Should The Day of the Doctor have featured Classic Doctors? Two opposing sides battle this question out in a Doctor Who Debate!
1 show. 2 fans. 1 question. 2 perspectives. This is Doctor Who debate, where we each take a side, and tackle a controversial question about Doctor Who — but it’s up to you to decide who won the debate! Let us know what you think in the comments.
Still images are occasionally used in place of video clips, to account for the YouTube copyright system. The debate countdown clock turns orange when a clip is being shared for the audience’s contextual benefit (rather than being a quote one of us actually said in full during our debate time). The debate clock keeps running during a video clip if it’s a quote the debater spoke aloud, but preferred the original audio being used. The cloister bell sounds if one of us goes over our allotted time!
1:04 Tomtit: Argument #1
6:33 Neo: Argument #1
11:53 Tomtit: Argument #2
16:38 Neo: Argument #2
21:52 Tomtit: Argument #3
27:05 Neo: Argument #3
32:53 Tomtit: Conclusion
36:50 Neo: Conclusion
This is a transcript of the video. In the video, sources are cited as they come up, but in the transcript, it’s just the spoken word that’s been reproduced.
One show. Two fans.
One question. Two perspectives.
This is DOCTOR WHO DEBATE, where we each take a side……and tackle a controversial question about Doctor Who.
(Is there any other kind?)
This time, we’re asking: The classic Doctors — should they have appeared in the 50th anniversary special?
On the affirmative — me, Tomtit, arguing the classics should have appeared in the 50th.
And, on the negative — me, Neo, arguing the classic Doctors should not have appeared in the 50th.
Each of us will take turns over three rounds, where we each have five minutes to argue our case.
Then, we give our closing statements and rebut each other’s points.
There will be no judges present… because that’s where YOU come in!
Yes! You, dear viewer, get to choose which case convinced you more. The quality of our arguments, how well we use our time, anything that you judge judgeable!
We would love to hear your thoughts, so sound off in the comments and join the debate!
Now, enough chit-chat…begin take one!
TOMTIT: ARGUMENT #1
Picture a facile, amorphous puppet show, smiling icons, galivanting about, parading a curated bubble-wrapped version of the past with all edges sanded off. Millions of people standing up in unison to sing our storied theme tune – dum de dum, dum de dum, dum de dum. Or should that be God Save the Queen? Because I’m not talking about the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, I’m talking about the London 2012 Olympic Games. Were you expecting something else?
Yes, the London Olympics, an event which was, at the time, held in what, in national security they refer to as a state of ‘hyper-insecurity’, which is quote ‘characterised by the development of a culture of intense risk aversion’. It’s funny to me, because ‘hyperinsecurity’ is one of the predominant words that springs to mind when I think of Steven Moffat’s own Olympics, 2013’s The Day of the Doctor. So, I’ll be discussing why the wrong choice was made to exclude the classic Doctors from the 50th.
To be clear, I’m talking about the surviving classic Doctors who were excluded from the programme: Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, and Paul McGann, who I believe should have occupied the role played by John Hurt. I’ll explain why including the classic Doctors would have been the right move from a real-word aesthetic standpoint, some of the measurable advantages their inclusion would have brought, and finally, in case there are any lingering doubts, I’ll explain why their inclusion would have improved the actual story of The Day of the Doctor, as it was transmitted from television, for I believe their absence is glaring.
So, unlike the London Olympics, the BBC, here, weren’t their pumping money into armed forces to make people feel safe – no, they were putting all their money into Sir John Hurt, to protect the oh-so-sensitive viewing public from the horrifying revelation that some of the Doctors from the classic series…had aged! Yes, clearly, this is a reality that would disturb and confound the eyes of innocent watchers. This is from the horse’s mouth, Moffat saying, quote: “being brutal – it had to be Doctors that still looked like their Doctors. I know I’m a bastard’, end quote.
He’s right on one of those points. But let’s put the ageism on display here and pause: why am I talking about the Olympics? Because Steven Moffat did, repeatedly. As he couldn’t stop saying while promoting the 50th anniversary, he promised the BBC ‘the Olympics’
MOFFAT: Because I promised this year’s Olympics.
MOFFAT: The BBC were, not unreasonably, saying ‘you promised us the Olympics’.
TOMTIT: A stupefying – and, it strikes me, completely unnecessary promise. Because, honestly, I have to ask, as a fan of Doctor Who: who the hell wants the Olympics? What does the Olympics have to do with Doctor Who? A dull, overblown sanitised greatest hits package of state-sanctioned culture? And indeed, the 50th confined itself to only the most palatable Doctors. It all begs the question, what actually is Doctor Who?
