A new year is upon us once more, and, as usual, we start to look back on the last one and reflect upon our experiences, both individually and as a geek community or fandom. So I was quite surprised to find the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary listed among the top blunders of 2013 on Kotaku. Here’s what the author of the article had to say:
The BBC and Steven Moffat Blow Doctor Who‘s 50th Anniversary Very few pop culture characters manage to make it to the esteemed 50-year mark, and even fewer series. So the fact that Doctor Who had been around for (most of) the last half-century was a major cause for celebration. But what do we get? A mere eight episodes, a 90-minute 50th anniversary special that was mostly just David Tennant and Matt Smith palling around, and the docudrama about the creation of Doctor Who, An Adventure in Time and Space. Surely there was more that could have (and should have) been done to celebrate this iconic character. More episodes. A (much) bigger special — maybe one that aired over several nights. Maybe they could have used actor David Bradley (who played the actor William Hartnell in the docudrama) to play the First Doctor in the special, to tie Doctor Who‘s past and present together. And again, more episodes. The sad part is the most exciting Doctor Who product of the year was the 8-minute minisode featuring the return of Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor. That’s not right.
To see how fair this comment was, I thought I’d look at just what was happening in relation to Doctor Who during 2013. There was actually quite a lot, so I may cover the material I am more familiar with and which I can therefore comment on in some cases.
A subtle celebration of the five decades of Doctor Who began quite some time before the airing of the actual Special. Series 7 Part 2 is littered with references from across the entire series mythos built up throughout these years. The Snowmen (which, despite not being aired in 2013, acts as the first act of Series 7 Part 2) brought back the Great Intelligence, which now holds the record for the longest gap between appearances, a whopping 44 years. In The Rings of Akhaten the Doctor mentions his grand-daughter Susan (even if not by name), who is seldom mentioned following her departure, and alludes to the Celestial Toymaker. The diamond from Metebilis III from The Green Death and Planet of the Spiders makes an appearance in Hide. The iconic Ice Warriors also make a welcome return in Cold War. The Name of the Doctor deserves some particular attention. The final resting place of the Doctor is revealed, and a portal across his timeline is revealed and made full use of; all the Doctors make an appearance, no matter how brief. Perhaps more pivotal to the history of the series lore, we’re also shown the moment the Doctor left Gallifrey with Susan, including an un-camouflaged TARDIS.
In between Name of the Doctor and the Anniversary Special we were treated to Night of the Doctor. The minisode is notable for not only giving us the identity of John Hurt’s Doctor, but also for bringing back Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor to the screen. Moffat also managed to bring in his audio adventures into canon by having the Eighth Doctor salute his previous companions from these journeys. On a more personal note, I would have appreciated it if he could have also mention Kroton, Izzy and Destrii; they are great characters in their own right and the comics are the major source of my love for the Eighth Doctor. As the only canon Doctor to have only appeared exclusively in one film, it was quite the treat to have him and the extended universe which developed his character be acknowledged this way, and as part of the Anniversary no less. As I explained in detail in my review, I also think The Day of the Doctor was an excellent special for the Anniversary. While the Special focused almost exclusively on the newer Doctor Who tales, it explored the nature of the Doctor himself and the role companions have in reminding him of it. The climax also included an appearance of all Doctors – including the Twelfth – as well as a surprise appearance by Tom Baker (possibly in the guise of a possible future Doctor, no less).
Needless to say, the episode is also noteworthy for becoming a media event in and of itself. The after-party was, admittedly, a bit of a flop. However, the broadcast itself managed to earn it a Guinness World Record for the largest simultaneous worldwide broadcast (or simulcast, if you will), with it reaching 94 countries across 6 continents. In addition to the TV broadcast, over 1500 cinemas worldwide, including in the UK, US, Australia, Canada, Latin America, Germany, Russia and Scandinavia, showed the episode in 3D, with fans coming out in full force to be part of the worldwide event. The subsequent Time of the Doctor picked up where the Special left off, as explained in detail before. While the episode was focused on the regeneration of the Eleventh Doctor and moving the series forward, we still get a few Easter eggs like a Monoid puppet and the Seal of the High Council of Gallifrey (itself a reference to a previous Doctor Who anniversary special). Following up the success of the Anniversary Special, Time of the Doctor became the most watched programme ever in BBC America’s history and became the most tweeted show of the day on Twitter. For anyone who still laments the lack of the actual older actors who played the Doctor, there’s the hilarious Five(ish) Doctors Reboot. Not only does it star all surviving Doctors, but also current Doctor Who crew and cameos from actors from across the series’s history. The sketch is a true love letter to fans and a great compliment to The Day of the Doctor (a real shame it doesn’t seem slated to be included in the DVD). And I dare anyone to still think, in their heart of hearts, that the older actors did not appear in the actual special after watching Reboot.
