At 7pm on 21st March, Doctor Who fans marked the dire times with a rewatch of 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor, and came together as even Steven Moffat took to Twitter to share his own thoughts on the episode. Perennially late to the party, here I am to share my own.
Oh yes, Steven Moffat specifically got Twitter so that he could tweet-a-long to Day of the Doctor. Momentous times indeed, and he was certain to share all of his thoughts on the matter below. I have embedded his tweets for your convenience.
Also joining in on the fun was Lee Binding, an artist known to Doctor Who fans as designing many posters, as well as contributing towards the Blu Ray designs for the Classic series. Here he provided insight into the development of the poster for The Day of the Doctor, which is a truly fascinating thread. I have also presented this below (and used my favourite for the featured image for the article).
Did anybody else important tweet about this? I have no idea. I am also not going to Google it, because I really want to get down to business and do some writing about The Day of the Doctor myself.
Firstly, the episode opens with a throwback to the first ever episode of Doctor Who, not only with the original opening credits, but complete with a policeman, a sign indicating Totter’s Yard (where the TARDIS was parked when Ian and Barbara discovered it) and Coal Hill Secondary School in Shoreditch, with none other than “I. Chesterton” as the Head of the Governors. I still maintain that it was a shame that Ian never cropped up in spin-off Class, as this would have been a perfect opportunity, but I digress. Only 32 seconds into the episode, and already this is a fanboy’s dream.
Clara receives a message from her Doctor and, hopping onto her motorbike, and with her own glorious theme spiralling through the scene, drives straight through the TARDIS doors, where it is parked in the middle of the countryside. Personally, I think the only problem I have with this is the fact that Clara, a 26-year-old school teacher in London (sound familiar?) is able to navigate to the TARDIS based purely upon an address. Nobody, except for black cab drivers, is that good. However, kudos on an immensely ambitious shot as we segue from outside the TARDIS to inside it.
Clara is even able to close the TARDIS doors with a snap of her own fingers, a delightful progression for her relationship with the TARDIS, considering its hatred of her throughout Series 7. No reference as yet to the fact that Clara sacrificed herself millions of times over to rescue the Doctor, but I’m confident it will happen any second now. Oh, it won’t you say? Literally never mentioned again? So what was the point in … oh … alright then.
Without warning, the TARDIS is lifted off the ground by a crane! Cutting to the Tower of London, plucky and enthusiastic UNIT worker Osgood runs towards Kate Stewart. Personal favourite line? The fact that Kate Stewart says that they need to replace the batteries in the crows at the Tower. Delightful.
Apparently, something so major has happened, that they are transporting the Doctor, complete with TARDIS, directly to the scene of the crime which is, apparently, Trafalgar Square and the National Portrait Gallery. Sounds like the perfect opportunity for the main cast list to appear on screen.
A message has been delivered from Queen Elizabeth I – oh yes, The First. The Doctor knows her – because of course he knows her – and, typically, fills Clara in on all of the necessary exposition that she needs to know. Taking advantage of the fact that The Day of the Doctor was released in 3D, the oil painting of No More – indeed of the Time War – is, itself, three-dimensional.
In a direct link to the revelations at the end of previous episode, The Name of the Doctor, the Doctor is forced to confront the regeneration that he has ignored: The War Doctor. Played delightfully by John Hurt, and purposefully erased by future Doctors due to his actions during the Time War, in order to save the universe.
Suddenly, we are in the midst of the Time War, an event that has been spoken of since the advent of New Who, ever since Christopher Eccleston popped up onto our screens, claiming to be the only Time Lord left. Many references have been made about the Time War since, from Davros and his Dalek fleet in fact escaping the Time War, with the help of Dalek Caan, as well as the Master’s own escape. Indeed, we even saw a snippet of Gallifrey at War in David Tennant’s swan song The End of Time, as Rassilon attempted to escape their fate via the Master. None of those glimpses have been quite as extensive as this, however.
Despite this past Doctor – who we shall call John Hurt here, for the sake of being entirely transparent – being fairly similar in intents and goals to Smith and Tennant, it’s curious that when we meet with him, he has yet to commit the act that he has been shunned for. Personality wise, in lots of ways he is superior to his successors, but is merely beaten down and fatigued by the continuing horror of the Time War that he himself is privileged and able to bring to a close. While his actions are terrible, the condemnation of Hurt is much more a condemnation on their own actions and their inability to come to terms with and cope with the atrocities they committed. Instead of reconciling that with their own identity, the cognitive disconnect is so intense that they completely disregard it, and demonise that incarnation as separate and distinct from their own existences. I mean, it seems fairly obvious, but apparently humans aren’t the only ones who deflect their brains away from trauma.