In my opinion, it’s not just a show, it’s what could be described a pan-generational roadmap through the years, and through the lives of the viewers, which can unite fans across decades. It’s one of the truly special things about the programme. So it’s no surprise that, in the minds of the BBC, the only history in Doctor Who worth preserving is that of the virile, Blairite, cool Brittania Doctor, David Tennant. The message is clear: the only truly valuable Doctors, the ones worth reproducing, are the ones birthed from the show’s 21st century, neoliberal, ultra-commercialised epoch, and as long as the classic doctors don’t look like their action figures, they are not worth reproducing. Depressing thought, considering that every era is someone’s favourite. But, it seems, the only ones pandered to are those who buy toys and merchandise.
Moffat says he’d like the 50th to be about, quote
MOFFAT: The grand tradition, the legend, the myth, rather than the past.
TOMTIT: End quote. A nice idea in theory, but when you have John Hurt standing there occupying the role that obviously and intuitively belongs to any number of classic Doctors, it becomes grotesquely clear that what Moffat really wants to avoid is the real past of Doctor Who, the one that happened and is remembered. Anyone with knowledge of Doctor Who knows that the 80s are considered a patchy time. But those years, so idiosyncratic, so scrappy, so unmistakably Doctor Who, belong to the show so much more than someone like John Hurt, who – make no mistake, was a phenomenal actor whose work I personally am a fan of, but what he also was, was an establishment actor, accepted and favoured by tastemakers and veritable institutions of stately renown – which is why he’s there. But what the hell are we doing here, this is Doctor Who! This is the weird show you hide the magazines of, that transgressive slice of Gothic, celebration of bricolage, dressing up funny, sort of show – even in the eras we regard as popular, the David Tennant years for instance always had people affectionately comparing it Scooby-Doo, Doctor Who at its best, is STRANGE, and quaint, and I love it to bits for that. So, yes, I think those funny, brilliant old men, aesthetically, would have made far better entertainment than what we got. Put it this way, how would you rather spend your birthday party – in your best formalwear trying to impress a bunch of strangers, or letting loose with the people you’ve loved for years? Hyperinsecurity is unbecoming of Doctor Who. Let it be remembered in all its weird glory.
RECEPTIONIST: Doctor Who Production Office!
PETER DAVISON: Yes, hi, my name is Peter Davison. I was Doctor number 5, actually, in the Classic era, way back in the day. Still alive and kicking though, you know!
NEO: ARGUMENT #1
Should Classic Doctors have been in the 50th special? As far as I see it, this question is a question of respect. Classic Doctor Who ran for 26 years, 1963 to 1989, with 7 Doctors carrying the torch. What is Doctor Who, this show that somehow has run for over half a century? It is a legacy. No reasonable person could deny what a legacy those 26 classic years were. But the question is, in 2013, the 50th anniversary year of the show, were the Classic Doctors of this legacy shown respect, and what was the best way to show them respect?
Steven Moffat’s THE DAY OF THE DOCTOR opens with a black and white shot directly referencing the very first episode of the show in 1963, complete with junkyard, patrolling policeman, and even the original theme tune. We see the incumbent companion Clara now teaching at Coal Hill school, itself a reference to the First Doctor’s first companions, earlier teachers at that very same school. And not long after that, we see recurring character Kate Stewart, the daughter of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, one of the most beloved and longest-running recurring characters in the Classic series, whose legacy is remarked on multiple times in the special. And Kate is, of course, joined by Osgood, herself a fan of all the Doctors, decked out with a scarf referencing Tom Baker’s costume.
When megastar David Tennant enters the special, it’s in an encounter with the monstrous Zygons, making their first appearance since the 1975 Tom Baker episodes they originated in. Not long after that, John Hurt’s new mystery Doctor appears. While, yes, a 2013 Doctor entirely new to the show, Moffat uses this new Doctor to comment on the David Tennant and Matt Smith Doctors, and the style of modern Doctor Who in general, from a perspective that feels older and informed by the characterisation of the Classic series Doctors. We see this in his apprehensive attitude towards romance and kissing now being part of the show, his disdain for how energetically the new Doctors flail the sonic screwdriver about, and his bewilderment at the new Doctors’ tendencies to say things like ‘timey wimey’.
Midway through the special, we enter a secret UNIT base – UNIT itself of course being a Classic series invention, the homebase the show was based around for some of the Third Doctor’s years in the 1970s – full of photographs of characters from the show’s past, marks of honour for these characters. Some of these photographs are even composite Photoshops suggesting combinations of characters we never even saw on TV. What does this show? It shows that Moffat wasn’t just pushing the show forward in the special, but by implying new unseen adventures in the Classic era, he was expanding its past.
