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Review: Top 13 Things in THE DAY OF THE DOCTOR

It’s sometimes the most difficult to review a thing you love unconditionally. How can you quantify unmitigated adoration in anything approaching coherent speech? I mused on Twitter following the airing of “The Day of the Doctor,” the 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who, that my review here on Nerdist.com would be little more than “AAAAAAAAAAA!!!” and in the time since I tweeted up to now, I really haven’t found anything more articulate or profound than that. After going through each and every story in the Companion’s Companion over the last few months, I worried that my love of the show and the wonders it possesses would lessen as I was forced to think about it critically over and over. I also worried that the special would let me down in some way, like I’d built it up too much in my head for it to be anything more than a bit of a disappointment. What a dumb dummy I was.

So, instead of merely gushing for a few paragraphs, I’ve decided to tell you my 13 (yes, thirteen) favorite things about “The Day of the Doctor,” and also the one (only one) thing I was mildly disappointed by.

1. All three of the main Doctors got ample screentime/quips/moments
With something like this, it’s going to be very difficult to give every character his due, especially when one is the current star, one is the very beloved former star, and one is a brand new version played by a screen legend. Steven Moffat was able to give them all the proper due and none were left out. It’s the story of THE Doctor, not just the Eleventh, Tenth, or War one.

2. It made sense for Billie Piper to be there
Something that could have been really weird is having the character of Rose Tyler actually in the proceedings. She’s already gotten three quite-good sendoffs from the show, so having her back would have messed that up a bit, and would have meant either a) it would be she and the Tenth Doctor from Series 2, or b) it would have meant she’d somehow been brought back between “Journey’s End” and “The End of Time,” which also wouldn’t have worked. She got to be the Doctor’s conscience, which is what Rose always was, but in a way that didn’t bother with screwing up her storyline. Genius.

3. It rewrote and changed games without lessening the past
It’s integral to the Ninth and Tenth Doctor’s tenures that they believe they destroyed their own people to end the war. The battle-scarred nature of their journeys depends on them having done this horrible thing. In this, we’re able to get a hopeful resolution to the Time War without taking away the sacrifices and choices made because he thought he’d done something dreadful.

4. Matt Smith, David Tennant, and John Hurt TOGETHER
In all of the multi-Doctor stories (just three of them) that came prior to this, the best relationship/banter had been between the Second and Third Doctors. Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee had a great adversarial snap and were always taking the piss out of each other. Here, Tennant and Smith do a bit of that, but are also seen to get along really well at times and are like the best cop-movie duo in history. John Hurt is both the younger man and the older man in this instance, and the disapproving glare with a twinkle in his eye as his “mid-life crises” do their dashing thing is especially grin-inducing. It’s like he is us for a little bit as he makes fun of the way they point their screwdrivers at things (“What are you going to do, assemble a cabinet at them?”) and wear “sandshoes” and “dickey bows.”

5. Clara rocked!
Clara is my favorite companion of the new series hands down and it’s for things like what happened in this special. I figured she wouldn’t have too much to do with the three titans around, but she is in many ways the reason they’re able to be better in the end than burning all the 2.75 billion children of Gallifrey.

6. The Queen Elizabeth I stuff
This special tied up the loose end of Queen Elizabeth I knowing the Doctor (in “The Shakespeare Code”) and hating him before he knows he’s done anything. You’d be pissed off, too, if your husband ran off for a couple of decades. Joanna Page got a bit of the short shrift as more of a plot character than a thematic one, but she really did a great job as both the real QEI and the Zygon version.

7. Speaking of, the Zygons!
It was so lovely to see these beloved one-off villains (from 1975’s “Terror of the Zygons”) return and not be merely a cameo. They, not the Daleks, are the bad guys of the special, and they’re just as creepy and effective as they were back then. Fans had wanted their return since they appeared, and here we have them in all their gooey, suction-cuppy glory. Also funny, the Tenth Doctor could never figure out who or what was a Zygon.