So, Hurt is in an abandoned barn in the deserts of Gallifrey, away from the fighting, with the Moment, when he is disturbed by an apparition. An apparition who looks suspiciously like Rose, who seems intent to rattle the Doctor. I mean, it is a stellar piece of casting, and Billie Piper is adoring the role and opportunity – though whether she was indeed the greatest throwback to be the voice of the Moment – considering we could have had Susan or Romana, is questionable – especially since she is Bad Wolf instead of Rose, though I suppose the dynamic of these scenes would be highly different if Hurt recognised her character from his own past. All that aside, however, any moment that has Billie Piper on screen is alright by me.
Bizarrely, through a swirling vortex, arrives…a fez? We don’t quite understand it yet, so we cut back to Smith, reading the letter from Elizabeth. Also strangely, McGillop gets a random phonecall. Also contextless, but prepare to completely forget this for about an hour, until the timelines all sync back up again. In the Portrait Gallery, we are treated to a portrait of Elizabeth I (Joanna Page) and the Doctor, in his tenth incarnation.
Over to Mr Tennant for this next bit, as he enjoys a romantic picnic with Queen Elizabeth I, then preparing to marry her. OR IS HE. A beautifully hilarious sequence then unfolds, in which he accuses her of not being the real Elizabeth I, due to her accepting his marriage proposal and not questioning his difference in face. He posits that she is, in fact, a Zygon duplicate, not least because of his scientific dinging machine that detects Zygons. Turns out that it was the horse. Awkward. Oh, Doctor, how you get into these situations. It’s a wonderful reintroduction back to Tennant’s Doctor. Delightfully funny, and a great moment of levity within this admittedly heavy special, made even better when he utters his dramatic speech to an ordinary rabbit.
Back in a clearing, Queen Elizabeth and her Zygon duplicate, start arguing, with Tennant looking on. The two are delightfully well matched, neither showing an indication of which could be the clone. Typical evil twin tropes going on here. But we haven’t the time to dwell, because out of another time fissure comes…
The same fez…
And we still don’t understand what’s going on with the fez yet, so we’re back with Smith, still in the National Portrait Gallery. In the undergallery, the Doctor is confused by stone dust covering the floor, but again, we haven’t the time to digest this, as we’re distracted by Osgood, who is given the stone dust to analyse, but really it’s just an opportunity for Smith to be goofy and Osgood to have a fangirl freakout so that we understand her character.
Oh look the fez! It’s in a stand in the undergallery and, Smith – being Smith – picks it up and puts it on, much to Clara’s chagrin. Following through, two more three-dimensional paintings hang on the wall, with broken glass in them. Except, the glass has been broken from the inside. Apparently, there used to be figures inside the paintings, who have now disappeared. It’s a brilliant idea, so it’s almost a shame that this ultimately amounts to absolutely nothing. Suddenly, the time fissure appears, and Smith recognises it, vaguely. Taking the fez from his head, he throws it in, before following through himself.
And, just like that, he lands in the forest with Tennant and the two Elizabeths. Cue the obligatory commentary on each other’s Doctor’s appearances, because it just isn’t a multi-Doctor story without a bit of passive aggressive banter. Having dealt with the two Elizabeths, the Doctor throws his fez back through the fissure, but it does not land back with Clara in the way that they expected it to. No, instead it is with John Hurt in the Time War. Reversing the polarity of the fissure, the War Doctor arrives in front of them, and is suitably shocked to see that over time, he has become younger and younger in his future incarnations. Just to add more tension to the plot, Kate Stewart appears to have been replaced by a Zygon duplicate – they’re in the past, and the present? Hooray for those Zygons, a threat who have been missing since the 70s. Additionally, Elizabeth I’s guards want to arrest the Doctor for having bewitched the Queen. Quite why they think that she’s bewitched I have no idea. Just while they’re dealing with that situation, the Queen returns, indicating that she has dealt with the other version of her, and commands the guards to arrest the Doctor.
Smith insists that all three of them should be imprisoned within the Tower, so Kate and Clara head there as well. Meanwhile, in the undergallery, Osgood realises that the stone dust is from the statues, meaning that they were destroyed and replaced with the Zygons. The Zygons choose that moment (because it, of course, wouldn’t have made any sense to have done it at any point prior to this) to attack Osgood and McGillop. One Zygon transforms into Osgood to torment her, stealing the inhaler (this will be important later), before Osgood trips her, grabs the inhaler back (are you following?) and runs away.