The climactic decision of the special, where the Doctors decide to not destroy their home planet after all, is set up by the Doctors reciting a moral creed – ‘never cruel, never cowardly, never give up, never give in’. This creed was penned by ultra-prolific Classic writer and script editor Terrence Dicks in the 1970s. The moral crux of the 50th anniversary is solved through this code that Moffat has come to time and time again in his writing of the show; this fundamental characterisation born of the Classic Doctors all those decades ago, it’s arguably the basis of the special’s fundamental conflict, being the rewriting of previous showrunner Russell T Davies’ decision to have the Doctor genocide both his race and the Daleks, offscreen no less. Davies saw this as compelling new characterisation, but Moffat saw as not permissible under this Classic Doctor moral code that he so clearly respects.
The catharsis, surprise, and joy of the special’s actual climax is literally based around the return of the Classic Doctors. It’s a celebration of all the Doctors, including the Classic Doctors no longer with us and, yes, very much the Doctors of the supposedly rejected 1980s as well. What greater mark of respect could there be than structuring the climax of the special around the appearance, the reappearance, of these Classic Doctors? Moffat is on the record as saying the point of the climax was ‘to say “theres only gonna be three” and then fling as many doctors as possible at the screen’.
And as if that wasn’t enough, how does the special end? It ends on an optimistic stylised dream of the Doctor, where we see all the Doctors, both New and Classic, from all the decades, stand together as one.
Respect for the Classic series and Doctors isn’t just in cutesy references like the Moment’s description of the TARDIS’s ‘wheezing, groaning sound’ a reference to how Terrence Dicks described it in the many Classic novelisations, or references in the form of visual cameos like the UNIT photographs, No, it’s in the form of the fundamental moral and thematic underpinnings of the special. The entire story premise is Moffat attempting to resolve the tension between Russell T Davies’ new dark backstory for the modern Doctor, and Terrance Dicks’ more optimistic characterisation for he Classic Doctors. The joy and catharsis of the climax is based around the reappearance of the Classic Doctors. The ending sequence is explicitly about unifying all the Doctors, Classic and New. The respect for the Classic Doctors is immense and extraordinary, something only a longtime devotee of the show with genuine appreciation for those Doctors could craft.
PETER DAVISON: I’m afraid I have some very bad news. It seems there’s a very real possibility that I won’t be in the 50th anniversary special.
TOMTIT: ARGUMENT #2
I have explained my reasoning for why the exclusion of Classic series representation is a maleficent symptom of commercialism, and shame over what Doctor Who is, now I’ll argue the other shade. The positive. From a real-world perspective, including the classic Doctors in the 50th anniversary would make the world a better place. It just would!
First of all, having these Doctors taking an active role in the special would shine a light on the old series, beckoning viewers to take that terrifying leap into the arena of low-budget twentieth-century television. Yes, I’m talking about introducing the Classic series to new viewers. Obviously, many curious people would not need extra incentive to explore the past eras of the programme, but to have these characters, the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th Doctors on screen, would without question attract a greater number of eyes to those 25-minute serialised wonders of science fantasy.
But why is this a good thing? Put simply, Classic Who is better for the imagination. The revived series of Doctor Who is a very good looking show. But it’s good looking because of the cash and resources that BBC Wales has at their disposal to fulfill the mandate of making Doctor Who look like a respectable drama. No one looks at the CGI work of companies like The Mill and thinks to themselves ‘yes, I could do that!’. Classic Who, on the other hand, had no burdens of respectability. Classic Who could show worlds like Peladon, which were made with homemade tools and ingenuity, not worried about appealing to the tastes of the general public, as the New series is more likely to shy away from these things to maintain realism.
Steven Moffat is right when he says that the show exists in the hearts and minds of its viewers, but I believe this is doubly true of the Classic series, where the true sense of wonder comes from the gaps in realism, where imagination does its work. Classic Who has that ‘I can do that!’ factor that the New series does not. The effects of this are clear – even someone like Mark Gatiss has made a career emulating the pulp, camp, homemade sensibility of Classic Who, first with P.R.O.B.E. then with his contributions to The League of Gentlemen… even today, we can see volumes of fanmade video material dedicated to enriching the murky obscure landscape of the Classic series. I’m talking about fan reconstructions, animations, replicas, even entire remakes of episodes. These are the opening scenes to the careers of future artists – so, I believe that including the Classic doctors would draw more eyes to the Classic series, and more eyes to the Classic series creates a more vivid and galvanised imaginative landscape for those who watch it.
Secondly, and perhaps obviously, including the Classics would have had positive impact on the careers of the actors playing the parts, and provided a much needed boost for practitioners in an industry which is notoriously disgustingly ageist, unless you are an actor with the prestige of an Ian McKellan or a Sir John Hurt, for instance.
Moffat defended himself in this regard, saying, quote, ‘They’re all brilliant, they’re all terrific, but time has passed. I think it would be beyond the dignity of all those very fine actors to want to force themselves back into a costume from 20 or 30 years ago’, end quote.
