Saturday, 5 October 2013

Thoughts on the 50th Anniversary Episode

People wanted classic Doctors. People wanted Captain Jack. People wanted River. People wanted the Master. People didn’t want just Tennant and Piper.

I really don’t envy Steven Moffat. Well, actually, I do in many ways…but not in this case. He knows full well that whatever he does, however hard he's worked, whatever appears on November 23rd, a lot of people will complain. But, to those who are unhappy with the anniversary show in prospect, let me pose a couple of questions.

Does anyone seriously think Steven Moffat has not been trying his absolute hardest to make this the best anniversary story he possibly, possibly can?

Does anyone seriously think Steven Moffat is not a huge, huge fan of classic Doctor Who?

Possibly many of the classic Who fans would be happier if Robert Holmes was still alive and writing the anniversary story, and perhaps they would be ecstatic if every surviving classic Doctor was in it. But let’s remind ourselves that it was Robert Holmes who couldn’t find a way to make an anniversary story with only four and quarter Doctors work satisfactorily. And neither could Terrance Dicks, it turned out – The Five Doctors was a pleasant romp, but, as my mother observed at the time, ‘it didn’t seem to be about anything’.

Which is exactly the trap that Mr Moffat will have tried to avoid. I’m quite certain he wanted to do his best for all the fans, old and new, but his first duty when he sat down to write was to drama and narrative, and to the people who pay his wages – i.e., the entire potential audience for the night of Saturday 23rd November. Not just the fans. I don’t doubt for a moment he would love to celebrate the entire history of DW, and there will be, I am sure, many in-jokes and references, perhaps some surprise cameos/clips, etc. But putting the pre-TV Movie Doctors in will only emphasise that they are not the men they once were, and would almost certainly detract from the drama, as well as making the story hopelessly unwieldy. And if Eccleston has declined to take part, it would be a little odd to use McGann, welcome though he would be.

It seems to me that bringing back David Tennant and Billie Piper is the obvious choice to celebrate the programme’s past and yet still keep the drama manageable; they are still the faces of the current programme for a great many people, and they fit easily into the style of the show in a way that the older actors would not. And having only two Doctors (plus the estimable Mr Hurt, of course) will enable the story to breathe. It’s significant that none of the multi-Doctor stories ever turn up in top tens of the programme, and very rarely even in top twenties. The best chance of changing that with The Day of the Doctor comes with the comparatively limited star cast. And who doesn’t want the 50th to be an absolute classic?

It’s possible, of course, that there has been massive misdirection on the part of the BBC publicity machine, and that all the old guys will be popping up unexpectedly during the story. I won’t be sorry to see that, but I won’t be sorry if it doesn’t happen. The history of the programme will be nodded to in many ways, I’m sure, but the fact of the programme, the length of the programme, the presence of Tennant, Piper and the Daleks and the Zygons are all in celebration of the legacy.

But the greatest legacy of Doctor Who is the its power to transport and delight. And the very best result for the 50th anniversary story will be if the entire audience is thrilled, entertained and moved for an hour and quarter and get up to make a cup of tea thinking ‘well, that was bloody good!’ It would be the best result for the BBC. It would be the best thing for the future of the show. It would be the best thing for the fans. Because, after all, we don’t want something that will just top The Three, Five or Two Doctors – we want a new Androzani, Daemons, Fenric, Girl in the Fireplace, City of Death…not a mere celebration, but a new classic. A damn good story.

Does anyone seriously doubt that’s exactly what Steven Moffat sweated blood to try to deliver?

(And if you still want those wonderful old guys, there’s Big Finish’s The Light at the End.)

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