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. . . And We Weren't Invited

For no reason at all, I would like to justify my love of Day of the Doctor.

I should point out that I mean that, not ‘here is why Day of the Doctor is brilliant and you should love it.’ It’s hard to escape from that but I am going to try and write this as an explanation for me personally adoring the 50th anniversary special, not a way of brow-beating everyone who doesn’t.

This stems particularly from a good friend of mine giving the reasons he didn’t like it, one of which – the one I’m going to focus on – being the reduction of the Time War to a mundane ‘Daleks invade a planet’ scenario (sorry for the paraphrasing, SF). This is something I’m aware of as a more general criticism, although I stress that I have avoided all online discussions about this, as far as possible, like the plague.

And I get it. I really do. After seven years of being told that the Time War was an epic all encompassing universe wide war filled with monstrosities such as the Nightmare Child and an Army of Meanwhiles, with battles raging from the Crucible to Arcadia, it’s perhaps inevitably underwhelming to be presented with several scenes from the Star Wars copybook of sci fi warfare. I mean, they even have defence turrets, for Rassilon’s sake! Where is the sprawling trans-temporal conflict full of weird and horrific entities we were promised? Why are the BBC – OK, let’s be frank, people mainly talk about this in terms of Mr Moffat – why is Mr Moffat only giving us laser bolts and flying saucers?

There are several obvious answers, starting with that old chestnut that a BBC budget, even for the 50th Anniversary of their flagship show, is finite. But this rings hollow for me for two reasons. First, it implies that some sort of expense was spared for Day of the Doctor and this seems untenable. Day of the Doctor is one of the most solidly put together pieces of television I have watched for ages. From acting to set design to thematic unity, an extraordinary amount of care and attention went into it and clearly quite a lot of money too. Second, if Sapphire and Steel has taught me anything, it is that time-bending artefacts on a shoe-string budget are often a heck of a lot creepier than their blockbuster equivalents.

So essentially, I'm going to come at this as purely as possible from a story-telling point of view. That's how I accept things within stories, above and beyond the limitations of effects or the medium. And the most basic reason I can give for not having any problem with the depiction of the War is that we are seeing its last day. The whole story revolves around the final few hours of the conflict, the last gasp before oblivion. The situation is desperate and hopeless. All the final weapons have been fired save the one no one dares use, there is no clever technobabble left, and the mighty Time Lords are reduced to using laser guns.

This is really quite an incredibly significant statement to make. The myth of the Time Lords that the revived Doctor Who has presented is one of a god-like and noble species transformed into something monstrous and fallen. The War was so dreadful that they were tarnished by their efforts to save themselves. And the root of that myth lies in the very first story to show the Doctor's people, The War Games. There, they were all-powerful outsiders to whom the trappings of battle were patently irrelevant. The War Lord, a master of his field, is dismissed without a single Time Lord finger being lifted, his entire species sealed away forever. War is beneath the Time Lords. And so too is the rest of the universe. We are told they have complete control of their environment, that they never need to leave their own world, that they watch over the cosmos without getting involved. Even as they became less omnipotent and more mundane with every succeeding appearance, the idea of them keeping the messy universe at bay persists – Gallifrey was protected by transduction barriers through which nothing could come. A war fleet was casually waved past, regardless of the havoc it would wreak, because it could no encroach on Time Lord isolation. Even the Laws of Time seemed to exist because they served to control the uncivilised universe beyond and keep everything predictable.

Gallifrey was an ivory tower, the Time Lords within untouched by either war or monsters. To have a load of killer blobs from another planet come crashing in with their silly little guns and their silly little spaceships is about the worst thing you could do them. Because suddenly there is something in their environment they cannot control. Suddenly the mess is over the threshold. In The End of Time, we are told that Gallifrey is on the verge of defeat, that the only thing left to do is blow up the universe. In Day of the Doctor, we get to see what that looks like. And it looks like the Time Lords reduced to the losing side in a stock sci fi war, genericised, everything special and magical stripped from them and crushed beneath the oncoming wave of Dalekanium.

That the Daleks not only cope perfectly fine with being the other side in a generic sci fi war but stand on the brink of victory because of it is perfectly fitting. Their great strength has always been the singularity of purpose that takes a magic go-anywhere cabinet and uses it simply to go more places and destroy more stuff. Ultimately, they are absolutely at home with just laying into things all guns blazing. For all their cleverness, Daleks are basically tanks and in the end, tanks are just there to shoot things. Once they have got around all the awesome weapons in Gallifrey's arsenal – which they obviously have – they have basically won because in a straight up shooting match, no one can beat them.

