The Doctor and his Magical moment: a Review of the 50th Anniversary Special

Spoilers, Sweetie

Day of the Doctor Poster
Day of the Doctor Poster
The well-loved British television programme Doctor Who aired it’s 50th Anniversary Episode on Saturday 23rd November 2013; a day that will probably stand as a fixed moment in time for most fans. The episode, titled ‘The Day of the Doctor’ had much media coverage prior to its broadcasting, and to say that Whovians of all generations had great expectations for the episode is an understatement. For those of us lucky to have seen it in the cinema, seeing a Sontarn give the rules of the cinema, and having Matt Smith and David Tennant introduce the episode itself, clarified that our expectations were going to be met. Filled with light-hearted humour, familiar faces and theatrical suspense, the episode still managed to stay true to its initial 1963 roots with the opening title being the original from the first ever series, starring William Hartnell, and the opening scene of the policeman walking past Coal Hill School being a re-enactment of the opening of the first ever episode; Clara now working at the school where the Doctors first assistant Susan once attended. A subtle salute from the present day writers to the episode that kicked off the Doctor’s great adventures.

The central setting for the episode, in the present day, was London, which seemed to reflect the tradition of Who in England (as if police call boxes, tweed jackets and cups of tea weren’t enough!). We see the eleventh doctor (Matt Smith) and his assistant Clara being airlifted by helicopter to Trafalgar Square, with the Doctor dangling from the tardis doorway and Clara holding onto his ankles. Clutching his landline telephone and exclaiming in his forever buoyant voice: “Would it call you to knock?!”, the episode got the fans tickled almost instantly. Sat there in the cinema, amongst a sea of fez’s, nothing could be more kick-ass then seeing the Doctor fly across the scene with his catchy hero-esque theme playing in the background.

Landing outside the National Gallery, the Doctor and Clara greet Kate Stewart, who belongs to the paramilitary organisation U.N.I.T (UNified Intelligence Taskforce), and is handed a letter from Queen Elizabeth I which, as its been done previously in Who, gives the programme a royal stamping. The viewers question why the Doctor is only receiving this letter now, when he has had five centuries to get it, insinuating that this can only mean that it belongs to a fixed moment in the Doctor’s timestream (If this is the case than in relation to other historical events this suggests that universal time must essentially revolve around the Doctor)… Clever huh?

Kate takes the Doctor to a painting in the National Gallery, entitled ‘Gallifrey falls’; a 3D painting of the burning city of Arcadia, a captured moment in time and space. This painting is not a gateway to the actual planet Gallifrey, it exists as only that specific moment in space and time.

The Doctor is forced to confront this moment in his past: ”I’ve had many faces, many lives but there’s one that I’ve tried very hard to forget”. And the shot delves into the intricate details of the painting; past the crumbling buildings, mass fires and screaming citizens. It focuses on a man in a leather jacket blasting the words ‘NO MORE’ into an outer wall of the city. The viewers know that we are finally going to learn more about what happened in the Time War.. exciting stuff!

The perspective then changes, and we see the planet Gallifrey at the time of the Last Great Time War. The Timelords are about to use their weapon of mass destruction that has been locked away in the Time Vaults. They realise that it has been taken and comment that there would only ever be one man brave enough to use it…

The scene then cuts to the man in the leather jacket walking across deserted plains and carrying an ambiguous sack over his shoulder. This is the War Doctor (played by John Hurt) and he is going to use the WMD in order to destroy Gallifrey to save the universe.

The War Doctor reaches an abandoned enclosure and removes what appears to be a well-designed jack-in-the-box from the sack. We soon learn that this called ‘The Moment’ (also known as ‘The Galaxy Eater’) which is the most powerful weapon in the universe. It has been said that the Doctor used this weapon to end the Last Great Time War, and so this episode is where the viewers get to see it happen.

‘The Moment’ was the final creation of the Ancients of Gallifrey and its operating system was so sophisticated that it became sentient and developed a conscience. As the War Doctor prepares to understand the weapons complexities, he finds a quirky young girl sitting on top of it instead. Even after trying to remove her from the enclosure, he turns around to find that she is still sat upon the box.