8. UNIT!
I love the UNIT years anyway, and I thought having Jemma Redgrave brought in as the Brigadier’s daughter in “The Power of Three” was a wonderful touch. I hope UNIT returns many times, seeing as the Doctor now has a desk. The character of Osgood, clearly a Doctor Who fan, was also a welcome addition. Love for her to come back too.

9. The throwback opening titles
What better way to celebrate 50 years of Doctor Who than by starting the episode with the original main theme and titles? And fading to reveal the policeman walking by Coal Hill School, seeing that Ian Chesterton is the headmaster of the school, and knowing that Clara is now a teacher there, are all frigging wonderful.

10. It took the piss out of itself
Doctor Who is the best show ever, but it also does a LOT of silly things. All of Moffat’s sly jabs at the goofier parts of the show, and especially of the new series, were brilliant. The jokes about kissing, the aforementioned sonic screwdriver joke, the whole thing where the Doctors overthink how to break out of the cell in the Tower without actually trying the door first, and “chinny” and “skinny” were all terrific.

11. It somewhat redeemed the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration
As I’ve said a billion times, I really hated the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration because I felt like it made him seem weak and unheroic, and sort of not giving Smith and Moffat a proper welcome with his tearful line of “I don’t want to go.” This was, of course, more RTD’s doing than Tennants, and here, as the Tenth Doctor leaves, we have two wonderful moments that take a bit of it back. One, he says “It’s good to see my future’s in safe hands,” and two, when he says “I don’t want to go” again and the Eleventh Doctor says, “He always says that.” Just lovely, and finally the passing of the torch (albeit at the end) that should have happened on New Year’s Day 2010.

12. Tom Baker as The Curator!
It seemed a shame that none of the older Doctors could really be in the special because, well, they all look way too old. Moffat recognized that the history of the show was important, so including Tom Baker, the oldest living Doctor, and putting forth the idea that he could be a future retired incarnation of the Doctor who’s going through his old faces again is both intriguing and fun. He wasn’t in the hat and scarf, but it was still Tom Baker and it was still the Doctor. He and Smith play off each other really nicely in that scene and it brought an extra level of class.

13. The Thirteen Doctors!
Yes, it was fan service, but when every single incarnation of the Doctor appeared at the end to put Gallifrey into a painting, I got giddy, and when Peter Capaldi’s eyes appeared for that brief moment, signifying the future, I might have clapped loudly. In fact, I did. Such a gorgeous way to celebrate 50 years, and hopefully 50 more.

Now, the one thing I was a bit disappointed by was that John Hurt regenerated, but we didn’t see him turn into Christopher Eccleston. I understand he didn’t want to do it and that he’d met with Moffat but decided against it, but, after “The Night of the Doctor,” I had a glimmer of hope that maybe they’d have kept that secret incredibly secret. We knew what was happening, but I’d have really loved even a two second shot of the Ninth Doctor post regeneration.

That’s my only nitpick. Steven Moffat, director Nick Hurran, and all the cast and crew delivered on every possible level, and made me want to watch it 50 more times between now and Christmas. In short, after months of build-up and thinking and wishing and hoping, I still love Doctor Who, and if possible, more than ever.

Doctors

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72 comments

  • But John Hurt DID regenerate into Christopher Eccleston. It wasn’t the full thing, obviously, but if you go back and are watching the eyes and the nose, you can see Chris Eccleston shining through. Very brief and very subtle, but I assure you, it is there!

  • I thought that the Master was at the “End of the Universe” living as the human Yana when the Time War ended (Utopia).

    Absolutely loved, loved, loved the special. I think I may have cried a little when Tom Baker appeared and I definitely shrieked when I got a glimpse of Twelve’s eyes. Absolutely fantastic!

  • Those who remain unsure of where John Hurt’s War Doctor fits need only review the credits at the end of this marvelous 50th Anniversary special. The Doctor’s incarnations appear in proper order now with Paul McGann regenerating into John Hurt, then to Christopher Eccleston.

