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In the annuls of television drama, there has been no show like Doctor Who. There have been soap operas that have had greater longevity, but none have matched Doctor Who for sheer resilience and the degree of devotion from its fans. The tenacity of fans have helped the Good Doctor have more lives than the creature on Colin Baker's lapel and fifty years after Doctor Who made it's debut, show mark's it's half century in style...

The elderly Doctor and his two child-like offspring...

The Doctor (Matt Smith) teams up with Clara (Jenna Coleman) and they find themselves whisked off to UNIT HQ in London, where they discover than paintings are missing their main subject. The Doctor is pulled through time and finds The Doctor (David Tennant) and The Doctor (John Hurt); they must work together to foil a plot that involves old enemies The Zygons and events transpire that could even bring back Gallifrey itself.

When David Tennant left Doctor Who, had assured fans that he would return for the 50th anniversary story and he has certainly made good on his promise, looking hardly any older than he did when he vacated the role around four years earlier. Since hanging up his sonic screwdriver, Tennant has done some heavyweight work and there were those who thought that it might have been difficult to slip back into the role, but these fears were entirely unfounded, as Tennant's Doctor is exactly the same as he was.

Matt Smith is his usual self, bringing that sort of bookish  exuberance that he has always been associated with on Doctor Who. He sparks off Tennant well and once they dispense with the tiresome "who has the biggest sonic screwdriver/phallus" crap, they eventually make for a good team.

Jenna (Louise) Coleman understandably takes a bit of a back seat in this story; this is pretty much true of every multiple Doctor story, but as Clara, she still does her rapid patter and perky thing that she does very well.

For a golden anniversary story that was broadcast on the very day of the 50th anniversary, it is a crashing disappointment that none of the original actors who played the Doctor during the classic run were asked to return. All of them were apparently willing to reprise their roles in some fashion, but in the months leading up to the broadcast of the episode, there began a domino-like effect of confirmations that they're participation was not required. Colin Baker summed it up pretty bluntly in a recent interview by saying that the Classic Doctors were considered "excess baggage" and that none of them were "deemed worthy of inclusion" in the 50th anniversary story.

Well, this is not ENTIRELY true, as we will mention later...

"I hear the heartbeat of a spoiler!" - if only Baker had kept his trap shut for a couple of days...

Steven Moffat boasted of making a Doctor Who anniversary story "for the ages"; if by this he meant that the age in particular was 2005-2013, then he certainly succeeded achieving his goal. This is essentially a rehash of The Three Doctors, so there is the expected initial frivolity between Smith and Tennant upon first meeting, with the expected sartorial and appearance-related barbs being present and correct.

John Hurt adds a much-needed degree of gravitas to the proceedings, with his doctor effectively acting as the William Hartnell of this particular triumvirate of Doctors, and whenever Tennant and Smith's giddy antics start to become venture in the realms of excess, Hurt verbally bangs their heads together, ending the aggressive course of emotherapy. The ravages of time - not to mention the 50 or so years of heavy smoking - have left him with a voice that sounds like the results of a seal and a large amount of rocks being tossed into a cement mixer, but there is still an unmistakable degree of authority in his voice that is impossible to ignore.

Hurt's Doctor also seems to represent the Classic Who audience, especially when we snaps and asks why Smith and Tennant's Doctors talk like children and why they wave their sonic screwdrivers around all the time. Moffat is obviously conscious of such things for him to include direct references to them in this story. Those bits elicited hearty laughs from us when we watched it.

It's painfully obvious that John Hurt was brought in because Christopher Eccleston walked away from the projects after only one very short meeting. It's a matter of public record that Eccleston was not a happy bunny during his time on Doctor Who and it was fairly obvious that he wouldn't return for the 50th anniversary story. Russell T Davies certainly seemed to imply that it was Eccleston's Doctor who had the pivotal role during The Time War. Seeing as he wasn't available, necessity was indeed the mother of invention, and another incarnation of The Doctor was created to take his place.

Jemma Redgrave makes a welcome return as Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, daughter of The Brig; she brings a touch of class to the proceedings (along with John Hurt, of course), providing a sense of continuity and the sort of steeliness that her on-screen father possessed.

Oh, Billie Piper's in it, too - seemingly for no reason whatsoever; she merely seems to provides a sounding board for John Hurt's Doctor when he is by himself and contemplating universal issues. She looks alarmingly different to how she did when she was a regular on the show, which further adds fuel to the argument about not including the original Doctors because they look different to how they did in their prime.

And then there is Tom Baker. If you are reading this, you will more than likely have actually watched this story by now. It is true that Tom Baker appears near the end as the mysterious "Curator"; initially it is shocking to see how frail Baker has suddenly become, but once he starts talking, the familiar twinkle in his eye is undeniable and the man who may or may not be The Doctor lights up the screen.

