I am going to quote River Song again when I say, “Spoilers.”
So for those of you who haven’t put on your Tenth Doctor’s 3D glasses this weekend or this coming week please don’t read any further.
Before The Day, there was The Night, and then Last Day. I am time-stamped on G33kpr0n in What Will Happen on The Day of The Doctor? as stating that it is quite impossible to predict a Doctor Who episode, never mind the 50th Anniversary Special. But I did make a few theories, just as I did in What Is a Doctor and When Does He Stop Running? in my Mythic Bios Blog.
I am not upset that my possible theories were wrong, not really. I went into watching “The Day of The Doctor,” on Space at 2:50 pm with no other expectations save for the fact that we were going to see how Gallifrey died. I mean, this is what we’ve been told since 2005. Gallifrey is no more. Gallifrey falls. The Doctor is the last of his kind and he keeps losing his Companions over and again. As the last of the Time Lords, The Doctor is alone. From 2005 to the present, this is the story that we have been told and that we have seen play out time and again. But just as we all had our theories about how this would all go down, there was what we thought and then there was what happened, what will happen, or what is happening right now to those of you watching this for the first time.
The episode begins with the original 1963 Doctor Who introduction sequence, complete in black and white, and so close to the junkyard owned by one I.M. Foreman where the adventures of The Doctor began. After Clara leaves from her new work at a school, where The Doctor’s first Companions may have once taught his granddaughter, to go see him and U.N.I.T. is in so much of a rush to get The Doctor to help him that they basically tow away him and his TARDIS by helicopter, The Doctor finds his past catching up with him.
U.N.I.T., led by the Brigadier’s daughter Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, brings The Doctor to their Under-Gallery, where Queen Elizabeth the First placed all paintings deemed “not fit for public consumption” to see a sample of Time Lord-painting. This painting is a depiction of the last day of The Last Great Time War and the fall of Gallifrey’s second city Arcadia. Suddenly, The Doctor remembers that incarnation of himself that he doesn’t like to think about, the one he and Clara saw again in “The Name of The Doctor” when he crossed into his own time stream. We are treated to a look at the three-dimensional painting, which is bigger on the inside, of a golden, blood-red ravaged Gallifrey…
And then we are right in the War.
Murray Gold’s “The Dark and Endless Dalek Night” plays grandiose and horrifying in the background as Dalek saucers and Time Lord defences battle it out. But we see something new on Gallifrey’s surface. In “The End of Time,” all we saw was the Time Lord High Council in fascist red and gold proclaiming what would be the Ultimate Sanction, or the obliteration of the universe to assure their ascension as beings of pure consciousness. The Doctor made it clear that the Time Lords had been completely corrupted and irredeemable by battle lust and war. I mean, think about for a few moments. Imagine a whole people that can Regenerate and manipulate the laws of Time itself. Now think about Rassilon, the founder of Time Lord society and the inventor of much of their technology, removing the thirteen Regeneration limit and with modified Battle TARDISes dying over and over again. The Time Lords and, by extension, Gallifrey were basically deemed as bad as the Daleks and this was the reason for The Doctor’s terrible decision. This was the reason he used The Moment to destroy all of them.
In my own Mythic Bios article, I saw it as an act of euthanasia, of basically putting an entire people that had gone rabid with a hunger for power to sleep out of mercy for them and the Universe. I saw it as a hard, but necessary thing. But we had hints that just as the Time Lords had done terrible things, they also weren’t all monsters even at this point in this game. Look at the mini-episode “The Last Day” for instance. Those soldiers were just people. They were just trying to defend their home. You see from the perspective of a Gallifreyan or Time Lord soldier another giving you a helmet and he has this look of empathy and shared suffering on his face. This is not a madman or a monster. They are the front-line that has to defend their home and their families.
Yes, Time Lord society has families. Despite earlier versions of the Doctor Who mythos where Time Lords were Loomed or artificially woven and grown into existence, Time Lords and Gallifreyans have parents … and children. And this is where the episode punches you in the stomach. You assume that all the Time Lords were engineered adults, even if they were once children. I even had the belief that an elder race like the Time Lords would have few, if any children at this stage in their evolution. But you see them. You see the Gallifreyan children cowering with their protective and very terrified parents. All of that over-exaggerated Gallifreyan fashion that we have seen over the years is tattered and clothing essentially war refugees that die by Dalek and friendly-fire. It is truly awful and perhaps that is the reason why Moffat does not show gratuitous Regeneration scenes. First of all, I am pretty sure that the Daleks could have replicated something like staser fire, one of the few weapons that can kill Time Lords instantly, and second of all it illustrates that there are no take backs in war where innocents die.