This is the narrative reason I think it works. We are seeing the end point in a war of attrition on a cosmic scale. The end point in the Time Lords' fall from grace is not Rassilon with his magic glove blasting people out of existence, it's a bunch of terrified civilians and equally terrified soldiers running blindly from their inevitable deaths. The Daleks have forced the Time Lords to play by their rules at long last and it doesn't matter if the final cost will consume them as well; this is the end for which no one on Gallifrey is remotely prepared.

There is, however, a rather more conceptual reason I like Day of the Doctor's Time War, why I actually prefer it to Mr T Davies' implied trans-temporal conflict. I'll try and explain this as clearly as I can, although I'm not sure I'm up to it because what I know about literary theory could be written on a postage stamp. Essentially, what it boils down to is the sneaking suspicion that the epic, cosmic thing we've been teased with from Rose to the Rings of Akaten is actually totally hollow.

Now, I don't actually mean that the idea of a war fought in four dimensions is worse than a re-run of Return of the Jedi. Quite the contrary, I think that it opens up some very interesting possibilities. What I mean is that for all that we have heard about planets burning, the universe itself catching fire, whole civilisations being rewritten again and again, and all the impressively demonic entities this has conjured up, we have never seen a single inkling of what this actually
meant. We're given the impression of a war of the gods yet it's all been in the abstract. Ok, we know that the Master – a man who once accidentally annihilated a large fraction of the universe without batting an eyelid – was so scared he ran to the end of time and hid. We know a bunch of aliens lost their homeworlds (the first day of the Time War seems to have led to a lot of planets going Krypton). We can infer things from the expanded universe like War TARDISes and Time Lord intervention squads. We know that the Doctor was driven to genocide.

But I would argue that until we see a girl on a spaceship willing to throw herself to her death rather than go through the magical doorway to adventure, we don't actually see what it was like to live through all that. And until we see men and women and children caught in the fires of their dying homeworld, the Time War is just a clinical Lensman Arms Race – a game of one-upmanship where the goal is to think up the best way to tie the universe in knots.

Which is fine, in a sense. Who doesn't enjoy coming up with ludicrous super-weapons or epic sounding battles between eldritch abominations? But as a background for self-loathing and guilt of the kind that the Ninth Doctor simmered with and the Tenth Doctor waved in people's faces, it is wholly artificial. A war between concepts in which the stakes are so big they're meaningless.

RTD's Time War is epic and mysterious, gloriously so. Day of the Doctor works, to me, as a much needed reminder that a war is a thing in which people die in great numbers on both sides. There is nothing glorious about that. There is nothing magical about it. It doesn't matter if you use flowery language about Could-Have-Been-Kings and Crucibles: we are talking about death, about people dying violently and in fear.

The Moment is a wonderfully poetic name for something that ends a war. But at its core it is a box that ends lives. That's what any kind of weapon ultimately is. So yes, of course it's underwhelming. That's what you get when you romanticise genocide.

I think the main reason I put forward this line of thought lies with the differences between the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors and where my preferences lie with respect to those differences. With the Tenth, we are presented with the Doctor-as-a-god. He is special because of what he is, and what he is is epic and timeless and inhuman. And being epic and timeless and inhuman, he can be a product of an Epic Time War and save the day by blowing everything up. This is how Doomsday and The Last of the Time Lords and Journey's End resolve. The Tenth Doctor lives up to his hype. He is as epic as he says he is. The Eleventh by contrast is a man with the reputation for being epic earned by accident. He is the man with 900 years experience rewiring alien technology and who looks brilliant because of it. Everything epic about him is a trick of circumstance and perspective. When he wins, it is not because he is the most godlike being in the room, it's because unlike everyone else, he isn't playing by the rules. The victories in The Big Bang, A Good Man Goes to War and The Wedding of River Song are utterly shameless cheats that have the appearance of being miraculous until you realise that they were the result of lies, trickery and making it up as you go along.

That is my Doctor. It probably has been ever since I saw Peter Cushing dazzle the Daleks into blowing themselves to kingdom come. It's the Doctor who would triumphantly boast that he had no weapons, no defences and no plan and leave the Daleks – who are all about having plans and being the most epic thing in the room – scared to death of him. A Doctor who is a wizard in the sense of someone who knows things and can spot a loophole a mile off with his eyes shut. A Doctor who can save the universe with some kettle and a string.

The hype would have us believe that the Doctor who fought in the Epic Time War was monstrous, that he did terrible things for the right reasons. The truth of it, the reveal that I think needed to be the truth of it, is that both the Bloody Doctor and the Epic Time War are tricks of perspective. Just as there is nothing epic or glorious about war, there is nothing epic or glorious about the War Doctor. The Eighth Doctor is damned not because he pushed the Big Red Button of Doom but because he compromised his principals and metaphorically picked up a gun. The War Doctor is not the rage at the heart of a star, he is a trickster who has run out of tricks and become trapped in the rules of a game he never wanted to play. He is a man so tired and worn down by watching people being killed that he just wants it all to end.

