I’ve made no secret of the immense soul-crushing disappointment I got out of The Day of the Doctor. What should have been a celebration of fifty years was instead one pretty good episode with a couple of bits that bothered me greatly and a couple of bits that were really good (Everything between The Warlock returning to the shack and the show momentarily turning into a Youtube stitched-together-repurposed-stock-footage Fan-Film for a few minutes was absolutely fantastic) but even if it hadn’t been an anniversary event, it would have been disappointing to get just this instead of a whole season.
Some have suggested that the problem is me and not it — that the problem was that I’d built it up in my mind too much and was expecting too much. Maybe they’re right. Maybe it was wrong of me to think of Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary as something grand and epic — instead, I should view Doctor Who as just a show like any other, where the best I should ever hope for is a single pretty good episode. Certainly nothing I should waste decades of my life obsessing over, nothing I should spend thousands of dollars buying merchandise for, nothing I should trek around the eastern seaboard going to conventions for. Just a show. Maybe I’ll watch it if it’s on and I have nothing better to do. It’s just an ordinary show, not a big special important event. That’s the only way I can reconcile this. I spent a lot of time and effort thinking about how the Big Anniversary Special would tie into and reframe 50 years of history across TV, audio drama, feature film and novel, and the show’s response was “Well that was dumb. You shouldn’t have bothered thinking about the past, because we’re just going to do the obvious thing and will have frak-all to do with anything prior to 2005, and really even then there’s nothing here that ties into anything but the absolute most general outline of the new series backstory. Heck, even the big reveal at the end of Name of the Doctor doesn’t lead to anything; if that hadn’t been there, this episode would have been none the worse and perhaps slightly better, given that you wouldn’t spend half of it wondering why the hell we never resolved that cliffhanger. We use a lot of epic and mythic imagery, but you’ve been wrong all this time to actually think of the show in epic or mythic terms; it’s just a profusion of pretty images for you to enjoy.”
But before I get on with falling out of love with Doctor Who, I want to try to contextualize what I felt was lacking about The Day of the Doctor. What follows is an attempt at giving one example of the kind of greater context or mythical dimension that I really needed out of the anniversary special. I’m not trying to “fix” The Day of the Doctor or rewrite history or prove myself smarter than Steven Moffat. Think of it more as a supplement. For me, The Day of the Doctor fails in only one major regard (I mean, I have some minor quibbles too, but the important thing is this one regard): its only concession to the fact that this even is a show with 50 years of history behind it is a very few blink-n-you’ll-miss-it continuity nods, and a largely incoherent montage that’s essentially a less impressive version of Babelcolour‘s The Ten Doctors.
And since I don’t have to be bothered with constraints like legions of angry fanboys lynching me for daring to contradict a single word broadcast in the 1960s or hint at giving an answer to something they don’t want answered, or how modes of narration work or don’t work with the visual language of television, or whether or not actually filming any of this would require necromancy, Imma just throw out this wild and crazy “Hypothetical Deleted Scene”.
Elements here have been drawn from specific sources in the canon. In case you want to have a go at guessing them, I’ll cite them inside this tooltip: [sources The Cave of Skulls (An Unearthly Child, Episode 2), The Daleks, The Edge of Destruction, Marco Polo, The Aztecs, World's End (The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Episode 1), Flashpoint (The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Episode 6), The Time Monster, The Deadly Assassin, Remembrance of the Daleks, Silver Nemesis, Rose, The End of the World, The Sound of Drums, The Doctor's Wife, The Name of the Doctor]. But further, a great deal of this is drawn from an analysis by Philip Sandifer, and you should really go and buy one or more of his books.
L. Ross Raszewski
Sorry, did you just say “Bad Wolf”?
