This review will be spoiler-central so if for some insane reason you didn’t watch this, please do NOT read this review.
Wow. Simply wow. That was EPIC. Brain in meltdown.
I seriously don’t know where to begin but as a fan of the show, that was simply brilliant and what a way to celebrate 50 years of Doctor Who.
The 50th anniversary special basically serves up a chance to redefine the Doctor Who mythology. It’s a reset button but a clever one at that. But before head writer Steven Moffat changes the future, the 50th anniversary episode starts off with a trip down memory lane and delves into the past. Moffat pays his respects. The original opening credits, the sign pointing to the junkyard, Coal Hill School, Clara working as a schoolteacher, 5.16pm on the clock – all eagle eyed homages from the very first episode of Doctor Who, An Unearthly Child. Already at this stage, I was smiling. And the homages didn’t stop there – the fourth Doctor’s scarf, the Vortex Manipulator from Captain Jack Harkness, Brigadier and U.N.I.T. and all the contents from the Black Archive serving as a fictional permanent exhibition to all Who history.
“Oh, you’ve redecorated. I don’t like it.” – David Tennant (The Tenth Doctor)
With the introduction of the three Doctors, Moffat wastes no time giving each of them their moment to shine and embellishes on their characteristics. David Tennant’s Doctor in his geek chic clothing is still irresistible to women and gets his fair share of kisses. He also gets it terribly wrong when he couldn’t tell which version of Elizabeth I was real or a Zygon. Matt Smith’s Doctor reacts like a child opening his Christmas presents when he sees a fez in the under gallery. The tenth and the eleventh compare the size of their sonic screwdrivers (that sounded a lot better in my head…). They playfully insult each other – sand shoes, chiny, granddad, Dick Van Dyke and dickey bow are comically mentioned but they also take the time to marvel at each other such as the scene where both the tenth and the eleventh doctor put on their glasses or admiring “the round things” in the TARDIS when the desktop malfunctions. Yet despite all of that, they can still act alien and stupid! For three clever and smart Doctors, they didn’t realise that the door to their cell at The Tower was unlocked despite coming up with a scientific solution on how to free themselves using their sonic screwdrivers.
For someone who is playing a younger version of the Doctor than Smith and Tennant, Hurt injects the grown up experience to his future incarnations. It comes off as slightly grumpy yet at the same time, hilariously funny, like he’s talking to a bunch of school children. He reacts with disbelief to Smith’s Doctor when he mentions “timey-wimey” and his annoyance when his future selves misuse their sonic screwdrivers as a weapon.
“Geronimo!” “Alons-y!” “Oh for God’s Sake – Gallifrey Stands” – Matt Smith, David Tennant & John Hurt
Since it’s comeback in 2005, the show has been hinting at the Time War, the great battle between the Time Lords and the Daleks. We saw with the ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston battle with the motions, in particular in the episode, Dalek where he reacts in terrified horror at seeing a surviving Dalek from the Time War. The decision to destroy both civilisations has haunted him for years and in the anniversary special, we finally get to see the total destruction of the planet and a battle-ridden War Doctor (John Hurt) caving in to make a tough decision to end it all. John Hurt is simply superb giving the episode its gravitas and it’s emotional weight. His gravel voice is etched with sadness and tiredness as he renounces his name of the Doctor. But like a re-telling of A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life, the War Doctor is visited by Rose (Billie Piper), in the form of Bad Wolf to show the Doctor his future and the burden he will have to face as the man who destroyed his home planet to save the universe.
The way the tenth and the eleventh Doctor react to the War Doctor is interesting. They have subconsciously buried him within their Time Lord minds, almost to the point of non-existence. To them, he doesn’t count because of what he did and after ending the Time War, travelling around in the TARDIS for a long time had a profound effect on both of them. The tenth Doctor remembers it like it was yesterday, even recalling the amount of children there were on Gallifrey. For Matt Smith’s eleventh, even though he says he has forgotten (and that includes his age), you get the deep emotional feeling that deep down inside you know he remembers but rather not deal with it. He would rather move on and even had to defend his reasoning against the tenth when the question was pushed. All this while the War Doctor watches on, weighing up the decision to do what he thinks is the inevitable.
This decision to end it all is cleverly juxtaposed against the Zygon invasion of Earth where the Zygons have assumed the identity of Kate Stewart and her team from U.N.I.T. Placed in the exact position as the War Doctor, the real Stewart is left with the only decision of blowing up the planet. The Doctors see this as history repeating and whilst showing off by blowing a Dalek through the “Gallifrey Falls” 3D painting, they stop the invasion with seconds to spare. It shows how much the Doctor values Earth and how much he cares, even if we often make the wrong decision! It’s a burden that Kate Stewart shouldn’t have to bear and the Doctor knows this. It’s always been a sign of his experience, acting on his promise and being the hero we love and know.
But what is really significant about the 50th anniversary special is how the tenth and the eleventh Doctor reconcile with themselves. The War Doctor was buried and hidden in their subconscious and yet when “the moment” arrived, they both travelled back to make sure he didn’t do it alone. It’s a moment of accountability, forgiveness and recognition that the War Doctor was more of a Doctor than their future selves. It was truly an awesome moment and it didn’t end there. The episode also highlighted why the Doctor always has a companion. Matt Smith in his tenure as the eleventh Doctor expresses the hidden darkness within him. A man so brilliant the limit line between doing just enough and going too far has made him the enemy. He even had to fake his death to escape the attention. But by having a companion by his side, he/she reminds the Doctor of his limit and that you are never too old to learn. So when Clara, the girl born to save the Doctor tearfully reminds him that he can change the future, just what Bad Wolf Rose Tyler was hinting at the beginning, the beautiful relationship between the Doctor and his companions and their purpose was fully restored and justified.
And what happens next is probably the single greatest moment in Who history! All the Doctors from Hartnell to Capaldi (I bloody cheered when I saw Capaldi) all united to save Gallifrey from total destruction. This single moment changes the entire mythology of the current series and now gives the Doctor an extra sense of purpose because he now has a new mission. He can now find home. Somehow you feel this is the upcoming task for the Capaldi as the new Doctor since Matt Smith has only the Christmas special before he departs :(.
But that is what is amazing about Doctor Who – it’s ever changing and exciting and head writer Steven Moffat understands that. Time travel as a major plot device and thinking we had seen all the surprises he had to offer, he still had one up his sleeve. Tom Baker returned. Again I cheered and fist pumped the air! I’m sure everyone did. What a moment. Seriously. What a moment. It was brilliant, appearing as curator at the National Gallery, passing on the Doctor Who torch for the next generation with key information.
Action-packed, humorous, entertaining and emotional, I can’t think of anyone being disappointed with the 50th anniversary episode. I seriously can’t. I’m just positively happy and impressed at what I witnessed (although I was interested on how the Zygon-Human relations turned out!) This was event viewing and while the episode will not please everyone, it successfully respected the past and yet ushered in another fifty years of the sci-fi drama. This episode was for the fans and the very last shot sums that up.
Congratulations to Doctor Who – past, present and future and to everyone involved. You nailed it.