The tragedy of the end of the Time War has always been that the Doctor could not find another way. Again, Day of the Doctor shows us the best way that could look: resignation and the acceptance of what it means.

And the triumph, the great big birthday gift that was totally worthy of placement as the 50th anniversary capstone? The chance to break the rules and rewrite history, every line. Clara says she couldn't imagine the Doctor – her Doctor – pushing that Big Red Button. And given another option, given the thinnest sliver of a way out, the Doctor, any Doctor, my Doctor never would. He would throw out the rulebook that says he had to be epic and grand and canonical about it and he would cheat in the most gloriously gob-smacking way possible.

The future steps in to save the past, the past steps up to save the future. This is trans-temporal jiggery-pokery on a colossal scale. This is how the Doctor wins the Time War. By ignoring the rules and all that drivel about Time Locks and Fixed Points and Things That Cannot Be Touched. The reason it needs the Eleventh to step in and come up with the plan is because he has the perspective to see that the Time Lords and their laws have become meaningless, something that the War Doctor and the Epic Tenth simply cannot see.

And the Daleks dice themselves in their own crossfire because when faced with someone who doesn't play by their rules, their only recourse is to increase their fire-power. Creatures who believe in Epic War, they can only fight back by upping the stakes and blowing things up some more. What else was going to happen to them?

There is a third reason I have absolutely no problem with how Mr Moffat depicted the last day of the War, one I only really figured out today and rather tickled me when I realised it. You see, since he took over, we have seen monsters that cannot be remembered, predatory living ideas, holes in the world that eat people out of existence, a historical collapse, parasites that eat TARDISes and the whole-scale rewriting of the universe as we know it.

To quote Blue Oyster Cult, the war's still going on dear. What are the Silence, the Angels, the cracks and the collapses except the weapons of a Time War? Without any fuss, we have been shown what a 4-D conflict might look like. More importantly, we have been shown how it affects people, how it can wreck their lives in new and interesting ways, how horrifying it would be to be caught in the middle of it. We have seen, essentially, the substance behind all those hints of dark times and creepy concepts. And we have got some damn good stories out of it.

Maybe it would have been better never to see the Time War on screen. To a degree, we still haven't. From another perspective, we've been watching it happen for years. All I can say is that I think the version of the War that was broadcast was the right one. It was certainly not the story we were led to expect. But history is like that.

In the end, the stories we become are not who we were at the time. And the reality behind the stories is rarely as epic as it looks from a distance.
  • Mood: Zeal
  • Listening to: Blue Oyster Cult
  • Reading: Revelation Space
  • Playing: Lego Marvel Superheroes
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AwesomeHatsCo Featured By Owner Mar 10, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Here's my rushed and probably overeactive and unfair response : P

1. They introduced a new Doctor. They messed up most of the new series, so I was annoyed that they're starting to interfere with the classic timeline too.
2. Too much comedy, dammit! That scene with the sonic screwdriver was really annoying. It was fan service for ten year olds ('OH SO COOL IF 10th AND 11th DOCTORS MEET EACH OTHER AND ANOTHER DOCTOR WE HADN'T SEEN BEFORE WAS THERE TOO OMGOMGOMG').
3. It was really REALLY confusing. There were so many scenes where I was like 'Why did that happen?' and 'Wait, so there was no point to that?'

Conclusion: FIRE MOFFAT! He's a great writer, but not for Doctor Who.
Librarian-bot Featured By Owner Mar 12, 2014
:) We clearly have very different opinions on the thing, but that's OK.

I think I'm overall quite sympathetic to Moffat because I like the way he does stories. I don't have a problem with the War Doctor, for example, because it's adding something new that's never been done before - and as it comes after the Eighth, it doesn't touch 'classic' continuity at all: it's purely another layer to the Time War. (As an aside, I don't think there is a 'classic timeline' for them to interfere with anyway: Doctor Who has never had a continuity in anything but the loosest sense because subsequent production teams generally put good stories ahead of obsessive fact checking, which is why we have three versions of Atlantis getting destroyed, the Time Lords change entirely from appearance to appearance and the Doctor only has two hearts from Spearhead from Space onwards)

Likewise, the comedy doesn't bother me because I do genuinely find it funny and it's an established tradition - if you can have that after three times - that different versions of the Doctor will bicker if brought into the same place. The screwdriver joke has the added bonus that it feeds nicely into the 'same programming, different hardware' analogy for the Doctor, which is crucial to the resolution - this kind of mirroring runs throughout the whole story, which is why I personally think it works so well: the Zygon/UNIT standoff mirrors the Time War, the duplicated memories of the Zygon imposters making them act a certain way mirrors how the Doctor's memories of the Time War affect who he is afterwards, the Doctors breaking the rules to end one standoff foreshadows how they make Gallifrey disappear. I think the high faluting literary term is 'as above, so below', where the same story happens across several different stages or subplots.