Dressed in faeriesque tights and shoes, and a beige ripped jacket, the viewers are delighted to see the beautiful Billie Piper playing the consciousness of The Moment, manifested in the form of Rose Tyler as ‘Badwolf’ (from the reboot series 1 episode 13 ‘The Parting of Ways ’ where Rose looked in to the heart of the tardis and spread the connection of ‘Badwolf’ throughout time and space as a universal link between herself and the Doctor). The casting of Piper as The Moment represents the importance of Rose Tyler within the Doctor’s timestream whilst also suggesting the fundamental powers that Badwolf created in series 1. It also meant that the episode consists of one actor from the first series of the reboot show, and allows one of our favourite companions to point fun at the Doctor, which the cheeky Piper does well: “Stuck between a girl and a box, story of your life isn’t it Doctor”.

With the powers to destroy Gallifrey and also the power to open up time fissures (portals) that allow people and objects to pass from one time period to another (even to events that were time-locked), The Moment opens up time-windows for the War Doctor, in order for him to see the future of his timestream and therefore his future self.

We now see the timeline of the Tenth Doctor (which is happening parallel to both the War Doctor in Gallifrey and the eleventh Doctor in London) who is somewhat romanticising Queen Elizabeth I in 1562 England. He is trying to prove that she is a zygon (an alien that has the ability to mirror the image of humans with the intent of world domination). An initial joke about Queen Elizabeth I not being a virgin Queen was first started as a one-liner by Russell T Davies from the earlier series, which Moffat has followed through.

However, this decision to continue this storyline seemed almost like a weak move from Moffat, as it takes away the devout legacy of Queen Elizabeth I and makes the episode less historically accurate; both of which are strange qualities for an episode promoting such British legacy and pride to have. It also seems to have been quite an easy move to make, considering that it is written in as a romantic link for the Tenth Doctor (widely thought of as the most attractive by fans) to have in order to gain access to her private collection in the National Gallery, and to have a monarch who would use her institutional power for his benefit in the first place…

A time fissure then opens in the corner of the ceiling of the National Gallery, where the Eleventh Doctor (MS) and Clara are browsing through Queen Elizabeth’s personal collection of paintings. The Doctor, upon seeing the time fissure, starts to remember this moment from his past and subsequently throws in his fez and jumps into it (shouting “Geronimo” of course). He lands in the midst of an English woodland and finds himself facing his past self.

This first meeting of the Eleventh and Tenth Doctor (Smith and Tenant) is brilliant, as they bounce off each other uncannily, and work well together as a comedy duo. “Hey I’m the Doctor and I’m so cool and Oops! I’m wearing sand shoes!’ (11 to 10). Smith’s mocking of Tenant works well as a great way for the writers to play on previous characteristics and traits of the Doctor that it knows the audience likes, and it also brings out a side of Tenant that doesn’t take himself too seriously:
“One of them is a ygon” DT (about the two Queen Elizabeth’s)
“Eurghhh… I’m not judging you” MS.

The duo are sooned joined by the War Doctor (JH) who falls through the time fissure, with the opening line: “Anyone lose a fez?” in his humble grandadesque tones. It is interesting to note that even though he is younger than his future selves, he still acts as the older authority: “Why are you pointing your screwdrivers like that, they’re scientific instruments not water pistols!”.

Day of the Doctor-The Three Doctors Matt Smith, John Hurt and David Tennant
Day of the Doctor-The Three Doctors Matt Smith, John Hurt and David Tennant
With the War Doctor John Hurt now in the mix, it gives the writer leway to mock the Doctor’s character even more.
“It’s a timey-wimey thing” MS calls to Clara through the fissure.
“Timey what? Timey-wimey?” JH
“I’ve no idea where he picks that stuff up” DT, shaking his head at Smith.

The Queens guards come to arrest the boys, with the eleventh Doctor calling his other two selves: “My co-conspirators sandshoes and grandad”. For a cultural interpretation he couldn’t have summed them up better.

The trio are taken to the Tower of London, and it is here that the Doctor has time to really face himself. With The Moment by the War Doctor’s side (that only he can see), he confronts the childish trait within his 10/11 personality. He asks the other two if they ever counted the number of people that they killed on Gallifrey, on that fatal day. The Eleventh Doctor seems oblivious to it and claims that he moved on, to which the Tenth Doctor is furious: how could he forget a mass genocide?

