A story that’s bigger on the inside: The Day of the Doctor in Melbourne

by Julia Tulloh , November 28, 20132 Comments


At 7.15pm last Saturday, 24th November, my extended family and I entered the foyer of Cinema Nova on Lygon Street, Carlton, where The Day of the Doctor, a movie-length feature produced in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, had been screening at regular intervals all day.

The special had already aired on television, simulcast with the UK premiere, but the fans were still out in force: most of the film sessions had sold-out in advance. Bow ties, fezzes and Converse sneakers proliferated. T-shirts depicting blue boxes and bespectacled men flashed from between tweed lapels. Popcorn lay everywhere, scattered and unswept; a wild-eyed and somewhat incoherent staff member herded us, along with the rest of the gathering hordes, into a waiting area while our cinema was cleaned. The waiting area was relatively small, so the fez-topped crowd spilled into the hallway by the cinema door and down the staircase into the surrounding shopping centre. I feared that the fans in the overflow would secure better seats than us since they were closer to the entrance. Mum asked me how my week was but I couldn’t focus on her face; in my distress, I forgot I had already selected seats online when I booked the tickets.

Eventually we were ushered into the theatre, each clutching a bright yellow plastic pair of 3D glasses. Relief overcame me. A couple of years ago, current Doctor Who producer, writer and showrunner, Steven Moffat briefly mentioned the special episode and instigated what I have referred to previously in KYD as a ‘prolonged, slavering frenzy’ amongst fans and the media, who have since been speculating wildly about the episode’s contents. Finally, I could see which rumours were true.

The film began with a tribute to ‘An Unearthly Child,’ the first ever Doctor Who episode, which aired on 23rd November, 1963. The original theme song and opening sequence were included, as was a shot of the ‘Foreman’s Scrap Merchants’ sign (the first Doctor Who scene was located at the Foreman junkyard). The Doctor’s current companion, Clara, seemed to be teaching at the same school at which the Doctor’s first companions, Ian and Barbara, had taught. It was a lovely way of invoking Doctor Who’s beginnings in a way that honoured old fans without alienating the newbies.

The main plot concerned an event from deep in Doctor’s past: his destruction of his home planet Gallifrey–an action undertaken to prevent the end of the universe. For years, the Doctor has been consumed with self-loathing and regret about this fatal act, but its details have always remained shadowy; Moffat brought it into stark relief and addressed how such a beloved figure could come to commit genocide.

Three iterations of the Doctor featured in this spectacle: Matt Smith (the current Doctor), David Tennant, his predecessor, and John Hurt, the previously unknown  ‘War Doctor. The three worked brilliantly on screen together, with many jibes exchanged about chins, bow ties and sandshoes. Hurt at one point accused the older (but younger-looking) Doctors of wielding their sonic screwdrivers like weapons. ‘What are you going to do, assemble a cabinet at them?’

Billie Piper also returned, though not as the real Rose Tyler. Instead, she played the interface of the Doctor’s chosen weapon of mass destruction (which was sentient, so could talk to him). I was pleased that Piper was included effectively without any attempts to re-write the orginal Rose/Doctor storyline.

Despite the flack Moffat has received since he became head writer (many fans have found his episodes too fast-paced and confusing, since he prefers season-long story arcs rather than traditional stand-alone episodes) The Day of the Doctor was almost flawless. A trip to Elizabethan England was integrated seamlessly with the Doctor’s fight against the Zygons: these storylines effectively complicated the larger arc about whether the Doctor would choose to destroy Gallifrey or not. The final battle included footage of all thirteen Doctors (the new Doctor, Peter Capaldi, had a two-second cameo) sending fans into overdrive: we all literally applauded in the cinema.

The only major problem for me was the characterisation of Clara. Moffat has come under particular scrutiny for his depiction of women as riddles, rather than complex people in their own right, and Clara is no exception. The Doctor constantly refers to her as ‘the impossible girl’ and tells her ‘she’s the only mystery worth solving’–she is also strangely infantilised through the child-like musical theme that plays whenever she’s on screen. What’s more, she barely features in the special. Even though plot hinges on her, in the sense it’s Clara who convinces the Doctor not to destroy Gallifrey after all, the show is not hers, but Smith’s, Tennant’s and Hurt’s. Empathy for the male Doctor is what seems to drive audience engagement, and Clara’s presence only becomes relevant when she quietly enters the scene to give the Doctors some sage advice about their own lives. Clara is fun and likeable, and Jenna Coleman is a highly engaging actress, but overall, I can’t seem to care much for Clara, which is disappointing since she is the primary female character in the show at the moment.

For the most part, though, I look forward to viewing The Day of the Doctor many more times in order to decode the subtleties of plot that always attend time-travel narratives; I suspect this story, like all the best Doctor Who tales, is bigger on the inside, and will not diminish with re-watching.

Julia Tulloh is a freelance writer and is currently working on a PhD in American Literature. Her blog is

Her essay ‘What Happens Next? 50 Years of Doctor Who appears in Issue 15 of Kill Your Darlings. 

  • James Sherwood

    Good point about the Clara character. The show, was well done, although, I’m not sure about The Doctor employing genocide to save the universe, never mind that he undid the deed. It seems out of character to me that Doctor Who would even contemplate the act. The Hero might consider self sacrifice to fight the Foe, but not deliberately sacrifice others. Anyway, it’s done now. It will be a part of the character from now on.

