Did you ever think, Doctor, that you would get so old that you would outlive your own race?
And did you ever think, Doctor Who, that your idiosyncratic charms would make you the longest-running science fiction television show ever?
Today, that longest-running show turned a 50 year corner with “The Day of the Doctor,” a multi-Doctor affair that explored one of the most theorized-about, personality-defining moments in the character’s history. We haven’t been this excited about a cultural event since the Beatles reunited in that alternate universe that we sometimes visit. Did the special live up to our expectations?
Note: We’ll be updating this post in the next couple of hours with our deeper impressions of the show, but we’ve enabled the comments for those who just finished the episode and are eager to share their view.
From this point onward, you should expect FULL SPOILERS for “The Day of the Doctor.”
I CANNOT DEAL WITH ALL THESE FEELINGS. I was actually really looking forward to thinking a little more critically about the 50th anniversary episode. I had things that I thought might happen, which also tended to be things I was dreading. Stuff like Rose and the Tenth Doctor being handled by a Steven Moffat who has now grown accustomed to Eleventh Doctor and Whomever, or draining the meaning that the Time War gave to the rebooted show.
In fact, it was downright eerie how natural it felt to accept David Tennant back in his role, as if it hasn’t been nearly four years since we’ve seen him fall. Nothing about it felt forced, even though it was by the very measure of having an anniversary special that brought the Doctors back together. From the moment he bursts out of the TARDIS on a horse to him accusing Elizabeth the 1st of being a shapeshifting alien, and onward and onward, he’s absolutely note perfect.
I was even won over by the episode’s use of Rose as the “conscience” of the Moment. It was fairly clear from the previews that Billie Piper was going to be limited to the role of some sort of “Bad Wolf” ghost, and that she and David Tennant wouldn’t actually get to interact. Although this prediction bore out to be true, Moffat still uses Billie Piper to act essentially as the conscious of the Time War Doctor, which is more true to the character than her subsequent reappearances in Russell T. Davies’ latter episodes.
Moffat turns in an exemplary performance throughout the episode (it’s weird to call it an episode when it was of movie-length and movie-spectacle), eschewing the throw-every-weird-idea-at-the-wall style that usually makes up the keynote episodes in Moffat’s reign and just letting the story breathe every now and then. One of the hallmarks of the Davies’ era is that even when he was having the Doctor float through the air with the entire planet screaming his name he still made time to let the actors and characters play out the central human drama powering the conflict. Amidst the insanity of the proceedings, “The Day of the Doctor,” takes time over and over to just let these brilliant characters be present with each other.
In fact, it’s this careful pacing that allows the special to nail its totally batshit, wonderful, marvelous, everything-I’d-hoped-for ending. And it’s the same thrill that allows us to overlook how little the ending makes sense. So he didn’t actually kill Gallifrey, just sent it somewhere? But he remembers killing it so all that wonderful PTSD that Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant portrayed can still be valid? Fine. I am fine with this! As long as we’re not erasing the efforts of past Doctors, I’m good. Also HOLY SHIT HELLO EVERY INCARNATION OF THE DOCTOR.
It also put a nice emotional button on the proceedings. “I’ve always been going home, the long way ’round.”
Steven Moffat promised that “The Day of the Doctor” would be an episode that actually looks forward to the future of the show, and dammit… I am more excited about what’s to come than ever before.
In the end, as a Doctor Who fan, this joyous feeling is everything I wanted from the 50th anniversary special.
shriek talk about what just went down.
The entirely of Who fandom has been awaiting this moment with what seemed to be equal parts trepidation and crazed excitement and now it’s here and it was pretty damned lovely.
The original opening. YES. FOREVER YES.
Also, Clara works at a school right next to the original Foreman junkyard? Sorry, tearing up a little already.
Still not sold on actually seeing any part of the Time War. The way it was spoken about before now gave the impression of a type of war that humans could not conceive of, and that is ultimately more interesting. I suppose we can make argument that these more abstract aspects of it have already taken place, but its still a little anticlimactic to watch Gallifreyans getting gunned down in the streets.
The use of the Bad Wolf here is honestly everything I could have hoped for. (Except she doesn’t interact with Ten. Sorry, got sad again.) Sure, it’s sad that Rose isn’t really Rose, but what has been added to her mythos as a companion is something far greater. More on that later.
Man, give a second-long cameo to Elizabeth I in a Shakespeare episode and you’ll spend seasons explaining that one away. And now we finally have the whole story! The so-very-Ten story—how did we not guess that he accidentally proposed marriage as a clever ruse to expose a Zygon? Obviously. (And how happy are we that David Tennant finally got to face the Zygons like he always wanted.) Oh, Ten. He back, he’s brilliant, he’s all babbly and exactly we’ve missed. It’s like he never left.
I’m sorry, Kate Stewart is so cool. And it’s so nice to feel like the Brigadier is still around through her. The fact that she exists in general will always make me happy.
That moment of face-off between Ten and Eleven, counting Gallifrey’s dead children… we finally get a succinct point of division between the two, how Eleven has been pushing off his guilt in order to survive. And in the Zygon conflict we get to see exactly why the universe still needs the Doctor. John Hurt puts it perfectly—how many people are saved because of his regret?
At the end of the day it’s still a little sad to know that John Hurt’s Doctor was clearly meant to be Christopher Eccleston. It would have been so beautiful to have this as his personal journey accompanied by the Bad Wolf, the one who plants herself across the universe to keep him safe. The epic symmetry. Even so, John Hurt is surprisingly lovable in the role, something that I certainly didn’t expect. He brings all the gravity of an older Doctor, something that is far more reminiscent of the classic multi-Doctor episodes. (Ironic again that the younger versions of the Doctor in these specials are always the older, scoldy ones.)
ROSE. ROSE SAVED THE DOCTOR BY BAD WOLFING HERSELF INTO THE WORST PART OF HIS LIFE. I mean, it’s the Moment, but it’s also her. This is the most beautiful thing, I will never get over it, no, leave me alone here with my feelings.
And all the Doctors and OH HAI THERE PETER CAPALDI. I just screamed at the television—that is how you tease a regeneration. Nothing will ever be cooler than that.
And then Tom Baker is here and the Doctor tells himself that he goes back to his favorite faces and suddenly you can imagine all your favorites coming back, and it’s just the most uplifting gorgeous feeling, and it’s nice that they can maybe bring Gallifrey back after everything and still not remember, or not, whatever, I don’t care, life is wonderful and Doctor Who.
Doctor Who forever.