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The Day of the Doctor

Review by Paul Bowler

Doctor Who

It’s Saturday evening and a strangely familiar theme tune rings out as the day draws to a close, a policeman walks past a gate, the sign reads I.M. Foreman, and suddenly we are standing before Coal Hill School… Right from its opening moments, the 50th Anniversary episode of Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor instantly transports us back to the shows origins, drawing on the programmes rich mythology and subsequent rebirth in a new millennium for a record breaking simulcast event as fans around the world celebrated fifty years of adventures in time and space. This special feature-length episode of Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor sees Matt Smith’s 11th incarnation of the Time Lord teaming up with his predecessor, David Tennant as the 10th Doctor, and John Hurt as the War Doctor –  a mysterious new incarnation of the Time Lord who came into being during the Time War.

Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), now a teacher at Coal Hill School, receives a message from the Doctor, and rides her motorbike to meet him in the TARDIS. Moments later the TARDIS is intercepted by UNIT and airlifted by helicopter to Trafalgar Square where the Doctor and Clara are greeted by Kate Stuart (Jemma Redgrave) and scientist Osgood (Ingrid Oliver). They go to the National Gallery, where the Doctor opens a sealed message from Queen Elisabeth I (who it transpires was once married to the 10th Doctor) that holds instructions which entrust the Time Lord to curate some very special paintings; including a piece of Time Lord art depicting The Fall of Arcadia during the Time War – a single moment of time locked inside a 3D painting – that has become known by two ominous names: “No More” and “Gallifrey Falls”.

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Matt Smith gives a terrific performance as the Doctor in this special anniversary episode. His Doctor is right at the heart of the action, I thought the opening moments were the Doctor was suspended below the TARDIS as it was flown over the London skyline was fantastic, and later Matt Smith really gets to run the gauntlet of emotions as the Doctor’s actions during the Time War  return to haunt him. Jenna Coleman is also terrific as Clara, now a teacher at Coal Hill School, the impossible girl now seems all grown up and even more confident than before, and  the scene where she rides a motorbike into the TARDIS is great fun.

The painting offers us a glimpse into that darkest hour on Gallifrey during the last day of the Time War, as the Dalek armada encircles the planet and launch a devastating attack. The War Doctor emerges from the shadows after using a gun to blast the words “No More” into a crumbling wall to leave a message for the Daleks, before escaping in his TARDIS as Arcadia, Gallifrey’s second city, falls. The Time Lord War Council are shocked to discover the War Doctor has taken a sentient weapon of unimaginable power know as The Moment, a galaxy eater created by the ancients of Gallifrey, which he intends to use to destroy his own people and the Daleks to end the Time War. Travelling to a remote location, the War Doctor attempts to activate The Moment, but the devices interface, or conscience, assumes the form of Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) and tries to convince him to choose another path…

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The special effects used to depict the final day of the Time War, with Gallifrey surrounded by a vast fleet of Dalek warships, are absolutely magnificent. The Day of the Doctor is about as epic in scope and scale as Doctor Who has ever been. To see Gallifrey in ruins is also quite shocking; this once majestic world, now torn apart by Dalek firepower, with the city burning as the population flee in terror as Daleks close in to exterminate them is chilling.

John Hurt is magnificent as the War Doctor, a new incarnation of the Doctor that existed during the Time War, and was responsible for unleashing the Galaxy Eater and destroying his own people to end the war. This dark secret is one that the even the 11th Doctor is loathed to speak of, yet fate will force him, and his 10th incarnation, to confront this aspect of his existence, and ultimately work together to find another way to end the Time War. John Hurt gives a commanding performance as the War Doctor, painting a weary, tragic figure, who is forever condemned by the impossible choice he was faced with as he witnessed the fall of Arcadia.

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Billie Piper makes a welcome return to Doctor Who as Rose Tyler, but not in quite the way we might have expected. She appears as The Moment, the sentient conscience of the Galaxy Eater, which has taken the form of Rose Tyler to communicate with the War Doctor. Billie Piper is excellent as the mysterious and somewhat playful “Bad Wolf” girl as Hurt’s Doctor calls her. It’s great to see Billie Piper return to Doctor Who, her role as The Moment/Bad Wolf was crucial to brining all of the Doctor’s together to change history. I also liked how The Moment got Clara to help the Doctor’s find another way to end the war, immersing them within Arcadia‘s final moments, with Clara finally appealing to her Doctor to “be a Doctor” and make the promise of his name a reality that would save his people from destruction.

