Over the course of 50 years, Doctor Who has come a long way from an old man travelling around in a plain-looking police box in a children’s educational show. Now, it’s a massive worldwide phenomenon that has skyrocketed in popularity since the series was revived from cancellation in 2005.
The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, a show that was effectively dead for sixteen years, has garnered so much attention that it may be an event that rivals the World Cup final or Super Bowl when all the viewers are counted up. Could The Day of The Doctor live up to the expectations and hype of one of the most hotly anticipated TV events of the year?
Spoiler Alert: As always, there are spoilers. So many spoilers.
In something that shouldn’t surprise anyone watching a Moffat-written episode, there’s a lot of playing with time. The episode takes place at three different times and yet it all takes place simultaneously. The show bounces between modern-day London with Eleven, 16th century England with Ten and Queen Elizabeth I and on the final day of the Time War with the War Doctor… the 8.5th Doctor… Whatever we’re calling John Hurt’s Doctor.
At first, the bouncing between the three stories and three times was a bit confusing. As Eleven was seeing things in his time and place, the blanks were filled in elsewhere. When Eleven saw the Gallifreyan art work of the last day of the Time War, we got a lengthy flashback to the War Doctor’s work on the final day of the Time War. And when Eleven saw a painting of himself as the Tenth Doctor with QE1, he flashed back to Ten and the Queen dealing with the Zygons. The show treated them as though these events happened in the past and real-time simultaneously which made it confusing. Though, I suppose, wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey means that’s the proper state of time.
As usual with one of these multi-incarnation episodes, something big has to happen to require the presence of multiple Doctors. In this instance, it’s The War Doctor trying to activate The Moment, an ancient Gallifreyan weapon that would destroy all the Daleks and Timelords. The consciousness of The Moment manifests itself as Rose Tyler and explains how The Doctor survived the annihilation of both races using The Moment. As The Doctor wanted to die with the rest, the consequences for his actions would be being forced to live as the only survivor of the Time War.
However, The Moment brings our three Doctors (well, not OUR three Doctors since Nine is missing in action) so the War Doctor can see the consequences of activating the device. The result is The War Doctor seeing how Ten and Eleven look at him with such contempt as a result of wiping out all of the Timelords and Daleks.
But first, the three have to set aside their differences to save the Earth from the Zygons. Their appearance in the 1500s with Ten wasn’t just a random Doctor Who story never to be fully told but the harbinger of a Zygon invasion of modern-day Earth. The three work together to make their way from the 16th Century to modern-day London using a little wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey (a term The War Doctor finds infinitely childish) to save the day.
The three Doctors are able to save Earth from the Zygons. Sort of. Ten and Eleven are able to get the humans and Zygons to negotiate and leave it at that. No idea what they’re supposed to negotiate or what the outcome was. The resolution to that was left hanging.
Then it’s back to Gallifrey for the concluding act. The War Doctor is left with The Moment and decides that he leads a good enough and moral enough life after using The Moment to be able to live with the consequences. Just as he’s about to activate it, Ten and Eleven show up to help him. He wasn’t going to have to do it himself and have the responsibility for destroying all the Timelords on his shoulders alone. But Clara objects and Eleven comes up with a new plan to save Gallifrey.
The three Doctors use their TARDISes to lock Gallifrey in a moment in time and effectively remove it from the universe. The Daleks will blow each other up in their own crossfire but the Timelords will survive, though they’ll be trapped in what would effectively be suspended animation. But it wasn’t just those three in on the plan. All of the Doctor’s incarnations were there to save the day, including a brief look at the eyes of the thirteenth Doctor.
After saving the day, the three Doctors say their goodbyes in modern-day London where it’s revealed that they won’t remember saving Gallifrey because on diverging timelines or some other timey-wimey thing that allows them to retcon the end of the Time War and simultaneously unretcon it. But there’s one last visitor for The Doctor. Eleven gets a visit from Four. Sure, he’s a little older and little more frail than we last left him in 1981 but it’s still Tom Baker telling Eleven that he can still find Gallifrey and save it. And with that Eleven is off on another adventure.
One of the things that I wondered coming into The Day of The Doctor was if the episode wouldn’t be able to stand up to the expectations and hype of being the 50th anniversary special of a much-loved iconic TV series. I’m not sure that this episode was everything that it could possibly have been.
That’s not saying that this was a bad episode. It certainly wasn’t what I was hoping for and The War Doctor seemed to have more of the twinkle that they were talking about with One in Adventures in Space and Time than I would expect from a battle-hardened warrior. That being said, it was a good episode. It had splashes of Moffat’s trademark wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey, some dashes of humour, some classic villains and plenty of fan service moments. Basically, it was everything you could possibly want from an episode of Doctor Who.
The Day of The Doctor felt like an upscaled normal episode of Doctor Who rather than some sort of grand celebration. Maybe that’s to the benefit of this episode. It was a big budget episode of Doctor Who. I think that’s all we really wanted or needed from this episode. I’m quite happy with how it turned out. It had a great balance without being too over the top with anything. It didn’t get swallowed up by expectations or budgets and Moffat pumped out a solid episode as a result.
Other random points of note:
- Was anyone else hoping for a surprise Ecclestone cameo when John Hurt started regenerating?
- Also, was anyone else hoping that Four would just pull a jelly baby out of his jacket and hand it to Eleven (Twelve?)?
- Are we calling John Hurt 8.5, Nine or just leaving him out as The War Doctor instead?
- That concern that Ten had over 8.5 mentioning “Bad Wolf Girl” certainly seemed to be a big deal before getting dropped rather quickly.
- And the whole Zygon plot, which seemed to be the A-plot for the first half of the episode, seemed to just get washed away without a real resolution. Just starting treaty negotiations and back to dealing with The Moment.
Doctor Who is off for the next month until the Christmas Special. That’s when everything goes down. The teaser shown on the BBC after The Day of the Doctor (but not here in Canada unless you wanted to sit through the after show and I hate after shows) showed Daleks, Silence and Weeping Angels.
More importantly, we get the regeneration of Eleven into Twelve as Matt Smith moves on in hopes his career continues onward and upward after leaving the controls of the TARDIS. We’ve already seen Peter Capaldi’s Doctor at the helm of the TARDIS in a very brief, eyes only cameo in this episode. At first, I thought the voice at the end might have been Twelve but it was Four. Just doesn’t look the same without the jacket, scarf and hat. Hopefully, they give Capaldi an outfit that’s both timeless and badass. We’ve got just one month to wait but it’s certainly going to seem like a long month.