In case you’ve spent the best part of this year living in a cave and don’t know already, The Day of the Doctor, Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary aired over the weekend and what an episode it was. It certainly wasn’t perfect – there were problems, which I will discuss shortly – but overall it was a fantastic feat of television, which both looked backwards and forwards simultaneously whilst at the same time challenging and changing the mythology of a show that is half a century old. Of course it goes without saying that spoilers will follow.
We’ll get the negatives out of the way first. After a fantastic opening which reintroduced us to Clara (now working at Coal Hill School, a spine-tingling nod to the classic series), the Eleventh Doctor and Kate Stewart, the stunning 3D painting titled “No More” or “Gallifrey Falls” (which unfortunately I didn’t see in cinemas – I’m sure it would have been amazing actually in 3D) and our first glimpse of the Time War, incredibly realised through top-notch CGI, the next twenty or thirty minutes suffered massively from pacing problems. Yes, Moffat had to weave three independent stories in order to bring Eleven, Ten and War (for that is John Hurt’s official character name – The War Doctor, which thankfully doesn’t mess up the numbering of the Doctor’s) together but this part of the episode suffered beneath the tremendous weight placed upon it.
Also a massive thread was left hanging at the end of the episode – whatever came of UNIT and the Zygons’ truce? I’m hoping this is followed up, perhaps not in series 8 but certainly in the ninth series, by giving the Zygons a full two-part episode to fully realise their potential (by the way, how amazing was the shot of Kate turning into a Zygon). And whilst I’m on this topic, I want a follow up to the Silurian story from series 5 to show what happened 1000 years later. But now I’m going off on a tangent.
Back to the 50th. What I liked straight away was that the episode wasn’t about David returning and nor was it about John Hurt’s enigma Doctor. It was about all three of them simultaneously – not one of the three fantastic actors outshone the others. It goes without saying that I love Matt Smith while David slotted easily back into the role of Ten, and it felt as though he had never been away. I feel like I am stating the obvious here, but John Hurt was brilliant, but we always knew he would be. Hurt is just one of those actors. Another thing I liked was the Dalek’s involvement in the episode. They just had to be there didn’t they? But the episode wasn’t about them and they were genuinely scary again.
The chemistry instantly sizzled between Smith and Tennant. The scenes set in the forest were hilarious, with the Doctor’s comparing the size of their screwdrivers and trading insults with one another. To me, however, it felt as though including Joanna Page was a step too far towards self-indulgence, finally paying off plenty of teasing during both Tennant and Smith’s run. But as it’s the 50th I suppose this can be forgiven. We saw another returnee in the form of Billie Piper, playing Rose Tyler/Bad Wolf playing The Moment. I’ve already read some grumbles between the fan communities but I liked the role she played – she was involved but it didn’t change anything about Rose’s conclusion from the fourth series. Billie was instrumental in the success of New Who but I never massively shipped her and Ten, so I wasn’t too bothered that they didn’t get to interact with one another.
The resolution of the episode for me is hard to put into words. I just… LOVED IT. I loved how Clara actually contributed to the episode rather than just standing around whilst the Doctors did what they do. She was as much a part of the celebrations as the three Doctors – after all the show is equally about the companions. She persuaded the Doctors to alter their history and the resolution is certainly going to create an interesting plot over the coming years.
We once again saw all of the Doctors (all THIRTEEN, as Peter Capaldi made his debut as the Twelfth Doctor, albeit very briefly) brought together to help save Gallifrey from the Dalek’s assault and what a magical moment of TV it was. Yes, it was all recycled clips (but were some of them newly recorded lines? I’m sure I read that somewhere) but it was so amazing to see them again, especially after the stunning opening scene of the previous episode The Name of the Doctor. And how about seeing thirteen TARDISES (TARDIS’S? TARDI?) spinning through the war torn space. I bet nobody ever thought we would see that but it made for a beautiful clip.
So, Gallifrey is saved (the picture is really called “Gallifrey Falls No More”). War officially redeems himself and, for the briefest of moments before he will unfortunately forget everything that’s happened until it happens for him later in Elevenths form (along with Ten), officially is able to call himself “Doctor”. Ten and War depart, leaving an emotional Eleven alone in the gallery. But we have one last surprise. It’s only TOM BAKER! He was on the screen for the briefest of moments but he completely worked it. It came as a complete surprise. Was he the Fourth Doctor? Was he simply the museum’s curator? Or was he Doctor fifteen, twenty, forty? Who knows? We never will but it leaves it up to the individual viewer to decide. But what a beautiful, simple little scene. Thank you Moffat.
We were left with a spine-tingling final image of all current twelve Doctors standing side-by-side gazing up at Gallifrey as Eleven decides to find home. Surely this will be the main arc of Capaldi’s tenure. I hope Gallifrey isn’t found straight away and I hope it is dragged out for a few series, as stupid at that may sound. It will just make the pay off all the more amazing. A little theory I have is that Twelve (who is really the thirteenth incarnation of the Doctor) will spend a few series searching and when he finally does the Time Lords will grant him extra regenerations as thanks for saving them, leading to some surely amazing interactions and storylines emerging for the Thirteenth Doctor. That’s how I hope it played out anyway.
I want to conclude by saying thank you to everyone involved in the show for making a truly amazing, celebratory episode. Fantastic writing, fantastic casting, fantastic acting. Now roll on December 25th, where Silence Will Fall. Daleks. Cybermen. Silents. Weeping Angels. It’s going to be amazing and emotional in equal measures. Matt – I don’t want you to go.