Saturday, November 23, 2013 was The Day of the Doctor, a day 50 years in the making. Steven Moffat’s 50th Anniversary episode of Doctor Who was full of squee-worthy, Who-ey goodness — so instead of a boring old synopsis, here’s a run-down of the good, the bad, the awesome, the puzzling, the funniest quotes, and the best fan service of “The Day of the Doctor.” It should go without saying that there will be spoilers, sweeties, so proceed at your own risk if you haven’t seen it yet.
- The opening was a great tribute to the very first Who episode in 1963, “An Unearthly Child.” We have the original black and white title sequence and theme music (albeit shortened) going into a scene of a policeman walking past the sign for I.M. Foreman’s scrap yard at 76 Totter’s Lane. The sign is no longer on the gate of the junkyard where the TARDIS is parked, but it is just around the corner from the Coal Hill School — the very same school where Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton taught the First Doctor’s granddaughter Susan fifty years ago. According to the sign, I. Chesterton is now the head of the school’s governors, and guess who teaches there now? Clara Oswald.
- Kate Stewart is back as this episode’s UNIT point of contact, which is only fitting — since we can’t have the Brigadier himself, giving his daughter a prominent role in the show is the next best thing.
- The Moment’s user interface is Bad Wolf Rose, which was a great relief to me. We got Billie Piper without seeing another “Turn Left”/”Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End”, and we didn’t have to revisit any of the relationship angst and drama. I really enjoyed her interaction with John Hurt’s War Doctor, and I liked the fact that she and Ten never have any interaction at all (but there were some nicely done shots where she is standing behind him).
- I loved the scene in the gallery when Eleven and Clara are shown the painting of the last day of the Time War, and he reaches for her hand as he starts to remember and tell her about his previous self and what happened — it’s a touching display of emotion and vulnerability.
- “What is it that makes you so ashamed to be a grown-up?” Ten and Eleven are hilariously funny together, but when the War Doctor meets the two of them, we see how immature their actions are, and how the child-like façade masks the deep pain and hurt left by the Time War. As The Moment tells the War Doctor, “They’re what you become if you destroy Gallifrey. The man who regrets, and the man who forgets.”
- What is the Doctor? Not a warrior. Not a hero: “Any old idiot can be a hero.” It’s the promise he made when he chose the name: “Never cruel or cowardly.” “Never give up, never give in.” With the help of his future selves, the War Doctor is able to truly claim the title of Doctor when they work together to save the day.
- All of the Doctor’s past selves show up to help save the day, plus his next self, as is only fitting. It’s not a new thing for New Who to call back to previous Doctors — similar footage from old episodes has been included in “The Next Doctor” and “The Eleventh Hour,” just to name two off the top of my head — but it would have been terrible not to have done it here.
- The gallery curator who comes looking for the Doctor turns out to be none other than Tom Baker, the Fourth Doctor himself. While I would have really liked to see more than archive footage of some of the other past Doctors (which is totally possible since only three are no longer with us), if they had to pick only one it had to be Four. Tom Baker is THE Doctor for so many people, due in part to his very long residence in the TARDIS, and also in part to the fact that so many American fans who were introduced to Doctor Who via PBS in the 1980s saw mainly his episodes. The Scarf, the jelly babies, Sarah Jane, K9 — so many quintessentially “Who” things are connected to the Fourth Doctor’s era. I am still completely confused by much of Four and Eleven’s conversation at the end of the episode (starting with, is he even supposed to be Four to begin with? Four regenerated into Five, he didn’t get old. But who else could he be? And how did he come to be? “Who Knows” indeed!), but it was a very fitting way to end the 50th anniversary special.
The Bad (and the “meh” and the QUESTIONS!)
- We get a Classic Who monster, the Zygons, seen previously in the Fourth Doctor story “The Terror of the Zygons.” They have great story potential, but it felt like they were simply a convenient callback to the classic era in a spot that could have been filled by any number of monsters. I guess the idea was to have an adventure with an alien monster in which the War Doctor could be inserted as an observer of his future selves, and for the 50th Anniversary, I think the examination of the Doctor’s character and WHO exactly he is is definitely the more important story. Still, it would have been nice if the story parts had been slightly more cohesive and the monsters had gotten a better showcase.
- Kate Stewart threatens to blow up London in order to save the world from the Zygons, paralleling the Doctor’s decision to destroy Gallifrey in order to get rid of the Daleks during the Time War. It’s meant to show the War Doctor the consequences of his action by how Ten and Eleven respond to Kate’s plan (“I did the same thing once because it was the only option, and I’ve regretted it ever since”), but it ends up being very heavy-handed — Moffat seems to be unnecessarily beating us over the head with it.
