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.