DVD including all of the extras that were mention above on the Blu Ray. I think that is a pretty cool move and I applaud it.
The packaging itself is a standard double Blu Ray case with a cool lenticular slip case which is kind of neat. Finally, the set comes with some trading cards I don’t know what I will do with them other than keep them in the case but it’s kind of fun. The art on the cards is kind of nice and when you lay them out the images actually connect to form one image of all the Doctors. Cool! There are also some facts about the Doctor on the back of the cards.

This was a special episode and I am suitably impressed with this release. These new series releases don’t tend to have the volume of content that the classic series releases have but I feel that this release does a good job of giving us value for money and an excellent episode to boot!
This is a very non-spoilery look at The Day of the Doctor. If you are interested in a full commentary/conversational style look at this episode, please check out the podcast I am on called The Others where we look at The Day of the Doctor. Please check it out here. Direct link to MP3 here.

Next week: I look at an episode of a series that is a real treasure of British television. I look at an episode of Dixon of Dock Green. Though I look at an episode from later in the series where it is not quite the same show people think of from the 1950s. As a loose tribute to Producer/Director Joe Waters, I look at Wasteland.

Have a great week!
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Anonymous said...

I don't think you're right to say that Doctor Who was never mainstream. Growing up in the sixties and seventies and watching it then, it was absolutely mainstream. One bad choice after another in the eighties simply drove it further and further into a ghetto of the production team's own making.

Greg said...

You're right, I should have clarified that it was never mainstream in the US opposed to the UK which was the original intent of my sentence but wasn't clear at all.

I personally don't agree that all the problems of Doctor Who is all down to the production team. Purposely being schedule against Coronation Street was a major factor for finishing it off. It still did it's best to hold it's own against that series.