  • Julia T

    Hi James, thanks for the comment – I agree, genocide is very out of character for the Doctor… considering that normally, he’s the one trying to save and redeem even the most evil-seeming aliens/people. Will be interesting to see what happens next year.


Nathan Smith

Letting the Essays Do The Talking: Meghan Daum’s My Misspent Youth

In the introduction to her essay collection My Misspent Youth, Meghan Daum writes that as frank as her essays are, they ‘are not confessions’. The personal essay may have long defined Daum, but she is far from a ‘confessional writer’, a title she has long resisted. Read more »


Ilona Wallace

Between You & Me: The New Yorker’s Mary Norris on publishing, editing and insecurity

Mary Norris begins her chatty grammar guide and memoir, Between You & Me, by chronicling the odd jobs she held before she began working at the New Yorker in 1978. She delivered milk – awkwardly calling ‘Milkwoman!’ when she left bottles at each stop – and crashed the dairy truck. Read more »


Chad Parkhill

On judging the Most Underrated Book Award

The chair of the judging panel for the Most Underrated Book Award shares his observations on the award, what it means to be ‘underrated’, and the current landscape of Australian literary prizes. Read more »

ROSEANNE - On set in New York - 10/16/93 
Sara Gilbert (Darlene) on the ABC Television Network comedy "Roseanne". "Roseanne" is the story of a working class family struggling with life's essential problems.

Rebecca Shaw

Out of the Imaginary Closet: Fictional characters who should have been gay

When you are part of a group that isn’t portrayed in the same way (or only negatively, or not at all) you become desperate for that glimmer of recognition. Here are several characters that I loved as a young person, who became stand-ins for the openly lesbian characters I wanted to see so much. Read more »



Isn’t It Obvious: Queer representation in children’s television

For a non-binary gendered person, characters with diverse sexualities and genders are validating and rewarding. As a child, they could have offered integral touchstones for understanding my own gender, and provided context and validation for the ways in which I could exist in the world. Read more »


Rebecca Varcoe

In defence of professional cheerleading

My name is Rebecca and I’m a 26-year-old woman with a shameful secret, for which I refuse to be ashamed any longer. Today I want to confess my obsession and one true love, the subject of many rants and late-night tweeting frenzies: Cheerleading. American, All-Star Cheerleading. Read more »


James Tierney

Bodily Limits: An interview with Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Dario Argento’s 1977 horror film Suspiria suffered from a critical eclipse and a variety of censored prints, and was largely cherished in its original form by aficionados of the field. A reassessment has been building, something sure to be aided by the forthcoming publication of Alexandra Heller-Nicholas’ perceptive and elegantly written monograph. Read more »

je tu il elle 2

Eloise Ross

Existence as Minimalism: Remembering Chantal Akerman

Images of a young woman, emptying her small flat of furniture, blocking the window and sitting in the dark, still. Sitting on a mattress in a bare room, furiously writing letters with a pencil and watching the snow through the window. Meeting with a past lover and reuniting on-screen. I think about Chantal Akerman’s films more often than I can say. Read more »


Anwen Crawford

Throne Of Blood: Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth

For more than four centuries, we have found versions of ourselves in Shakespeare’s plays precisely because his characters are so human in their flaws and follies. At the same time, the arc of these characters’ stories unfolds somewhere above and beyond us, in the realm of grand tragedy or grand comedy, or both. Read more »


Matilda Dixon-Smith

Family Matters: Please Like Me and the Aussie TV family

In a recent episode of Josh Thomas’s Please Like Me, the bouncy titles run over three little scenarios: Josh cooks dinner for his mate Tom and his boyfriend Arnold; his Mum cooks for her new housemate Hannah; and his Dad cooks for his wife, Mae. The three of them stir, sip wine and dance daggily around their kitchens in a neat metaphor for this season’s fantastic, cohesive new trajectory. Read more »



Isn’t It Obvious: Queer representation in children’s television

For a non-binary gendered person, characters with diverse sexualities and genders are validating and rewarding. As a child, they could have offered integral touchstones for understanding my own gender, and provided context and validation for the ways in which I could exist in the world. Read more »


Alexis Drevikovsky

Have You Ever Felt Like This: Going Round the Twist again

Working from home one day, I took my lunchbreak away from my laptop and flicked idly through the TV channels, hoping for a midday movie with Reese Witherspoon or, even better, an old episode of Cheers. What I found was beyond my wildest dreams. I excitedly texted my mate Alison: Round the Twist is on ABC3! Read more »


Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

Tom Conroy and Colin Friels in Mortido. Photo credit: Shane Reid

Jane Howard

A Shining Nightmare: Mortido‘s Sydney

Sydney is a city of shine and reflective surfaces. The glint of the harbour follows through to city high-rises clad in polished glass, bouncing off the wide windows of the mansions hugging the undulating land before it gives way to the impossibly deep and wide water. But this beauty that can betray the darkness of the city and its people. Read more »


Angela Meyer

Outrageous Fortune: Seeing Hamlet as a Cumberbitch

Jazz swells, hushing the audience, and the solid black gate of the theatre curtain opens. It reveals the lounging figure of Hamlet, playing a record, sniffing his father’s old jumper. But what I see first is not Hamlet: it is Benedict Cumberbatch. Read more »

kiss copy

Jane Howard

Great Aspirations: In the shadow of Patrick White

The text of The Aspirations of Daise Morrow is lifted directly from Patrick White’s short story ‘Down at the Dump’. It’s a wonderful thing to hear White’s judicious use of language; to understand the eyes through which he saw Australia; and to see an entire world of his creation brought to life in the theatre. Read more »