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…!