Fifty years in the making, “The Day of The Doctor” offers surprises not only for what it chooses to show but also for what it doesn’t. It offers three Doctors in an adventure spanning three time periods, several nods to the classic series (including the return of the original design of the TARDIS, a classic villain in the Zygons, and the extremely well-kept secret of one very special cameo) and our first real look at the final day of the Time War. Those tuning in for Matt Smith‘s final episode as The Doctor certainly got more than they expected, and although the episode does offer us one regeneration sequence it is not the regeneration of The Eleventh Doctor into The Twelfth (Peter Capaldi) as Smith’s Doctor survives to adventure on.
The episode begins in the present where The Doctor and Clara are summoned to U.N.I.T. headquarters by Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) as the organization’s secret collection of alien arts and weapons has been tampered with. The unexplained questions about creatures breaking out of 3D paintings and into the world lead The Eleventh Doctor to 16th Century England where The Tenth Doctor‘s (David Tennant) snogging of Queen Elizabeth (Joanna Page) has been halted by an attack of the Zygons. But Smith’s Doctor isn’t the only one to follow the time vortex into the past as the War Doctor (John Hurt), on the eve of his terrible decision, is also led to the same time and place by the Time Lords’ greatest weapon whose interface takes the shape of Rose Tyler (Billie Piper).
Before the special comes to a close the three Doctors, with the help of Clara, will save the Earth and all travel to that fateful day on Gallifrey (thanks to The Moment’s ability to allow them through the Time Lock) where the lives of billions hung in the balance of The Doctor’s decision. And it’s Clara’s presence, in a nice nod to the job of companions over the years, which sparks the an attempt to prevent The Doctor’s biggest sin with all three Doctors (and every other Doctor as well through the use of archival footage and CGI) standing together to save, rather than destroy, Gallifrey.
Although I would have liked to have seen more of the other doctors, writer Steven Moffat has fun with both Tennant and Smith on-screen together along with Hurt who makes more than one crack about the youthful appearance and actions of his future selves. The Zygons work well but are really overshadowed by the larger events of bringing multiple Doctors together for the first time since 1985’s “The Two Doctors.”
It’s great fun to see Tennant back in the role, even if they chose a part of his timeline that doesn’t allow any of his companions to be included in the episode. Although I could have gone without his final line, the groan worthy call back to his last line before his regeneration, his quips about the TARDIS’ new design and pawning of the phrase “timey-wimey” onto Smith’s Doctor are among some of his best moments in the episode.
Whereas Tennant gets to play and Hurt is slotted most of the heavy dramatic moments of the show, Smith’s Doctor carries the episode allowing each actor room to play. I was surprised not to get more than a cameo from Capaldi, and certainly would have preferred a story that would have allowed Paul McGann and Christopher Eccleston to be incorporated more into the story (along with more companions). However, Moffat does succeed in creating a memorable 50th Anniversary episode that does find a way to work all the previous Doctors into a its climactic scene. Although largely satisfying, without Eccleston (or any of the other Doctors from the original run) “Day of The Doctor” does feel a bit incomplete (much like “The Five Doctors” which Tom Baker refused to take part in as Eccleston did here).