We watched “The Day of the Doctor” again last night, to fix it better in our minds and to get the bits of dialogue we missed while the theater audience was laughing or clapping. And I have to say, I still like it a lot. The scene where Ten and Eleven place their hands on the War Doctor’s on the Moment’s switch brings a tear to my eye.
Remember, by the way, spoilers!
Personally, I think my favorite scenes (other than the climax at the end; I always love scenes in which the situation is resolved by the appearance of multiple incarnations) are the ones in which Ten and Eleven play off of each other. The two Doctors are very different from each other, the One Who Regrets being the emo (for lack of a better word) who has been tormented both by the events of the Last Great Time War and, more recently, by the loss of Rose and Donna, and the One Who Forgets being the child who tries to forget the Time War and the loss of the Ponds. At times, they are in opposition, and at others, they are best friends. Either way, though, Mr. Tennant and Mr. Smith work together flawlessly. It saddens me to think that they’ll never be brought together like this again. (Unless the Powers That Be produce specials for them, the next multi-Doctor special will focus on future Doctors, not these. And if they only do this for major anniversaries, it will be ten years before the opportunity even comes up.)
The story was really about the War Doctor’s journey to find himself and decide what was the right thing to do. The Moment takes him to see his future incarnations to see what he becomes, and he sees what look like two children: both young and energetic, with glib tongues and an apparent inability to take anything seriously. The War Doctor is disgusted with them (a deleted scene has him lamenting that they never shut up) and wonders how they ever came to terms with the genocide of the Time Lords and the Daleks; he (and the Tenth Doctor) is further amazed that the Eleventh Doctor has willingly forgotten the horrors of the Time War, because he can’t bear to remember them.
But then the War Doctor watches them solve a situation very similar to his own: when it seems that the humans have to destroy a city to preserve the rest of their race, the Tenth and Eleventh Doctor force a solution in which the two sides of the conflict must stop the destruction and peaceably work out a solution. It’s this act that makes him realize that these two Doctors are great men doing what they must. They both deeply regretted obliterating the Time Lords and the Daleks, but doing so saved everyone else, and they continue to strive to save the universe that they once saved by activating the Moment. This epiphany gives the War Doctor what he needs to make his decision, and he returns to the Moment to do what he must.
The one thing that I didn’t like in this episode was the emphasis on the deaths of the Gallifreyan children. I felt that this plot point was played for its pathos, and ignored all of the other horrors of the war. First, as I’ve mentioned above, the Doctor commits at least two genocides when he activates the Moment. Both the Time Lords and Daleks are wiped out, but the Moment convulsed the universe, obliterating other planets and galaxies: far more than just two sentient races were destroyed. The power of the Moment to do far more damage than just destroy Gallifrey should have been at least mentioned.
Second, the show implied that the Doctor fired the Moment because the Daleks were about to destroy Gallifrey and if he didn’t destroy both, the Daleks would go on to destroy the universe. But this isn’t the real reason. In The End of Time, Rassilon reveals what the High Council was doing during the final attack on Gallifrey (mentioned in “The Day of the Doctor” when the general complains that the High Council is sequestered).
RASSILON: We will initiate the Final Sanction. The end of time will come at my hand. The rupture will continue until it rips the Time Vortex apart.
MASTER: That’s suicide.
RASSILON: We will ascend to become creatures of consciousness alone. Free of these bodies, free of time, and cause and effect, while creation itself ceases to be.
DOCTOR: You see now? That’s what they were planning in the final days of the War. I had to stop them.
The Doctor didn’t fire the Moment just to stop the Daleks, sacrificing his own people in the process. He fired the Moment to prevent the immediate destruction of the universe by the High Council of the Time Lords.
Now, perhaps Mr. Moffat took the easy route with the narrative, since focusing on the children is a lot simpler (and quicker) for the audience relate to than dredging up the complicated backstory last seen three years ago. (Though, one might argue that the children were doomed in any of the three possible outcomes: killed by Daleks, destroyed by the Moment, or erased by the Final Sanction, since the majority of Gallifreyans are not Time Lords, who are the ones who would ascend.) Sometimes you have to make sacrifices to narrative flow.
The change to the end of the Last Great Time War takes a bit of getting used to, but I think it’s great that the Doctor now has something of a quest to work towards. Eventually he will find Gallifrey and bring it out, and then the Time Lords will be back. The Time Lords are jerks. They always have been. They’ve insisted on non-interference in other planets’ affairs and enjoy taking the Doctor to task for it, and then go off and interfere themselves, to their own selfish ends, sometimes on a planetary scale (see Ravolox). When they go bad, they go really bad (see Borusa and Rassilon), and the Last Great Time War corrupted them even more (only two of them voted against the Final Sanction). I can’t imagine that Rassilon is going to be very happy to see the Doctor when Gallifrey reappears.
I’m also enjoying the mental gymnastics needed to really grok this storyline; the analysis has been fueling the conversation between me and my husband for the past two days (one outcome of which I’ll elaborate on in the next post). I find it difficult to really see how the Ninth and Tenth Doctor (and most of the Eleventh Doctor) comes out of the events here. The Moment wasn’t really fired, but up until the events in “The Day of the Doctor” in Eleven’s timeline, the Doctor thinks the Moment has been fired. Whaaa-? I know that the takeaway is “Everything in the last seven seasons of the show really did happen – just go with it,” but I’m a fan of the backstory and I must understand how it all fits together. Yes, I know, this is Doctor Who and it doesn’t all fit together, but I try.