BBC America also featured the Doctor Revisited set of mini-documentaries exploring a different incarnation of the Doctor chronologically, culminating with the Eleventh in November. Each of these documentaries included talks by experts and/or celebrities talking about the respective Doctor being revisited, followed by a broadcast of an episode featuring that Doctor. In the case of the pre-2005 series, this was the first time the episodes were broadcast in America at all. It is quite fitting that the docu-drama documenting the beginning of Doctor Who, An Adventure in Time and Space, was also aired during the Anniversary to remind us why we’re celebrating in the first place. The documentary not only stays mostly true to the facts, but also effectively portrays the real goings-on behind the lens. The documentary doesn’t shy away from portraying the difficulties producers Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert faced – especially sexism in the case of the latter – and of the main cast. David Bradley in particular plays a highly emotional William Hartnell, who really was genuinely in love with the series and devastated that he had to leave. At least one liberty taken which can be forgiven is this one, which places the documentary in the Anniversary context and, more importantly, reminds us of the pride Hartnell felt for the legacy he has passed on:
Doctor Who at the Proms
Doctor Who at the Proms has become a yearly event, a showcase of Doctor Who’s current music and along with some the monsters and villains live to families worldwide. This year was definitely no different, with the exception that the Anniversary was acknowledged and celebrated as well. Guest appearances included Peter Davison (the Fifth Doctor) and Carole Ann Ford (Susan Foreman) as hosts. Among the music performed there was a Classic Doctor Who medley and a piece composed by Murray Gold especially for the occasion of the Anniversary, Song for Fifty.
The DWM comic focusing more directly on the Anniversary, collected in the Hunters of the Burning Stone graphic novel, takes the Anniversary Special route. The Eleventh Doctor reunites with his first ever human companions, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, and the story itself picks up threads from not only previous stories both immediate (collected in The Chains of Olympus) and prior (The Flood involving the Eighth Doctor), but also An Unearthly Child. The Doctor has a moment confiding with Ian about his guilt over actions after their departure, while Ian reminds him that he is still a good man. Something significant happens to Ian and Barbara with the involvement of the Doctor. We also get a reason for the malfunction of the TARDIS Chameleon Circuit. Moreover, much like Day of the Doctor mentions the TARDIS noise as a universal sign of hope, Hunters of the Burning Stone acknowledges that the iconic image of the TARDIS as a police box has become imprinted in the human sub-conscious. It’s all great fan-service worthy of the Anniversary and a good story in its own right. IDW celebrated the 50th Anniversary by having a multi-Doctor story similar to what many fans demanded and/or expected of the actual Special. The twelve-issue Prisoners of Time showcases one Doctor every issue in a mini-adventure. These adventures compliment an overarching story of the companions being abducted by a foe from the Doctor’s past, which is wrapped up in issue twelve and involves all the Doctors and companions together. While not the most amazing story ever written – and notably not making full use of the Doctors coming together (especially the usual banter between different incarnations) – Prisoners of Time is good enough. The voice of each Doctor is captured wonderfully in their respective issues, and their stories do convey the essence of their respective runs. There are also a lot of obvious nods to the history of the series through the returning companions and quite a few classic enemies, such as the Zarbi, Animus, Ice Warriors, Sonatarans and Rutans at war, Quarks and the older moustache-twirling Master.
Doctor Who: The Doctor – His Lives and Times takes a two-pronged approach at exploring the Doctor’s life until the events of The Name of the Doctor. On one hand, most of the book takes an in-universe look at the Doctor’s life, exploring various important points in his story via mock diary entries by Susan, Turlough, River Song’s research for Madame Kovarian, newspaper clippings and the like. On the other hand, there are behind-the-scenes sections littered throughout the booked with extracts taken from contemporary interviews and similar sources. While both parts of the book may not essentially belong together, the end result is still a very interesting and well-researched book which can offer new information to diehard fans and new ones alike. Doctor Who: The Vault – Treasures from the First 50 Years takes a look at the history of Doctor Who, with a year-by-year analysis of the major developments throughout these past fifty years. The book is notable for presenting a collection of rare ephemera, including shots of props and costumes. The essays within cover all aspects of Doctor Who, from discussions on story elements such as companions to behind-the-scenes processes and the fan culture building around the series and its various modes of expression. It’s a truly beautiful book and the closest thing to a Doctor Who museum you’ll find (so far). Definitely a must-read for beginners, ardent Doctor Who fans and casual onlookers wondering what was so special about 2013. Outside the official BBC releases, there were also quite a few other books discussing Doctor Who and its anniversary, such as Celebrate Regenerate.