Having the Zygons as the adversaries for this story was a wise move; out of all of the original monsters seen in Doctor Who, the biggest imbalance between the most loved and least seen has to go to the devious shape-shifting suckers with suckers. The redesign is fairly faithful to the original, even if they felt the need to make them look like they had been taking steroids and give them pointy teeth to make them look more frightening to the kiddiewinks. The appearance of them was supposed to be a surprise, but a press release had to be hastily put out during location filming in order to prevent the tabloids getting in first by printing paparazzo pictures taken with a telephoto lens.

No matter how many times you see it, the TARDIS is always cool - unlike a bow tie or a fez...

The inclusion of the Time War was eye-opening, mainly because it was always said – or at least implied – that it would never properly be touched, essentially being “time-locked” not only in terms of the galactic conflict in the story, but also in terms of production, acting as a buffer between the original series and New-Who. Much like George Lucas in the Star Wars prequels, only the end of the cataclysmic war is shown (Lucas elected to only show the end of the Clone Wars in Revenge of the Sith) and fans can still use their imaginations as to what else happened during the climactic battle between the Time Lords and the Daleks. There is much carnage on display as everyone's favourite angry pepper-pots battle with the Time Lords on the latter's home planet; we'd have loved to have seen a cameo from Absalom Daak (Dalek Killer), but you can't have everything, now can you...?

It would appear that Moffat was not a great fan of Russell T Davies' eradication of Gallifrey when Nu-Who began. Many fans disliked the idea of The Doctor being the last of his kind and not being recalled to his home planet now and again to do their bidding, becoming President of Gallifrey or whatever. We were initially frosty toward the concept, but we grew to accept idea it seemed to fit the show. To suddenly be faced with the possibility of bringing everything back seems to be the worst case of "pushing the reset button" in the show's history and could almost be seen as the ultimate parody of RTD's reset button concept (the worst of which was seen at the end of the series three two-parter) and by having the item in question as a literal big red reset button seems to also consciously function as a flying fuck-you to RTD. It's possible that we're reading it in a somewhat abstract manner - your interpretation may be something entirely different.

The production values are undeniably handsome, with some nice location work in London, having the TARDIS brought into Trafalgar Square by crane and location work at the Tower of London; the production was able to wring the last drops out of the BBC's now-defunct 3D budget, and the it was filmed in 3D at no real extra cost to the production, but what money they DID have has been wisely employed, especially in the depiction of the final days of the Time War, with the fall of Arcadia looking particularly impressive and the redesign of Gallifrey's military uniforms are a pleasing mix of Classic Who and modern sensibilities. There is much Dalek carnage on display, with everyone's favourite pepperpots being blown to kingdom come and many Time Lords coming a cropper, too. We'd have loved to have seen a brief appearance by Absalom Daak (Dalek Killer), but you can't have everything...

The issue of the inclusion of the original Doctors in this story was always one that would split fans right down the middle; there are those who argued that they had no place in Nu-Who and that if they had appeared, they wouldn't have looked the way they did in their respective primes. Others said that seeing as this is the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who[/] as a whole and that [i]Nu-Who has only existed for eight of those and that by shutting out the other forty-two years, it does the original actors a tremendous disservice. We happen to fall into the latter (there are any number of reasons how they could account for the difference in appearance - they came up with some horseshit for Time-Crash); the appearance of Tom Baker in what may very well be one of his final dramatic roles on television pacified us somewhat and usage of footage of all the original Doctors during the climax (along with John Guilor vocally standing in for William Hartnell) at least acknowledged that Doctor Who existed before 2005.

There are certainly tips of the hat to the classic series and they come thick and fast, mainly consisting of verbal references, such as both Smith and Tennant trying to “reverse the polarity” of something and “I didn't know when I was well-off”, which is an homage to Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. Other references will only be spotted by the hard-core faithful, but it takes a good couple of viewings to get them all. It was a nice touch to see Clara teaching at Cole Hill School at the start of the story (with Ian Chesterton noted as headmaster, and presumably, there will probably be further visits to to this seat of learning, as something is set up that implies a relationship between Clara and one of the other teachers.

Well, it was the thought that counts, we suppose...

Video:


Shot in high-definition, this standard-definition DVD copy looks pretty good, with the usual strong colours, and well-rendered image detail. The scenes that highlight the dying days of Gallifrey look particularly good, with the predominantly red colour scheme well represented here.

Audio:


The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack has plenty of punch, delivering a veritable multitude of sonic spot effects to add extra depth the viewing experience. That it was destined for the big screen seems to have had the sound engineers upping their game, delivering an assault as brutal as the one launched by the Daleks during the final days of the Time War. There is certainly no lack of output from the subwoofer either, as the battle on Gallifrey almost seems to shake the room with each explosion.  This is a mix befitting the anniversary in every single way.