Kate and Clara are in the Black Archive now, which is below the Tower of London, a location which wipes the memories of those who enter it due to a specific gas. Easter eggs galore here, as we see pictures of the Doctor’s past associates, as well as Captain Jack’s vortex manipulator, which UNIT has managed to get ahold of, following one of his deaths. Kate wants to use the vortex manipulator to change the past, where the Doctor is, and needs to know the activation code which, as luck would have it, has been carved on the wall of the Tower of London by the Doctor.
Gasp! McGillop and Osgood are there as well, and Kate says “they’ve probably finished disposing of the humans”, revealing that she is, in fact, a Zygon duplicate – as we all suspected, because she was acting suspicious as hell. Clara, while they are conveniently distracted, uses the activation code and disappears using the vortex manipulator. I’m still not entirely certain why the Zygons wanted the vortex manipulator, but maybe they weren’t all that focussed upon getting back to the Doctor and just wanted the secret of time travel for themselves. Who can say? I don’t think it’s expanded upon.
Hurt wants to know why Smith and Tennant seem to be so ashamed of his existence, and why they seem ashamed to be grown ups. The answer is obvious. The Doctor laughs in the face of responsibility ever since this event, and has been running from it through all that time. Hurt asks them how many people died when they activated the Moment at the end of the Time War. Smith attests that he has no idea and that he has never counted, though Tennant knows the precise number, and demands to know how Smith forgot. Hurt is shocked by the person he has become, should he activate the Moment, and is pressured to make a decision, though he refuses. The three set about to unlock the door by programming the sonic screwdriver to disintegrate the door, working out that the calculation should be complete by the time it becomes Smith’s screwdriver. As well as a delightful metaphor for the Doctor. Same software, different case.
Clara bursts in. The door was unlocked. You’ve met them before, don’t you remember? A bit. YOU WOULD THINK THAT SHE WOULD REMEMBER. It’s sort of important information, but they really had no idea what to do with Clara at the beginning. I love her though.
Back in the National Gallery, Osgood finds Kate and releases her from the Zygon web that she is trapped in. They rush off to the Tower to face the Zygons.
Queen Elizabeth explains that the Zygons want Earth as a new home as their own planet was destroyed. Elizabeth is using a device that will put the Zygons inside a painting, so that they can conquer it in the future, when it is worth conquering, and is less primitive. Tennant accuses Elizabeth of being a Zygon fake for revealing the plan, prompting her to reveal that she is real, but that she disposed of her Zygon duplicate. She enlists the Doctor to help protect the kingdom from the Zygon threat, which explains why the Doctor was called in at the beginning of this episode to the National Portrait Gallery. Starting to make sense and it is, in fact a pretty compelling storyline in its own right, even without the Time War storyline to contend with.
The Doctor flees from Elizabeth, following their wedding, and we’re back in the old coral TARDIS, which starts glitching when all of them are inside it, causing a mashup of all of the different TARDIS, with roundels, then onto Matt Smith’s TARDIS. Cue the You’ve redecorated…I don’t like it line because, of course.
Back in the Black Archive, the Zygons are looking through the equipment, deciding what to use to conquer the planet. Kate, Osgood and McGillop arrive to confront their Zygon duplicates and set the self destruct protocol, which the Doctor isn’t so happy about – which is pretty unfair, because it’s classic bargaining strategy. The Doctors are unable to get into the Black Archive, which is TARDIS proof, somehow, so they use the Zygon technology to get in, using the No More painting, which McGillop sent to the Black Archive when he received that phonecall previously. You keeping up? Good.
So, within the painting, the three Doctors use their sonic on a Dalek, causing it to fly out into the Black Archive, permitting the Doctors and Clara an escape route, ready to face the Zygon threat of invasion. Utilising the amnesia gas, they allow the Zygons and the humans to forget what race they are. Which seems a little unfair, but also brilliant from a dramatic point of view, and also allows Smith and Tennant to make clear that they entirely condemn their actions during the Time War, to sacrifice particular people for the good of many.
The two Kates, unable to determine if they are Zygon or human, they call a stop to the countdown timer. The Osgoods are quickly able to ascertain which is which, due to the presence of the inhaler, but that’s not strictly important as it never comes back or is mentioned again.
Clara and John have a lovely heart-to-heart, as she comes to realise that it hasn’t happened for him yet, and that he’s still able to stop it from happening. He heads back with the Moment, ready to make his decision at the end of the Time War.