- It bugged me that the whole Zygon plot thread never gets fully resolved, because once the nuclear warhead is turned off and all parties are negotiating, the War Doctor has seen what The Moment needs him to see and it goes back to the “will-he-won’t-he” plot. It’s sort of settled — they’re negotiating and one gets the feeling that it will end well, but we’ll never know for sure. And the scene with the two Osgoods and the inhaler seemed to hint at things that very well could come into play at some point, but nothing ever comes of it.
- I loved the conversation between Clara and the War Doctor once negotiations between UNIT and the Zygons are underway. He asks her, “How many worlds has his regret saved, do you think?” I just wish they had explored that aspect of the Doctor’s character a little more — the idea that the past shapes the present, for bad or for good, and his acceptance of his past and forgiving his past self because he turned a very bad thing into a great deal of good. There was a little bit of that — when Ten and Eleven go back to help their past self press the button, knowing there’s no other choice, it’s an acknowledgement that it was wrong but necessary — but then the “No One Dies Today!” kicks in and they come up with a Doctor-y semi-solution and change history.
- When the War Doctor scans the door with his sonic, they figure out that the sonics have the same software, and because Eleven is 400 years older, his sonic has been calculating all that time and just then has figured out whatever they needed to know to open the door. This sets up the big ending where the three Doctors are joined by all of the past Doctors and the next one, because the calculation or whatever they need in order to freeze all of Gallifrey in the painting has been going on throughout the Doctor’s lives, and working together they think they might be successful (at least, I think that’s what happened…). My question is, how did the incarnations prior to the War Doctor know what to calculate and when to be there to help?
- Somewhere in past Who canon it was stated that a Time Lord got twelve regenerations, which means thirteen faces. There is much debate over whether this is actual fact or not, and how others have gotten around it, and whether or not it can be changed, and I don’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of that debate. But in the end here, we saw thirteen faces only. Now, practically, we know a regeneration is coming in a month and we know who has been cast and if there were to be regenerations past that it would be impossible to include faces. But no other Doctors beyond the next one are even hinted at — does this mean we’re nearing the end?
- And finally, if Ten and Eleven are now accepting John Hurt’s Doctor as a real Doctor and not a past life they’re trying to forget, what number is he? 8.5? Does that mean Ten and Eleven aren’t Ten and Eleven anymore? But, oh yeah, neither the War Doctor nor Ten are going to remember this whole adventure because, you know, Timey-Wimey, so first of all, what was the point, and second of all, does this mean the current Doctor Numbering System is still intact? Can Ten please make me a machine to go “ding” when this stuff stops making my brain hurt?
- Ten and Eleven together. That is all. The synchronized movements, the glasses, the sonic screwdriver envy… two very different types of actor, different qualities of manic energy, yet obviously playing the same character. David Tennant and Matt Smith together — just, SQUEEEE! (In the interest of full disclosure, Ten is “my” Doctor, and I’m an unashamed David Tennant fangirl, so just seeing him back on screen was Squee-worthy by itself. But Matt Smith has his moments, too, and their dynamic together was hilarious and awesome.)
The Giggles and Squees
- Of all the technology at the Doctor’s and UNIT’s disposal, he chooses to use the phone accessed from outside the police box to contact Kate when the TARDIS is being suddenly airlifted who-knows-where.
- When Ten and Elizabeth I ride out of the TARDIS on the white horse, I wondered at first if Rose had let him keep Arthur after “The Girl in the Fireplace” after all. Turns out it was not, in fact, Arthur, but still.
- Ten wears the fez!
- Three Doctors come striding through the painting into the Black Archive to save the day, accompanied by Murray Gold’s “I Am The Doctor” theme. Ten: “Hello.” War Doctor: “I’m the Doctor.” Eleven: “Sorry about the Dalek.” (Clara: “And the showing off…”)
- When the War Doctor figures out what Eleven’s plan is to destroy the Daleks without also destroying Gallifrey, he is completely channeling David Tennant/Ten.
- Peter Capaldi!! Squee! No, really, I did squee, out loud and everything, when I recognized those scowly eyes joining in with the other twelve to save the day.
- Tom Baker!! Squee! Yes, again. I can’t remember if it was an out loud squee or not, but there was definitely pointing and bouncing and flappy hands of joy.
The Fan Service
- Osgood, the UNIT scientist working with Kate Stewart, wears the iconic 4th Doctor scarf.