BBC Books have certainly been busy this past year. Apart from the above and the usual Doctor Who material (such as The Brilliant Book and Who-ology), they also released Anniversary Editions of eleven classic Doctor Who stories meant to showcase the eleven Doctors. To be honest, I had never considered going into the world of canon fiction books before my sister bought me the Anniversary Edition of Almost Human for my birthday. I liked it and the idea behind the collection so much that I looked up and got the rest of the set. I loved the stories so much that I was thrilled to learn that a similar Monster Collection series has since been announced. Puffin released a series of eleven ebooks – one Doctor each month – which were then printed in a 50th Anniversary anthology Doctor Who: 11 Doctors, 11 Stories. Each was written by a celebrity author, including Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl), Derek Landy (of Skulduggery Pleasant fame), and even Neil Gaiman (Sandman, Coraline, The Doctor’s Wife and Nightmare in Silver, amongst others). The short stories themselves vary in terms of accurate representation of the Doctor and the capability of the author to write a good Doctor Who story as opposed to just a good story per se. While a good collection overall, it’s Charlie Higson’s Ninth, Derek Landy’s Tenth, and Neil Gaiman’s Eleventh Doctor stories which stand out most.
Big Finish’s Light at the End brought back the eight Classic Doctors for a shared adventure in the classic multi-Doctor story format. It includes some great banter and interaction between the ‘newer’ Doctors, while the first three Doctors are, understandably, given more of a supporting role. The companions, likewise, do not feature as prominently as each other. The story itself is good enough, with an enjoyable tale of the Doctors going up against another nefarious plan of the Master’s. As one reviewer puts it: “The Light at the End is not an award-winning story, but to be honest, it was not designed to be and nor should it be. Such anniversary stories are more of a ‘Greatest Hits’ album, intended to bring iconic elements together as a way of paying respect to a history as well as a showcase for those new to the material.” Destiny of the Doctor – a collaboration between Big Finish and AudioGo – is quite similar to Prisoners of Time in some respects, with each Doctor having an adventure and the Eleventh contacting them for help for his own situation. What makes Destiny of the Doctor stand out is that the actual actors and actresses playing the Doctor’s companions read and performed most of their respective Doctor’s stories. There’s that and the fact that the stories come together nicely as a whole, with some brilliant ideas which are just begging to be brought to the screen. In the end it’s just great to get a celebration of the companions of the Doctor in the Anniversary year as well since they’re such an integral part of the series.
Soundtracks for certain episodes from the Classic era were released by Silva Screen throughout 2013: The Krotons (Second Doctor) in May, Caves of Androzani (Fifth Doctor) in March and Ghost Light (Seventh Doctor) in August. In December The 50th Anniversary Soundtrack Collection was released, a 4-CD collection with music from the whole fifty years of the history of the series and the most comprehensive collection of soundtracks ever assembled so far. Some tracks are nothing more than soundscapes which are not worth much of a listen out of context, but are nonetheless fascinating pieces of Doctor Who and television history. Each release includes never-before released music and, taken together, the collection and individual episode releases offer a journey through the changing music styles across five decade, from the more basic sounds of An Unearthly Child to Murray’s Gold’s grand orchestral pieces. Still to be released under the Anniversary banner is the Limited Edition Collector’s TARDIS Box Set, with one CD per Doctor. While the tracklist and details are still to be confirmed, this impressive set is slated to also include never-before released music and notes from each era’s respective composer/s. This will surely cover the series’s musical history in much greater detail than the standard Anniversary Collection.
It also goes without saying that a tonne of 50th Anniversary merchandise was released during the year. There are stamps, coins, figures, photographic prints, mugs, bobble heads, board games and so much more. The list just goes on and on. [If you want to check out more of what has been released, you can check out the link below.]
2013: Year of the Doctor
So, despite the naysayers, looking back at 2013, I can safely say that 2013 was indeed the Year of the Doctor and a great celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who. While some fans may have wanted more specials on TV, but what we got there was great and with a bunch of Easter eggs throughout the year to boot. Complimenting that, fans both new and old got books, comics, audio stories, soundtracks and so much more. The celebrations thus took place in a variety of ways, even if it didn’t always necessarily look like it. Today’s resources were used to the full and the celebrations taking place across various media opened up new ways to enjoy Doctor Who for those who were willing to look. [I couldn’t even cover everything myself!] I am also sure there are others like myself who got into the celebratory spirit of the year well enough, tried new aspects of the Doctor Who phenomenon and have whet their appetites for more. If that’s not a sign of the celebrations being successful and a good note to end the 50th Anniversary year with, I don’t know what is.
- Doctor Who: Guinness World Record for The Day of the Doctor (doctorwho.tv)
- Doctor Who anniversary episode breaks iPlayer records (theguardian.com)
- Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Merchandise (thedoctorwhosite.co.uk)
- Doctor Who: 11 Doctors 11 Stories book review (scifinow.co.uk)
- Doctor Who: The Vault REVIEW (sfx.co.uk)
- Destiny of the Doctor Review (doctorwhotv.co.uk)
- Review: Doctor Who: The 50th Anniversary Collection Soundtrack (shadowlocked.com)
- Change, My Dear: Rebirth from the 50th (doctorwhotv.co.uk)
- The Day of the Doctor vs The Light at the End (doctorwhotv.co.uk)