Then we see The Doctor, The War Doctor, who has frankly become my favourite. He is a worn, haunted, sad old man who has seen and dealt more death than any self-conscious being ever need to. Even as he rescues some refugees by having the TARDIS smash into some Daleks, he uses a gun to carve the words “No more” into a wall. It is as though he is writing his own name as the artist of the Time Lord painting we see from Doctor Eleven’s perspective. He might as well be.
After some very concerned Time Lord soldiers, who are fed up with the High Council for doing essentially nothing (which is another indication that not all Time Lords were aware of, or even agreed with the Ultimate Sanction) realize that The Doctor has stolen the most powerful super weapon in existence we think we know where this is going. It is The Moment.
We find The Doctor in an isolated spot, having left his TARDIS miles away, either because she won’t have to see him detonate the device or watch him die. Despite the lack of hope in his eyes and his weathered, unkempt face he is still The Doctor. He is tinkering with The Moment and trying to puzzle it out like he does any other toy he comes across.
And then we see Rose.
No. We actually see The Moment, as the device’s sentient program, taking on Rose’s Bad Wolf incarnation and deciding to make The Doctor fully aware of the consequences of what he intends to do. She is beautiful and golden in the feral way that her moniker suggests. The Moment has taken the image of someone from The Doctor’s past, or future, to attempt to relate to him. It is her that confronts him about the children. And you can see in his eyes even before he says anything that he intends to die with The War. It makes too much sense. After all the horror and the loss even later in his life, it is a miracle that The Doctor has never committed suicide. But The Moment, Bad Wolf, or Rose will not make it that easy for him. For some reason, The Moment has decided to make him face his decisions and his future by opening warps through the War’s time lock. Talk about an excellent piece of Ancient Time Lord technology huh?
These warps are how Doctor Eleven, Ten, and The War Doctor end up meeting in 1562 England. Despite the grimness of everything I’ve described so far, there is your typical Doctor Who silliness. Doctor Ten continuously mistakes Elizabeth the First as being a shape-shifting Zygon imposter (I’m thinking his shape shifter device kept getting confused by his own energy), while Doctor Eleven threw a fez through two of the warps that brought them all together. Even The War Doctor is exasperated by these younger, future versions of himself. In the scene where he meets them for the first time, convinced by The Moment to talk with his future selves, he actually mistakes them for The Doctor’s Companions. At first, I thought he was totally messing around with them, asking for The Doctor and calling them Companions until I began to realize that he genuinely didn’t know.
I will say that at this point in the venture, I thought Eleven would react much more angrily to The War Doctor given his denunciation of him in “The Name of The Doctor.” But he and Doctor Ten just seemed shocked. And after they are captured by Elizabeth’s guards, seemingly under the Zygon imposter’s command we see them pretty much face each other down. The War Doctor asks them if they ever thought about how many children there were on Gallifrey. There is another punch in the stomach for everyone in the audience. But whereas Doctor Ten does, in fact remember, Doctor Eleven claims not to and there is this very real, very angry moment between him and Ten about how he could “move past” something of that kind. Basically, even in a jail cell The Doctor is still running from his past and what he did that one time during The Time War. Meanwhile The Moment, who is still Rose and can only be seen by The War Doctor, is feeding him lines and asking him to consider matters. I was thinking about all those Doctor/Rose fan-shippers that were crying inside about how close this approximation of Rose was to Doctor Ten and Eleven, and yet so far away.
Then each of them is led by The Moment, through The War Doctor, to realize that despite the different appearances of their sonic screwdrivers they all still have the same software. They are about to use them to break out when Clara, who the Zygons underestimated rather stupidly, just opens the unlocked door. Yes, all three Doctors are that absent-minded: constantly searching for complex solutions, when the answer is right in front of them. It happens to us all. But then what seems to be the Elizabeth imposter leads them out to show them how the Zygons are planning to conquer Earth. With their homeworld having been destroyed in the beginnings of the Time War, the Zygons somehow reverse-engineered Time Lord art technology (perhaps through the presence of the Time War painting that is somehow at some point in Elizabethan England) send themselves into other paintings to release themselves in Earth’s future. All of these events are components to another, greater Moment that comes up very soon.
So after realizing that Elizabeth I is the real one pretending to be her imposter (that she stabbed to death in the forest) and her impromptu wedding with Doctor Ten, all three Doctors come into the TARDIS and find a way to go back to 2013 into a “TARDIS-proofed” U.N.I.T. Black Tower and stop the mutually-assured destruction of London situation happening between the Zygon infiltrators and Kate Lethbridge-Stewart. It is here that we see Doctors Ten and Eleven taking their regret over what happened in The Time War and using it and craftiness to get both sides to agree to peace-talks. Clara then has some alone time with The War Doctor, a far cry from the young energetic man she has been travelling with and says that his eyes “look young” while those of his counterparts look so terribly old.