Gallifrey. A Very Long Time Ago
“Bring the initiate.” An old man who looked young and an old woman who looked old brought a small, quivering boy forward. Of course they were old. Everyone was old here, even the young ones. Especially the young ones. The boy wasn’t old yet, but in a few minutes, he would be. The boy didn’t want to be here. They hardly ever did. The ones who didn’t understand the scope of it feared its vastness, and the ones who did understand the scope of it feared it more. It was old too, older than any of them. There were many theories about how it had come to be there, but even with all their science, they lacked the means to prove it. At least, not without destroying the entire universe in the attempt. It had made them what they were, and in return, they had, once they’d evolved beyond chucking their elderly and their undesirables into it, left it alone. Aside from building a tasteful decorative frame around it. Mostly to mark how close you could safely approach. “Come, child,” the Chancellor said. “Come and gaze upon your birthright. Rassilon’s Star gave us power over all of time, but it was this that gave us the right call ourselves its lords and masters. Look. Look upon it and know what you are.” He didn’t want to look. Another boy he knew, his best friend, had looked just days ago. The novice Time Lord who came back wasn’t the same person as the boy who’d left. Something inside him had gone wrong. The boy was scared. But as they pushed him forward, he looked all the same. He looked into the Untempered Schism. The Untempered Schism looked into him. In one terrifying moment, he saw everything. All that was. All that had been. All that would ever be. It burned. He saw something else. Or maybe he didn’t. Maybe he just dreamed it. If it had been real, if he’d really seen it, it still faded like a dream, leaving only traces that would float to the surface from time to time all the rest of his lives, and haunt his dreams.
He saw a woman. Young. Blonde. Beautiful. But beautiful in a worldly sort of way, not the sterile beauty of clean lines and mathematically precise curves that defined Gallifreyan aesthetics. She burned like the sun and said one word: Remember.
And then he saw something else. Gallifrey, from space, almost blotted out by the light of weaponsfire from an infinity of attacking spacecraft. A dozen or more blue boxes wove between the saucers, and there were voices:
-We’re flying our three Tardises into your lower atmosphere.
-We’re positioned at equidistant intervals around the globe. Equidistant. So grown up.
-We’re going to freeze Gallifrey.
-Using our Tardises, we’re going to freeze Gallifrey in a single moment in time.
-You know, like those stasis cubes? A single moment in time, held in a parallel pocket universe.
-Except we’re going to do it to a whole planet.
-Because the alternative is burning.
Then the explosion. The death of a world?
He ran. There would be talk about that later, hushed whispers about how they’d expected better from him — lots of initiates reacted that way, by running away to go sulk for a few days, but he was from a respectable family and had always gotten the best marks, so there had been a general expectation that he’d one of the ones who endured it stoically.
He ran all the way home, to the ancient house on the side of the mountain where he’d been raised. There was no solace to be found there, just an overriding gray bleakness. And so, without really meaning to, he found himself meandering further up the mountain. It was cold, and little patches of snow still clung to the rocks, gray and pathetic. In time, he came to the old tree, bent and withered and colorless. And under it sat the old hermit, just as bent and withered and colorless. The hermit had sat there, they said, under that tree for half his lives. Some said he’d learned the secret of life. Most of polite society had dismissed him as an eccentric, but there were always a handful of students who came to study from the old guru. The boy payed them no heed, barely registered their presence. He sat down at the feet of the old sage, too unhappy even for tears, and he told the old man what he had seen. The details had already faded in his memory, but the general sense of it remained clear: he had seen the vast infinity of time and space, and he had seen that everything had its time and everything eventually died, that the world ends in fire and even that beautiful orange sky would cease to be.
The old man said nothing, just listened as the boy poured out his sorrows. When the boy had spent all the pain and bleakness, they sat in silence for a time. Then the old man pointed to the ground between them. The boy looked down to the spot where the old man pointed. A small wildflower, probably the first of the season, had recently blossomed. The boy looked, and he took it in with the freshly awakening senses of a Time Lord, he saw the flower as the old man did. He saw it surge with life, saw it as a thing with a past and a present and a future. He saw that it would die, yes, but also that it would live. More, he saw that its own life and death were themselves only parts of a long and continuous cycle of birth, death and rebirth as old as the universe, that everything that ever was or would be was connected. The little flower seemed to explode with the vibrant colors of life — it shone like a Whitepoint Star. All the fear and darkness dropped away. There was so much beauty, so much life in that little flower, and it was only a billionth of the life on this one planet, and there must be a billion billion planets out there at least as lush. One of the novices touched his shoulder and whispered something he didn’t process on a conscious level. He got up. He reeled on his feet for a moment, feeling the movement of the planet below him, and then he ran. He ran all the way down that mountain. Every patch of snow shone like the sun, every blade of silver grass seemed mirror-shined. There was so much to see, more than anyone could see in thirteen lifetimes or thirteen thousand. He had work to do.