Extras


Night of the Doctor: Yes! This is the thing that long-time Doctor Who fans such as ourselves were hoping for - a televisual return (albeit painfully briefly) of Paul McGann as The Eighth Doctor! There were whispers that McGann was shooting a mini-episode for the 50th anniversary, but no concrete proof; this was supposed to be unveiled closer to the day of the anniversary, but after a couple of photographs leaked online, the BBC (much in the same way they did with the Zygons) decided to officially announce it before it could be properly spoiled online. When one of us followed the link to this story initially and McGann appeared, the mixture of delight and surprise was so overwhelming that he had to stop the thing for a couple of minutes and jump on the phone to excitedly tell the other.

Clocking in agonisingly brief seven minutes, this has Paul McGann making a very George Lazenby-like entrance during the pre-credit sequence and establishes that he is no longer looked upon as a nice person due to the Time War and after barely surviving a crash-landing on Karn (where the classic Tom Baker story, The Brain of Morbius was set) and is rescued by The Sisterhood. He is given the chance to regenerate into whatever form he wishes and decides to choose an incarnation that will get his hands dirty in the Time War.

McGann shines so very brightly in this short tale; dispensing with the two things that he hated so much about his Doctor (the wig and the cravat), he looks like an older and more weathered Doctor, but still retaining the twinkle that he had seventeen years previously. It was great to see Clare Higgins playing the leader of the Sisterhood (she will always be fondly remembered by us as evil blood-thirsty/cock-hungry MILF Julia Cotton in Hellraiser) and the appearance of a youthful John Hurt at the end is the much-needed bridge between the Classic Series and Nu-Who. Night of the Doctor is a thing of joy and we can't thank everyone connected with it enough - this really made the 50th anniversary for us. Now, if only they could get McGann to come back again...

OK, so he wasn't in the special, but how could we NOT include an image of Paul McGann?

The Last Night: Now, in stark contrast to the wonderful Night of the Doctor, this one really didn’t sit right with us. OK, this is a euphemism for “absolutely hated it”, but really seems as though it was made for the sake of trying to extend an experience post mortem. A rookie is taken through the procedures of defending the towers of Gallifrey just before everything goes tits-up and the Time Lords are all murdered by the combined might of the Daleks and a producer trying to instantly create empathy. On the plus side, there is a pleasing vibe similar to the one found in Superman the Movie, with the smugness of the Krypton Council bring transplanted to those in charge here (Ian Chesterton was on the aforementioned council), both undone by their complacency, and the sight of the Daleks trundling around the lands of Gallifrey exterminating people almost made us forget the idiocy of their flying capabilities, but when one of the little sods appears in the night skies, we’re right back in Davies-land again. At least presented with a nice Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, the whole thing plays out like the opening cut-scenes to a first-person-shooter, with the player a rookie being given expository information by a grizzled veteran before it all goes to hell. Call of Duty: World at Time-War, anyone?

Behind the Lens: Well, there had to be a look at Day of the Doctor, and here is it, with the sixth incarnation himself, Colin Baker, talking us through it as we check out all manner of production stages from the read-through to antics on set. This is pretty candid stuff, with just about all involved discussing their own thoughts on the show reaching its half-century, and you get to hear David Tennant talk how it feels to wear his old clothes again whilst trying to look three years younger - his words, not ours!

Naturally, big-Boss-man Steven Moffat is one of the main voices, and aide from taking us thought he processes of creating Doctor Who on the biggest ever scale, there is still more than enough time to let us all know that an enthusiast is at the Helm of the show, rather than a bean-counter sitting in the lofty offices at the BBC. “We’re in total ‘fan-out’ here - I think everybody is.” he admits, as cameras are flashed for personal photographs. “There is a specific rule about not taking photographs on set, and as the person who enforced it and came up with it, I obviously contradict it all the time.  I really should be arrested”.

The budget being bigger than usual, allowing for some bigger casting choices, as well as the provision of seating for the cast. As well as affording things like filming huge sequences in the middle of London, the addition of 3D and one of Britain‘s most respected thespians to play a new incarnation of The Doctor, there were more welcome things that money could afford the cast, “We get chairs now,“ exclaims Tennant, in a very tongue-in-cheek fashion.   “We didn’t get that in my day”. Others returning to the fold are interviewed on just how special this how affair is to them, and how great it is to be involved with it for both the show and the fans. Oh, and Billie Piper gets a fair degree of footage, but that’s anything to do with Nu-Who for you.