To be honest, the only bit I would put down as indulgent 'fanservice' would be having Tom Baker show up and I can forgive that because it is the only bit that struck me as there 'just because we can'.
Shiki-Scarlet Featured By Owner Mar 5, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
I think all the more epic and horrible stuff happened off screen. I mean the was raging for a long time before the events of day of the doctor and it was mentioned by the war council that they used up all the forbidden weapons and lovecraft level things. Half of the horrors mentioned by ten are still out there, but with Galifrey being sealed away, it means the worst of the conflict was isolated safely or destoried.

As they say "Who knows, who knows."
Librarian-bot Featured By Owner Mar 11, 2014
Indeed :)

As I said, I think we have already seen the *kind* of thing that could be used to fight a time war throughout Mr Moffat's run on the show, even if they're not specifically the weapons of *the* Time War. And beyond that, we have the Time Destructor, the Hand of Omega, the Silver Nemesis. The key issue will always be whether you can get a good story out of your super weapon or eldritch abomination, whether it's actually worth showing the epic and horrible things. We've had good stories about some time weapons. Maybe one day we'll have some about the Could-Have-Been-King . . .
Kasterborous Featured By Owner Mar 5, 2014
There's no reason why the big incomprehensible universe-shaking history-rewriting quasi-mythological Time War and the routing of the Time Lords as seen in "The Day of the Doctor" can't be the same conflict. The Time Lords can clearly more than hold their own where playing dimensional games with time are concerned; conversely the Daleks are masters at razing cities to the ground from orbit. It makes sense to me that the only way the Daleks could win a Time War would be to fight it on their terms, and conversely the only way the Time Lords could lose a Time War is if they were forced to fight it in person, hand to hand, without time loops and TARDISes and their vast arsenal of technological tricks. It is established Time Lord arrogance to assume that nobody could attack Gallifrey directly, and an established Time Lord limitation that the only future they cannot foresee is their own. We know the Time War clearly lasted a long subjective time, enough for the War Doctor to age significantly. I have no problem with the end of the Time War being shown as the Daleks descending en masse and blasting the Time Lords to hell, because how else could it have possibly ended and how else could the Daleks have possibly triumphed? But the whole war being like that... no.
Librarian-bot Featured By Owner Mar 11, 2014
Oh, absolutely. I guess what I'm trying to get at is an issue of perspective rather than anything else.

Practically speaking, the way a Time War could be fought is simply to have the combatants delivered to different points in time and start shooting in an effort to destroy a particular future. From 'above' - the gaming table view - this can twist history into some interesting knots and give birth to aberrations of the mythic variety. But on the ground, it's still a bunch of guys showing up and killing people. You can portray either one with relative ease, and both are valid ways of approaching the concept, but my personal inclination is that the latter hits harder at an emotional level while the former risks becoming a sanitised and frankly boring exchange of concepts.

Certainly, for the story that Mr Moffat was trying to tell, the ground level approach was the best way to go. Which, funnily enough, was probably made easier because Mr T Davies already gave us the gaming table view with the High Council in The End of Time.
ryantherebel Featured By Owner Mar 5, 2014
I personally see the Time War as something like Star Trek's Battle of Wolf 359. Like the Time War it was big mythos shattering event that we only got to see the aftermath of, at first. Later we got to see a snippet of it when Deep Space 9 rolled around, but that was really it. I think it's good that we only got that snippet (so far) because it still manages to give it a sense importance, and scale. Sometimes it's better to leave your audience wanting more, rather then giving them several great big servings of the Time War.

It's kind of like how the Clone Wars, when mentioned in the original Star Wars trilogy sounded really epic, and amazing, but when finally got see it in the prequels, what we got something that was, to quote Ben Croshaw like a painting of a fireworks display: lots of garish color and flash, but take one step to the side and you'll see it's completely two-dimensional.
Librarian-bot Featured By Owner Mar 11, 2014
That's a really good comparison that I hadn't thought of. You're right, they do function in similar ways and are more effective for being glimpses rather than an attempt to do the whole thing.

When you try to portray the entirety of a conflict that big, the risk - as the Star Wars prequels proved - is that you end up with a fight between two lots of visual effects, rather than a more haunting image like the ruins of Star Fleet drifting powerlessly.

(Having said that, one criticism I do have of Day of the Doctor's effects is that I think it would have been worth showing the star scape around Gallifrey flickering in and out, whole star clusters exploding and reforming maybe, just to give a little hint of the universe being on fire because of the War, then have it settle back to normal when Gallifrey vanished.
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