29 November, 2013, Deconstructing The Day of the Doctor

The Doctor Who fiftieth anniversary show, The Day of the Doctor, was good. Entertaining. Oh, spoilers, d'uh. And, I'm pretty sure I've mentioned before how the term spoilers just grates against my skin, but that is neither here nor there so I'll get on with it already.

Doctor Who has been around for rather a long time and has built up quite a bit of baggage. This baggage had a lot to do with why the show was canceled round about the twenty-sixth year mark, as I understand it. The show just kind-of collapsed under its own weight, as it had a rather hard time attracting anybody who wasn't already a die-hard fan. Nobody in management wanted to take it seriously. Blah blah blah.

This left the revival in a bit of a quandary. They had to figure out what to do with all the baggage, and the producers of the revival had three basic options, I figure. First, they could just flat out ignore all of the history and baggage that the show had built up. Second, they could overtly wipe the slate clean with same grand gesture or statement or other. Third, they could dive head-first into the great stinking mess and very likely produce a show that absolutely nobody wanted to watch just throwing terms and facts around and generally behaving as if anybody and everybody watching knew the intricate details and didn't need a primer or anything. Sink or swim, and all of that.

So, the Doctor Who revival with Christopher Eccleston in the lead, and I'll just take a moment here to state that his was one of my favorite interpretations of the doctor. Grand job. Just really first rate. Anyway, of the three options mentioned above, the revival took the rather ballsy wipe the slate clean approach and—well—wiped the slate clean with a rather grand gesture that took several episodes to finally get around to attempting to explain. The revival just wiped everybody out. Took a great big brush to the whole entire history of Doctor Who and called it the Time War, which was a brilliant move, by the way. Just the name Time War tells anybody familiar with Doctor Who that the past may have been changed. It sure looked like time had been irrevocably changed. Characters and history may not have been simply killed off. Whole swatches of character, history and continuity may have been completely erased from existence. Time War, it's in the name. All that stuff you remember? Yeah, it never happened. Time War collateral damage.

The only danger with this kind-of wipe the slate clean approach is it can sort-of take over the show. I mean, Time War? Details, people. Details. So, it came about that the Doctor wasn't just suffering from survivor's guilt, which could have happened. Last man standing and all of that. Unable to stop the opposing sides from taking a mutually assured destruction approach while the Doctor tried to get people to see reason. It could have happened that way. Really, no reason why he couldn't have been the voice of reason that nobody was willing to listen to anymore. But, then the Doctor had to go and say I made them burn, and we're off to the races.

The Doctor hadn't just survived the Time War. He had ended it, and he did so in a way that made the most dramatic sense considering the revival really had wanted to wipe the slate clean. He killed them. He killed them all. And not just that. Death being too good for them and all of that. He more-or-less erased them from existence. Now, while this was an impressively daring move for the revival to make and certainly made for great material for the actor playing the part to sink his teeth into, it did rather turn the Doctor into a mass murderer on such a grand scale it was hard to imagine. Actually, that may have been the problem. It was mass slaughter on such a scale that not even the producers of the revival had realized what an ungodly can of worms they had gotten themselves into.

The Doctor Who revival had a central character who was a genocidal mass murderer, and—you know—there's just a point where that's going to start to bother people. Sure, the revival is a really entertaining show with a wonderfully entertaining central character; however, it is an enjoyable show with a fun and amusing central character who just so happens to be history's greatest monster. He's trying to make up for it. The revival has put a lot of effort into showing how much the Doctor has suffered and just how much he has tried to make up for the truly horrifically terrible things he did, but the revived Doctor Who is still a show about a guy who murdered rather more people than it is possible to imagine. Doesn't matter just how terrible the warring sides in the Time War turned out to be. He still killed them all even the children and their puppies and kittens.

Eventually, the children's television program Doctor Who was going to have to do something about that, and it finally did. Being a show with time travel in it and having previously stated that the Doctor could alter time if he really felt like it, the show once again changed its own history.

Or, did it?

Just for a moment, let's look at what had been previously established. The bits I can remember, anyway. The Doctor had made the Daleks burn, which had been established early on in the Eccleston year. The Doctor had also frozen the Time Lords in a moment in time, which had been established in the final episode of Tennat's run. He froze them in such a way that the Time Lords had for all intents and purposes been erased from existence. They now existed as little more than rumors and stories. They were legends and boogeymen to scare small children.

So, what exactly happened in The Day of the Doctor?

The Daleks burned. Okay, we've got that. The Doctor made them burn. You could argue that the Daleks destroyed each other, which is good for the kids watching the show to know that the Daleks were so irrational that they wiped themselves out, but it was the Doctor who tricked them into doing it. So, he still made them burn.

The Time Lords were frozen in a moment in time, specifically a painting, from which they could not escape until the Doctor felt like letting them out. The Time Lords were for all intents and purposes erased from existence, living on only as rumor and legend to enliven a long winter night's entertainment and scare small children.

So, The Day of the Doctor changed absolutely nothing about the end of the Time War. We simply got to see how exactly the Doctor committed his mass genocide, and it was specifically pointed out that not only did he get all the bad guys but he also murdered lots and lots of innocent people, children, and very likely all of their puppies and kittens. Gone. All gone. Unless the Doctor should take leave of his senses and decide to let them all out, which Tennat's Doctor was very intent on not allowing to happen and led directly to his regeneration into the Doctor who forgets.

Which brings us around to what The Day of the Doctor actually did to escape from the fact that Doctor Who's main character was a sociopathic mass murderer on such a grand scale never before seen that it simply boggled the mind. It changed the Doctor. The show made a very big point in just how much time had passed since the end of the Time War and the Doctor had been forced to make the vow to never ever risk letting the Time Lords escape from their time-locked prison in the form of a three-dimensional painting. The Time Lords were simply too powerful and much, much too evil. The show made a big point in just how much the Doctor had forgotten over his long life. Forgotten so much in fact that he was no longer certain how old he actually was.

Simply put, enough time had passed that the Doctor had perspective or more likely had simply forgotten just how evil the Time Lords had become. The Doctor had reached the point where he was prepared to risk freeing the greatest evil the universe had ever known if only he could help the innocent denizens of Gallifrey who had wanted nothing to do with lording it over time or fighting great time wars or otherwise telling other people what should have happened and when it should have happened. The Doctor was going to search for a way to rescue the children, puppies and kittens without unleashing unholy hell on the rest of the universe in the form of the truly monstrous and evil Time Lords.

And, the Doctor had to convince himself this was okay. He could take this risk, and the way he rationalized it even after all of this time was by thinking of the Time Lords and Gallifrey as being out there somewhere. He would find them. He would find a way. He would go home, which he never actually stated was a physical place. He could have been talking metaphorically. Home being a state of mind or memory and all of that. He would free the good parts such as the puppies and kittens from their time-locked prison and go back to all that was good and just about Gallifrey.

After all, did Tennant's Doctor not say right before he prevented the Time Lords from escaping their time-locked prison that he chose to remember only the good things about the Time Lords and simply didn't talk about and hopefully forget the evil they had wrought or would continue to bring should they ever escape from their prison?

By repositioning the show as a search as a hopeful seeking for all that was once good and proper about Gallifrey, the children's television show Doctor Who was attempting to move beyond the fact that the series protagonist was a genocidal mass murderer by emphasizing the fact that the Doctor really could let the people out of the prison if he should ever feel like it.

Oh, and kill as many Daleks as he felt like. Daleks still being evil alien cyborg monsters hell-bent on wiping out all forms of life other than themselves from the universe, after all.

copyright © 2013 by keith d. jones – all rights reserved