We’re halfway through BBC America’s The Doctor’s Finest series, a retrospective of some of Doctor Who‘s best episodes of the past several years, and boy howdy have we had some good ones, and “The End of Time” also. But as good as the likes of “Blink” and “The Doctor’s Wife” are, they are merely runners-up in comparison to what many, including the readers of Doctor Who Magazine called the best Doctor Who episode ever, the 50th Anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor.”
To discuss this episode Saturday night at 8:00pm ET on BBC America, host Hannah Hart will be joined by someone who was actually there: Ingrid Oliver, who played Osgood, the UNIT tech and mega-Doctor fan (as evidenced by her long Fourth Doctor scarf). Insight and anecdotes will abound!
As a Doctor Who fan, or even just a fan of sci-fi and TV history at large, the 50th Anniversary was inescapable and the anticipation for it and hoopla surrounding it were at a fever pitch. There was a massive convention in London (which I was lucky enough to attend), there were retrospectives and docudramas and every possible thing anyone could want. But there was still the question of whether the episode itself would be good. While I generally enjoyed it, the lead-up in Series 7 had been met with hot and cold reception, though the finale, “The Name of the Doctor,” certainly got people in the spirit, and through a crazy curve ball in there by introducing John Hurt as the Doctor…what?!?!
Since the 10th Anniversary special back in 1973, it had been established that on occasions such as that, past Doctors would show up and interact with each other, owing to both fun nostalgia and the fact that timelines are weird that way. This happened again in 1983, attempted to happen in 1993 when the show was off and only resulted in a crappy (beyond crappy, actually) 15-minute charity special that crossed over with EastEnders. This special in 2013, when the show was actually still on the air, was going to have to be massive. And for that, lead writer/showrunner Steven Moffat was going to need multiple Doctors.
Obviously he had Matt Smith, and David Tennant was pretty much a shoo-in, but the odds of getting Christopher Eccleston were slim-to-none (and, in fact, were none) so Moffat had to think and came up with a crazy history-rewriting, yet totally logical way to have a third Doctor in the episode, by having the Doctor who fought in the Time War be a separate Doctor entirely, which was what John Hurt was, the unnumbered War Doctor. Moffat even gave fans a thrill by creating a short film entitled “The Night of the Doctor” which explains that the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) realized he could no longer be a conscientious objector and had to get involved, hence creating the War Doctor. Genius if you ask me.
And so we got this episode, which is everything. Like, literally, it’s everything. The Doctor and Clara get picked up in the TARDIS by a helicopter which takes them to Trafalgar Square to meet with Kate Stewart of UNIT because of a strange painting found in the basement of the National Gallery. It’s a 3D painting called “Gallifrey Falls,” depicting the final day of the Time War. Then a portal opens up and the Eleventh Doctor jumps through and meets the Tenth Doctor in Ye Olde times when he’s wooing Queen Elizabeth the First whom he believes is a Zygon duplicate. Oh yeah, there are Zygons in this too.
While all that’s going on, we see the War Doctor with the secret weapon, the Moment, which we know ended the Time War by destroying both the Daleks and the Time Lords all at once. He travels to an isolated shanty and prepares to use the weapon, but a human personification of the Moment, using the Doctor’s as-yet-unmet Bad Wolf memory, appears and tries to show him the cost of doing such a thing, transplanting him to Elizabethan England as well, and puts the grizzled warrior up against “Chinny” and “Sand Shoes.”
It’s truly amazing to me that this worked, and worked as well as it did. The camaraderie between all the Doctors was hysterical and poignant, the re-writing of all the timelines completely makes sense and yet doesn’t negate the seven series we had previously, and it allowed Billie Piper to return without having to dredge up Rose Tyler yet again. It was glorious! And, perhaps fittingly, Clara got to be what the companion always is: the Doctor’s conscience, and the one who gives him another idea. Every layer works. It’s astonishing.
Plus, Tom Baker showed up. I mean, come on!
Just writing about this again makes me want to watch it, which is convenient because it’s airing Saturday night at 8:00pm ET/PT on BBC America. And next week, we get to say goodbye to Matt Smith when The Doctor’s Finest shows “The Time of the Doctor” with Hannah Hart being joined by YouTuber Charlie McDonnell.
Share your thoughts of “The Day of the Doctor” with me below!
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. Talk to him on Twitter!