Who Review: The Day of the Doctor

The 50th Anniversary Special opens with Clara working as a teacher in the same Coal Hill school that Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter, attended in the very first episode in 1963. Of course, this is 2013, so the school has changed. But it seems Clara’s life goes on, albeit with the occasional calls from the Doctor. A note after class summons her to the TARDIS, which is then transported to UNIT headquarters, where Kate Stewart, daughter of Brigadier Leithbridge-Stewart, hands the Doctor a note from Queen Elizabeth I directing him to a secret vault containing Time Lord three-dimensional art. The glass on these paintings has been broken from the inside, and people are missing from them. It seems the shape-shifting Zygons have found a way to use these paintings as a way to enter Earth…

Meanwhile, at the Fall of Arcadia, on the last day of the Time War, the War Doctor is on the verge of making that fateful decision to destroy both the Time Lords and the Daleks. The device he has stolen for this purpose is unique. Not only is it an instrument of devastating mass destruction, but it has sentience, and can stand in judgement of the person using it. As the Doctor prepares to activate the device, its sentience appears to him in the form of his future companion, Rose Tyler. “Rose” opens a rift in time and allows the Doctor to see his future selves, so he might know how his decision will affect the man he is to become…

The War Doctor and the Eleventh Doctor are thrown into Elizabethan England, where they meet the Tenth Doctor, Queen Elizabeth I, and the Zygon invaders. However, as Clara and Kate discover, the Zygon threat is not only in Elizabethan England; Zygons have managed to use the paintings to enter UNIT headquarters, where they plan to access UNIT’s most secret vault and exploit the deadly weaponry there to achieve their deadly goals…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

In my review of the previous episode, The Name of the Doctor, I speculated that the Doctor and Clara being trapped in the Doctor’s time line was the setup for the Anniversary Special. How better to feature Doctor Who history, than having the Doctor and Clara wandering the Doctor’s past trying to escape? Clearly this wasn’t Steven Moffat’s intention. The episode starts with us assuming they managed to escape. Perhaps the Doctor rescuing Clara at the end of “The Name of the Doctor” was all we needed to know. It certainly seems that the purpose of “The Name of the Doctor” was to introduce us to the War Doctor, and to Trenzalore. The former was important to this episode, and the latter will be important at Christmas (according to the trailer we saw…). In other words, it seems that as much as Moffat wanted this episode to be a huge nod toward Doctor Who’s past, he has his sights fixed firmly on Doctor Who’s future. While I understand and appreciate this, the fact that how the Doctor and Clara got back from the Doctor’s time stream was never resolved, bothered me and still does. Jumping into the Doctor’s time stream is no small matter, and much was made of how doing such a thing would tear a person to shreds. I would have liked at least some explanation of how they got out. However, I’m willing to wait and see if this is addressed at Christmas. Maybe the consequences will be what triggers the regeneration…?

The rest of the episode was, in my opinion, wonderful, with a good, strong story, and excellent performances by all involved. Moffat must have been feeling the pressure to create an episode worthy of the moment, and I think he delivered. I liked the way the three Doctors’ stories intersected, the way the three personalities interacted with each other, and the way the final solution for the War Doctor’s dilemma came about through trying to resolve the Zygon threat.

As you might expect, I have some favorite moments (as I’m sure we all do). Mine include the Tenth Doctor using the “I see you’ve redecorated” line, used by the Second Doctor in “The Three Doctors,” the appearance of Peter Capaldi (at least his eyes and hands), the inclusion of a War Doctor-to-Ninth Doctor regeneration (albeit without Christopher Eccleston, which would have made that more-than-awesome), and Tom Baker’s cameo at the end.

Over the last few days, Steven Moffat has made some comments that have turned a few heads. Most notably, he has indicated that both the Eighth’s regeneration into the War Doctor, AND the Tenth Doctor’s aborted regeneration at the end of “The Stolen Earth” in season 4, count as regenerations. This means that the Eleventh Doctor is the Doctor’s last. Two questions that naturally come to mind are: 1) Does that mean we have to re-number the Doctors from the Ninth on? and 2) If the Doctor only has twelve regenerations (and hence 13 lives), how can Matt Smith regenerate into Peter Capaldi?

