Doctor Who – The Day of the Doctor

Matt Smith at the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con International in San Diego
Matt Smith at the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con International in San Diego

Note. This review contains many spoilers about “The Day of the Doctor”!

Yesterday, in many countries around the world “The Day of the Doctor” was broadcast. This is the special episode for the “Doctor Who” 50th Anniversary written by Steven Moffat and directed by Nick Hurran.

While the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith, photo ©Gage Skidmore) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) are in the Tardis, a helicopter lifts it and brings him to the National Gallery. There, Kate Stewart explains that this was done following orders by Queen Elizabeth I, who left strict instructions regarding two strange 3D paintings.

During the Time War, the War Doctor (John Hurt) faces the most terrible threat when the Daleks overcome the Time Lords defenses and fall on Gallifrey with the aim to exterminate its entire population. In that desperate moment, the only option seems to be the use the ultimate weapon, so powerful that it can destroy both factions. It’s so sophisticated that its operating system is sentient and takes on the appearance of Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) to allow the doctor to understand what is the right choice.

The Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) is in the 16th century together with Queen Elizabeth I but the Zygons want to replace her to begin a long-term plan for the conquest of Earth. Their plan is disturbed by the arrival of the Eleventh Doctor and the War Doctor.

For the 50th “Doctor Who” anniversary, executive producer Steven Moffat promised an episode that would chang the show and kept his promise. At the end of the seventh season, he introduced the War Doctor, the incarnation who had fought in the Time War destroying Gallifrey along with the Daleks. For this reason, his later incarnations had basically disowned him but for them it’s time to face their terrible past.

“The Day of the Doctor”, however, is also a big celebration in “Doctor Who” saga. The beginning of the episode contains a number of references to the first episode of “An Unearthly Child“, even with little details that appear for a few seconds but that are very important for anyone who has seen that first adventure.

Inevitably, the main part of the plot ends up concerning the Doctor and the meeting of three of his incarnations. The multi-Doctor adventures historically have their limitations because the interaction between the various Doctors eventually overshadow the plot. In “The Day of the Doctor” I think there was a good balance from this point of view.

In “The Day of the Doctor” The Doctor must face the greatest trauma of his life, the Time War and the destruction of Gallifrey. All the new “Doctor Who” series builds on that foundation and although after centuries the Eleventh Doctor has at least partially overcome the trauma, the encounter with the War Doctor is still complicated.

In the end, the episode is a kind of psychoanalysis for the Doctor, who eventually has to accept what he’s done. What is the real intelligent bomb guide the War Doctor, but indirectly the other two as well, in an introspection that allows him to find himself as the Doctor. Only then do the three Doctors fiund the serenity needed to find an alternative to a choice that seemed not to exist.

It’s appropriate that in the moment in which the Doctor in a sense finds himself again, all the Doctors of the past come to save Gallifrey and for a few seconds Peter Capaldi, the Twelfth Doctor, appears as well. With all 13 Doctors together, the universe can rejoice, or shiver.

This change may explain why at the end of the Tenth Doctor era the Time Lords had reappeared although in theory they had been destroyed. Not everything must have gone well because we already know that in the years following these events Elizabeth I will eventually consider the Doctor as her sworn enemy.

If at the end of “The Day of the Doctor” you weren’t moved enough, especially those at the time saw the Fourth Doctor were struck by Tom Baker’s cameo. As the beginning of the episode was a tribute at the beginning of the saga, the end was a tribute to the Doctor that in some ways marked the saga more than the others.

In the end, “The Day of the Doctor” is an extraordinary and moving tribute to “Doctor Who” that at the same time relaunches the show for its future. It offers a lot to fans with many homages and many in-jokes. For all these reasons and others it’s in my opinion a terrific episode and worthy of this great occasion.


  1. Hi Massimo, I think you summed this up admirably but you made no mention of the Bad Wolf incarnation which most viewer’s of the 10th Doctor will know as Rose Tyler or Billie Piper. I was dissapointed not to see Silvester McCoy not making a cameo alongside Tom Baker (mostly because Silvester was my favourite Doctor).


    1. Regarding the Bad Wolf incarnation, that was just the Moment, the intelligent super-weapon, who took the shape of Rose Tyler and showing some Bad Wolf features. Honestly it didn’t seem such a big deal for me because there were just a few Bad Wolf jokes.

      As for Sylvester McCoy, you might want to watch The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot and have fun. 😉


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