Our Doctor has finally come back to us! After six months that felt like six decades, the brilliant, impossible Time Lord has returned to our televisions. On this occasion, he has been summoned not just to show us the continuing wonder of time and space but to commemorate his day, the day of the Doctor, a full half century since he made his first appearance. It’s nearly unfathomable longevity, but then again he’s the Doctor, so stop being surprised.
Let this be an opportunity, then, for us to celebrate that daft old man in the blue box for his 50 years of falling from the stars and sweeping us away in his magical machine, 50 years of saving the universe with wit and compassion, 50 years of running. And the times we’ve had, huh?
And how better to celebrate those times than by beginning another adventure. So, off we go. Get ready because it’s going to be a big one.
When we last left the Doctor, he had traveled to Trenzalor, the much-prophesied site of the fall of the Eleventh, to do some fancy time-stream plunging, thankfully wrap up the “impossible girl” story, and introduce us to John Hurt, the dark Doctor.
But this story begins elsewhere, somewhere old fashioned. The land of the original title sequence, in fact, a lovely touch of nostalgia to begin this tribute. The old-fashioned titles soon give way to a school where Clara is now a teacher. (Qualifications: former nanny?) A call has come in from her doctor. Well, her Doctor.
A quick motorcycle ride later, the two are reunited. The Doctor needs his companion with him, of course, because he never works well alone, which is a major thread of this special and the series. The Doctor always needs a hand to hold (or four) to be his best.
This is especially true when the TARDIS is being stolen by a helicopter crane, leading to a wonderful sequence of the Doctor hanging out of the TARDIS as he flies over London. It’s all very celebratory and English. Speaking of celebratory, a UNIT assistant is wearing Tom Baker’s scarf. As she would be.
UNIT’s Kate Stewart has summoned the Doctor under orders from Queen Elizabeth (the first one, original recipe Liz), who provided her Time Lord credentials in the form of a painting, “Gallifrey Falls,” that depicts the end of the Time War. The art is three-dimensional, a feature of Time Lord painting (and Magic Eye posters, but whatever). They take a slice of time and freeze it as an image.
The painting shows the Doctor’s darkest hour, the day he made the impossible decision to destroy the Time Lords and the Daleks to save the rest of the universe. He begins to recall the Time War, and we flash back to the darkness of this moment that had long been suppressed in the Doctor’s mind and history. The John Hurt War Doctor appears and grabs a gun. On the wall, in gun, he writes “NO MORE.” Even though he is a different self and using the gun only to write, the sight of the Doctor holding a gun is still a shocking image, at such odds with his whole identity.
The War Doctor breaks into the Time Lords’ secret weapons store and steals the most powerful weapon of all, “The Moment,” a weapon so advanced that it developed a conscience of its own. This is the day he will end the war. He takes the weapon to a small shack in the desert.
ROSE TYLER IS HERE. Rose Tyler can materialize anywhere now? Well not really, because she’s not really Rose Tyler. She is the conscience of The Moment, appearing in a form he trusts. Or will trust. Tenses are difficult, aren’t they? I love this creative use of Rose and the fact that she and Ten never interact. Twists!
Moment Rose discusses consequences with the War Doctor. He will kill the Daleks but also the children, and his consequence for that action is that he will have to live to remember it, live to count all the children of Gallifrey who died as a result of him. Rose conjures a timey-wimey swirl, a tangle in time, to show him the ghosts of Doctors future, what he will become if he does this. So, just as one would expect, a fez pops out of the swirl.
But what of this Queen Elizabeth business we’ve heard about? Flashing back to 1562, we encounter the Tenth Doctor. Ten! We’ve missed you. He’s getting his picnic on with Queen Elizabeth, except she might be a shape-shifting Zygon. No wait, the Zygon is the horse. Machines that go “ding” aren’t exceptionally reliable.
The affairs with the shape-shifting Zygons inspire much of the comic relief and patented Doctor silliness of the episode with Ten shouting at various bunnies and Queen Elizabeths that he thinks are Zygons. In the midst of all this Zygon confusion, another timey-wimey swirl appears and another fez pops out.
But how did it get there? It was thrown by Eleven, of course. Back at the museum in the present, Eleven, Clara, and Kate travel into the undergallery. Love an undergallery. We begin to hear the dulcet sounds of the Doctor’s playful sneak-around music, so we know a fez must be close. And sure enough, he finds it. When his timey-wimey swirl appears, he throws the fez in, and then . . .
DAVID TENNANT IN A FEZ. Yes. Eleven hops through the swirl as well, and he and Ten have a brilliant little moment in 1562 comparing screwdriver size and all that. There is no discomfort of worlds colliding in the scenes between the two because Matt Smith and David Tennant have such excellent chemistry that now all I want is for them to star in a buddy cop comedy called Too Many Doctors, along with its inevitable sequel, 3 Many Doctors.