I think speaking for these actors shows a characteristic arrogance of Moffat, he’s telling these actors how they should feel like a presumptuous school headmaster, and I believe it’s absurd to assert that they don’t want to participate when the opposite is clearly true. Unfortunately, Peter Davison is reduced to playing himself in absurdist comedies, Sylvester McCoy’s moment in the Hobbit has passed, and the biggest missed opportunity of all being Colin Baker, whose dedicated following through his work at Big Finish demonstrates that he has the magnetism and charisma to speak to audiences.
To my part, I don’t believe that references equal respect. It’s all well and good to have flashes of images from the past, and minuscule, frankly imperceptible Photoshops of companions. But it’s not the same as conjuring that optimistic Terrence Dicksian visionof the Doctor, onscreen, and it would have been so much more powerful than the grotesque marionettes we see in the cloud epilogue in the televised special.
The sequence of the thirteen Doctors saving Gallifrey is nice, yes, but it’s nice in the way that a generic store-bought birthday card is nice. It’s something that someone like BabelColour could have done, and not something that expands the imaginations of the viewers, but rather a moment of ‘spot which episode they took this from’.
To conclude, I believe that the Classic series is deserving of a second life, both for viewers who might not otherwise have watched it and been inspired by its ingenuity, and for the actors who made it what it was, and that giving those actors a platform would have achieved this.
PAUL MCGANN: Oh, listen, by the way, not that I care at all, but you haven’t heard from the BBC about that Doctor Who special, have you? Nothing at all?
NEO: ARGUMENT #2
I have argued that the special does indeed respect the Classic Doctors, although in a way I find more considered and less superficial than the perhaps more intuitive method of literally just plunking the surviving Classic actors into it as active characters. What I will address now is why this was the optimal way to make the special, and why including the Classic actors themselves would not only make for a worse special and thus harm the show, but why it would also in a sense disrespect those Classic actors, and the Doctors themselves.
The 50th special is 1 hour and 20 minutes long. The 11th Doctor, 10th Doctor, the new mystery Doctor, Clara, Kate Stewart, Queen Elizabeth, the Moment, they all get well-served by the plot. Said plot is bursting at the seams, it’s a thing of meticulous construction, full of complicated setups and parallels and linkages.
And it’s held together through the perspective of three separate Doctors, and the various plots all inform each other – Kate Stewart’s dilemma over whether to destroy London to save the world from Zygons reflects the Doctor’s dilemma over whether to save the universe by stopping the Time War through dual genocide, and in a less morbid example, these kinds of linkages are of course literalised in the ‘same screwdriver, different case’ temporal cleverness applying to not only the many Doctors themselves, but the calculations all Doctors, new and Classic, perform to save the day at the end. Moffat thought this through!
What I’m saying is that this script is not just a thing of breezy fanservice. Creating the ‘Olympics’ out of a once-niche science-fictions show is not lazy, and it it not easy, and it is not condemnable. What it is is clearly the product of immense effort, a very tight story doing its absolute best to service the overall show as best it can.
As Moffat told Doctor Who Magazine in 2013, ‘its an odd thing to do for a show to suddenly say “its time we threw a party”. So the idea was to tell a story thats important in the narrative of Doctor Who’. And Moffat would later tell the Guardian ‘in the end I thought do what James Bond did with their 50th [Skyfall] – a story thats so good in its own right that it stands up as a 50th special’.
So Moffat saw the best way to honour the show, not just its present but its past and future as well, to tell the most important, meaningful, and personal story about the character as he could. Now, where could the Classic Doctors fit into this? How could they fit into this? Tom Baker is indeed in the special, in a single scene where he doesn’t reprise his role as a Classic Doctor – he in fact stipulated that he didn’t want to don the Classic scarf and hat again, and Moffat wrote him as a future Doctor, a final Doctor. Brilliant old Moffat synthesising the show’s past and future in a creative and unexpected way.
So, one of the five surviving Classic Doctor actors was included, although not as a Classic Doctor exactly. Hm…while Tom Baker is indeed the most popular of the Classic Doctors by virtually any metric, how would him being included, and all the others excluded, have made those remaining Classic actors feel?
Well, Colin Baker, the Sixth Doctor (no relation), is on the record as being wounded by it. He told the Daily Mirror ‘All or none, that’s what I would have thought. I know Tom did it longer than anybody else and is the oldest Doctor but by asking him and not us, it makes you feel like a second-class citizen’. Colin’s irritation seems born of the fact the special didn’t just include Doctors from the current iteration of the show, as would be perfectly understandable, but brought back one Classic actor, therefore excluding all the others.
Okay. So, if Classic Doctors were to be properly included, presumably it’d have to be in a fairly equal fashion, to show them all some respect. What does that mean? That means Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy – and hell, let’s throw Paul McGann’s Wilderness era Doctor in too, since we can hardly exclude him if we’re including everyone else – those five actors, and then John Hurt, David Tennant, and Matt Smith. Let’s picture them all in the special together. This eighty minute special. And you couldn’t give them overwhelmingly more screentime than the others, lest you cause disrespect them and cause friction. Hardly the thing you want to do with the 50th special. Even if you drop the new Doctor John Hurt’s playing, and replace him by Paul McGann, there are still simply so, so many – too many! – characters at play.
