Before I begin, I’m going to issue a spoiler warning. No doubt you’ve already seen it, but if not, don’t read on.
You can find a video version of this review at Day of the Doctor – Video Review.
I Came into this with some pretty high expectations. The 50th anniversary of one of your favorite shows is a big deal. I didn’t envy Stephen Moffat trying to come up with a script that could possibly do the event justice. I think he did a great job. This episode honours the past, but ultimately, it’s about the future. I think that’s what the episode needed to be.
I loved the way it opened with the classic titles from the William Hartnell era, and the easter eggs such as the Foreman scrapyard, and the name I Chesterton on the school sign. I’m sure there were heaps that went over the top of my head.
The story itself was fitting for the occasion. By telling the story of the Doctor during the time war, it effectively bridges the gap between the classic era of Doctor Who, and the modern era. We get to understand the events that shaped The Doctor into the man he has been since Christopher Eccleston took on the role.
In a sense, this was the war doctor’s story. The eleventh and tenth doctors were there to help him make his decision. The dilemma faced by UNIT linked thematically with the Doctor’s own struggle.
For the last 7 seasons, the time war and the destruction of Galifrey have been something that has defined the character. As 11 says “You were the Doctor on the day it was impossible to get it right.” When we see ten and eleven arrive to help the war doctor push the button so he doesn’t have to face that moment alone, it is very moving. And yet we feel Clara’s discomfort. The Doctor never betrays his promise. He always finds another way.
This story does what I think some of the best Doctor Who stories do. They say, “This is it. There is absolutely no hope. We have to live with that. As viewers we came to accept this. Then the Doctor gets a gleam in his eye and says “Actually, there IS another way.” And so Stephen Moffat does the unthinkable. He changes this iconic moment in the history of our show.
All of this was nicely foreshadowed. The use of the galifreyan paintings as a solution to their problem, and the idea of putting the screwdriver to work over centuries foreshadows the way they finally implement their plan.
This now is the moment when it really feels like a 50th anniversary special, when the doctor says “I’ve been working on this for a long time, all my lives.” Then we see all the classic doctors appear. I loved this moment. And then, to see the surprise appearance of Peter Capaldi’s twelth Doctor! That was just so fitting. A time lord has thirteen lives, and all of them were there implementing the plan to save Galifrey.
One of Stephen Moffat’s strengths as a writer is dealing with serious issues, of a dark nature, and melding them seamlessly with great moments of humour. I honestly don’t know how he does it, but it’s brilliant. There were some hilarious moments in this story. As usual they come from the dialog, specifically, the doctor’s dialog.
The chemistry between the tenth and eleventh doctors was predictably brilliant, and the war doctor fit in well with them too. The friendly mocking between them was absurdly fun, given that they are all the same person.
The appearance of Tom Baker at the end was a wonderful touch. Given the age of the classic Doctor actors it would have been difficult for them to make a believable appearance. However, by having Tom Baker play a future regeneration of the doctor, who is revisiting a favorite old face, Moffat found a way to make it work.
As promised, this episode changes everything for the doctor. No longer is he just wandering the universe looking for fun. Now, finally, after all these lives, after all this time, he has a mission. He has a goal, and he seems delighted about it.
Let’s not forget though, how dangerous the time lords have become. In his final adventure, the tenth doctor was horrified at the thought of Galifrey being released from the time-lock. If the Doctor does manage to recover the planet from the painting he is going to have a hard job ahead of him, trying to return his people to a better way of life. However, with all of his past experiences, he may just be up to the task.
This episode helped me celebrate the past but also made me excited about the future. I’m looking forward to seeing where this is all going.