We finally got two official trailers – one short, one longer – for “The Day of the Doctor,” along with another BBC preview clip released last Friday for the annual Children in Need telethon. Also last week, the Beeb put out “The Night of the Doctor,” the first mini-episode prequel to the 50th-anniversary Doctor Who special. The trailers sparked excited speculation about what this landmark episode has in store, but the minisode gave us a really awesome surprise: Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor (finally sporting some decent footwear) in a nearly seven-minute story that wove some of his peripheral-media adventures more tightly into TV Who, waved to the Classic Series by reintroducing the Sisterhood of Karn (last seen in the 1976 Fourth Doctor serial “The Brain of Morbius”) and showed us more background on John Hurt’s mysterious incarnation of the Doctor (now dubbed the War Doctor).
In the trailers, we see Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor meet David Tennant’s 10th (and share cute moments of mutual admiration and disdain), and witness the return of companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper). Not to mention, Daleks! Zygons (Zygons?)! Fez play! Ten on a horse! And Eleven dangling from the airborne TARDIS!
I’m guessing that the 75-minute special – which will be simulcast across the globe on Saturday, November 23, and even get special 3D screenings in movie theaters – has more surprises up its sleeve. But the existence of the minisode makes it pretty clear that, despite the hopes of many fans, we really won’t be getting a deluxe episode packed with former Doctors and their companions. (Although you never know. One thing we’ve learned about showrunner Steven Moffat is – as he’s so fond of saying about the Doctor – Moffat lies.) Here’s why that’s good – and bad.
1. Well, Obviously…
It’s disappointing that (if?) the 50th-anniversary special won’t be including all 11 of the Doctor’s known incarnations – although rumors persist that all of them will appear, if only in voice form. But I doubt it, because Moffat has repeatedly said he’s focusing on the Doctor’s future, telling U.K. newspaper The Telegraph, “I didn’t want this to be a celebration of the past.” Then again, this is the guy who put the faces of all the Doctors in his very first episode as showrunner (“The Eleventh Hour”), so who knows?
Anyway, of course there are real, practical reasons for not including all versions of the Doctor on screen. For one, three of the actors – First Doctor William Hartnell, Second Doctor Patrick Troughton and Third Doctor Jon Pertwee – are dead. For two, most of the surviving actors no longer look like they did when they played him. After all, this isn’t a charming bit of fannish wish fulfillment like “Time Crash,” the 2007 Children in Need short in which Moffat brought Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor face-to-face with Tennant’s incarnation in the TARDIS. All it took then was a joking aside to shrug off Davison’s older, stouter appearance, but it would be tough to suspend disbelief over how much Four’s Tom Baker (shown above), Six’s Colin Baker and Seven’s Sylvester McCoy have aged in this longer, more epic adventure story. (Although rumor has it there will be another minisode featuring Davison’s Doctor, so hmm.)
2. Then Again…
“The Night of the Doctor” is as thrilling as any of Moffat’s best work – and a clever clarification of which Doctor was actually involved in the Time War. The only problem is, it makes me want more McGann (shown above in the 1996 TV movie, his only previous on-screen appearance). He fully owns the character in this short, and – now that we’ve learned a little more about Eight’s relationship with and attitude toward the Time War – I would love to see him interacting with 10, 11 and War. (It’s a stone drag that Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor isn’t in the mix too, but we all know his stern resolve to stay the hell out of the Whoniverse.)
Eight has had quite a life in peripheral media, such as his audio adventures for Big Finish, which apparently have become “canon” now, what with the mention in “Night” of his companions from those tales. So giving McGann a little more screen time in the actual special would be an even more awesome way to embrace his incarnation.
3. But It’s OK, Because There’s Really Not Enough Time
Moffat has written a typically sprawling tale that, according to the official BBC synopsis, leaps across space and time, from 2013, “when something terrible is awakening in London’s National Gallery,” to 1562, where “a murderous plot is afoot in Elizabethan England,” to “somewhere in space,” as “an ancient battle reaches its devastating conclusion” – aka the Time War. Also, “all of reality is at stake as the Doctor’s own dangerous past comes back to haunt him.”
Well, damn. That’s a lot to cram into 75 minutes, and even a guy as prone to jamming everything and the kitchen sink into any given story might have trouble giving all 11 known Doctors, or even just Doctors Four through Eleven, enough screen time to make it worthwhile. Besides, there’s Hurt’s whole new War Doctor to deal with, and clearly that will be an epic and probably devastating tale. And that means…
4. We Need the Space
Ever since Hurt’s Doctor popped up inside Eleven’s time stream at the end of “The Name of the Doctor,” Whovians have been wondering what the deal is with this guy. He’s older, grizzled, battered and clearly carries a heavy-duty secret. So heavy, Eleven refers to him as someone who “broke the promise” he made to himself and doesn’t have the right to be called “The Doctor.”
