Fans are different. We know too much. We also care too much. As Paul Cornell has pointed out, fans watch their favorite shows differently, think about them differently, and respond differently than casual viewers. So how does a fan (me) go about reviewing the fiftieth anniversary of their favorite show in a way that’s accessible to everyone?
I don’t know. Other, more capable fans might have no problem doing it, but I’m not sure that I can.
There was so many references to past Doctor Who in “The Day of the Doctor,” that my view of the actual story is almost completely obscured. As a viewer, I wanted a cracking good yarn, and I think we got that, but I was just so busy being tickled by all of the callbacks to the olden days, that I couldn’t quite hear what was going on. (A Zygon plot to take over the Earth? Sure, why not?) But, seeing as how this is the perspective I’m stuck with, maybe I should just stop worrying about it so much, and look at how the whole thing worked on me.
I love all of the Doctors in their own way, but Tennant is easily my favorite of the new-Who versions. Just seeing him get to be all Doctorish again warmed my heart. The fact that it wasn’t a bad turn, or loaded down with too much clattering dialog was a bonus, of course. He was good — damn good.
It was also nice to see Billie Piper again, but as she wasn’t able to really do much Rose-ish stuff, it took me out of the story a little bit. “Oh yes, well they had to squeeze her in somewhere, didn’t they?”
Oh, all those references to the classic series. They were like the food pellets they give to mice during behavioral experiments. For awhile it seemed like every few seconds a little bell rang, and we got a satisfying little morsel of nostalgia to wolf down. DING! Coal Hill School! DING! There’s UNIT! DING! Oh my god, that scarf! DING! And so on.
My word, what must it have been like to see the show as a new-Who only fan? “Hmm… not much going on here, yet.”
And the end, or at least the part just before the very end, just when you think you’ve had just about all you can stand of (what honestly, in most cases, were pretty minor little stabs of) nostalgia, here comes bloody Tom Baker. I don’t care what his character was called, or what on-screen justification they come up with for his being there, I… I couldn’t tell you what I was feeling at that point. If he’d eaten a Jelly Baby during that scene, I swear to you that I would have died on the spot. If Piper’s presence in the special felt delivered courtesy of a shoehorn, how can I explain why Baker’s appearance — even less story-driven and much more deliberately soppy — felt so uplifting?
Well, if felt that way to me, anyway. I am certain that you’ll find more than a few fans who see the whole thing as cheap, or even cynically manipulative (we fans are a picky lot). I can’t deny any of those things. But, at that moment, it felt good — good to be a fan, good to have our affection for Baker to be used against us, even. Again, though — what could a non or new-fan have thought? “Who is this strange old man? What is the point of this scene?”
Looking back on this episode, I expect that much of it will be found irredeemably cheesy. (Here come 13 CGI TARDISes!) Most multi-Doctor stories don’t hold up. But, watching the show — the world-wide simulcast — knowing that millions of other fans were there, unseen, watching with us, and seeing the history of everything that’s gone before being so openly and vehemently celebrated, in that moment, I was having a great time.
And finally — finally, after defending the program’s many shortcomings, attempting to justify its odd choices by suggesting that many of them were due to the fact that it’s a show made for everybody, not just fans, the Day of the Doctor was an odd kind of validation. No matter what we’ve said before, at least this once, this one time, the show really was being made for us.
If that makes me come across as sentimental, or even a little soft-headed, I don’t care. For the first time in a long while, I’m going to cut myself some slack, and actually admit to myself that I liked an episode of Doctor Who. I know that it’s a betrayal of everything we Who fans stand for, but c’mon: it’s been fifty years!