No power in the universe was going to stop local Whovians from enjoying the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor, at Comic Outpost ("home of the largest Doctor Who section in the Bay Area") this past weekend.
Despite recent financial troubles, which Comic Outpost has managed to bounce back from thanks to big sales and community support, the comic shop hosted the screening party that had been promised way back when the 50th anniversary special had been announced.
A full house of Whovians was ready to go well before 11:50 am, the time when the simulcast premiere was scheduled to start in our time zone, but an audio problem held the show up for over an hour before store-owner Gary Buechler came to the rescue with speakers to hook up. And thanks to free food, fan-made cupcakes, big raffle prizes, and good old-fashioned nerd enthusiasm, most, if not the entire crowd, stuck around to see the show.
As for the big episode itself? Admittedly, I belong to the rather large chunk of Whovians who are not happy with what showrunner Steven Moffat has been doing with Doctor Who. When we learned that the episode would deal with the Time War, and that John Hurt would be playing a regeneration of the Doctor that supposedly came between regenerations eight (Paul McGann) and nine (Christopher Eccleston), it felt like, as usual, Moffat was taking liberties he hadn’t earned the right to take, and tackling major plot points he didn’t have the finesse to handle.
But basically, it could have been worse. (Spoilers ahead!)
While it felt like we were stumbling our way through the plot for most of the episode, that’s really how the show has come to feel over the last couple of seasons, so it was business as usual. Nods to past characters, particularly the use of Captain Jack Harkness’s vortex manipulator, had viewers, including myself, squealing in excitement, but it still felt a bit like a cop out. Okay, I don’t know where Jack would have factored into this episode, but don’t tell me seeing John Barrowman back in the RAF coat wouldn’t have blown your mind.
The best callback to an old character (not counting David Tennant returning as the Tenth Doctor) was probably the return of UNIT’s Kate Stewart, daughter of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, whose first appearance on Doctor Who was back in 1968. Even Billie Piper’s return to the show wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped, if only because I’d been so stoked to see her in the preview, it hadn’t occurred to me that she might be playing something in the form of Rose Tyler, rather than Rose Tyler herself.
Though I had been skeptical of the insertion of another Doctor into a more-or-less established timeline, John Hurt was actually a riot. Hurt plays the War Doctor, the one who is supposed to have destroyed Gallifrey, and therefore is never acknowledged by the Doctor himself. But we meet him before he makes the big decision, and he hasn’t lost his humor. He takes jabs at his future regenerations, asking “Am I having a midlife crisis?!” when he sees how young they look, and asking if they must speak like children, in response to the now incredibly overused “timey-wimey” catchphrase.
In the end, even though a major plot point of the series was entirely rewritten and loose ends were tied with oversimplifications, I was cheering right along with everyone else when the big fix that saved rather than destroyed Gallifrey involved archive footage of all the Doctors, from William Hartnell right up to Christopher Eccleston. And of course, there was a stunning cameo by our next Doctor Peter Capaldi(’s eyes and forehead), which drew ecstatic screams from an already emotionally compromised crowd.
The final, final big surprise was an actual cameo by Fourth Doctor Tom Baker, who explains to our current Doctor (Matt Smith) that the painting depicting war-torn Gallifrey was not titled “No More” or “Gallifrey Falls,” but a combination of the two: “Gallifrey Falls No More.” Which leaves the Doctor, at last free of his guilt, to set off in search of his home that he managed to save in the end.
Yesterday, fans got a chance to watch The Day of the Doctor again in movie theaters, which, judging by the photos on Tumblr, was a total blast for Whovians. And though I didn’t feel compelled to spend money to go see the episode again, I might rewatch it at some point, which is saying a lot since I’ve generally been apathetic about the direction of the show for the past two seasons.
Like I said, it could’ve been worse.