We now know where Hurt’s character fits in the Doctor’s timeline, and how and why he was created, but there’s still much to learn about him and the mostly unspeakable thing he did to end the Time War. So let’s hope Moffat gives his story enough room to breathe.
5. Double the Doctors, Double the Fun
It’s probably smarter to not crowd the screen with dusty ol’ Doctors, and instead give the two most popular recent incarnations their heads. Just seeing Ten and Eleven side by side in the trailer is great fun. They coo over each other’s brainy specs, clash over Eleven’s TARDIS redo and flop onto their backs with arms crossed in stereo defiance of the forces trying to control them (or whatever).
Behind-the-scenes accounts say Tennant and Smith got on like a house afire – and attempted to out-Doctor each other with glee. It looks like their chemistry is going to be a highlight of the special, and clearly they should get as much space/time as possible to maximize that.
6. Rose Tyler, Again?
From her glowy eyes in the trailer, it seems possible that this is Rose “Bad Wolf” Tyler, and in the trailer she tells Hurt’s Doctor that “the moment is coming.” Or is that The Moment, aka the thing the Doctor used to end the last great Time War (according to “The End of Time”)? Her ragged clothing looks unlike anything we’ve ever seen Rose wear, and her hair is different too. Maybe she’s not quite Rose at all?
Anyway, the first companion of the rebooted series has come back so many times now, it would be nice to give someone else a chance. Like, say, Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), whose departure from the TARDIS in “Journey’s End” was pure heartbreak: Her memory is wiped of all trace of her travels with the Doctor, whom she must never remember lest her mind literally burn up. If Rose can keep crossing a supposedly uncrossable barrier to another universe, then surely Donna could somehow return – and maybe even bring her Time Lord-enhanced brain to the fight.
7. Potential Companion Chemistry
Shippers like to point out that Nine loved Rose first, and vice versa, so of course it seemed only, uh, natural that, once Rose got over her initial suspicion of Ten and decided he was indeed a “proper Doctor,” their affection for each other would only grow (how annoying that was, YMMV). After all, he’s the same man. (But different.)
Or is he? I’m generally against Doctor-companion romance, but it’s hard not to wonder if Rose will feel the same about Eleven…and if Eleven will feel the same about Rose? Also, it could be fun if current companion Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman, pictured above), who’s so resolutely not interested in Eleven, found herself charmed by Ten. Although the last thing I want to see is a Rose/Clara catfight. So maybe not.
8. But Seriously. Couldn’t We Also Have _____?
In addition to companions Rose and Clara, “Day” will feature the return of Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave), daughter of the beloved Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (the late Nicholas Courtney), and an appearance by Queen Elizabeth I (Joanna Page), which may (or may not) tell us more about why an older Good Queen Bess called the Doctor her “sworn enemy” at the end of “The Shakespeare Code.”
Yet, while there’s no way Moffat would serve up a companion smorgasbord like the ones former showrunner Russell T. Davies gave us in “Journey’s End” and “The End of Time,” the presence of Rose in the special only makes me want to see more past companions. Moffat only knows whether he would have included the beloved Sarah Jane Smith, had actress Elisabeth Sladen not died in 2011. (And I still choked up to see her in the recent “Doctor Who: 50 Years” clip. But would it be so terrible to give us one last romp with Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman, above), or bring in Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), who’s proven quite handy in an epic disaster?
9. And While We’re at It – Daleks, Again?
OK, technically they are villains, but the Daleks have been with the Doctor for so long – since the first season way back in 1963 – that they’re more like frenemies than enemies. And, yeah, I know there’s no way that the 50th-anniversary episode of Doctor Who would not include the Daleks.
Even after allegedly being destroyed (or at least contained) by the Time War, the Doctor’s archnemeses(eses) keep popping up like evil Weebles. But they’ve shown up a lot over the years, and twice in Eleven’s last series alone. That said, it seems like even Moffat knows that, Time War or no, Daleks are not enough – which may be why they’ll be sharing evil screen time with the far more obscure Zygons, monsters from the Classic Series making their first appearance in the rebooted show.
10. Not That I’m Complaining, But…
I can’t quite believe Moffat is leaving out River Song (Alex Kingston). She’s nowhere to be seen in the trailer, and that dramatic farewell between her and Eleven in “The Name of the Doctor” sure made it seem like we are finally done with her. She was a lot of fun at first, then she became an interesting puzzle, then a not-so-interesting plot wrench.
Moffat does tend to beat his various fixations to death: scary children, memory problems, frightening everyday objects, monsters from the id, etc. And, sort of like the Daleks too, River ultimately felt overused. So here’s hoping she’s the one companion Moffat really will keep out of the action.
More from Natalie Nichols:
Ten Reasons Peter Capaldi Is – and Isn’t – a Good Choice for Doctor Who
Nine Things from Doctor Who Series 7 (Part Two) That We Still Need to Talk About
11 Cult TV Shows Besides Veronica Mars that Deserve Kickstarter-Funded Movies