New Show Recap

New Show Recap: Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special, “The Day of the Doctor”

Unless you’ve been living in a nerd-free cave for the past several months, you are no doubt aware that this Saturday marked the 50th anniversary of the debut of Doctor Who, which was celebrated with the special episode, “The Day of the Doctor.” (Obviously, here there be spoilers. If you haven’t seen it yet and don’t want to know what happens, scroll right on by.~ed)

The episode was full of throwbacks to the old series, and both covert and overt references to Doctors and episodes past. Notably, the very opening brought you back to 1963, using both the black-and-white logo and non-digitized theme song from the era of the First Doctor.

We start the episode by introducing the three Doctors that we will spend the next two hours with: Ten, played by David Tennant, Eleven, played by Matt Smith, and a previously-unseen regeneration from the Time War, played by John Hurt.

The three Doctors stand in the TARDIS in "The Day of the Doctor."

In Eleven’s timeline (the present), we see that Clara is a teacher. She leaves her job after getting a message from “her doctor” to head to the TARDIS, which is towed by chopper to meet U.N.I.T. at the National Gallery in London. This sequence used some of the delightful physical comedy that Matt Smith has brought to the character, when he tumbles out the door and dangles above the city.

A still image from "Day of the Doctor" of the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) danging from the TARDIS.

Kate Stewart meets Eleven and Clara upon their landing at the National Gallery and informs them she has a message from Queen Elizabeth I. She says she will verify that it’s really from the queen with some credentials inside, which turn out to be a Time Lord painting of a city on Gallifrey burning in the Time War. Time Lord art is actually little moments frozen in time and framed, which, let’s be honest, beats the hell out of any art we have, and that includes 3D printing, animated gifs, or the moving photos in Harry Potter.

Here we got another little throwback — one of the U.N.I.T. workers, a young woman, is wearing a scarf identical to the one worn by the Fourth Doctor, and as they walk into the building, Eleven tells her “nice scarf.” Commence nerd flailing.

Looking at the painting, Eleven tells Clara that he doesn’t admit to all of his lives — there is one he has tried very hard to forget. This is a man who silences the universe, a man who killed his own people, and a man who is deep inside the painting, providing us with a seamless segue into another scene. As they leave to go to the under gallery, the random male scientist gets a seemingly-impossible phone call.

We see John Hurt’s Doctor on a war-ravaged Gallifrey full of Daleks and Time Lords fighting with what appear to be Star Wars blaster guns. He shoots the phrase “no more” into a wall and makes off with the Time Lords’ ultimate weapon, which is capable of total annihilation, and oh yeah, it has developed sentience. Note: In science fiction, that is never a good thing.

The Doctor takes this weapon to a remote location where, suddenly, Rose Tyler appears. Wait, no, it’s not Rose. It’s Billie Piper, sure, but what we’re seeing is the sentient side of the weapon merely taking the form of Ms. Bad Wolf. She tells him his punishment for destroying all of the Daleks and the Time Lords will be that he survives, and must live with what he has done.

An image featuring John Hurt and Billie Piper from "The Day of the Doctor."

In Ten’s timeline, we see him ride out of the TARDIS on horseback with none other than the Virgin Queen herself. If you’re geeking out with me, it seems like this would take place right before “The End of Time.” He appears to have no companion, and it would certainly explain what he says to Ood Sigma about her no longer being able to use a certain one of her nicknames.

Anyway, Liz Uno is being romanced by Ten (can you blame a girl? {No. ~ed.}) when their lovely date is interrupted by the discovery that the horse is actually a shape-shifting Zygon, which is an ugly red alien who cannot be blamed for wanting to look like someone else. Naturally, there’s some running through the woods and a bit of confusion when the Zygon shape-shifts into the Queen and we don’t know who is who. While Ten is trying to figure out which queen is real, a time fissure opens, meaning anything can happen; for instance, a fez can come flying through.

Back in Eleven’s timeline, the team heads into the under gallery, which is covered in a bizarre stony dust. Scarf girl is sent to analyze it. Eleven, wearing a fez (hey!) walks over to some other 3D paintings surrounded by broken glass — something has escaped from inside. As they turn to leave, a time fissure opens, which Eleven says he almost remembers. He throws the fez through, and jumps in after it, landing in front of an alarmed-looking Ten.

