The long-awaited Doctor Who 50th anniversary has come and gone with a resounding success, reaching over ten million viewers around the world, with more coming back for repeat showings and simulcasts. Doctor Who has grabbed viewers of all ages, genders, and nationalities by the hand and whispered “Run,” taking us on a journey through time and space from the comfort of our homes, and now that the “Day of the Doctor” has come and gone, let’s take a look at how it went.
It is the final day of the Time War, and the War Doctor (John Hurt) has had enough. In order to end the war, Hurt decides both Daleks and Time Lords must be destroyed, so he steals The Moment, a weapon so powerful it has developed its own consciousness. The Moment then shows him what his future will be if he follows this path.
In said future, the 11th Doctor (Matt Smith) is called in by UNIT to investigate some mysterious happenings with artwork. The orders came from Queen Elizabeth the first, who the 10th Doctor (David Tennant) once romanced and subsequently abandoned.
Speaking of, we finally get to learn exactly what happened that led the Doctor to meeting and leaving the Queen. This happens to be invading alien shapshifters, ones we haven’t seen since the 70’s. But the invasion only serves as a subplot to the main story, as the three Doctors are pulled together and the War Doctor has to make a decision that will influence the men he becomes: should Gallifrey burn?
Along the way, things get wibbly-wobbly and timey-wimey, but good Gallifrey is it a fun ride.
This special is filled with callbacks and shout-outs to previous Doctor Who moments and characters, from both the classic and revival series. For example, a sharp-eyed viewer can spot the name “I. Chesteron” attached to a school, and may recall that schoolteacher Ian Chesterton was one of the Doctor’s first companions. Of course, that’s just one of many little easter eggs scattered throughout the episode that pay tribute to Doctor Who’s extensive history.
One of the biggest worries, before watching this episode, was seeing how John Hurt’s Doctor (referred to as the War Doctor, rather than by a number) would fit into continuity and work with the other Doctors. We saw how Eight turned into him during the mini-episode “Night of the Doctor,” which went online days before the special aired, but I’m pleased to say that Hurt did an amazing job, and his Doctor works with the others exceptionally well.
The seriousness of the gruff veteran Doctor makes a great foil to the more childlike and quirky attitudes of the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, allowing them to work with and bounce off each other. All the while, the War Doctor goes through a character arc of his own, looking at how his future selves view him for what he has yet to do, seeing what he will become, and deciding what the fate of his world must be. In spite of any early concerns, he proves to be as good a Doctor as any other, short though his (current?) run may be.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Doctor Who without its supporting cast, and they all do a wonderful job. Jenna Coleman does an admirable job as companion Clara Oswald, and Billie Piper returns as… okay, small spoilers: as the interface for The Moment, taking the appearance of former Rose Tyler. As such, we don’t get to see two companions interacting, as many had hoped, but each does a fine job in her respective role. We also have Jemma Redgrave as Kate Stewart, daughter of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, the long-time ally of the Doctor, who brings in all the competence and power as her predecessor, Ingrid Oliver as the intelligent UNIT scientist Osgood (who wears a nice scarf), and Joanna Page as Elizabeth I, who is clearly enjoying playing a role that allows her to frequently smooch David Tennant. All of them bring plenty of energy and fine acting to the table, as do the other cast members in the special.
For long-time fans, there are a few pleasant surprises, which are best left unspoiled. Suffice to say, the third act was welcomed with cheers of joy and surprise, with a conclusion that left everyone feeling good about the episode and excited for the next season. We’ll be seeing Eleven regenerate into Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor on Christmas, but there’s still lots of work left to be done when Twelve takes over.
In short, the special was everything Whovians had hoped it would be. It was clever, exciting, funny, heart-wrenching, and uplifting; it gave credit and respect to the Doctors of old, while providing a wonderful journey for the Doctors of new. We got to see David Tennant and Matt Smith together, with their distinct Doctors arguing, working with one another, and making jokes at the other’s expense. In short, to quote the Ninth Doctor, it was fantastic.
For those who haven’t seen it yet, the special is now up on iTunes for $7.99, and will be showing in select theaters in 3D on Monday. If you have seen it, well, you probably already want to see it again.