I originally posted on Doctor Who back in July, reminiscing on eight years of quirky British Sci-fi and theorising on what we might see in the anniversary special. Then a month ago I added ten other questions I most wanted to see answered by the birthday episode. It is these that I am returning to in my review of what I and 400 hundred other people were treated to in a cinema screening room last night.
1. Why do none of the behind the scenes photos or publicity shots feature Billie Piper?
I had assumed when they announced The Doctor and Rose would be returning that we would see them as a team once again, lifted from somewhere in their time together. As publicity shots began to be released though, Billie was notable by her absence. Then this last week we got pictures of her looking all Kate Bush with tousled hair and a slightly manic stare. I like what they did with Rose, bringing her back in her Bad Wolf persona and using her as some sciency conduit to the events of the episode. The Doctor and Rose’s story has been neatly wrapped up twice so I am glad they found a way of including her, with all her sass and cheek, without treading over old ground.
2. How will the Matt Smith Doctor interact with Rose? Will the Matt Smith Doctor interact with Rose?
The answer to that latter question is no and happily neither did the David Tennant Doctor. This neatly avoided a lot of baggage that could have actually slowed the episode down.
3. Now that Peter Capaldi has been cast could this be the first anniversary special to feature a future Doctor?
YES! IT COULD! Brilliant! I loved that we got to see the next Doctor even if it was only a shot of the eyes like with Gollum in the first Lord of the Rings film. This was the first occasion in which a cheer went up in the cinema. “There are thirteen of them!” “Thirteen?” Yep, thirteen and those shots of a baker’s dozen of Tardis flying around Gallifray were just great.
4. Will there be a flashback with Timothy Dalton hamming it up again as Rasilon opposite the effortlessly brilliant acting of a true master like John Hurt?
Thankfully no. What we got instead were some more benevolent Time Lords who paced around a table talking about The Doctor as a mad man before bravely excepting his solution to ending The Time War. With the absence of Rasilon we also lost the idea, from Tennant’s last episode, that the Gallifrayan High Council were going to transcend to beings of consciousness, wiping out all of time and space. I guess that plot point had been there to rationalise The Doctor’s genocide and for this episode we needed him to have a little more choice. It was a pretty overblown idea anyway. I’m glad it is gone.
5. Will there be any other cause for me to put the words ‘John Hurt’ and ‘master’ together in a sentence?
No Master but I had thought John Hurt would be a darker character than he actually was. I’m glad they didn’t go that way in the end as his persona as a genial but serious old man worked well. I particularly enjoyed his despairing interplay with his two future selves. “Timey Wimey?”
6. Why is Ingrid Oliver’s character wearing the fourth Doctor’s scarf?
This wasn’t addressed but I’m assuming she had just picked it up from the archives. Maybe the museum curator gave it to her.
7. Was all that stuff in the press about Christopher Ecclestone refusing to appear an elaborate smokescreen?
Unfortunately not although I thought they played with that a little. I really thought we were going to see the other missing regeneration in its entirety but the camera cut away before we saw Chris Ecclestone’s smiling face. This is interesting though because why did they do that. They could have computer generated the ninth (tenth) Doctor in as they did elsewhere. Either they did and it looked rubbish so they edited it out or there is more to this regeneration that meets the eye.
8. Will Joanna Page’s appearance as Elizabeth I extend past the pre-credit sequence?
While it was nice to see something that has been referred to in the past played out, I thought the whole Elizabeth I thing was largely incidental.
9. What surprises do they have in store?
They had already given away something huge when they showed Paul McGann’s regeneration in a mini episode released two weeks ago. At the time I thought they must have something else up their sleeve and sure enough there was Tom Baker. This was the second point at which a cheer went up in the auditorium so I am glad to see my fellow audience members were knowledgable and respectful of the history. If I read it right the strong suggestion was that at some point The Doctor is going to regenerate back into his fourth incarnation and retire to curate a secret underground museum. This is poetic but doesn’t make a great deal of sense. Still, so many questions were answered by this episode, it was good to have some new ones raised.
10. Can this episode possibly live up to expectations?
Well, yes. It wasn’t the greatest episode ever (my original post included a list of my 25 favourite New Who episodes and I think I’d slide this one in around number 18) but it ticked all the boxes it needed to tick and was suitably referential to the previous fifty years. Most importantly, it was a lot of fun which is exactly what we wanted.
Roll on Christmas Day.