After a delightful little moment turning the sonic screwdriver into a dick joke, the Doctors get down to business. To test whether or not they’d be able to get safely back through the fissure, Eleven throws the fez back in again. It doesn’t land back with Clara, but instead goes to the War Doctor. So they reverse the polarity (throwback!), except they’re both reversing it which means they’re actually just confusing the polarity. As they bicker, the War Doctor pops through and lands in front of them.

After a bit where Clara pretends to be a witch to scare off some of Elizabeth’s guards, the Doctors end up in the Tower of London, where Eleven starts carving something into a wall and they talk and bicker and act all Doctory. They talk about Eleven trying to forget his actions during the Time War, and not-Rose pops up to tell the War Doctor that Ten and Eleven are what he becomes if he destroys Gallifrey. He’ll be “the man who regrets and the man who forgets.”

Back in the present, scarf girl announces that the dust is actually smashed-up statues, which is punctuated by a bunch of Zygons bursting out from where there were supposed to be sculptures under cloths. They follow Clara and Kate into a secret vault called the Black Archive that is TARDIS-proof and wipes the memory of everyone who visits. Oh, except that’s not Kate. It’s another Zygon. But fortunately, Clara discovers this while standing next to a vortex manipulator, right after Eleven has sent a photo of what he was carving into the wall, the password to operate said vortex manipulator, to Kate’s phone. Zap, Clara heads back to the Tower of London. Just as the Doctors realize that a program has been running inside the sonic screwdriver that could open the wooden door to their cell, she bursts in. Because it wasn’t locked. The Doctor will program a 400-year-long piece of software but not check the lock.

The gang follows the real Elizabeth back to the Zygons’ lair, where we learn that their planet was destroyed and they want to rebuild on Earth. They’ve been laying in wait using Time Lord art to preserve themselves until the planet was technologically advanced enough for their needs. Then we see Ten marry the queen and promise to be right back. The Doctors and Clara then enter the TARDIS, which glitches through a couple of old design schemes as it adjusts to having all three of them in there, then finally lands on Eleven’s current control room. They have to figure out how to get into the Black Archive.

Inside the archive, the Zygons are admiring all the technology when real Kate, real scarf girl, and real random other scientist walk in. The room will self-destruct in five minutes on Kate’s command. The three Zygons take the form of the three humans, which means there is some back-and-forth canceling and uncanceling of the self-destruct sequence.

Back in the TARDIS, Eleven makes that impossible phone call that the random male scientist received earlier in the episode, asking him to move the Time Lord art into the Black Archive. See what they’re doing? They’ve taken a page from the Zygon handbook and smuggled themselves into the archive using the painting, which they escape from by throwing a dead Dalek through the glass. Somehow, no one noticed the giant painting had been moved into the super-secret secure vault. The Doctors use the memory-wiping security technology to render the U.N.I.T. representatives and Zygons incapable of remembering which side they are on so they can negotiate fairly.

While this is happening, Clara talks to the War Doctor and realizes he has not yet destroyed Gallifrey. He says the moment has come, and disappears after telling not-Rose he’s ready.

A still image from "Day of the Doctor."

The War Doctor is back in his remote little barn with the weapon and not-Rose. He pauses over the big red button that will destroy Gallifrey and the Daleks, thinking of little Time Lord children, when not-Rose talks about the sound of the TARDIS bringing hope to everyone who hears it. Including him, she says, as we hear the famous sound and both Ten and Eleven appear in their own TARDISes. (TARDISi? TARDII?) Somehow they were able to get through even though the event should be time-locked.

A still image from "Day of the Doctor."

The three Doctors are about to hit the button together when Clara stops them. There’s a projection of what is happening on Gallifrey, and she asks them to remember why they chose the name Doctor. Never be cruel or cowardly, never give up, never give in, they say, which inspires Eleven to say he’s had 400 years to concoct an alternate plan. It occurs to all three of them at once, and War Doctor says “bad wolf girl, I could kiss you” for showing him the correct future. There was not nearly enough fanfare from Ten about the fact that he just said “bad wolf.” He pauses for a second, but then they get back to business.

The plan? They’ll freeze Gallifrey in time so that it disappears from the sky and all the Daleks will kill each other in their own crossfire. The three Doctors video-chat or Facetime or whatever with Gallifrey to let them know the plan, which the Time Lords aren’t convinced about at first. The calculations would take centuries, but it’s OK, because the Doctor started a long time ago.

Enter the rest of the Doctors. Yes, all of them. Archive footage of the first nine starts to pop up around the Gallifreyan conference room so there are twelve incarnations working together — no, wait — thirteen. We get a brief glimpse of Peter Capaldi’s rather intense eyebrows joining the bunch.