Meanwhile, in Elizabethan England 1562, the 10th Doctor and Queen Elizabeth I find themselves under attack by a Zygon, a shape-shifting alien, who tries to confuse the Doctor by assuming the form of Queen Elizabeth I. Before the 10th Doctor can figure out who is who, three portals created by The Moment open across space and time and draw both the 11th Doctor and the War Doctor to 1562, where they meet the 10th Doctor and are promptly arrested by the Queens troops and taken to the Tower of London. The  Zygons are using a stasis cube to travel into the future, where they have been stored inside the paintings held within a secret chamber in the Under Gallery, where they start to emerge and quickly attack Kate Stewart, and scientists Osgood and McGill (Jonjo O‘Neill). The Zygons duplicate their captives and, with their leader posing as Kate Stuart, get the unsuspecting Clara to accompany Kate to the Black Archive at UNIT HQ beneath the Tower of London.

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With some guidance from the Moment, who only the War Doctor can see or hear, the imprisoned Doctor’s attempt to escape from their cell by using the software in their sonic screwdrivers to calculate a solution that would take centuries to complete individually. The computation is eventually completed on the 11th Doctor’s sonic screwdriver, which is four hundred years old, but in the meantime he has also inscribed the code of Captain Jack’s Vortex Manipulator onto the wall of their cell, and it is this message to the future which enables Clara to snatch the Vortex Manipulator from the Black Archive and prevent the Zygons from using it.

The Day of the Doctor has a great supporting cast, with Jemma Redgrave returning as UNITS’s chief scientific officer Kate Lethbridge Stewart; she gets some great scenes with the Doctor and Clara, and has to confront the Zygons as well. Ingrid Oliver is also good as the scientist Osgood, a really fun character, who quickly figures out what the Zygons are up to, and helps Kate escape and reach the Black Archive to stop the Zygons. There are so many references to the history of Doctor Who in The Day of the Doctor: far to many to mention here, some of my favourites were the opening scenes with the original theme and titles from the very first story in 1963, An Unearthly Child, the sign outside Coal Hill School where the Doctor’s granddaughter, Susan, once attended tells us Ian Chesterton is now the chairman of the school governors, the time of the very first episode also feature on a clock face as Clara goes to meet the Doctor and the date and time is also the code for the vortex manipulator, Osgood wears a scarf just like the 4th Doctor’s, there are a number of references to the Doctor’s old friend Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart, as well as the 10th and 11th Doctor’s eras, but I think some of the best nods to the past are in the Black Archive, were we see a notice board covered in pictures of the Doctor’s previous companions, and its great fun trying to identify them all.

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The scenes set in Elizabethan England were also a lot of fun. This is the point in the story were the 10th Doctor becomes involved with Queen Elizabeth the I, he even ends up marrying her, and there are some great scenes as he has to confront the Queen and her Zygon double. Joanna Page was also really good as Queen Elizabeth I, especially when Tennant’s Doctor thought she was really a Zygon, and it was clever how the story gives us an idea of why the older Queen later hated the 10th Doctor when she appeared in the Shakespeare Code. This is also were all three of the Doctor’s were finally united in the episode, another fantastic moment, and I loved the witty banter between them. Matt Smith and David Tennant were brilliant as they tried to out sonic each other and later, as they continued to wind each other up, with John Hurt’s Doctor getting all the best lines as he wearily tries to keep up with his future selves and their youthful exuberance. It was fun to see the TARDIS interior changing when all the Doctor’s stepped inside, from the 10th Doctor’s “grunge” phase, the classic roundels then appeared in the Ward Doctor’s console room, before shifting to the 11th Doctor’s TARDIS interior, with the 10th Doctor saying Patrick Troughton’s classic line from the Three Doctors: “You’ve redecorated… I don’t like it!”

There were also some very serious moments, especially when The War Doctor asks them if they ever counted how many children died on that terrible day on Gallifrey. The 10th Doctor immediately states that is was 247 billion, and is aghast to think the 11th Doctor has seemingly forgotten and moved on over the last four hundred years, which of course we know he hasn’t, not really, but it makes for a wonderful scene that takes place in that most tried and trusted staple of Doctor Who, a prison cell, and one which ironically isn’t even locked! One could say this scene is perhaps the most serendipitous moment ever for the Doctor, as it illustrates how he has become imprisoned within the grief of the impossible choice he made as the War Doctor, condemned by his own hand and lost in a universe without hope for the salvation that was always waiting to be found.

