This is it, the 50th Anniversary Special of “Doctor Who,” featuring Matt Smith, The Eleventh Doctor, and David Tennant, The Tenth Doctor. This very special episode purports to finally reveal the details and consequences of the Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks, and why John Hurt is the lost regeneration, known as The War Doctor. All this plus Daleks, Zygons, and Rose Tyler. See you after the jump for my thoughts on “The Day of The Doctor.”
The Time War
Long time and some short time “Doctor Who” fans know that there was a pretty long hiatus between the original series and the newest series of the show. “Doctor Who” officially ended in 1989, followed in 1996 by the Fox TV movie (which is canon), and then nothing until the second series that began in 2005. When Christopher Eccleston first appears as The Doctor in the new series, he is a grim and tightlipped about his past, barely mentioning the details of the Time War, but intimating that it fills the gap between 1996 and 2005, the show’s missing years.
Here’s what we do know. The Time Lords have long had the ability/technology to travel through time and space. The Daleks have often sought this power, putting the two races at odds. The Time War is the final conflict between them. The Doctor has stated that it was he who put a stop to it once and for all, in a double genocide, destroying both races. We actually get to see some of it in this special episode.
Old School Opening
What a pleasant surprise. We don’t get the traditional expected opening to the show, but instead start in black and white, and go to the original “Doctor Who” intro from 1963. We open on a school class wrapping up, with current Doctor companion Clara teaching about what a good man does, referencing an earlier Who adventure. The school is the school from the first episode of “Doctor Who” and the camera sweeps past the Foreman junkyard where the First Doctor stored his TARDIS. Nice homage.
After getting a call from ‘her doctor,’ Clara gets on her motorcycle and takes off into the country where we see the TARDIS in the distance down the road. What happened next made me do a double take. Twice we see a trick that I disliked in the 1996 Fox TV movie. First Clara rides her motorcycle into the TARDIS, and then in a later scene, back a few centuries, The Doctor and Queen Elizabeth I ride a horse out of the blue box. It’s another instance of the 1996 movie being ahead of its time, I suppose.
Tower of London
From the country the TARDIS is plucked by a helicopter and delivered in dramatic fashion to the Tower of London, UNIT headquarters, as run by the Brigadier’s daughter, Kate Stewart. The Matt Smith Doctor has been summoned by his old employers because, as per usual, no-good-ness is afoot. In the past, Queen Elizabeth I has made The Doctor, her husband, the guardian of certain treasures in the Tower of London. Among them are Gallifreyan paintings.
On Gallifrey, paintings are 3-D (also tying into the 3-D release of this special to theaters worldwide), or as we are wont to say, they’re bigger on the inside than they are on the outside. One particular painting, called “Gallifrey Falls” depicts the last day of the Time War, specifically the fall of Arcadia, which is shown, through the painting, and the memories of The Doctor, in great detail. However, that’s not the painting our hero has been brought to UNIT to see.
Several similar paintings, in the Undergallery, have missing subjects, and shattered glass on the floor in front of them. Like something broke out of them, and into the Tower of London. It seems that UNIT headquarters in the present, much like Elizabethan England where we find The David Tennant Doctor, has been invaded by the Zygons, shape-shifting monsters bent on world conquest.
Although fan favorites, the Zygons have only appeared once in canon continuity, where they were stopped by The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) from taking over the world using the Loch Ness Monster. Terrible whispering baddies, like most of the classic monsters who have returned in the new era, the Zygons have had a remarkable makeover from rubber suited terrors to real horrors. Well worth hiding behind the sofa now.
Much of the show is spent trying to figure out who is a Zygon and who is the real deal, in an almost comedic game of Secret Invasion a la Marvel Comics. It’s fun watching David Tennant squirm as he struggles to decide which Elizabeth is which. There is also a fun confuddlement toward the end as half of UNIT is Zygon and half not. That said, it should be noted, that the Zygons, and even less the Daleks, are the enemies here. It is a game of the two Doctors against The War Doctor.
The Three Doctors
Enter The War Doctor as he prepares to use The Moment, a stolen and forbidden Gallifreyan weapon, a galaxy eater. This is what he uses to end the Time War, but he hasn’t used it yet. The Moment is sentient, and its conscience takes the form of… ahem, Rose Tyler. It’s an image he trusts, pulled from his mind, his past or future. It’s nice to see Billie Piper again, especially as Rose, and sans the heavy baggage the character carries. Nice anti-writing props to Steven Moffat. She’s there to talk him out of using such a dangerous weapon.
All three Doctors are locked away in the Tower of London, in the past, and no one really likes each other, and David and Matt, especially do not like John. He’s the regeneration they don’t want to think about, he of the double genocide, and he of the mass child murders. David Tennant and Matt Smith have a wonderful chemistry together. I could watch them all day. But when they work together, even against John Hurt, they are magic.
The Zygons are monsters, and real horrors, but the real horror however is Doctor Ten and Doctor Eleven dealing with The War Doctor. John Hurt is in the moment, pardon the pun, before stopping the Time War and killing billions. And to quote The Moment, John Hurt is confronted by what he becomes if he does it, the Man who Regrets and the Man who Forgets.
Defeats and Victories
The Zygons are, as usual, trying to take over the Earth, and in the end, we get a marvelous victory, and an unresolvable defeat, and then the greatest triumph of all. We see why The War Doctor must do what he must do, and how everything and everyone can be saved. This was beautiful. How often does a TV show make you cheer? “Doctor Who” did it this afternoon. I’m sure the cheers were loud at all the public gatherings to watch the world over.
I loved this special quite a bit. It made me smile, it made me scared, it made me cheer. And in a rare moment in modern entertainment, we have a hero who wins, a protagonist who saves everyone. And besides that, I have a new favorite side character in Ingrid Oliver’s Osgood. I love her scarf and her inhaler, and want her for a new companion.
We even got a mention of Captain Jack Harkness, Cyberman parts, appearances of all the other Doctors as edited from the series, and of course the wonderful coda featuring Matt Smith and (“Spoilers”) Tom Baker. I can’t see how this could have been better. Here’s to another fifty years. I can’t wait until Christmas!