There is no feasible way the script we got could possibly accommodate so many Doctors, let alone fairly, and how could there possibly be an excellent script with so many characters, how could there be a script that could honour the show by appealing to more than just the superfans who might feel entitled to so many Doctors appearing? I argue it’s an impossibility, something not even superfan himself and celebrated writer Steven Moffat could pull off. Paradoxically, counter-intuitively, the best way to celebrate the Classic Doctors was to not include their actors at all.
JOHN BARROWMAN: Hi Peter!
PETER DAVISON: Hi John.
JOHN BARROWMAN: …you know they film in Cardiff, don’t you?
TOMTIT: ARGUMENT #3
You’ve heard my appeals for why including the classics in the 50th would have been the right move, in the abstract – but you’re probably thinking the same thing: ‘Tomtit, I like the 50th anniversary we got, and surely there’s no room for extra Doctors there!’.
I understand this point of view, and I know it can be difficult to imagine alternative versions of the story when the one that we got is solidified in our minds – but I truly believe that the integrity of the story can EASILY be maintained, nay IMPROVED, if you simply subtract the War Doctor, and add the four Doctors Davison, Baker C., McCoy, and McGann, and when I’m done, you’ll see why they represent an actual, genuinely MISSING PIECE of the story.
Now, the essence of The Day of the Doctor is borrowed from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, with the Doctor in the Scrooge role, and The Moment-slash-Bad Wolf in the Jacob Marley role. An excellent way into a muti-Doctor story, I’m sure you’d agree. You have the Doctor, on the last day of the Time War, thinking about the decisions that made him who he is up to that moment, and the future repercussions that this decision will cause.
Only, there’s a hole in this structure. Where are the ghosts of Doctors past? We don’t get them, instead what we get is a vague mish-mash, with the John Hurt Doctor simultaneously representing the old mercurial Doctors, as well as the weary, debased figure who is about to commit genocide. As drama, frankly, it’s weak, and the revelation that ‘Hurt was the Doctor all the time!’ might be neat and tidy, but it’s not satisfying. Instead, we could have had the past Doctors present, to represent what the Doctor drifted away from, and we wouldn’t have John Hurt, we would be contrasting against Paul McGann as the high-strung, unpredictable warrior Doctor, in the star turn he was always destined for.
Imagine it, a psychological roadmap of the Doctor as we see the progression from optimistic Davison, to beleaguered Baker, to the shadowy McCoy. We could even use these characters to create a richer understanding of the Doctor’s relationship to Gallifrey. Davison is technically President of the damn planet, Baker was put on trial by them, and finally McCoy who can be seen to have abandoned all affiliation with the planet, committing acts of agitation like the impromptu destruction of Skaro.
Think of how these characters experiences would have lent them unique opinions and perspectives on the events of the 50th. Man Who Regrets and Man Who Forgets are interesting, but I want to hear from the President, the Accused and the Agitator, a Greek Chorus if you like, reflecting the gradual fall of the Doctor. And a Greek Chorus is a good comparison, because three extra Doctors wouldn’t have to disturb the triptych of Smith, Tennant, and, in my imagined scenario, McGann. It wouldn’t have been what people imagined, a lightweight The Eleven Doctors special, or for a concrete comparison, Big Finish’s The Light at the End. No, there’s so many other ways they could have gone about it. Maybe keeping the 80s Doctors in Elizabethan England for a bit, influencing how the New Doctors deal with the situation in present-day London. Maybe the Moment could have taken the triptych back to key moments in the history of the Time War, Genesis of the Daleks for one example, and THAT’S how we access the past Doctors.
The Series 7 finale had just pulled off this trick with aplomb by inserting Clara into Classic Who. Avengers Endgame did something similar, and that film did okay for itself. Another way you could include the Classics is as psychic projections by the Moment. They could be like angels whispering in the ears of the current Doctors, which would also open the door for cameos by figures like Susan or any number of past characters, weighing in on the Doctor’s most important day. Consider the potential for comedy even. With three more Doctors, Moffat could let his farce muscles loose. One of the classic scenarios in farce a procession of characters entering scenes announcing their identities when it’s least appropriate. In Moffat’s Coupling, one of the big comedy setpieces is the main cast walking in one by one and each declaring that they’re the same person, with the repeated refrains of ‘I am Giselle! I am Giselle! I am Dick Darlington, I am Dick Darlington!’. It’s not hard to apply this to multiple Doctors – imagine having a number of Doctors disguised as UNIT employees, and a low-level operative trying to find the Doctor but he doesn’t believe all the men around him who all claim to be him.
