Even before the latest series of Doctor Who ended, many Whovians were eagerly anticipating The Day of the Doctor, the special that was produced for the 50th anniversary of the show. The announcement that David Tennant would be returning as the Tenth Doctor and Billie Piper as Rose Tyler only whetted our appetite for the special. Now that we’re a few days removed from the episode, and we’ve had a chance to watch our DVR versions of it or have ventured into a theater to watch it in 3D, I’d like to break down what we learned about the Doctor’s past and future, and what it may mean for the end of the Matt Smith era and the beginning of the Peter Capaldi era.
First and foremost, we finally learned who John Hurt’s Doctor is. Most of the details on this were cleared up in “The Night of the Doctor,” a mini-webisode in which Paul McGann, the Eighth Doctor, regenerates into John Hurt following a tragic occurrence during the Time War. This Doctor is not given a number, but is referred to instead as the “War Doctor,” who almost exclusively represents the Doctor’s cruel and vindictive side.
The biggest implication of this is that it subtracts one more regeneration from the Doctor’s available incarnations, according to the rules set forth in the 1976 story arc The Deadly Assassin. In that episode, it is established that a Time Lord can regenerate twelve times before dying, for a total of thirteen incarnations. Matt Smith’s Doctor was the eleventh in the “official” chronology, and if you add John Hurt into the mix, that means that Peter Capaldi, who is set to play the next incarnation of the Doctor after Matt Smith regenerates in this year’s Christmas special, would be the thirteenth and final body the Doctor would be allowed to inhabit before permanently dying.
Could it be that after Capaldi’s run, the show will end? The cynical businessman in me says no. Doctor Who has never been more popular than it is right now, and is gaining a rather sizable cult following here in the US. I doubt that the producers will want to kill their cash cow right as it is starting to fatten up. I think the most likely scenario is that they will find a workaround, such as when River Song “donated” her remaining regenerations to the Doctor to save him in the episode “Let’s Kill Hitler.” Though Tom Baker’s appearance as the curator of the museum in the final scene does hint that there might be an endgame planned.
The second major revelation was a new goal for the Doctor. The overarching plotline in the 50th anniversary special addressed the Time War much more closely. Ever since Doctor Who restarted in 2005, we’ve known very little concrete details about the Time War, other than the Doctor wiped out both the Time Lords and the Daleks at the end of it (only not really, as both made appearances in various places throughout the series). In The Day of the Doctor, it is revealed that the War Doctor, disgusted with the Time War, used a forbidden weapon called “The Moment,” in order to accomplish this. The Moment is described as a weapon so powerful that its central processor became sentient and developed a conscience. The Moment’s conscience takes the form of Rose Tyler, which provides an avenue for Billie Piper to reappear in this episode. “Rose” shows the War Doctor his future by taking him to a place where the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors have reunited following a rip in space-time. The Eleventh Doctor decides to stop the War Doctor from detonating The Moment, instead teaming up with every previous incarnation to freeze Gallifrey in time and space, which results in the Daleks destroying each other but saves Gallifrey and the Time Lords. The Doctor’s new Battlestar Galactican goal will be to find and save Gallifrey.
This “freezing” of Gallifrey makes the appearances of The Master and other Time Lords during the series a bit more plausible, as they could have somehow been temporarily unfrozen or escaped somehow, so I think it’s a good plot device to throw in.
Related to the above, this episode more clearly establishes each Doctor’s unique personality. The War Doctor, as mentioned before, is a more aggressive and edgier version of the Doctor then we’ve previously encountered. But The Day of the Doctor does more to illuminate the personalities of the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, describing them as “the one who regrets” and “the one who forgets,” respectively. The Tenth Doctor’s character had always had a slightly darker feel than the Eleventh’s, and now we know it is because he was carrying the burden of destroying his own people around with him, whereas the Eleventh Doctor had moved on as a result of having to confront his own death. I think this gave both Doctor’s characters more depth.
We also learned about the Doctor’s connection to Queen Elizabeth I. The Tenth Doctor actually marries a young Queen Elizabeth I, which made me chuckle a little given her reputation in history as “The Virgin Queen.” During David Tennant’s tenure as the Tenth Doctor, there were a few instances where he encountered Elizabeth I and she reacted with fear and anger for unknown reasons. We now have something of an explanation for that, though I have a feeling there is more to this story that will eventually be revealed.
In sum, I mostly enjoyed this special. I didn’t like Rose’s appearance, which felt forced and unnecessary. I feel like the BBC billed her appearance as a reappearance of Rose’s actual character, rather than simply using her as a personification for “The Moment” weapon. And her character didn’t add to the plot much. I also found it interesting that the Tenth and War Doctors were forced to forget about the events that happened, as they were in different time streams. I feel that this is somewhat inconsistent with previous Doctor Who serials, in which being in different time streams didn’t seem to matter all that much.
That said, it was great to see many classic characters return, and John Hurt’s character added an unexpected and interesting layer to the Doctor’s character. David Tennant has always been my favorite Doctor, so I was glad to see him come back here. I will miss Matt Smith when he leaves, though, as I enjoyed what he brought to the table too. I always enjoy shows that have a sense of their history and are able to weave together long and complicated stories well with a minimum of continuity errors and fudging. I think Doctor Who has done that well, and I look forward to see what the future holds.
So Whovians/Nerdy Minds… Did you enjoy the special? What do YOU think it all means?