I think 1) is easy to answer, mostly because Moffat has explained it. To the Doctor, he’s just “the Doctor”–he doesn’t think of himself in terms of a number count (though, since his life depends on it, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s keeping count). As explained in “The Name of the Doctor,” that name, “the Doctor” is not his real name; it’s a name he gave himself. The John-Hurt-Doctor, or “the War Doctor” did what he did (i.e., destroying Gallifrey, the Time Lords, etc.), “not in the name of the Doctor.” So, he was the same person, but not “the Doctor.” Perhaps a way to explain it is like this. We don’t know the Doctor’s real name, but let’s call him John Smith. This Time Lord called John Smith adopted the name “the Doctor,” and for Eight of his lives, he acted under that name. When Eight regenerated, he took a different name, so John Smith number nine was NOT “the Doctor.” He reclaimed that name for life number ten, making John Smith #10 Doctor #9. John Smith #11 (Doctor #10) used up two regeneration cycles: one when he was shot by the Dalek, and one when he soaked up all that radiation at the end of “The End of Time, Part 2.” So Doctor #10 used up John Smith #11 and John Smith #12. This means, Doctor #11 is actually John Smith #13, leaving us with the crisis he will face at the end of the Christmas episode, since Time Lords can only have 13 incarnations. Got it?

As for 2), my guess is that since the Time Lords still exist, they could grant the Doctor a new cycle of regenerations, which they might do as a reward for saving them from the Time War. How that will come about, I’m not sure. Originally, I thought Peter Capaldi would be John Smith #13, and he would spend the next few seasons searching for Gallifrey, and end his time bringing back the Time Lords and receiving his reward. If, however, Matt Smith is John Smith #13, this means the return of Gallifrey would have to happen at Christmas. But the trailers for Christmas take us back to Trenzalore… so I’m not as sure now as I was on Saturday! It’ll be interesting to see how Moffat gets out of this, but one thing’s for certain: the Doctor will be back. There will be a resolution. Peter Capaldi will be taking over, somehow, and the show will go on.

Did you see “The Day of the Doctor”? What did you think? Let’s discuss…!

6 Responses to Who Review: The Day of the Doctor

  1. I was skeptical about the rumour that the ‘Eleventh’ Doctor was in reality the thirteenth… But then I asked myself, without the hand he siphoned the regeneration energy off into, would he not have regenerated properly? Therefore it must logically count as a triggered regeneration. So I have to agree that the Doctor is indeed on his last incarnation.

    Moff has made comments about how Peter Capaldi already having appeared in Doctor Who and Torchwood as different characters is important and won’t be dismissed. Intriguingly he also posed the question, why is his Doctor so much older? What has that body been doing all this time? Are we going to see something akin to the Master consuming Tremas’s body in The Keeper of Traken perhaps?

    Great time to get onboard with Big Finish, bruv. At the ExCel on Saturday, someone asked Matt Smith if he regretted leaving and Moff interjected ‘Don’t worry, Big Finish will be waiting for you’. Maybe plans are afoot to fully integrate the two?

    • It’s hard to believe that in less than a month, all will be revealed! The only thing that makes me hesitate about the “11th-is-the-13th” suggestion is the fact that when all the TARDISes were flying around Gallifrey, the Time Lord voice-over said “… all 13″ and then we cut to Capaldi’s eyes. Is this saying that Capaldi is the 13th incarnation? Honestly, I think Moff is being somewhat vague to make sure we tune in on Christmas Day… as if we wouldn’t anyway! :)

      As I understand it, Big Finish’s contract has only allowed them to feature classic Doctors, which is why, until now, they’ve only done stories for 1-8. Perhaps the contract will change to allow for 9th, 10th, and 11th Doctor audio adventures (though I daresay it’ll be a while before we see any 9th Doctor stories). That would be cool! :)

  2. I had the same disappointment as you that the 50th didn’t revolve around them getting out of the Doctor’s time line. I’m a bit disappointed not really knowing. And while the freezing of Gallifrey makes sense I’m not sure I liked how it lifted this darker aspect of the Doctor we know he regrets. It kinda takes away his edge tbh.

    But despite that I loved it, mainly for how much it honoured Doctor Who’s legacy. The original titles, Coal Hill School and Ian Chesterton named as the Chairman of the Governors. Tom Baker’s cameo. I was hoping to see a glimpse of Christopher Eccleston but sadly not. I don’t think we may see him in anything Doctor Who again to be honest. I’m sure I read somewhere that he personally didn’t feel comfortable doing it and it wasn’t for him. Sad, really. I thought he was quite a good Doctor.

