Written by Steven Moffat and directed by Nick Curran, the Doctor Who fiftieth anniversary special, The Day Of The Doctor, had set some pretty high expectations with the series' rabid fan base around the world. The hype machine was rolling at full speed and for months before the November 2013 broadcast rumors were swirling as to who would appear and what might happen to them. Everyone involved with this one knew that they had to make this more than just an episode that ran longer than usual, they had to make this an event, they had to tell the kind of story that would do justice to the fact that this series was now a half century old and that it was more popular than ever before. They were faced with the seemingly insurmountable task of telling a tale not soon forgotten, tying in events from the past, the future and the present to craft a truly special episode. Amazingly enough, they pulled it off.
We're going to keep plot details vague here but in short, in the present day of 2013 something strange is happening to some paintings that hang in the a London Gallery. The eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and his companion Clara (Jenna Coleman) arrive to investigate, thanks to the help of UNIT led by Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave). It turns out that these tie into the coming of the War Doctor (John Hurt), who as it turns out was responsible for ending the war between the Time Lords and the Daleks by stealing a living and conscious device called The Moment that he uses to wipe them all out of existence, a decision that he does not come to lightly. But… with this being a series more or less about time travel and all, there's some twists.
Before he makes the decision, the War Doctor sits in a sort of limbo where The Moment appears to him as Rose Tyler (Billie Piper). As the two of them weigh the merits of the decision he'll have to make, a bridge through time is created and the War Doctor meets up with his future selves, the tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and the eleventh Doctor. The thinking behind The Moment's decision to create this bridge is that the War Doctor will meet his future selves and realize that there is good to relish and that when he realizes this, he'll opt not to obliterate all involved in the war. As this plays out, the three Doctors become involved in an adventure with Queen Elizabeth I (Joanna Page) and a Zygon all of which ties back into those mysterious paintings.
You've got to give Moffat and company credit for The Day Of The Doctor as this is a multi-layered story that serves not only as a completely enjoyable tale of time traveling adventure but also a serious movement within the series' continuity. Fans of Doctor Who: The Movie will no doubt appreciate what's been done here (particularly after watching the mini-episode/prequel The Night Of The Doctor, which you should very definitely watch first!) but this episode ties into more than just that one off, it actually goes all the way back to the very first episode and plays off of what was established in the very earliest part of the series. There are plenty of other continuity nods along the way as well, some more obvious than others, and before it's all done, all of the Doctors, past, present and future, will appear with one cameo in particular bound to tug on the heart strings of those with an affinity for one specific Doctor/actor…. and yeah. No spoilers. But it's great.
Performances are strong across the board here. Obviously those who aren't enthralled with Tennant or Smith's take on the character won't be won over as they're basically true to form here but for those of us who do enjoy their work, watching them collaborate is a blast. John Hurt fits in well here too, playing the dark and brooding aspects of his character well and seeming genuinely conflicted by what he is faced with. Jenna Coleman is as lovely and charming as ever while Billie Piper is brought back in grand style and tends to steal each scene she's involved with.
If there's one thing that feels just a bit out of place here it's how some of the battle scenes feel more like something out of a Terminator movie than a Doctor Who episode. Many won't be bothered by this, others understandably will but that complaint aside, this is a blast to watch. It leaves some bits and pieces open to interpretation but at the same time pays loving tribute to the series' rich history while simultaneously helping to lay the groundwork for what is to come. Some will be annoyed and claim ‘revisionist history' as is their right, but taken on its own, there's so much fun to be had with The Day Of The Doctor that it's hard not to see it as an absolute delight.
Doctor Who: The Day Of The Doctor arrives on DVD framed at 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen. Shot in top quality HD digital video, there are obviously no issues with print damage, dirt or debris. Colors are reproduced very nicely here, lots of orange used during the war scene and plenty of bright greens in the scene that takes place in the woods to catch our eye. Black levels stay pretty solid, though some minor crush and compression is obvious in a few of the darker scenes. Skin tones look nice and natural and detail looks solid. Nothing to complain about here, this is a great looking image.
English language audio options are provided in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound with optional subtitles provided in English SDH, French and Spanish. This track does not disappoint. There's plenty of great surround activity present throughout the duration of the episode, be it the whooshing sound of the TARDIS or the sounds of a Dalek attack. Directional effects are plentiful and well placed while levels remain properly balanced throughout, ensuring that the score has the appropriate amount of dramatic weight behind it while at the same time keeping the dialogue crisp and clear. An excellent mix overall.
The biggest and best of the extras on the disc is a forty-five minute long documentary entitled Doctor Who Explained. Though it stands to reason that this will probably appeal more to those new to the show than to seasoned fans, it serves as a pretty interesting overview of what makes this series as interesting and as enjoyable as it is. Topics covered here include who The Doctor is, where he comes from, what a Time Lord is, some of his more memorable companions, his more famous enemies and quite a bit more. This is made up not just of clips and archival photographs but also some great cast and crew interviews with David Tennant, Matt Smith, Jenna Coleman, Steven Moffat, Karen Gillan, Tom Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Peter Davison and plenty more. It's a well edited piece with a lot of great information and while experts won't glean as much as newbies, it's still a really fun watch.
Additionally, we get a fifteen minute Behind The Scenes featurette that includes more cast and crew interviews as well as some fun footage shot on set showcasing the ‘hanging from the TARDIS' scene among others. It could have gone more in-depth than it does but it's still worth a watch and it is interesting to hear Moffat talk about the pressures he was under writing this particularly important episode.
Aside from that? Both the The Last Day and The Night Of The Doctor webisodes are included here and both are quite important to the story and lead into the feature attraction quite nicely. We won't go into spoiler territory here but let it suffice to say that what happens in The Night Of The Doctor has some pretty important ramifications on the series as it stands now and these are both very well done and important additions to this DVD. Rounding out the extras are the Comic-Con trailer, the proper trailer, animated menus and chapter selection. Previews for a few other BBC releases play before the main menu screen loads. It might have been fun to get a commentary from Moffat, Hurran and the cast but that didn't happen. Otherwise, this is a solid selection of supplements.
There was a ridiculous amount of hype going around for this one before it actually made it to the airwaves but thankfully, Doctor Who: The Day Of The Doctor did not disappoint. The fiftieth anniversary special featured a great script, some strong effects work, some wonderful performances and all the thrills, chills and laughs you could want out of a top tier Who story. Add to that a few ‘special surprises' for fans old and new alike and this one wound up an absolute joy to watch. The DVD release from the BBC offers the feature up in very nice shape and with some quality supplements as well. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.