The Tenth Doctor reveals that it was 2.47 billion people on Gallifrey that were killed; making the Eleventh Doctor confont everything that he’d tried so hard to forget. This confrontation was a great scene to address the great differences between the Tenth and Eleventh Doctor,and gave the viewers more of an insight into why Matt Smith’s interpretation of the Doctor contrasted so greatly to David Tennants, explaining his whimsical childish ways (which is what we love most about him!)

Throughout the duration of the conversation, the Eleventh Doctor’s scratching a code into the wall: 1716231163’ which is in fact the time and the date of the first ever episode: 17:16 23.11.63. Another intricate detail that adds to the dedication of the show.

At a parallel time, in present day, Kate is showing Clara around the Black Archive; a secret archive in the Tower of London that consists of private information on the Doctor and artefacts and alien technology that exists on Earth but must be kept top secret from the rest of the human population. Kate’s father, Alistair Gordon Lethbridge- Stewart, had been an original founder of the U.N.I.T, and the Doctor was already familiar with him and the intentions of the Black Archive.

Kate shows Clara the vortex manipulator, which had previously been donated there by Captain Jack Harkness. The manipulator is lacking an activation code, to which Kate sends other members of the U.N.I.T. to look for, around the Tower. It is soon found, and a picture of it is sent to Kate’s phone. However, Kate starts morphing into a Zygon in order to use the vortex manipulator for its own means, but Clara conveniently uses the picture of the code on the phone to activate the vortex manipulator to travel to the Doctor.

In 1562, The Moment (still in the form of Rose Tyler as Badwolf) prompts the War Doctor to use his screwdriver to calculate the molecular anatomy of the door in order to unlock it. Going with the “different case, same software” analogy, a calculation that would take hundreds of years to complete is done in seconds… (Although theoretically, the Doctor would have noticed this ongoing calculation at least once throughout the period of his timestream between the War Doctor and the Eleventh). However, it seems as if this calculation wasn’t needed anyway, as Clara bursts through the door claiming that it was in fact unlocked… I guess even the Doctor can lack common sense sometimes.

Queen Elizabeth soon joins the party, and leads them to the Zygons base of operations to reveal their plans to the Doctor and Clara. The zygons have been using the stasis cube, which allows time travel to frozen instants in time (which is the timelord art) which means that they can use the cube to travel in to the paintings and then into the times in which that painting exists.

However, the Tenth Doctor, thinking that the Queen is a Zygon, comments on the authenticity of the Queen’s bad breath… Although in fact it is the real Queen! She proves this by confessing that she killed her zygon twin in the forest (wipping out a knife from her stocking) and then comes out with a classic quote:
“The arrogance that tipifies their kind… ”
“What the zygons?” Clara
“…MEN!”
Much more like Queen Elizabeth I!

However, Moffat follows through with his initial plan and writes in a wedding between the Queen and the Tenth Doctor, for the intent of comic value. You know, how could she resist after the Doctor has offended her so much, right?

All three Doctors and Clara then venture back in to the tenth Doctor’s tardis, where it’s time to comment upon the ever-changing interior of the most-loved time machine:
“The round things!” MS
“I love the round things!” DT
“What are the round things?” MS
“No idea” DT.

Because of the previous affiliation the Doctor had with Kate’s father, the tardis is systematically linked to the Black Archive, where a show down is happening between Kate and her zygon twin: Kate starting a detonation in attempt to destroy London to save the world, and her twin cancelling the detonation in order to continue with Zygon domination (the detonation is activated and deactivated by voice recognition). The Tardis is blocked from entering the Black Archive, and so the Doctor has to find other means of travel to reach the Black Archive in time.

The Eleventh Doctor uses the Tardis telephone and call’s the mobile of one of the U.N.I.T. workers, to a time when he was first observing the 3D painting at the National Gallery (which is what we see at the beginning of the episode). He tells him to take the painting of ‘Gallifrey Falls’ to the Black Archive, and then himself, the tenth Doctor and the War Doctor use the stasis cube to travel to the dimensions of the painting itself.

The painting is only a captured moment in time of the City of Arcadia during the Time War, which was supposedly ‘taken’ or ‘made’ before the three versions of the Doctor enter it. If this is so, then theoretically the painting would also consist of another War Doctor that belonged to the painting, but this possibility is never explored.