- Kate Stewart’s special ringtone for calls from the Doctor is the TARDIS appearing/disappearing noise.
- Ten’s shape-shifting alien DNA detector that goes “ding” when there’s… shape-shifting alien DNA stuff. (File also under Giggles and Squees)
- The Fez, serving a similar function here as it did when it first appeared in “The Big Bang” in series 5.
- Kate tells an underling to look for one of the Brig’s files, “from the ’70s or ’80s, depending on dating protocol,” as a nod to the so-called “UNIT Dating Controversy.”
- Ten and Eleven reverse the polarity of the Time Fissure. Unfortunately, they both reverse the polarity at the same time and cancel each other out. (Ten: “We’re confusing the polarity!”)
- Ten’s TARDIS console room configuration, and the Classic Who “round things,” make appearances. The “round things” are also on one of the gallery walls next to the Gallifrey Falls No More painting at the end of the episode.
- Ten: “You’ve redecorated… I don’t like it.” (Evidently this is a reference to one of the Classic Who multi-doctor stories.)
- War Doctor, as he’s starting to regenerate (into Nine): “I hope the ears are a bit less conspicuous this time.”
- Ten’s parting shot to Eleven: “Trenzalore. We need a new destination, ’cause… I don’t wanna go!” (Eleven to Clara: He always says that.)
The Sonic Screwdriver Jokes
- Ten’s sonic envy is so adorable.
- War Doctor: “Why are you pointing your screwdrivers like that? They’re scientific instruments, not water pistols.”
- War Doctor: “They’re screwdrivers. What are you going to do, assemble a cabinet at them?”
And last but not least…
- War Doctor, trying to figure out how to use the Moment: “Why is there never a big, red button?”
- The Moment: “Stuck between a girl and a box. Story of your life, hey, Doctor?”
- Elizabeth I and the Tenth Doctor: <something dings> “What’s that?” <10 holds up toy robot with blinky lights and whirly bits> “It’s a machine that goes ‘ding.’ Made it myself. Lights up in the presence of shape-shifter DNA. Also can microwave dinners from up to 20 feet and download comics from the future. I never know when to stop!”
- Tenth Doctor: “Whatever you’ve got planned, forget it. I’m the Doctor. I’m 904 years old. I’m from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. I am the Oncoming Storm, the Bringer of Darkness, and you are basically just a rabbit, aren’t you?”
- Tenth Doctor, to Elizabeth I: “That’s a time fissure. A tear in the fabric of reality. Anything can happen. For instance, a fez.”
- Clara and the Eleventh Doctor: “Someday you could just walk past a fez.” “Never going to happen.”
- A conversation between the Doctors:
- Eleven: “It’s a…uh…timey-wimey thing.”
- War Doctor: “Timey what? Timey-wimey?”
- Ten: “I’ve no idea where he picks that stuff up.”
- Zygon Kate Stewart: “Think about it. Americans with the ability to rewrite history? You’ve seen their movies.”
- Eleven: “We are incredibly clever.” (said right before Clara walks through the door that they never figured out was unlocked the whole time)
- Eleven: “Alien technology plus human stupidity, trust me, it’s unbeatable.”
- War Doctor: “Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame. Whatever the cost.”
- Eleven: “We change history all the time. I’m suggesting something far worse…. I change my mind!”
- War Doctor: “Bad Wolf girl, I could kiss you.” <cut to shot of Ten with BW Rose behind him> The Moment/Rose: “Yeah, that’s gonna happen.”
- Gallifreyan general: “Dear God, three of them. All my worst nightmares at once.”
- The Trio, upon springing into action to save Gallifrey…
- Eleven: “Geronimo!”
- Ten: “Allons-y!”
- War Doctor: “Oh for god’s sake…”
Further Reading and Enjoyment:
I don’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of Classic Who (or even New Who, for that matter) to be able to find all the references and Easter eggs. Thank goodness for other more knowledgeable Whovians out there who have put out some enjoyable content in the last few days. Of the ones I’ve come across in my RSS feeds and Facebook wall, my favorites are BuzzFeed’s 35 Greatest Easter Eggs From the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary, and 10 Great Moments from ‘Day of the Doctor’ in GIFs (I think all of my top ones were represented) and The 13 Best Callbacks and References in ‘The Day of the Doctor’, both from BBC America’s Anglophenia blog.
Did you enjoy “The Day of the Doctor?” What made you squee? What references and callbacks did I miss? What did I get wrong? Please let me know what you thought in the comments!
Screencaps by grande_caps