(NO SPOILERS.) Fan expectations could hardly have been higher for "The Day of the Doctor," Doctor Who's 50th Anniversary Special, both by the BBC's own Doctor Who jubilee hype and just by virtue of history intersecting with fan mania. Pairing up Doctors has been a series tradition and an anniversary tradition at that. Airing at the outset of Doctor Who's 10th Anniversary year, "The Three Doctors" gathered Patrick Troughton and an infirm William Hartnell to join Jon Pertwee for a very special episode, and for the show's 20th Anniversary, "The Five Doctors" brought together then-Doctor Peter Davison and past Doctors Pertwee and Troughton. Yes, "The Five Doctors" was more of a "Three Doctors" redux, since the late Hartnell was replaced with William Hurndall and an unwilling Tom Baker turned up only in archive footage. Troughton had one more go, with Colin Baker, in 1985's "The Two Doctors." And even since Russell T Davies' reboot, we've had Davison's return opposite David Tennant, in the Children in Need mini-episode "Time Crash."
So when current showrunner Steven Moffat announced Tennant would return to play with current Doctor Matt Smith, two things happened: literal jubilation and intense speculation. Sure, those two Doctors were announced, but will there be more? No spoilers here, but the Beeb did release a mini-episode prequel, called "Night of the Doctor," that stars Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor, which was a heckuva juicy bone to throw to fans. And then there's John Hurt, established as some kind of Doctor in the preceding full-length episode "The Name of the Doctor." I'll say only that "The Day of the Doctor" is essentially another "Three Doctors," give or take a Doctor. Hurt's "War Doctor" is Doctor 8.5, and his age and manner allow him to inhabit the Hartnell space (and perhaps prepare fans for Smith's older, likely grumpier successor, Peter Capaldi). All that said, Steven Moffat wrote "Day of the Doctor," so expect the unexpected.
"The Day of the Doctor" partly depicts the Time War ravaging the Doctor's home planet of Gallifrey, as Time Lords do perhaps universe-destroying battle with the Daleks. The show's canon has already established that the Doctor bears responsibility for genocidal destruction of both the Daleks and his own race, but on Doctor Who, time is a funny thing ("timey-wimey," in fact): hence, how the show has continually demonstrated that you just can't keep a bad Dalek down. The episode concerns the epochal moment of truth of the Time War, as it concerns the Gallifreyan weapon of mass destruction "The Moment." As publicized, the episode also contains a return appearance by former companion Billie Piper. The episode opens at 76 Totters Lane and includes stops at Trafalgar Square, the Tower of London, and the National Gallery (and, what's this? The National Undergallery?).
A new adventure for Tennant's beloved Tenth Doctor is cause enough for celebration, and fireworks fly between him and Smith. Hurt does predictably fantastic work, and also mixes well with his older selves/younger co-stars. Smith is properly allowed to be the story's central Doctor (he even gets the line "This is where I come in"), but Tennant and Hurt certainly have meaty roles to play. There's an occasional garishness about "The Day of the Doctor" that finds the new Who at its most self-indulgent, but Moffat got a budget bump, and by God, he was going to use it! That's generally a good thing, as in the show's nifty use of 3D (a Gallifreyan art, of sorts), but when director Nick Hurran overreaches, in the show's Star Wars mode, he falls back on some awful editing.
Mostly, "The Day of the Doctor" is great fun: a culminative reflection on the reboot's characterization of the Doctor, a respectful hat tip to the decades that preceded the show's return to the airwaves in 2005, and a jumping-off point for Smith's departure, Capaldi's arrival, and the next fifty years of Who.
BBC Home Video has a very special Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD release for Whovians in Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor - 50th Anniversary Special. The special edition comes with a physical goodie (a Limited Edition 50th Anniversary Commemorative Trading Card Set) as well as digital goodies. First, there's the feature, presented in hi-def picture and lossless audio. Doctor Who has never looked or sounded better than in this spanking-new episode. The 3D is both a rarity for a television show and, given relatively limited TV budgets, surprisingly brilliant as a viewing option. As fans who caught the theatrical 3D presentations know, the 3D version is the way the episode was meant to be seen, and now those with 3D sets can enjoy that experience at home. The episode cleverly references the 3D with a science-fiction version of a 3D painting (one of the best effects), but the 3D also offers convincing and typically nuanced dimensionality and pop throughout. Sometimes there's a "wow" factor, like the shot of motorcycling into the TARDIS, but more often the effect is simply invitingly immersive. All around, the image impresses (in 2D Blu-ray as well), with vivid hues, sharp detail and palpable textures, nicely resolved by a deep black level and well-defined contrast. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix amps up the action to supplement the show's AV peak performance, engaging LFE in the arresting Time War sequences, percolating with science-fiction sound effects that engage all channels for an immersive effect, but never sacrificing clarity of the front-and-center dialogue.
Bonus features are cool. The disc includes what may be the best Mini Episodes (11:01, HD) ever produced to enhance a show's main storyline: “The Last Day” & “The Night Of The Doctor.” Short but very sweet, these prequels are essential viewing, especially "The Night of the Doctor," a concise and informative adventure that will leave Whovians hungry for more...much more.
Featurettes include “The Day Of The Doctor: Behind The Lens” (13:42, HD), which unfortunately will also leave fans hungry for more. It's better than nothing, but given the importance of a 50th Anniversary Special, one wouldn't be blamed for expecting something more like a full-fledged, full-length episode of Doctor Who Confidential (or, for that matter, a cast-and-crew commentary). Anyway, you get some set glimpses and talking heads here for a behind-the-scenes taste.
“Doctor Who Explained” (46:45) is one of those nifty BBC America specials providing an overview of some topic relevant to the show. In this case, it's the whole history of the series, with a starry group of interview subjects breezily blitzing through fifty years of Doctor Who history. This'll be most useful to post-milennial Whovians still fuzzy on pre-reboot Who, or total newcomers jumping on the bandwagon with this heavily promoted special.
Lastly we get a couple of pretty great promos, the "Comic Con Trailer" (1:32, HD) and the BBC "Teaser Trailer" (1:04, HD).
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