All three Doctors then kick ass, using their screwdrivers to shoot a Dalek back in to the outer-existence of the Black Archive, with them following in slow motion as they announce:
“Hi” DT
“I’m the Doctor” JH
“Sorry about the Dalek” MS

They confront the two Kate’s and all use their sonic screwdrivers to activate the memory modifier, which happens to be situated on the ceiling above where they are sat, (as staff have to have their memories erased after every time they work in the Archive). This means that the zygons and humans then have an hour in which neither can remember whether they are zygon or human and The Eleventh Doctor declares “Peace in our time”.

As the War Doctor enjoys this peaceful moment he decides that it is time for him to make his decision, and The Moment takes him back to Gallifrey. It is when he is about to press the big red button that now exists on top of the box, due to his personal request, he states “Great men are forged in fire. It is the priviledge of the lesser man to light the flame”. Yet before he does, he hears the familiar sound of the tardis, and low and behold the Tenth and Eleventh Doctor step out of their blue boxes.

All three of them vow to press the button together, as the Doctor reassures himself that he is doing the right thing: destroying Gallifrey to save the rest of the universe. Although, the Moment gives the Doctor a projection of the Gallifrey he is about to destroy, focusing on the innocent people that are about to be murdered.

Clara also steps in to talk to her beloved Eleventh Doctor:
“We’ve already got enough warriors and any idiot can be a hero…”
“Then what do I do?”
“What you’ve always done… be a Doctor”.

The Tenth Doctor confesses his principles “Never cruel or cowardly”, and the War Doctor “Never give up, never give in”, and it is in this moment that the Eleventh Doctor changes his mind: “Gentleman, I’ve had 400 years to think about this. I’ve changed my mind”.

He is then estatic as he rememberes this moment from his past. It then clicks for the Tenth Doctor roo, and he joins in with the ludicrous happiness. The War Doctor is simply delighted because he is experiencing this for the first time, stating that The Moment showed him exactly what he needed to see.

This also means that when the three on-screen Doctors have this moment, so do all the other past Doctors that have come before.. At the same time. This may be in accordance with the Doctor’s regeneration, and a specific fixed point for all the different biological forms of the Doctor.

It is also interesting to note here that the consciousness of the WMD might have actually been inherently good, if it prompted the Doctor not to use it in the first place. And if the consciousness was in the form as Rose Tyler as Badwolf, then it might mean that if Rose had never looked in to the heart of the Tardis in the first place then maybe the Doctor would not have been led to this exact moment in time either. Genius!

Now we reach the absolute climax of the entire episode, or could even stretch to say the history of Doctor Who. With Matt Smith being the lucky guy to have played the Eleventh Doctor and to subsequently have this phenomenal decision falling upon his part of the Doctor’s timestream; he will forever be the Doctor who chose to save Gallifrey instead of destroying it. Such a revolutionary plot change in the history of the Doctor has changed an entire guilt trait of his personality. Moffat couldn’t have written anything more controversial and fictionally life-changing for Who in his timestream so far.

Different film footage is then shown of past actors who have played the Doctor announcing Gallifrey as a destination, to insinuate that the Doctor has travelled back there on multiple occasions. Our three main Doctors with their kick-ass phrases as they hit the acceleration lever:
“Geronimo!” MS
“Allonsy!” DT
“For God Sake, Gallifrey Stands!” JH

We see all twelve tardis’s travelling towards the planet of Gallifrey, and we hear the much anticipated voice: “All thirteen!” and a shot of Peter Capaldi’s eyes; the next future Doctor after Matt Smith.

A suggestive explanation for why the Doctor as Capaldi also returned to Gallifrey in that moment (as the moment should only be up to the Eleventh Doctor who makes the choice), is that soon after regeneration into Capaldi the Doctor decides that another pair of hands would help in saving Gallifrey. This plotline possibility has potential to be explored in other episodes.

We then see a mass explosion of blinding light, and the scene cuts to a close up of a cup of tea, with the viewers left unknowing to what happened to the Doctor’s home planet.

The three Doctors and Clara find themselves back at the National Gallery, staring at the 3D painting of the fallen city of Arcadia, with the three tardis’s lined up against the wall. It is drawn to attention that the War Doctor will not remember this moment, so he must continue to live on as the Doctor but with the thought that he burned Gallifrey and didn’t attempt to save it.

