It's amazing to me that any television show - and especially any scripted show - could somehow manage to stay on the air for fifty years. Yet that is exactly what Doctor Who did over the weekend, celebrating its fiftieth birthday with a special episode that was simulcast around the world, though a few minutes later on Prime yesterday morning, that brought together three different iterations of The Doctor thanks to some kind of timey-wimey craziness.
(Warning: spoilers from Doctor Who's The Day Of The Doctor follow.)
As far as "event" episodes go, I reckon The Day Of The Doctor was a winner. I thought Steven Moffat's storyline - while a little confusing at times, and even though it seemed to use a fez to cover up the lack of explanation - was exciting, and one of his best in some time; like The Name Of The Doctor, the latest regular season episode of the show, the personal history of The Doctor was used to great effect, giving the story an emotional gravitas normally lacking on the show.
Matt Smith (#11) and David Tennant (#10) played off each other brilliantly; I'm not sure whether their rapport happened by design, or if it was just a happy accident that they played so well off each other, but the pair made the most of some cracking dialogue and pushed their scenes beyond what could have been a simple case of stunt casting.
The pair also formed a nice trio with John Hurt. We were promised answers when Hurt showed up at the end of the last episode, and Moffat did not disappoint - Hurt's gritty version of The Doctor contrasted nicely with the Smith/Tennant iterations, and the exploration of Gallifreyan history was exciting to watch.
On a visual level, this was the most impressive episode of the show I've seen. I mean, it makes sense that it would be impressive - the episode was filmed in 3D and released in theatres. But it was the small flourishes that made me smile most: the clever effects of the 3D paintings, the half-shifted zygon version of Kate Stewart. I know the show costs more now than it ever did, but it did make me wonder what the show would be like if it had a super-high budget week to week.
I am more appreciative of it than ever before after watching the rather lovely An Adventure In Space And Time, which aired on UKTV on Saturday evening. Written by Mark Gatiss and starring David Bradley (Game Of Thrones) as William Hartnell, the film - created especially to tie in with the 50th Anniversary celebrations - told the story of how Doctor Who came into being, by tracing its creation from the perspective of co-creator Sydney Newman (played by Brian Cox), founding producer Verity Lambert (Jessica Raine) and original director Waris Hussein (Sacha Dhawan).
The film paints the creation of the show as a true labour of love, with the primary creative forces doing things that had never been done before within the BBC - and dealing with a variety of challenges along the way. For example, did you realise that Doctor Who premiered the same day that JFK was shot? I hadn't made the connection until the character of Hussein explained the premiere ratings away in the context of that event.
A light entertainment film it might have been, but I thought Gatiss' script was great, capturing the fondness most fans have for the show and transferring that love to its creators, while Bradley turned in a strong performance as Hartnell, the first actor to take on the role; between this, Game Of Thrones and Broadchurch, Bradley is having one hell of a year.
All in all, a solid weekend for Whovians. An Adventure In Space And Time and Doctor Who's The Day Of The Doctor combined to form a nice ode to the show, certainly worthy of the celebrations for which they were created and proving that the show is as strong, and popular, as it ever was.
So, happy birthday, Doctor Who. Here's to fifty more.
Did you watch The Day Of The Doctor or An Adventure In Space And Time? What did you think?