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After Clara travels to 1562 to team up with the Doctor’s and Queen Elizabeth I against the Zygons, Osgood rescues Kate Stuart and together they enter the Black Archive. Kate activates a nuclear device to stop their Zygon doppelgangers using the alien artefacts stored in the secret facility, but her Zygon double keeps overriding the countdown. With the TARDIS unable to breach the UNIT bases defences, the War Doctor gets them to use the stasis cube to transport themselves through the painting of Gallifrey Falls, which the 11th Doctor has managed to have moved to the Black Archive by making a time warping phone call from the TARDIS to McGill in the past. The Doctor’s emerge from the painting and uses the Vaults own defences to wipe the memories of all the humans and Zygons present so the countdown can be stopped and a peaceful solution reached.

I really enjoyed the inclusion of the Zygons in The Day of the Doctor. This is the first time they have appeared since their first and only television story, Terror of the Zygons in 1975. The new look Zygons are even more menacing than the originals, although their appearance hasn’t really changed that much here, they do dribble copious about of slime now and the human/ Zygon transformations are much better, but obviously it was a case of if it isn’t broke don’t fix it by the production team. It was also good that they played a significant role in the story, rather than being some token monster, and I hope they return again soon.

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Still convinced he was right, the War Doctor returns to the point in time where he is about to activate The Moment. The ethereal form of Rose Tyler manages to delay the War Doctor long enough for the 10th and 11th Doctor’s arrive, and they stand with him so that he does not have to do this terrible thing alone. Clara is horrified by what they are about to do, the Warrior, the Hero, and appeals to her Doctor to find another way, and with The Moment also gently exerting her influence, the 11th Doctor changes his mind and summons all of his previous incarnations, including his future self (Peter Capaldi), and each Doctor uses their TARDIS to freeze Gallifrey in one moment of time, just like the painting, causing Gallifrey to vanish and the Daleks to be destroyed in their own crossfire.

Ok, now here is the bit where total fangasim hits, I can’t tell you how exciting it was to see all the Doctor’s unite to freeze Gallifrey in one moment of time. I had a feeling that Steven Moffat might find a way to included a few clips of the past Doctor’s, but never in my wildest dreams did I expect them all to turn up and play such an important role in the story. While it may seem like a bit of sci-fi cliché, or reset switch to do this to Gallifrey, but it is entirely plausible as we saw Time Lords from Gallifrey trying to escape from a pocket dimension to destroy Earth in the 10th Doctor’s final episode The End of Time. Seeing the Doctor’s team up to save Gallifrey in The Day of the Doctor was the icing on the cake for the 50th Anniversary, it opens up a wealth of possibilities for the future, and of course let’s not forget we were also treated to a glimpse of that future. Yes, Peter Capaldi, the next incarnation of the Doctor, also showed up to help save the day!

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Afterwards the War Doctor, and the 10th and 11th Doctor’s return to the National Gallery to say their goodbyes, it’s a parting tinged with sadness as they all know they will have no memory of these events once they return to their own time. Once the War Doctor leaves in his TARDIS, he begins to regenerate, and the 10th Doctor departs after hearing about Trenzalore from the 11th. Sensing that the Doctor wants to be alone with the painting of Gallifrey Falls, Clara steps inside the TARDIS, just as an old man, the curator approaches.

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Now this is the moment that totally blew me away, as the 11th Doctor looks up as the curator wanders into view… and it’s Tom Baker!! This incredible scene, were the curator tells him the painting is actually called Gallifrey Falls No More, and hints that Gallifrey might have been saved after all, is just magical. Whether the Curator was really the 4th Doctor or not, it was an incredible moment and this was the highlight of the entire episode for me.  Tom Baker is simply wonderful in these scenes with Matt Smith as they discuss Gallifrey’s fate, this made the episode even more special, and then later in the TARDIS, as the Doctor describes a dream he has, were he is reunited with his former selves amongst the stars, and resolves to find Gallifrey and return home…

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I thoroughly enjoyed The Day of the Doctor, it was a fantastic celebration of Doctor Who, and I loved every moment of it. Steven Moffat delivered an incredible story that provided some of the most exciting scenes ever seen in Doctor Who, director Nick Hurran ensured The Day of the Doctor was a visual spectacular, and Murray Gold’s musical score was phenomenal. Best of all was the fact that fans around the world could watch and enjoy this episode together, on TV, or in the cinema. The Day of the Doctor was a brilliant story for the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who; it lived up to all the hype, and exceed all my expectations.