❉ This in-depth analysis of Dr Who’s anniversary special is brilliant, much like the episode itself, writes Si Hart.
The Black Archive series reaches its fiftieth release with this volume. Of course, the natural choice for this release is Doctor Who’s fiftieth anniversary story, The Day of the Doctor. Coming hot on the heels of their look at The Night of the Doctor, this seems doubly appropriate. The story features the Doctors taking a good hard look at themselves and so this naturally is the core of author Alasdair Stuart’s in-depth analysis of this story.
In the mid-section of the book, Stuart devotes three chapters to looking at each of the Doctors involved in the story, considering how each one represents an era of the show. His analysis of their roles is very well thought through, with the War Doctor representing the classic era, the Tenth Doctor being the poster boy for the new series and the Eleventh representing the present and future of the show. As he notes, each in their own way are in the middle of their victory lap as their stories are all about to end, which gives their involvement in the story an extra poignancy which I hadn’t considered before.
For the War Doctor, Stuart discusses how we find him at the end of his life, alone and tired by the Time War. He’s gruff and old and, like many of the Doctors of the classic era, played by an old school character actor. The Tenth Doctor is calmer and more contemplative than we have often seen him, coming off the back of The Waters of Mars and the Time Lord Victorious. He’s trying to run away from his own mortality but finds through this story the strength to face that, reflected in the use of his incarnation’s last words at the end of this story, where it feels more relaxed. Maybe knowing his “future is in safe hands” helps to gives him a chance to relax now that some of the unfinished business of his past is completed. The Eleventh Doctor, Stuart notes, gets to have a really good day and receives his moment of grace at the end by knowing, at last, he could return home if he wanted to. He now knows he didn’t commit genocide and kill off his own people and he can dream about going home, the long way round. It’s clever stuff from Stuart and very insightful.
It’s hard not to disagree with his claim that we lost out on a lovely series of the show following the Doctor’s search for his home. Like Stuart, I really thought that this was where we were heading after this and was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see that realised. What I hadn’t considered, though, was how much the impact of this story is felt on the Twelfth Doctor to come, who we see briefly in this story. The whole exploration of his own nature through his era is explored really well by Stuart, who makes a convincing argument for how much The Day of the Doctor shapes what’s to come. It’s a brilliant piece of work bringing together the past and future of the show.
This is a theme Stuart comes back to throughout this book. One of the concepts he thoroughly explores is the notion of the 3D storytelling in the episode, looking at post modernism, metafiction and discontinuity. The way this episode is structured means it can give you a variety of contexts and points of views for where you stand within it. Brilliantly he draws this analogy on Doctor Who’s only story to date made in 3D and one that hinges upon a holographic 3D painting. Considering the way this story plays with the past, present and future of the programme, this is a perfect piece of literary criticism to apply to the episode and one that Stuart keeps coming back to.
This is all linked to the shaky notion of a Doctor Who canon and the tonal shifts in storytelling that the show has endured throughout its long run. The storytelling ripples out from the barn which Stuart considers as a postmodernist totem of the show, a place where, as Stuart explains, the past, present and future of the show converge to breakdown and reassemble the show’s core principles. In this space, it is only right that Clara prompts the Doctors to quote Terrance Dicks’ core statement of who the Doctor is.
Speaking of Clara, Stuart also devotes a chapter of the book to analysing the roles of the female characters in the episode. Stuart doesn’t shy away from dealing with the criticisms that this and other eras have had in the handling and characterisation of women. He’s rightly scathing at times about the handling of Elizabeth I in this story but finds that Clara, Kate Stewart, Osgood and the manifestation of The Moment in its Rose Tyler/Bad Wolf form are rather better handled. Clara, for instance, is shown to be at the centre of the 3D storytelling motif of the story, acting as a teacher for both the children at Coal Hill School and for the Doctor himself, as Stuart says, “almost turning to the camera as if introducing the Doctor(s) for the very first time”. This chapter is a great piece of writing that rebalances the whole argument that Moffat can’t write well for women.
There’s also an interesting chapter on the other protagonists of the story, the Daleks. Stuart shows how the Daleks tread a similar path to that of the Doctor during the story. It impacts their past, present and future as much as it does the Doctor’s. Stuart delves into Dalek history from across all eras of the show including some good points on the Dalek timeline that follows from this story, especially about the Doctor’s relationship with Davros and how that changes.
He even looks at the very recent Series 12 finale, and sees how The Timeless Children can be seen as a sequel of sorts to The Day of the Doctor. While his theories about where the revelations of the story will take us remain to be seen, it’s clear that Stuart has a really good grounding in the continuity of the show and its storytelling.
Stuart’s conclusion on this episode is brilliant, much like the episode itself. It’s a puzzle and the key to the puzzle all at once. It’s a celebration of the show’s heritage and a pointer to its future. It’s essential to showing where the show has come from and where it will go. Like the story, Alasdair Stuart has seen how the threads of the show came to this point and where they will take us. It’s a truly brilliant piece of analysis of a truly brilliant Doctor Who story.
❉ ‘The Black Archive #50: The Day of the Doctor’ by Alasdair Stuart is out now from Obverse Books, RRP £3.99 – £8.99. Buy Black Archive books from the Obverse Books website!
❉ Green-fingered librarian Simon Hart is a regular contributor to We Are Cult.