I don’t know, I’m not a comedy writer, but the sense of sheer catharsis offered by the best of farces would have been a perfect note to hit on the 50th. My proposal for the central Doctors is Davison, Colin, McCoy, McGann, Tennant and Smith. That makes six. Hm… If only Moffat had written four seasons of a show with a perfectly balanced ensemble of six… I just can’t seem to place it.
The elephant in the room here is Tom Baker, and my position on him is this: his use in the 50th anniversary was PERFECT. Look, it’s frankly unlikely that that Tom Baker would have agreed to be physically present in a central role for a major TV special in 2013. So having him as the Curator remains a singularly elegant solution. And the tension of his appearance is even ENHANCED with the presence of other Doctors. If the 80s gang are all there, it’ll look like Tom Baker said no to appear, only making his finally emerging in the Gallery all the sweeter. These are just some ideas – I must stress, I’m not attached to any of the specific fanfictions I have just espoused – it’s to illustrate my point which is that, in this case, lack of imagination is not an excuse.
COLIN BAKER: What is the point, why are we doing all this?
PETER DAVISON: ………for the fans!
COLIN BAKE: Of course!
NEO: ARGUMENT #3
In 2013, Matt Smith was the Doctor, he was the incumbent, it was natural he’d be the lead of the anniversary special. David Tennant was his very popular predecessor, a huge fan of the show, and it was natural he’d come back, to both the audience’s and his own delight. Christopher Eccleston, Christopher Eccleston…Christopher Eccleston was asked – indeed, the special was initially written around him in the Time War Doctor role – but for his own reasons, Eccleston ended up politely declining. So Moffat devised the idea of a mystery Doctor, a Doctor who never had his era, a Doctor born of an age we never got to see, to fill this third role, and to provide a new twist, a new addition to a special that would be about much more than just celebrating the past.
Hm. Who was the last Doctor before all of them? Why, it was Paul McGann. In 1996. 17 years previous. Well, even he got included, in an enormously well-received minisode finally giving him another visual story of sorts, a minisode finally ending his story by giving him a regeneration, although not into who we expected. Hm, lovely. And who before him? Great old Sylvester McCoy. And he became the Doctor 26 years before the 50th special. And Colin Baker became the Doctor 29 years before the special. Peter Davison, 32 years. Tom Baker, 39 years. And the preceding actors were sadly no longer with us.
20, 30, almost 40 years…these are very long stretches of time. It’s not just a matter of current audiences begin so much less familiar, or invested, in these Doctors by 2013. It’s that they already had their time. Davison was in the 25th anniversary special The Five Doctors, and Tom had been invited to appear in that. Colin had his own multi-Doctor story with second Doctor Patrick Troughton and, with Sylvester McCoy, appeared on the charity special crossover Dimensions in Time in 1993.
Look, I’m not arguing these stories are as good as The Day of the Doctor, I’m not even arguing they honour and celebrate their Doctors so well. I’m arguing that these Doctors had – their – day. They had their ‘day of the Doctor’ They had their time of being the Doctor, of being the incumbent. They are, well into the modern series, still frequently invited on various special features, including several programs produced in the lead-up to the 50th.
COLIN BAKER: Well, what more is there left to say? I’m Colin Baker, the sixth Doctor. Happy anniversary Doctor Who.
NEO: These past Doctors have appeared in as astronomical amount of audio dramas, many of them very celebrated and well-regarded, particularly Colin’s and Paul’s, quite fitting, since they both had the misfortune of being cut short in their TV runs. In 2013 itself, all these past Doctors appeared on the 50th anniversary audio drama Tom has mentioned, The Light at the End, a story very light on the plot, but absolutely chock full of the kind of fanservice to delight fans who wanted to see these Doctors interact in a special commemorative story. THIS is ‘the better place’, as you phrase it, for these Doctors. Not in a modern TV special that’d be overburdened by a surplus of characters, but in a medium, and at a company, crafted around them personally.
So, what I am saying is that these Classic Doctors have had their day, they’ve had their time, and in 2013 of course it was more appropriate for the then-contemporary Doctors to take centre stage, just as of course it was more appropriate in 1983 for Peter Davison to lead The Five Doctors, or for all the others to have fun interacting with various companions with Dimensions in Time in 1993.
What’s more is that they haven’t even being denied the opportunity to keep playing the Doctor, or to keep having commemorative stories, since their time as contemporary Doctors ended on television. To this day, all of them continue to get so many audio stories every year, including anniversaries, multi-Doctor stories, long redemptive arcs restoring eras to those Doctors unlucky enough to have them go well on TV. And Peter Davison was given tremendous freedom in mounting an entire comedy special based playfully and self-depreciating around these actors excluded from the 50th, with many a joke made playfully at the expense of their personas feeling entitled to it, during it.