The War Doctor states: “And if I grow to be half the man that you are… (the audience assume that he is talking to his future selves)…Clara Oswald, I’ll be a very happy man indeed”. This is interesting as in hindsight, the moment where the Eleventh Doctor is about to press the button on the WMD and destroy Gallifrey, it is actually Clara who steps in and changes his mind. Not only does this link to Clara’s episode (‘The Name of the Doctor’ Season 7 episode 13) where she is forever saving the Doctor throughout time and space but it also reinstates the concept, as it did with Rose Tyler/Badwolf as WMD consciousness, that the Doctor’s decisions are rather propelled by his female companions.

The War Doctor steps back in to his tardis, and then regenerates into the nineth Doctor, Christopher Eccleson, and assumably continues onto his journey to meet Rose Tyler for the first time.

The Tenth Doctor will not remember this moment either, so he must continue on his journey but still with that hidden guilt. The Eleventh knows that the Tenth will not remember the moment, and so when Tenth asks where Eleventh is heading, Eleventh tells him that he has seen Trenzalore, (the planet where the tomb of the Doctor is); openingup potential for future storylines surrounding the Doctors death. The Tenth Doctor announces that he doesn’t want to go, true words of an undieing hero, and then leaves in his tardis, to resume his time travels.

Our current Doctor is left by himself again. Clara gives him time alone to look upon his painting, and our cheeky Matt Smith is left revelling in the fact that he is the Doctor who gets to have this magical moment of remembrance.

However, the episode gives Matt Smith yet another prime moment, as whist he daydreams of becoming curator of the National Gallery, he is answered with the appearance of the gallery curator himself. Complete with suit and walking stick, he is greeted by the familiar face of Tom Baker.

This meeting is a great reflection of the connecion between the original Doctor Who series and the reboot. The humble Tom Baker reveals to our Doctor that the title of the artwork is in fact ‘Gallifrey falls no more’. Eleventh’s eyes light up as he realises that his effort to save Gallifrey did not go amiss: Gallifrey is still out there somewhere!

The two generations of Who’s then share an inside joke:
“If I were you… Perhaps I was you of course or perhaps you were me.. Congratulations…” TB
‘Thankyou very much’ MS
It’s  heart-warming for whovians old and new to see Matt Smith approved by previous actor Tom Baker in the role of filling the Doctor’s boots, and it is also a clever way to open the door for previous actors as the Doctor to be written back in in future episodes.

Left with this universal knowledge, the last scene of the episode is the most spine-chilling for both the Doctor and his fans. We hear Matt Smith voice over:
“Clara sometimes ask me if I dream. “Of course I dream” I tell her, “Everybody dreams” “.
We see his feet running around the tardis, like the happy-go-lucky guy he is.
” “What do you dream about?” she asks. “The same thing everybody dreams about” I tell her. “I dream about where I’m going”. She always laughs at that and says “You’re not going anywhere, you’re just wandering about”. It’s not true, not anymore. I have a new destination” “.
We see Matt Smith as the eleventh Doctor open the doors of his tardis, onto a dreamesque vision, with the backs of all the previous eleven Doctors (icluding John Hurt).
“My journey is the same as yours, the same as anyones. It’s taken me so many years, so many lifetimes but at last I know where I’m going, where I’ve always been going…Home.. the long way round”.
The camera pans out and the finishing shot of the episode are the Doctors looking up at the planet Gallifrey. We can finally see into the Doctor’s dreams, and what’s lied in his unconscious for all these years. Such an incredible moment for the Doctor and all of his beloved followers.

‘The Day of The Doctor’ has been received with mixed reviews from fans. Some argue that by changing the entire history of the Time War, Moffat is taking it upon himself to give him the authority to essentially rewrite 50 years of Who (reminiscent of ‘The Name of the Doctor’) and by doing so removes a vital part of the Doctor’s personality. Yet on the other hand, fans have seen this rewrite of the Doctor’s own timestream as phenomenal as it has given the Doctor a new purpose of travel, to find his home planet, and has given the show a whole new direction. This rewrite was also truly representative of the ways in which Who writer Steven Moffat has changed the show from sci-fi realism, which is what Russell T Davies achieved (focusing primarily on mass extraterrestrial attacks on the human race as a whole) into more magical sci-fi fantasy, focusing primarily around the Doctor and his own timestream, and now even his own race and journey to his home planet…

Who knows what’s in store  ;)