  • I now have the Theory that the Doctor puts on a Fez everytime he sees one, just in case it is “this is where I come in” also, the War Doctor is who 11 sees in “The God Complex”

  • Dear Nerdist.. you say that ‘he’ did not ‘want to do it’ i.e. the regeneration scene but do you not mean Eccleston as from your wording it could also somewhat ambiguously, mean Hurt?

  • This is what I think happened:

    After destroying gallifrey and the daleks (from the doctor’s POV), he regenerates and, as Eccleston’s doctor, begins cleaning up the peripheral players in the time war, eventually tracking the autons down to earth to stop them there.

    He takes a breather upon meeting rose and slows down, takes a look at himself for the first time, only to gauge how a companion would see him, something he hasn’t had for a long time.

    I think the important thing from this story is that what happened “now” is exactly what happened back then, that gallifrey was never destroyed. that explains why the daleks are also still around a bit here and there, confusing Eccleston’s doctor, and even why the master survived where the Moment would have destroyed him too. The Doctor only believed he destroyed them all up until Smith’s doctor’s personal timeline of the “present.”

  • @baughb_the_bard

    I don’t agree that CE had necessarily been time travelling that much before ‘Rose’

    Because it could be at any point after ‘Rose’ (or during, more on that later) the event sof ‘Rose’ on CE’s personal timeline that he time travelled to stop that couple getting on Titanic etc. Just because Rose wasn’t in the pictures herslef it could be an adventure undocumented by the TV series.

    Hell, all of that evidence that Clive has could have happened at the end of the episode – in between the Doctor leaving in the T.A.R.D.I.S. and then coming back for Rose (when the T.AR.D.I.S. dematerializes and then reappears and CE says something like ‘Did I mention, it also travels in time)

    That’s my personal interpretation, of course, but I like it. Seems neater.

  • I assumed that when John Hurt regenerated (he is kind of Doctor #0) he would regenerated into the ’1st’ Doctor, William Hartnell. Which means Hurt did not get his wish of looking younger!

  • The specail was so good on every level. I agree with all these points and also confirms that “Rose” was the first adventure the Eccleston Doctor had. Did you catch Hurt’s comment about his ears, which echoes a comment Eccleton makes the first time he sees himself in the mirror?

  • Doctor 10 did say something along the lines of ‘centuries in the making’ to the war council, like the way time had folded to have these 3 meet in the here and now and in the before it also linked them to the previous regenerations. The one doctor saves his home using all his past selfs – why ever not? It’s The Doctor after all.

  • “My assumption on how the earlier Doctors were involved is that when Matt Smith’s Doctor came up with the idea, he (or the Bad Wolf/Moment) somehow sent the thought back through time – the other Doctors seem to receive it (see Tennant’s ‘Oh, I’ve just got it! That’s BRILLIANT!’) – sending it back through his entire timestream so that it’s been there – like a subroutine in the back of his brain – for his entire life, and bringing them all there to save their home.”

    It also could have very well come from Clara, since we know that she’s been in contact with every single doctor. She could have told them what they needed to know to be there at that moment.

    A friend pointed this out to me and I felt it needed repeating: Was anyone else a bit annoyed that Tom Baker didn’t offer Matt Smith a Jelly Baby?

  • @thor Not really a loose end. It was designed to show that even knowing the truth Osgood was doing what she knew was right for both their civilzations. It was a nod to the audience that they were establishing a pattern of peaceful relations with aliens, without having to be “tricked into” it. The other advantage that this affords (the peace treaty) is the ability for the Doctor to stop being so tied to Earth’s current day affairs. If they can be a part of the bigger universe without needing an intervention every other week, then the Doctor can move onto his new goal more freely.

  • My only nitpick: They showed us that the two Osgoods figured out which was human and which was Zygon because of the inhaler, and set this up to be significant. However we never came back to see what happened in the negotiations, or if that played a role.

    I don’t think we really needed to see what the treaty was exactly, but they clearly planned ahead for that wrinkle to be there with the inhaler, so why just leave it as a loose end?

  • Kyle…as always, a WONDERFUL write up on the good Doctor!!

    The episode as well as the items leading up too and around it (2 great mini-sodes, the Adventure in Time and Space movie, the 5 doctors special, etc) was BRILLIANT. Such an amazing way to celebrate a huge milestone for the Doctor.