It is here that The War Doctor comes to his decision. He realizes that his “necessary mistake” in destroying Gallifrey is the only way to get his future incarnations to “grow-up” into the people that they have become. He plans to be the force that they learn from. And I know that I, as part of the audience watching this commercial-less simulcast, braced for what was going to come.
But even though this was not a Christmas Special, a 50th Anniversary counts for something. Even as The Moment makes him pause again, the other two Doctors with Clara in tow come to where he is now. It is heartbreaking to see The War Doctor want them to leave him so that he can do what he, albeit doubtfully now, still believes is necessary and Regenerate alone. But they accept that he is a part of them, after denying his memory for so long and they are all about to activate The Moment’s Big Red Button when…
Clara comes in and reminds The Doctor why he named himself The Doctor. The Moment too takes the opportunity to show all of them Gallifrey’s families and children. There have so far been two reoccurring themes in this episode. The first part of the episode starts at a school house with children in an English public school with its old private-school trappings. It is not unlike the Time Lord Academy in which The Doctor and so many others grew up. We see the children in the War. We see them at play in the sunlight of The War Doctor’s dusty memories. And then we see them hanging up colourful ribbons and streamers despite the destruction around them. We see something that we have not seen so far in this whole episode.
We see hope.
We also see women. It is no original idea or trope for a female archetype to be the helper or saviour of a male character. The Moment does everything she can to lead The Doctor to an informed decision not determined by despair. Clara reminds The Doctor of his purpose and is always his Companion. Elizabeth the First flat out states that arrogance typifies all men. Even the TARDIS, Sexy, won’t leave The Doctor in any incarnation. She even smashed down some Daleks like a Battle TARDIS. Where The Doctors act, these characters ask and question. And yes, they help save The Doctor from the spiritual damnation we’ve seen him struggle with since 2005.
In them, we see life.
And then a potential catastrophe becomes a eucastrophe: a happy-ending.
Between the three Doctors and all of their other incarnations–including the Thirteenth Doctor–they use the time-freezing technology used by the Zygons–the “cup of soups”–to capture Gallifrey and deposit it into another pocket universe.
In this way, it looks like Gallifrey is destroyed along with the Daleks. But Gallifrey is not destroyed. Through loops and contradictions and layers of Space and Time Gallifrey doesn’t rise, or fall, or die. It lives.
In the words of the Ninth Doctor, “everybody lives.”
The ages-old and weary War Doctor leaves, finally at peace and although his later incarnations lose all memory of this crossover event, he Regenerates. We don’t see Doctor Nine, which is a little disappointing, but this is not unexpected. Ten also leaves knowing that he will not remember, but stating that they need a new destination aside from the doom of Trenzalore. But Doctor Eleven remembers.
I am almost finished. Like a TARDIS, this 50th Anniversary Special is “bigger on the inside.” As Doctor Eleven wonders if they succeeded in saving Gallifrey, and ponders embracing Elizabeth’s role to him as the curator of the Under-Gallery he … meets or reacquaints himself with someone. At first, I wondered how this was possible and who the elderly Curator could possibly be. But after re-watching the episode to write this review, I realized that The Doctor can actually decide what face he takes on in his Regenerations. He can even take on old faces.
So when an elderly Tom Baker all but confirms that Gallifrey is saved and that the painting in front of them is called Gallifrey Falls No More. It is left ambiguous as to whether or not The Curator is a future version of The Doctor, or a possibility, or someone else entirely. Ending the episode with that gentle, wise lighthearted moment, with a potential Doctor without bitterness and regret and filled only with a kindly acceptance, changed the whole tone of the series in that one moment. And Doctor Eleven taking his place alongside his other incarnations with the First Doctor standing in back of them with his arms crossed is positively inspiring.
There is so much I know I’ve missed in this review and I have tried to capture all of it in something like a Time Lord-painting. There are those who would say that this whole Special was a cop-out: that it negated all of The Doctor’s experiences and that it leaves plot holes and weaves itself with clichés. But I think that now, this Special leaves a whole other level of possibility and paths yet to travel. I asked a question in the title of my Mythic Bios post. I asked “When does The Doctor stop running?”
The answer is that he doesn’t. The Doctor will never stop running. It is his nature to run. But he has changed. Because now, for the first time in ages The Doctor won’t be running from something. Rather, The Doctor will be running to his destination, to his end and Gallifrey and all the possibilities beyond it. Everybody lives, gentlebeings and now perhaps we can see The Doctor do that as well. Perhaps we can now see him truly live.