The Day of the Doctor accomplished Steven Moffat’s goal of presenting an homage to the past but primarily looking towards the future. Just as real life isn’t neatly divided into sixty minute episodes (or serials in the case of older Doctor Who), the 50th anniversary episode combined two different stories. Both had the common theme of the Doctor finding a way to defeat an invasion and prevent destruction to either London or Gallifrey. The episode won a Guinness World Record award for the largest ever simulcast of a TV drama, being shown in ninety-four countries.
There were many tributes to the past beyond those I mention here. We saw the original opening, starting in black in white just as the series began. Clara was teaching at Coal School which Susan attended in the first episode. After several mentions of Queen Elizabeth I over the years, we saw the Doctor marry her, believing she was actually a Zygon shape shifter in disguise. (No word on what River Song thought of this). A UNIT agent (or her Zygon copy) wore Tom Baker’s scarf. David Tennant repeated his classic line, “I don’t want to go” and John Hurt said “reverse the polarity” in a tribute to Jon Pertwee. The episode included all thirteen Doctors, including John Hurt and Peter Capaldi, even if some were primarily from old clips and CGI. The episode ended with an ambiguous appearance from Tom Baker as the Curator, who might be the form which the Doctor takes after he retires. Billie Piper returned, but as Bad Wolf Rose in order to allow for her presence without altering Rose’s story.
The Doctors stopped a Zygon invasion of earth by literally bringing about the concept of a veil of ignorance, as the shape-shifting Zygons and members of UNIT did not remember which they were, giving motivation to both sides to negotiate a fair deal. From there the three Doctors tackled an even bigger problem, saving Gallifrey from the Dalek attack during the Time Wars by some way other than destroying them all. This was ultimately accomplished due to Matt Smith and David Tennant’s version of the Doctor having had more time to work on the problem, and the joint effort of thirteen Doctors.
We have now seen all of the regenerations. The webisode (posted here) The Night of the Doctor, showed the regeneration of Paul McGann to John Hurt. The regeneration of John Hurt was present near the end of The Day of The Doctor but unfortunately Christopher Eccleston declined to appear to complete the scene. Considering how little effort it would have taken to film the regeneration scene, his refusal to participate in the anniversary episode just makes him look more petty, regardless of what problems he had with the previous crew.
Although Steven Moffat had said that the numbering of the Doctors would not change, it is hard to see justification for not including John Hurt. Moffat recently said:
“I’ve been really, really quite careful about the numbering of the Doctors. He’s very specific, the John Hurt Doctor, that he doesn’t take the name of the Doctor. He doesn’t call himself that. He’s the same Time Lord, the same being as the Doctors either side of him, but he’s the one who says, ‘I’m not the Doctor.’ So the Eleventh Doctor is still the Eleventh Doctor, the Tenth Doctor is still the Tenth…
He adds: “Technically, if you really counted it, the David Tennant Doctor is two Doctors, on account of the Meta-Crisis Doctor [in Journey's End]… It’s not a matter of counting the regenerations, but of counting the faces of the Time Lord that calls himself the Doctor. There’s an anomaly Doctor slotted in somewhere, that’s all. In the script to The Day of the Doctor, Matt’s Doctor was called the Eleventh, and David’s was called the Tenth, so the numbering stays exactly the same – and we call Peter Capaldi the Twelfth Doctor.”
Of course we know that Moffat lies, and perhaps he said this to avoid giving away the ending to The Day Of The Doctor. Now that we have seen the full story of John Hurt’s Doctor, it is harder to justify not counting him. Despite being called the Warrior, we have now seen rather standard regenerations both into him and into the subsequent Doctor. Taking a different name hardly makes sense as a way around the regeneration limit. Even if his story ended with being responsible for a heinous act, this should not change the numbering. Now that this act was reversed, there is even less reason to exclude him. There was reference to “all thirteen” on Gallifrey. The Daleks recognized him as the Doctor. If we want to go meta and try to limit the official Doctors to those who had their own shows, this would contradict the convention of including Paul McGann who, before this month, appeared in only a single movie. Surely John Hurt’s appearance in the 50th anniversary episode, along with a brief scene in the previous episode, is as significant as an essentially stand-alone move. The BBC even reposted the 50th anniversary promo picture with John Hurt included (above).
The episode has significant ramifications for the future. The Doctor now has a new goal, to find Gallifrey. I wonder if this will be a season-long McGuffin like was done previously with The Key To Time serials in the Tom Baker era. This could provide a new emphasis from the show now that Amy Pond is gone and the mystery of Clara has been resolved, getting away from the stand-alone episodes of last season. A limit of twelve regenerations, meaning thirteen versions of the Doctor, was previously established, and we have now seen reference to “all thirteen” Doctors. The search for Gallifrey opens up one of several possible solutions as it is a safe prediction that Doctor Who will not end with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. Perhaps saving Gallilfrey will lead to the Doctor being given another set of regenerations solving this issue. There has been precedent for the Time Lords having this power.
Before we see how this rewriting of the mythology affects Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, there remains the Christmas Episode in which Silence will Fall and we return to Trenzalore (trailer above).
For those disappointed in not seeing cameos from more actors who have played the Doctor, we do have the video below which was written and directed by Peter Davison. “The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot” stars Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann attempting to make it into the 50th anniversary episode. In a way they have accomplished this. I think that this video, along with The Day of the Doctor, and An Adventure in Space in Time should be counted as parts of a set honoring the 50th anniversary.
As I was working on my impressions of the episode, Blogator Who posted the official comments from Steven Moffat. Some portions of the interview follow:
I asked Steven for his thoughts on Peter Davison’s special The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot.
“I loved it. I love it, I’m in it! I’m the villain as far as I can see! [Laughs] Absolutely adorable. It was actually my idea to do that, I had bumped into Peter at a party and he said, ‘I’m going to do this little fan video about us all trying to get into the 50th. Do you mind and would you be in it?’ And I said I’ll give you a budget and a camera crew and some time and why don’t you make it for real? Make it for us? It solved a problem for me. I wanted all The Doctor’s properly involved, if they were willing, as best they could.
It maximises what you can do with Sylvester [McCoy] and Colin [Baker] and Peter because they’re not the same people were, all those years ago. You get to see Colin Baker playing Colin Baker which is much more fun that seeing him trying to do a performance that no longer suits him, frankly. And the same with Peter and the absolutely charming Sylvester McCoy, who is an absolute hero. It was brilliant, I love The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, it was gorgeous.
Regarding Billie Piper in The Day of the Doctor Steven stated:
“I thought the story of Rose, which was beautiful, was done. I didn’t want to add to it, I didn’t feel qualified to add to it. That was always Russell’s [T Davies] story. The way Russell ended it in The End of Time was perfect. I didn’t want to stick another bit in. It would be wrong.
But we did want Billie Piper, one of the absolute heroes of Doctor Who, back in the show without interfering in the story of Rose Tyler. I think I might of spoiled something if I had done that. Billie represents the rival of Doctor Who, more than anyone else. It’s all about Billie, it’s her show for two years. It’s really startling watching The Runaway Bride and you’re going, ‘Where is she? Where is she? Where is the star of the show?’
On the 2013 Christmas Special, Moffat commented, “It’s a proper finale to Matt Smith, it’s the story we’ve been telling since he put the bow tie on. A lot of stuff we’ve left hanging, we tie up there. And it’s Trenzalore!” At a panel at the Official Doctor Who Celebration, including Matt Smith, Jenna Coleman and Steven, they revealed that the world “bubbly” will appear in the finale for The Eleventh Doctor.