They clearly had to keep a lid on this documentary as much as the programme itself, as it covers the “appearances” from the former Doctors, as well as offering more than a mere glimpse of the return of Tom Baker to the show. Naturally, it took a clinically mad pensioner to open his mouth and spoil the surprise, and it must have irked The Sun that the news was broken this way rather than their usual method of nicking a fans’ personal photo from the internet and calling it their exclusive. Oh, and it even has the filming of the final shot with all of the Doctors, and you might just be surprised that they didn’t just use mannequins for those not directly participating, as the stand-ins have their faces covered in motion-capture dots. Pity that they all had to stand deadly still during it, eh?

John Hurt is on hand to tell of how he got involved with the show, and the very short window he was given to mull it over - essentially a weekend whilst on stage. It’s clear that a degree of satisfaction exists in appearing, but the cynics in us not that there are a number of edit-points in his interview which might have been used to remove certain qualifiers, and a few strands here and there which originally balanced out negatives things he said. Possibly the best stuff comes from Jemma Redgrave, who not only expresses the frustration of not being allowed to talk about her involvement, even though she wanted to “jump up and down” and tell everyone, but she also spills the beans about an opportunity her younger self had to meet the Daleks, courtesy of her distinguished father pulling a few strings, resolutely turning it down through sheer terror and “…not wanting to go anywhere near them!”

That Colin Baker is narrating this rather nice look at the 50th anniversary special doesn’t sit right in light of recent comments he made about the whole affair, but we side with him on this one. His tones and schtick are playful, giving the right amount of balance to the affair without it seeming like a back-slapping love-in among those on the inside. He interacts with the footage, including his repost to a  returning foe threatening to “get” the Doctor this time around, Baker’s retort being “…Dream on, Zygon”. This is an actor with a voice all his own, and always a pleasure to listen to him, even when getting through Arrangements for War was a struggle for everyone.

As with An Adventure in Space and Times’ documentary, things close out with key members wishing Doctor Who a happy 50th, with at least one rather surprising participant. Given that they’re actors, their  levels of sincerity are likely to remain a mystery.  This is a pretty nice piece, and contains some very surprising footage from the filming, and should appeal to everyone who dares to venture in.

Doctor Who Explained: Nothing really needs explaining here, as it’s the very same show which has been played a few times on Watch, so we all know that it’s a handsomely-mounted look at some of the basic questions those fairly new to the game would have.  Including contributions from all surviving Doctors who don’t have a stick up their arse, we get a terrific spread of the old and the Nu, as well as hearing from all manner of companions about their time in the TARDIS, all combining to illuminate the noobs whilst entertaining the fans. Compiled from the same recording sessions as the Doctor Who: The Doctors Revisited (again played of Watch) it’s edited into a perfectly cohesive whole, and certainly rates highly in the replayable stakes, and you’ll happily sit through the entire thing again as you work through all the extras on this disc.

Early Trailer: The teaser for Day of the Doctor is presented for your delectation, and this is a pretty accurate representation of the final product, letting viewers know that it was essentially The Two Doctors Plus One. You know how you get pieces of fan-based fiction where they take an established genre they like, but create their own character of equal significance to the main one?  Well, it almost feels as though it was the case with the War Doctor in this trailer, but they just about got away with it in the show itself. It’s a nice, slickly-packaged selection of material, it’s here for posterity, or the real anniversary - Nu-Who’s tenth.

50th Anniversary Trailer: This is the rather elaborate one with all the freeze-framing/ Matrix style imagery, and quite an impressive beast it is. Made to emphasise that a lot of different Doctors have taken us to where we are now, it’s rather ironic that most of the original actors probably get a better look-in on this than they do in Day of the Doctor itself. It looks lovely, and generated a lot of excitement on the run-up, but when you watch it after seeing the final epic, it leaves a somewhat bitter taste in the mouth.

"Pickled in time, like gherkins in a jar" - at least they spun around in Dimensions in Time...

Overall:


Matt Smith's time as The Doctor is almost at an end, with only the Christmas episode, The Time of the Doctor, to come before he regenerates into Peter Capaldi; The Golden Anniversary special was a huge success as far as creating an commemorative episode for Nu-Who fans was concerned, but old-school fans like us were disappointed that many still-living Doctors were left out in the cold.

If you want our honest opinion, it was better than we thought it was going to be; Smith, Tennant and Hurt make for an entertaining triumvirate and the possibility of returning Gallifrey to the Doctor Who universe is one that pleases most long-time fans. Putting things into perspective, it wasn't nearly the bust that many fans thought it was going to be and there could have been much worse ways of celebrating the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. The story ends on a high that has Matt Smith literally taking his place amongst his predecessors and the future of Doctor Who is still in safe hands, which is what everyone wants. Here's to another fifty years.


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