Gallifrey. Somewhat More Recently
“I suppose congratulations are in order?” His old teacher clapped him on the shoulder. “Took your time, didn’t you? Still, I imagine you’ll be having us all call you ‘Doctor’ now.”
He regarded himself in the mirror, resplendant in his new academic robes. “Doctor,” he said to himself. “Yes. Yes, I suppose I am, hm?” He looked over to the nearby table, where he’d set the bound copy of his dissertation. An Algorithm for Arbitrary Scaling of Temporal Stasis Cube Fields Effects.
“A bit esoteric, but still, smartly done. Nine out of ten,” the teacher said, noting his student’s gaze.
“Ah, thank you, sir.” A bit abashed.
The other Time Lord gave him a hearty handshake and started to leave. “I rather think you could have taken your conclusions a bit farther, though,” he added. “A few hundred years more calculation and you could generate an effect large enough to enclose an entire planet.”
The teacher was gone before his student could respond. “Except we’re going to do it to a whole planet…” he finally muttered. “Hm. Hm. Could it be? Oh dear. Oh dear, dear, dear.” He caught himself in the mirror, and was struck by another memory. Something he’d never thought of until this very moment. He one of the young novices who sometimes — maybe just that once — visited his old guru, a young woman he’d barely noticed. She’d whispered something to him, what was it?
Run, you clever boy. And remember. He finally understood why he’d felt compelled to follow such an eccentric course of study. It had been leading him to this, to An Algorithm for Arbitrary Scaling of Temporal Stasis Cube Field Effects. He would have to leave, of course. There would be considerable risk. War was coming. Oh! And the child. He could hardly leave her here, to face what was coming…
Earth. 100,000 BC. More or less
“It’s still a police box. Why hasn’t it changed? Dear, dear, how very disturbing.” He had been worried about this when they’d arrived back in London and the ship had disguised itself as that blue box. It seemed no matter how far he ran, his future was determined to catch up with him. And now this business with those two interlopers. He’d gone too far, of course, acted rashly. And look what it had gotten him.
Still, at least the weapons were secure. If there really was a war coming, he would need them some day. It had had taken some doing to gain access to the Omega Arsenal, but slipping away before his larceny was noticed had necessitated acquiring an old ship from the repair shop, and this one seemed to have a bit of a navigational fault. He’d been in the middle of repairs when those snoops had accosted them. Perhaps he should have taken one of the others… No. No, no, he’d only stepped inside to humor that technician, but the moment he set his hands upon that old console, he’d been overwhelmed by its classic beauty. And now it was a blue box. A very pleasant blue…
Earth. ca AD 2170
He watched his granddaughter on the scanner. She thought she loved that boy. Perhaps she did. Or perhaps she’d confused attraction and affection for love. If their lives were like other people’s, he thought, they could give it time, see what happened.
It was out of the question. It had been out of the question since he and Chesterton had seen that saucer. He knew that saucer. He had seen it before, in a dream that seemed determined to come to pass. They were the enemy. He had seen the face of the enemy. They were joined in combat now and forever, and Susan couldn’t be part of that. He needed her to be safe. That was why he’d taken her with him in the first place, to keep her away from the war, and he had so very nearly put her among its very first victims.
It made no sense. The Daleks? He hadn’t spared them a second thought since their last meeting — a degraded race of xenophobic mutations trapped in a dead city and now, he had presumed, extinct. Frightening, to be sure, but so were the Voord, the tribe of Gum, the French. And yet here they were, conquerors of Earth — admittedly, now once again vanquished — but those ships. He had missed something. Some missing link he had yet to uncover that would elevate the Daleks, that they might one day challenge the supremacy of his own people.
He thought back on recent events. The cave of skulls. His casual endangerment of the Thal people. His manipulation of Cameca. All that trouble he’d given Marco Polo. His abuse of Barbara and Chesterton. He’d even upheld the laws of his people, avoiding interference in history, even when he could have helped others. He was ashamed of his own cruelty, his cowardice. What he was about to do, he knew, though he did it without choice, in the name of peace and of family, would be another terrible abuse. He swore it would be his last.
He’d never told his human companions his name. It had been a bit of a power-play at first. But now it occurred to him that he wouldn’t be that man any more. He wouldn’t even be “Grandfather” any more. He wouldn’t be cruel, nor cowardly. And he would never give up or give in.
He locked the doors.