Look, I entirely resent the idea of this special as some pitiful absurdist comedy, I call it a positive explosion of love and effort demonstrating the good grace and sportmanship both of those behind the modern show – I mean Steven Moffat plays the villain in it, what more could you want?
STEVEN MOFFAT’S (CYBER?) PHONE: Doctors deleted. You have no more messages.
NEO: – and the personalities and character of the Classic Doctors and actors we love so much, therefore it’s a much better sales pitch for them than a theoretical overstuffed 50th special incapable of supporting anything beyond the passing novelty of character combinations could be.
I think the Classic Doctors were far, far, far better serviced in this comedy special, which itself was written and directed by Peter Davison, where they were free to poke fun at the modern show, and where they could play to their fans and with their own personalities. Said special, The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, even concludes with them triumphantly sneaking themselves into the actual 50th, in a fashion. There’s clearly good fun being had, is what I’m saying.
These Classic Doctors, they had their time, and in very true Doctor Who timey-wimey fashion, they’ve been granted even more time after it. They were even in their own 50th anniversary special of a sort. Two, if we’re counting The Light at the End, and The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot. And the TV 50th special still configured them so importantly into the story in the end anyway. I see no great injustice here at all.
PETER DAVISON: It’s a bit busy, isn’t it? I like the old minimalist TARDIS…
A crucial point at this juncture is that there is no reason, that I can think of, The Day of the Doctor had to be between 75 and 80 minutes. Moffat’s success in the 90 minute format has been proven in several other arenas – and if he did promise the Olympics, I see no reason for a bit of OLYMPIC FLEXIBILITY on the running time. If 90 minutes is good enough for The Five Doctors, it’s good enough for Moffat. I reject the hypothesis that the plot of the Day of the Doctor couldn’t have supported the addition of extra characters. And if the Day of the Doctor is such a perfect jewel that improved the health of the show, I ask you: where is Gallifrey now? Has the show’s attitudes towards committing horrible acts of violence against children changed under Chibnall, since The Day of the Doctor? In that regard, I rest my case.
And, as for Clara, and other supporting characters, Clara could retain her role as the Doctor’s confidante and teacher, only with extra Doctors, it would be more like she was heading a committee, or conducting an orchestra, rather than just mediating three men. I think the image of Clara as the leader of team Doctor is irresistible, and with an expanded runtime of 90 minutes I’ve no doubt that the special could have accommodated it.
I find it extremely distasteful that the only way for past Doctors and companions to go on is Big Finish. I’m not taking cheap shots at Big Finish, there are so many great audios produced there that rival the best of the TV show. But the only people listening to those, are the people who have already decided that they care enough to listen to them. It’s not a second life, it’s more of a very well-produced purgatory.
As for The Five(ish) Doctors… well, I must correct you. That wasn’t the absurdist comedy starring Peter Davison playing himself that I mentioned earlier, I was talking about the Channel 4 series ‘Toast of London’, another absurdist comedy with Peter Davison playing himself! Starting to look like auto-typecasting, no?
I agree that Five(ish) Doctors was a lovely bit of creative expression from Davison and his colleagues – but, Davison started working on that before Steven Moffat had even put pen to page, or finger to keyboard, on the script for The Day of the Doctor. Davison did so because of a fan taking him up on a joke he made about producing his own 50th anniversary, which he then considered an obligation. The creative drive for him to make this existed before he would have had any idea of his actual involvement in the 50th, and whether it was a possibility. I believe it still would have been made, simply tweak the ending so they win their involvement rather than sneaking in. Peter Davison is a very clever man, I am certain the film would have still been great, and it’s a great showcase for all the smaller names who would not have been included in the main event.
Anecdotally, my own mother caught The Day of the Doctor on television. When she saw John Hurt’s Doctor standing in that barn, she excitedly said to me ‘Oh, look, it’s Jon Pertwee!’. I had to explain the sad truth that Jon Pertwee had been dead for many years, and at this she turned away from the screen, disappointed, rejected. Anecdotal, yes, based on some optimistic projections of Jon Pertwee’s lifespan, yes, but I think that’s a big part of what I’m talking about, replacing one past with a new one is sweeping the rug from under people, and it creates marked dissonance. The 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who was nothing less than a betrayal of the past. I know it, you know it, Who knows it. Every era is someone’s favourite. Remembering and acknowledging the past shouldn’t be something to cower from. And Doctor Who doesn’t have to be the Olympics. We love it for what, and who, it is.
LINE PRODUCER: You should be in costume, but it probably doesn’t matter for this shot. Can we get shrouds for the Zygons, please?
Get the hat off!
STEVEN MOFFAT: How’s it looking?
EDITOR: …perfect! Couldn’t be better.