    I do like that theory of regenerations in regards to the name Doctor. He’s been other people before and that was even hinted at by Tom Baker’s cameo as the Curator. It was implied (if you went with that theory) that he may have been a future incarnation of the Doctor. Then that leads us to the question… can the Doctor actually have some say in his new incarnation? Not ‘I want green eyes and ginger hair’ but maybe a few faces always stick in his mind, certain people or identities that have made a huge impact?

    Sometimes maybe it’s better to just nod along before everything really does get a bit timey wimey wibbly wobbly.

    By the way, can we have more prequels with John Hurt’s Doctor? I thought he was brilliant in the role. You know, I used to think John Hurt had already been the Doctor when I first watched it. I don’t know why he seemed like the type of actor who had done the role.

    • I’m sure something will happen to give the Doctor his dark edge. Just because he saved Gallifrey, that doesn’t mean he and his fellow Time Lords all now see eye-to-eye. He’s still a renegade, after all.

      From “The War Games,” “Destiny of the Daleks,” “The Caves of Androzani,” and “The Night of the Doctor,” we know the Doctor’s regeneration is not completely arbitrary. Time Lords can exercise choice in how they look. Indeed, in “Destiny of the Daleks,” the Doctor challenges Romana II saying, “You can’t go around looking like Princess Astra!” It was Romana’s choice to look like the Princess from the previous story (“The Armageddon Factor”). Moff has suggested something like this will come into play with the regeneration into Capaldi.

      In the end, while it’s fun to speculate, I agree–it’s often better to ignore the spoilers, chill out, nod and go along for the ride. Traveling with Mr. Moff’s imagination can often be frustrating, but I think he’s shown that it’s worth it in the end. And that’s where I am with resolving the end of “The Name of the Doctor”–let’s see what happens at Christmas. :)

      And yes, John Hurt was perfect for the part. So, we need a mini season of Paul McGann stories, and then a mini season of John Hurt stories. :D

  3. My Doctor Who fan friends and I came up with the idea that the presence of the War Doctor somehow meant that the regeneration restriction was all just a big lie. It isn’t the best theory but a lot less complicated than yours, how did you manage to keep track of them?!

    I wasn’t overly impressed with this episode. It was good, but not worthy of a 50th anniversary episode. I was hoping Rose would come back as Rose, but even though I was disappointed she didn’t, I did like the story, especially the referneces to the Doctor’s past.

    I am hoping the Christmas episode will be better though. I have not really enjoyed the last few series’ as much as I used to. I think the standard of writing has gone downhill somewhat after Russell T Davies left!

    • Sorry, Anna, but Steven Moffat has been quite clear that he intends to honour the regeneration restriction, and that Matt Smith is, in fact, the thirteenth, and last, incarnation of the Doctor. How this will all play out, who knows. The only other thing to keep in mind is that Moff also intends to make sense of the fact that Peter Capaldi has been in a previous episode of Who, and in Torchwood series three. There is a tradition in Who of Time Lords choosing their appearance when they regenerate (Second-to-Third, Romana I to Romana II), and Moff has hinted that he will use this to explain why the 12th Doctor looks like these people from elsewhere in the Whoniverse. Exactly how, we won’t know until December 25th.

      Of course, Moff has been known to lie, too. So who really knows anything?! :)

      I think Moff’s writing went downhill when he took on the added responsibility of “show-runner.” However, this past season has been the best since he took over (IMO). Especially with this year’s episodes, the writing team he assembled (himself along with Mark Gatiss, Steve Thompson, Neil Cross, and Neil Gaiman) did an outstanding job, I think. And I enjoyed the Anniversary special. It didn’t sacrifice story for the sake of getting all the Who references in. Moff respected RTD and his character arc choices by keeping the real Rose in her alternate universe, and having her appear as a manifestation of the device. The 50th could have been a complete fan squee, like “Dimensions in Time,” the ill-conceived 30th Anniversary mash-up with EastEnders. Instead, it was well thought-out, and advanced the Doctor’s story in preparation for Christmas and next year.

      That’s my thought, anyway. Thanks for taking the time to share yours, Anna. :)

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