A brief appearance of Peter Capaldi in "The Day of the Doctor."
If we can’t have his potty mouth, I hope we can at least keep the eyebrows.

They do it. Catchphrases abound, Gallifrey disappears from space, and the Daleks annihilate themselves. We cut to the three Doctors and Clara back in the gallery, looking at the painting, drinking tea, and kvetching, which is exactly what you should do after you lock your home planet in a moment in time outside of the universe to protect it from its own demise.

War Doctor gets up to leave, and we clean up a plot hole that had been bugging me for the past 15 minutes by saying that because of the time streams, he won’t remember this, and will live on thinking he’d burned the planet. After he gets in his TARDIS, he starts to regenerate.

John Hurt's Doctor starts to regenerate into the Ninth Doctor.

As Ten goes to leave, he convinces Eleven to tell him where he’s been that they don’t want to see — Trenzalore. Just before stepping into the TARDIS, he says they need a new final destination because, “I don’t want to go.” That’s the same thing he says right before he regenerates, which basically means a million nerds all just got kicked in the feels at once.

A gif of a bunch of feels hitting someone.

Clara leaves Eleven (or is he Twelve now?) alone with the painting, and in comes the curator, who is none other than Tom Baker, a.k.a. the Fourth Doctor. They never really say if he’s supposed to actually be some form of the Doctor or not despite some cryptic “If I were you” comments, but Eleven (I’m still going to call him that) looks stunned at his entrance and says he never forgets a face. Mystery! Curator/Four tells Eleven that the title of the painting is not, as they had thought, either “No More” or “Gallifrey Falls,” but it’s actually one title: “Gallifrey Falls No More.” This means that the trick worked, and the planet is out there somewhere, and Eleven has a lot to do now.

Tom Baker makes a surprise appearance in "The Day of the Doctor."

The episode ends with a monologue about dreams and Eleven saying he’s going home, with a final shot of all of the Doctors (minus Capaldi) in sort of a flying V formation, setting up the next moves for the Doctor, whether in the Christmas special or later on.

I thought the special was really well done. It was an excellent stand-alone story that could be enjoyed by someone who hadn’t kept up with the continuity of the series, but also had plenty in there for the die-hards. There were tons of references to past inside jokes and themes, but it didn’t get bogged down in paying itself tribute. The story moved forward, and set up some plotlines for later. It was great to see Tennant back on the screen, and Hurt did an excellent Doctor. Billie Piper’s appearance was interesting — I was hoping for some Rose/Ten interaction, but that would have been very hard to do without some kind of convoluted explanation. It was nice to have her around, even if it wasn’t the same exact character. Moffat didn’t disappoint (for a change) and put together an episode that was, to quote Nine, fantastic.

The many incarnations of the Doctor close out "The Day of the Doctor."

By [E] Liza

PhD student. Knitter. Brooklynite. Long-distance dog mom. Reluctant cat lady. Majestic unicorn whose hair changes color with the wind.

6 replies on “New Show Recap: Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special, “The Day of the Doctor””

This household *loved* this special. Admittedly Little Juniper fell asleep part of the way through, but otherwise it was much enjoyed. John Hurt! Eeeek! Fantastic, indeed. And the interactions between them all … I thought it was quite an intimate episode. That sounds weird, but it’s the only way I can think to describe it. Almost like the Who version of the Harry Potter/Dumbledore/Kings Cross and “just because it’s happening in your head” moment. Okay, I’m rambling.

What was lovely for us what that the episode was immensely entertaining for six-year-old Juniper Junior and yet was still wonderful for us grown-ups, too. The moment where Ten and Eleven compared sonic screwdrivers … cue Juniper Junior in howls of laughter because, hey, they *both* have sonic screwdrivers, and Mr. Juniper and I laughing because, well, we’re very mature, grown-up adults.

I thought the Special was good, flawed, but good. I’m still trying to decide how I feel about the reworking of canon, but it does seem like a positive direction for the show to go in.

A couple of more random thoughts:

1) Moffat still can’t write women for shit.

2) There have been postings on Twitter and other sites from the other actors who have also played the doctor and not being included in the special. The amount of shade thrown at Moffat was awesome. That’s probably my one big thing I wish for the special; somehow include all the other actors still living (Baker not included, though it was awesome to see him and we did get McGann in the prequel.)

3. I do love Eleven, but dear god do I miss Ten.

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