“The TARDIS brings hope wherever it goes”. So brilliant seeing the Doctor himself feel comfort and hope in that sound, as the only creature who has never been able to experience that before. Here comes the Doctor, ready to save himself. Wait, how are they here. Oh they’ve answered that. Well done, Moffat. Thank you for that.
The Doctors take the decision to use the Moment together, because there is no alternative, and they vow to accept that decision and come to terms with it. Except Clara hasn’t. The Moment projects to them the front lines of the war, as the Doctor and Clara confront the decision to make. The Warrior, the Hero and the Doctor. A genuinely beautiful scene, played absolutely perfectly.
Never cruel or cowardly. Never give up. Never give in.The Doctor’s Vow
Armed with the Zygon technology, the Doctor has another solution available to him. Not to use the Moment, and wipe out both the Daleks and Time Lords indiscriminately, but to use all of the incarnations across time and space to conceal Gallifrey within a painting. Doing this entails transporting Gallifrey to a different universe, entirely frozen, though the Doctor does not know whether it will even work, or if they will survive.
Suddenly, all of the previous incarnations of the Doctor are present, appearing in archival footage, surrounding the planet. Even at that time future Doctor Peter Capaldi gets in on the action, causing fans around the planet to explode. As the Daleks close in, intensifying their attack, the Doctor is left unsure whether they succeeded in rescuing Gallifrey, but resolve that at least they tried to save everybody, instead of doing what they had intended to.
Back at the National Portrait Gallery, Hurt and Tennant set off, Tennant again uttering his final words, “I don’t want to go”, while Hurt starts to regenerate into Christopher Eccleston, his memories of saving Gallifrey erased, and the timeline catching up with him. As Clara waits in the TARDIS, the Doctor is confronted by the Curator, a mysterious gentleman who looks an awful lot like the fourth incarnation of the Doctor grown up, and played by Tom Baker. Entirely eccentric, the Curator throws up perhaps more questions than he answers. While he reassures the Doctor that the title of the painting is “Gallifrey Falls No More”, it is also suggested that he is the Doctor later on in his regeneration cycle, as he revisits his past appearances once more.
Well then, there we have it! A very thorough rewatch and garbled talking through my thoughts on this episode. I will be back on Thursday, which marks the 15th anniversary of Modern revival Who, with the episode Rose, which I will be live tweeting and then summarising my thoughts about on here. Hopefully it’s a little bit more coherent than these ramblings. Thanks for joining if, indeed, you did join. If not, this was a wonderful way for me to spend my day.
- It must be so hard to write an anniversary special and finding the balance between honouring the past and also furthering the storyline. I do think that Moffat did a good job with this, though an awful lot of time was given aside to the Zygon storyline as separate to the Time Lord one. It makes so much sense by the end, but I suppose it might have been nicer for the storyline to be slightly less busy and, instead of using stolen Zygon tech to save Gallifrey, there might have been a cleaner solution, or a grander machination at work by the Moment to rescue the Time Lords. Still, it is a wonderful way to address the Time War, and for the Doctor to “forgive” himself, without completely undercutting the previous seasons, even though Gallifrey was criminally underused thereafter, until being destroyed again in Series 12.
- Mike Yates and Sara Kingdom meeting on the Black Archive wall is really a headscratcher – something that Steven Moffat clearly adores, judging by his tweets.
- Including a regeneration scene for John Hurt into Christopher Eccleston was delightful, even if it has somewhat erased some possibility of fan fiction.
- Tom Baker as a strange, future version of the Doctor is so delightfully left-field and inspired. Entirely barmy, but it makes so much sense here.
- Jenna Coleman is so incredible in this episode. Frequently left with slightly less to do, she is exceptional on Gallifrey. Not only is her character responsible for saving the Doctor so many times, but now she is also to be credited for rescuing the entire of Gallifrey. Her character does not get enough credit for the wonderful contributions she has made, not to mention the fact that Clara is the first companion where the writers were unafraid of making a large point of their flaws. Often, I found that Rose was presented in a glorified way, and the same with Amy, but Clara’s entire storyline is focussed upon her flaws.
- Another frustration with Clara – and I suppose that this is the first episode afterwards – but she literally created echoes of herself that saved the Doctor throughout time. Nobody has ever done so much from him in his entire existence, and yet it is never mentioned again. He doesn’t treat her with this level of devotion, and similarly she does not commit her life to him in the same way as previous companions have, such as living on the TARDIS. Clara’s personality in her first season was dramatically in need of work, but it’s a testament to Coleman’s skills that she is still so likeable.
- Some brilliant sections and quotable lines here, including the wonderful, “Home…the long way round.”.