More fez throwing between timey-wimey swirls ensues and the War Doctor pops through as well. Three Doctors in one place. What is this place called? Um, heaven. John Hurt’s Doctor proves to be the delightfully cantankerous one, astounded by these young whippersnapper Doctors and their behavior, pointing their screwdrivers at people and such. “What are you going to do, assemble a cabinet at them?” Amazing. I’m pleasantly surprised by what an amusing character he is. I thought he would be all dark, the contrasting Doctor, but he’s great fun.
The three Doctors spar throughout the story, and their interplay provides the episode’s strongest moments. It’s a wonderful glimpse into the nature of the Doctor because he can stand there having a disagreement with another version of himself, a notion that is so alien and impossible and yet so completely human at the same time. And that is the Doctor entirely.
The UNIT/Clara moments are a bit weaker so I’ll blow past them a little, but in summary, they have Zygon trouble too. The Zygons were frozen in paintings in the gallery, and now they’ve broken out and are impersonating people. Clara, however, is able to grab Jack Harkness’s vortex manipulator (so that’s what the kids are calling it these days) from an archive and travel back in time to the Tower of London where the three Doctors have been imprisoned.
Well, not exactly imprisoned. The door was never locked. Oops. But that didn’t stop the Doctors from having an important moment about the children of Gallifrey. They all manage the memory and pain in different ways. They are different people but ultimately the same. Same software, different case.
The Doctors escape in time for a quickie wedding between Ten and the Queen, but now it’s time to travel, which allows for some delightful TARDIS inspecting. They see Ten’s “grunge TARDIS” and Eleven’s brand new TARDIS. “I don’t like it,” says Ten. Thank you, Ten! I don’t like it either. My favorite was the eccentric TARDIS, all knobs and toasters. This new one is so sterile and overtly sci-fi, exactly how you would expect a time machine to look. How utterly boring.
But how are they going to save present-day London from the Zygons when the secret UNIT archive is conveniently blocked to the TARDIS? Ideas! They’ll freeze themselves into the Gallifrey painting just like the Zygons did.
The Doctors and Clara emerge from the painting amidst near destruction. There is a nuclear warhead under London, and Real Kate Stewart and Zygon Kate Stewart are in a standoff. Real Kate is willing to blow up London to save the world, but the Doctors have made this decision before. It’s the Time War all over again: the impossible, horrible choice that everyone will regret. The Doctors can’t let her do it, and they use memory erasing to make both parties forget which one wants which. It’s mutually assured safety, and an agreement is reached.
Meanwhile, Clara deduces something about the War Doctor. It’s his eyes. They’re so young. He hasn’t done the destroying yet. The age of eyes is a major theme in Moffat episodes. In the first River Song appearance, she recognizes that it is the Doctor’s first time meeting her because his eyes are so young.
The War Doctor is ready now and returns to the desert. He sees the regret in his future, but how many worlds has his regret saved? This is what he must do. And if you were waiting for some anniversary-themed feelings about the nature of Doctor Who, now is the time to have them because Moment Rose has something to say:
“You know the sound the TARDIS makes? That wheezing, groaning. That sound brings hope wherever it goes. To anyone who hears it, Doctor. Anyone. However lost. Even you.”
And then the sound comes. Two of them. It’s Ten and Eleven, coming to help. The War Doctor doesn’t have to do it alone. He has hands to hold. The three resolve to press the destruction button together.
But Clara shakes her head. This is her moment to become a true companion because the companion is always the heart of the show. Even with three Doctors, the horrible decision would still be made. It takes a companion to remind the Doctor that he is the Doctor. The name is a promise. Never cruel or cowardly, never give up, never give in.
But don’t leave Moment Rose out of this companion conversation. She didn’t just show the Doctor any old future. She showed him exactly the future he needed to see. The future that made him change his mind and find a solution.
Paintings frozen in time. If Gallifrey could be frozen in time, hidden away like in the paintings, the Daleks would destroy themselves, and the Time Lords might just have some hope. This is what the Doctor has been doing all his lives after all (all thirteen of them – momentary Capaldi alert!), giving people hope when they had none.
It probably won’t work, but geronimo! Allons-y! For God’s sake! The message is clear: Gallifrey stands.
We’re back in the gallery now for tea and resolution. The War Doctor must not remember these events in order to preserve the timeline. Returning to his TARDIS, he begins his regeneration into Eccleston, completing the Doctor sequence. Ten and Eleven wrap up their story with the looming threat of Trenzalor, and there is a lovely moment in which Tom Baker appears as the curator of the museum. A curator always. He reveals the true title of the original painting: “Gallifrey Falls No More.”
So, it worked. Gallifrey is sitting out there somewhere to be found. The Doctor has been running his whole life, but now he has somewhere to run: home.
Well, folks, we were promised a game changer and we got it. What did you think of the anniversary special? Appropriately revelatory? Disappointing? Too much timey-wimey and frivolous changing of history? Let us know in the comments.
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