Just as Steven Moffat respects the Classic Doctors, just as the 50th special greatly respected the Classic Doctors, I too respect your arguments Tomtit, your very sound and really rather creative arguments. But, when bringing all my arguments together, I think the rationality, justifiability, and good grace in Moffat’s decision to not include the Classic Doctors directly in the 50th? I think it’s undeniable.
Let’s look at what I haven’t argued. What I haven’t argued is anything at all to do with the Classic Doctor’s physical appearance in 2013. What I haven’t argued is a supposedly maligned reputation of the 1980s show impinging on the ability to include those Doctors in the special. What I haven’t argued is that the War Doctor has a supposedly perfectly satisfying arc. What I haven’t argued is any perspective of the modern or classic era being qualitatively better than the other.
What I have argued is that it is entirely unfeasible for the special to possibly actively include both modern and Classic Doctors in any proportional way honouring all participants. The 50this an incredibly densely constructed 80 minute story, rich with subplots and themes that feed into each other, bursting with clever gags and parallels, doing the incredibly difficult task of honouring so much history while also engaging with the present and setting exciting courses for the future. Extending its runtime? Moffat struggled to even secure the incumbent Doctor Matt Smith onto the special at first-
STEVEN MOFFAT: I’m saying ‘guys, who’s in it? Who have you got – no, no, no, you tell me who’s under contract to be in it. Because I promised this year’s Olympics. Could you tell me who’s in this? “Jenna”‘. And that was the list. I’m saying, ‘right, I’m doing, I’m celebrating 50 years of Doctor Who with Jenna? Who’s wonderful, and one of my personal favourites, but I don’t think that’s really gonna cut it!’.
-entirely failed to secure Eccleston…he worked magic with the 50th but it was clearly an immensely difficult production. To treat securing an extended runtime as trivial, it just runs counter to these undeniable facts.
Even the audio drama 50th special we’ve mentioned, The Light at the End, evem at two full hours, well it’s awash in pleasant fanservice, but in honouring all its several characters proportionally, it reasonably has to keep to a rather simple plot. That Moffat’s special juggles so many plots is a minor miracle, the product of immense creativity and work. Even if Moffat’s special had a different story, as you suggest – already a poor idea in my view, considering how well-received what we got ended up being – even then, I struggle to see how it could possibly support the weight of so many Doctors, when an even longer anniversary special, The Light at the End, targeted to, indeed, as you say, a much more niche audience than millions of TV watchers, when even it still struggled. More eyes to the Classic series comes through popularising the show, not through mimicking the past, not through injecting aspects of the past directly back into it. Creating the best special possible is how to get more people interested in Doctor Who, and from there interest in any of its facets can come.
I think all of this is no great issue, because the existence of that audio special, the existence of an absolutely colossal amount of audio stories for each of those Classic Doctors, the existence of the BBC’s healthy continued relationship with all of these Classic Doctor actors, and their cheeky self-deprecating film about their exclusion, I think all this signifies that these actors, they get plenty of respect, they get plenty of stories, they get plenty of work. Ultimately, they get plenty of acknowledgment and recognition. They’re simply not being hard done by. They are not suffering out of ‘only’ appearing in, what, the extremely celebrated climax of the special?
Some of these Classic Doctors had great success in their TV runs, and the ones who didn’t ended up extremely well served in consistent work with other branches of Doctor Who – the audio stories. There’s just no injustice in the 2013 anniversary being mostly centered around the complementary Doctors of 2013.
And yet, most important of all is the fact that The Day of the Doctor is positively brimming with celebration of, with love for, with appreciation of, with respect for, with recognition of the Classic Doctors. They are acknowledged not just in throwaway references, no, the entire special hinges on what Moffat perceived as an unresolved tension between the characterisation of these classic Doctors, and the new gloomier Russell T Davies backstory of the modern Doctors. The greatest joy of the special is built around the surprise of the Classic Doctors reappearing. The special triumphantly ends on a shot of all the Doctors.
Should the Classic Doctors have been in the 50th? I argue that this is a question of respect, and that there is no greater respect than the special Moffat crafted, the special positively brimming with the brilliance of the show’s present, singing with potential of the show’s future, and, indeed, glowing with appreciation of the great Classic Doctors of the past.
PETER DAVISON: You can stop now, I think we’ve got everything.
CAMERAMAN: ‘Cut’, you have to say ‘cut!’.
PETER DAVISON: Sorry! And…cut!
Note: the debrief itself is not transcribed here. Following the debate, Tomtit and I had a debrief discussion, where we explored the stances we took in the debate, our thoughts on each other’s arguments, our thoughts on our performances, our thoughts on each other’s performances, what wasn’t said in the debate, and so on.
As this was an organic conversation, I didn’t have working notes to finish up a transcription.
It starts at 41:57 in the video. The YouTube video does have the automatically-generated YouTube captions, for what it’s worth.
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