    As for the Day of the Doctor….Moffat knocked it out of the park! He managed the insurmountable task of making an episode/mini-movie for Doctor Who that pays homage to its past, stays relevant in its ‘present’, gives screentime to multiple doctors, has action/humor/heart/sadness/hapiness/genius, and pleases fans new and old. He did it!! Also he brings his brilliant layered-writing style which tied the different primary stories in this episode together in giving the doctors a plan to save Gallifrey. And the final scene? Well this whovian was in tears watching an exchange between generational Doctors….it was incredible. “who knows?? who…nose”.

    Peace .n. GERONIMO!!!!!

    3ToF…waiting with baited breath for the Christmas Special and future adventures with a new Doctor.

  • @Weltal327 I thought Rassilon and that council of Time Lords was trapped themselves in their own pocket dimension. Therefore, they would be separate from the rest of Gallifrey and would not return when/if The Doctor returns the rest of Gallifrey.

  • I loved, when the War Doctor was beginning his regeneration, that he said, “I hope the ears are less conspicuous.” For me, it tied it to Eccleston’s doctor at *least* as well as an actual appearance.

    Also, since Eccleston wasn’t my favourite Doctor, not actually seeing him was no major loss for me. YMMV.

  • Number 11: THANK YOU. People are so enamored of mourning Ten they don’t seem to realize how it contributed to Eleven’s chilly welcome. And it was very peculiar after so many courageously-faced regenerations.

  • Jenny, John Hurt’s Doctor absolutely does fall between McGann and Eccleston – and we’ve seen both regenerations now (in ‘Night of the Doctor’ and ‘Day of the Doctor’.)

    My assumption on how the earlier Doctors were involved is that when Matt Smith’s Doctor came up with the idea, he (or the Bad Wolf/Moment) somehow sent the thought back through time – the other Doctors seem to receive it (see Tennant’s ‘Oh, I’ve just got it! That’s BRILLIANT!’) – sending it back through his entire timestream so that it’s been there – like a subroutine in the back of his brain – for his entire life, and bringing them all there to save their home.

    Also, I may be reading too much into this, but I rather like the idea that Rose/Bad Wolf made the Moment sentient when spreading itself through time and space in ‘The Parting of the Ways’ – so its’ purpose was always to guide the Doctor(s) into doing what they did and allowing the Bad Wolf to exist in the first place. Classic predestination paradox.

  • Nich, the part that doesn’t make sense is the part where Doctors 1 to 8 are also enlisted to help with the co-ordinates and calculations to hide Gallifrey by moving it to a pocket universe. At least, it doesn’t make sense if they precede the War Doctor in the Doctor’s timeline.

  • I’m glad someone else described themselves as giddy at that scene with all the doctors. I honestly got so excited by the end of that scene I had to pause, stand up and walk it off for a moment before I could continue watching. Thank you thank you to everyone involved in making this. This was my christmas.

    I know when I say this not everyone will understand or agree; but this was the greatest moment in tv shows ever.

  • er..hello? The War Doctor couldn’t regenerate into the 9th Doctor now could he? Otherwise how would Doctors 1 to 8 all have been involved in the rescue of Gallifrey? The War Doctor must be an incarnation of the Doctor who predates the one played by William Hartnell or it doesn’t make sense. What this episode clearly does is demonstrate that all this numbering of the Doctor’s regenerations is a lot of nonsense – they have clearly been many in number and we don’t even know how many there might have been before the War Doctor.

  • The very moment I first heard his voice, even before he came into frame, my pulse quickened! My Doctor! Oh, Tom, you rapscallion, you. Hm, gives one hope that all those regenerations that River spent on saving him from the poison she’d given him will fortuitously translate into additional regenerations such as The Master had always conspired to take for himself.
    Also, since Kate Lethbridge-Stuart was calling him on her cell, it would so rock if Malcolm (from Planet of the Dead) and Osgood got together and raised their own little family unit of Whovians.

