The Day of the Doctor: Character or plot?

I vote character.

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There once was a man, an alien, from a planet called Gallifrey. He was a time traveler–a Time Lord to be exact.

His name? No one knows, except his wife, River Song. He goes by the Doctor.

Fifty years ago, the BBC launched a television show called Doctor Who about this time traveling alien. Straightforward enough. Except, in a genius twist that has allowed this show to last so long, the character has the power to regenerate — the same man in a different form (ie, actor).

Last week, the 50th anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor, brought together 3 incarnations of the Doctor, and it proved one thing — the best writing is fueled by character.

Doctor Who has fantastical plots that zip along but threaten to dissolve into nonsense if examined too closely. What makes up for this? Character.

The Doctor is a complex man. When we met the 9th incarnation, played by Christopher Eccleston, he kept the childlike ingenuity but carried a dark PTSD shadow.

The tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant, had more of a lust for life. But he also shouldered the full weight of his burden: it turns out that in a previous incarnation he’d ended the war between his own people, the Gallifreyans, and the evil Daleks, by killing ALL, his own species included.

Heavy stuff.

The eleventh Doctor, played by Matt Smith, seemed to suppress this knowledge. He could be whimsical, but he was prone to melancholy; he needed a companion. And he was the man who led cultures to translate the word Doctor not as healer but as warrior.

In last week’s special, we met the Doctor who ended the war, alongside the tenth and eleventh doctors. Played by John Hurt, he looked much older than Tennant and Smith, though the character was much, much younger, and the special focused on him as he grappled with how to end the ruinous war.

In the process, we saw three versions of the Doctor — three personas — three separate selves — three parts of the same person. Unique but the same.

What we got, besides a rollicking story, was a rich, multifaceted character in triplicate. Credit goes to not only the actors, but the writers.

So what exactly happened? Watch it and find out.

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