I’ve heard people say that “The Day of the Doctor” undermines the entire Russell T Davies era and negates the entire premise of the new series up to this point. What I’m going to (start to) say in this blog post is my thoughts about why I am not disappointed about the way Moffat chose to undo the Doctor’s destruction of Gallifrey in “The Day of the Doctor.”
What I am not doing is telling you that you are wrong to be upset. I am not trying to tell you that you are a bad Doctor Who fan, or that you should shut up and stop criticizing the show, or that you should stop watching the show if you hate it so much, or that if only you had a more sophisticated, broader view of the show you’d obviously agree with me because my opinions are so perfect.
I’m just putting this out there as my explanation as to why I personally think Moffat’s aversion of the Doctor’s genocide is satisfying (to me) and why I think it diminishes nothing about the stories that preceded it (for me).
Part One: This Was Always Going To Happen.
I’m not trying to drag Russell T. Davies’ name through the mud. I’m not trying to tell you he sold you a false bill of goods. The man’s a genius and a saint, as far as I’m concerned. But the destruction of Gallifrey… maybe you thought of this as defining event in the Doctor’s life going forward. Maybe you’re only a fan of the New Series and this is fundamental to your view of who The Doctor is as a character. Or maybe you’re a fan of the whole 50-year history of Doctor Who and you were really into the notion that Doctor Who had been changed forever by the Time War.
In that case, it makes sense that you’d be upset. But personally, I’m not. Because I never saw Gallifrey’s destruction as permanent. And as much as RTD treated it as permanent within the narrative, I don’t think he actually saw it as permanent in the long term, beyond his tenure on the show. I might go so far as to suggest that the concept of “permanence” was always somewhat alien to RTD’s concept of Doctor Who.
The Daleks are gone forever. Oh wait, no, they’re back. Okay, we defeated them so this time they’re really, really gone forever, we’ll never see ‘em again. By the way, I truly am the last of my kind. There’s no way that anyone but me survived. Oh wait, what? He’s back? The Master? This changes everything forever. I don’t have to be alone. Oh, wait, no, he just died again, definitely for good this time, because he didn’t regenerate. How sad. I’m alone forever. Unless someone has some potions to bring him back.
IT’s RTD’s modus operandi. He makes something permanent, stresses that it can never be changed, and then later introduces a one-off exception at will. Nothing can get into a time lock (except maybe Dalek Caan) and nothing can get out of one (except maybe a white-point star). We’re told that travel between universes is impossible—while it’s happening—and then told it will never happen again. Then it happens again. Numerous times. I am not calling RTD a repetitious, boring, or careless writer. As I said above, he’s a genius and a saint, I’m just pointing out a particular narrative technique of his.
From this pattern, one might just have developed the impression that Gallifrey’s return wasn’t quite as impossible as the Doctor kept saying it was. Because a fundamental law of Doctor Who in the RTD and Moffat eras is this: the more the Doctor stresses that something is impossible, the more likely it is that it will happen.
I think RTD would agree with me. I bet he’s as glad as I am that Gallifrey’s back. I don’t speak for him, but given what I know about RTD as a writer, as a Doctor Who fan, and as an admirer of Steven Moffat’s work, I’m guessing he watched “The Day of the Doctor” with an ear to ear grin. (as an aside, Moffat contacted him before writing the special, to clear the air because he was worried that he might be stepping on Russell’s toes a bit, but Russell cut him off and wouldn’t even let him explain because he was so excited to watch the show and didn’t want to be spoiled). Doctor Who isn’t supposed to stay stuck on the past, as I’ve written previously. RTD came up with the Time War because it was a great idea for where the franchise was in 2005. I don’t think he intended for it to still be in place in 2015, 2020, or 2063.
I guess this is just kind of what I always asssumed. At some point, someone in charge of Doctor Who was going to want to advance the mythology of Doctor Who in such a way that Gallifrey still existed.
I had a conversation with a friend four or five years back. I don’t remember when it was—late Russell T. Davies era, probably after we found out that Moffat was the new showrunner. I said something along the lines of “I have a feeling that RTD’s last story is going to be the return of Gallifrey.” I remember my friend was aghast at the suggestion—for him, Gallifrey being dead forever was a fundamental component of Doctor Who. Like Uncle Ben in Spider-Man. Or Harry Potter’s parents. Bringing Gallifrey back was an absolutely terrible idea. Honestly, before that conversation, even though I was mostly a new series fan, it hadn’t even occurred to me to think of Gallifrey’s (then quite recent) destruction as a permanent, foundational fixture of Doctor Who.
But to me, the death of Gallifrey wasn’t a Doctor Who thing, it was an RTD thing. So I went into “The End of Time” in 2009 thinking “Is this it? Is this Gallifrey back for good?” and it wasn’t. And then I went into “The Day of the Doctor” thinking the same thing, and it this time it was. Not only is Gallfirey back, we now know that the Doctor never destroyed it in the first place. He only believed that he had destroyed it.
I like the way it was handled. But I’ll have more to say about that later.