  • It kinda felt to me like the war doctor was made up after Eccleston said, “No”. This episode could’ve worked well with McGann or Eccleston. I feel like John Hurt was able to give a nice old man vibe though.

    One of my friends mentioned how excited he was for the future after watching this episode. The events that transpired for 9, 10, and 11 all felt like they were marching to some inevitable fate they couldn’t avoid. 12 (13?) Capaldi has a quest. Capaldi’s doctor will be searching for Gallifrey. It’s going to be very exciting to see a Doctor with some real purpose. Wouldn’t be surprised if the shot of his eyes is tied in to what he needs to do to get Gallifrey out of their new dimension.

    The question is, do we want to see a return of Timothy Dalton as Rassilon?

  • There are two points I want to mention that I don’t see as mentioned yet.
    One: Time Lords are corrupt? Though the Doctor(s) is/are glad to see Gallifrey still standing after believing it not to be… there are two instances that come to mind. The 6th Doctor, in the end of Trial Of A Time Lord, said: “In all my travelling throughout the universe, I have battled against evil, against power-mad conspirators. I should have stayed here. The oldest civilisation: decadent, degenerate, and rotten to the core. Power-mad conspirators, Daleks, Sontarans, Cybermen – they’re still in the nursery compared to us. Ten million years of absolute power. That’s what it takes to be really corrupt.” The other is much more recent – the 8th Doctor in Night Of The Doctor and Cass’ reaction to him. So, Time Lords spotted so far around the 50th anniversary seem to be fairly nice. Something for Moffat to clear up, I hope.
    Two: Roundels. (48:18 or so) Eleven: “Hey, Look! The round things!” Ten: “I love the round things.” — Forward towards the end with the three Doctors saying their goodbyes in the National Gallery. After Eleven is left alone to talk with the Curator, look at the background while the two speak.

  • actually ryan, while the first time 9 takes a good look at himself is in “rose” we also see from the conspiracy nut in that episode that the 9th Doctor has been hoping through time for a while before this point. The best explanation I ever read on this was he was so PTSD about destroying his own people that he literally couldnt face himself for a while (also why he was “sight seeing” at all the human events)

  • After seeing the how good McGann was in the night of the doctor webisode, I wish the the whole john hurt thing had been dropped and McGann’s doctor had gotten the screen time instead. The Billie Piper thing didn’t work for me either. I would have preferred almost different morphing cameos for each view.

  • I loved UNIT’s timeline board with classic stills in the background. A tiny yet wonderful tribute to the former companions as well. Also, “Bad Wolf girl” was the conscience of the device, not its consciousness, which lead her to act as the War Doctor’s conscience as well.

  • That review was amazing and touched on all the greatness that Doctor Who has come to mean the inclusion of Baker at the end had my heart skip a beat with utter fanboyism, and Billie Piper hit her role perfectly and I’m glad her and the 10th Doctor didn’t exchange words. But my only issue was the 10th doctors regeneration needed no redeeming. He is a being with emotions after all and his ending showed that. He said goodbye to everyone he loves and lost and no matter how you take it (Davies sabotaging Moffat, an homage to the fans or otherwise) it was the perfect way a person with feelings would act upon their death.

  • I didn’t like the big tongue looking Zygons, though I did like the part with one and Elizabeth. I thought that should have been the end of them in the episode, and the Weeping Angels should have been used (It would have worked with all of those covered statues – plus, they’re a fan favorite). I thought Harkness should have been brought back even as just a tiny cameo considering his fan base as well.

    Also Eccleston could have shown up for 3 seconds to show his face. What was that.

  • I would have liked to see a few seconds more with each doctor in the big Gallifrey scene. It was great that they were in there at all, but being the 50th ann. I think they could have afforded a little more screen time with each one instead of just split seconds on a view screen. Something like filming actors in each Doctor’s clothes pushing buttons and levers on their own TARDIS’ – just showing them from the shoulders down along WITH the view screen shots and having more tactical communication with each other would have really beefed up their presence a little more. Still, the ending with all of them standing together was very nice and great even if some of them looked terribly cut and pasted.