I absolutely loved The Day of the Doctor. It was a spectacular celebration of everything great about Doctor Who boiled down into one tightly-plotted, hilarious, and emotional episode. Seeing it in 3D with a theatre full of Whovians made it even more fun and, if their enthusiastic reactions were any indication, they all loved it as much as I did.
In the days leading up to The Day of the Doctor, I noticed a fair number of people across the internet lamenting their lack of interest in the 50th anniversary special. The common refrain was that they used to care about the show, but Steven Moffat’s tenure as showrunner had turned them off.
A lot of this had to do with Moffat’s treatment of female characters. Over the past few years, many articles have labeled Moffat a sexist, and there have been harsh feminist critiques about his work on Doctor Who (and Sherlock as well). These writers argue that Moffat’s female characters exist solely to fawn over the Doctor, to be enamoured of his greatness to such a degree that they’ll stay with him despite the trauma and turmoil it causes in their own lives. There are also bothersome tropes, like finding a man and often marrying and settling down being presented as an ideal ending for the arcs of female characters, both recurring and guests.
I am sympathetic to these critiques, though I don’t entirely agree with them. The show is called Doctor Who, after all; every character is defined by their relationship to the Doctor, and his companions are going to like him or else they wouldn’t continue to be his companions. Nonetheless, there are definitely areas where the show, and Moffat specifically, could do a lot better with female characters. I think calling Moffat or the show sexist is not necessarily warranted, but these many feminist critiques do make some good points.
So I was glad to see that female characters really got to shine in The Day of the Doctor, and that many of them played a key part in saving the various worlds that were at stake. I’m not at all suggesting that this special makes up for past feminist deficiencies and/or renders feminist critiques of the Moffat era invalid; I just think it was fun that women played such an important role in arguably the show’s biggest episode ever.
The entire genesis of the show’s multiple Doctor storyline came from the Moment, the sentient weapon stolen by the War Doctor. The Moment’s interface took on the guise of Rose Tyler’s Bad Wolf form, and it was she that created the time vortex that brought together all three Doctors. She continually prodded the Doctor to think about the ramifications of destroying Gallifrey, and when a new path was chosen she broke through the timelocks surrounding the Time Lord/Dalek war to let all thirteen Doctors save Gallifrey. Without her, the Doctors would never have met each other, much less teamed up, in the first place.
Queen Elizabeth I played a key role as well. Though her love for, and eventual marriage, to the 10th Doctor does bring up an irksome Moffat trope, there was much more to the character. She killed her Zygon double, assumed command of the Zygon forces, and locked the Zygon forces in the Time Lord art, saving the three Doctors in the process and providing them with the technology they needed to save Earth, and later Gallifrey. Her biting comments about the Zygons were also a strong rebuke for the Doctors:
Elizabeth: These Zygon creatures never even considered that it was me who survived rather than their own commander. The arrogance that typifies their kind.
UNIT employee Osgood, she of the awesome scarf and inhaler, also played a key role in the proceedings. When the rest of her co-workers were captured by the Zygons, she escaped her duplicate and freed Kate Stewart, leading to the stand down with the Zygons that ultimately ended in peace talks once the Doctors arrived. Also, when everyone got their memories jumbled by the Doctors, Osgood was the only one to remember whether she was human or Zygon when she realized she had her inhaler, but she and her Zygon counterpart decided to keep it to themselves and let the negotiations continue.
Finally, Clara Oswald, the impossible girl. Without Clara, the Doctors just would have destroyed Gallifrey again. Not only was she wily enough to grab the vortex manipulator and jump back in time to save the Doctors, it was her impassioned plea that spurred the 11th Doctor to reconsider the destruction of Gallifrey. Having been lost in the Doctor’s timestream, no one knows the Doctor better than Clara, and she helped the three Doctors realize that there must be another way.
While the Doctors were the stars of the show, saving two worlds and billions of people, they would have been nowhere without the Moment, Elizabeth, Osgood, and Clara. The team-up would never have happened, Gallifrey would have remained destroyed, and the Earth would have been in serious peril from the Zygons. One special doesn’t change the feminist critiques of the Moffat era, but I was glad to see female characters have such an important role in such a big episode. Ultimately, the Doctor is nothing without the people around him, and the women around the three Doctors came through in a big way in The Day of the Doctor.