The Day of the Doctor

1-episode DVD volume
(Doctor Who Story No. 245, starring Matt Smith, David Tennant, John Hurt, and Tom Baker)
  • written by Steven Moffat
  • directed by Nick Hurran
  • produced by Marcus Wilson
  • music by Murray Gold
  • 1 episode @ 80 minutes
Story: While facing the most crucial decision of the Time War with the fate of his home planet Gallifrey in his hands, the Doctor (John Hurt) is allowed to listen to his future selves (David Tennant, Matt Smith) and witness the consequences of this decision on his life. Is he really free to make any other choice, or is this future now cast in stone? Can the older Doctors ever forgive their earlier self for what he did? How has Kate Stewart of U.N.I.T., 2013, managed to get hold of a 3D painting of the event? And what connects all of this to a Zygon infiltration of the court of Queen Elizabeth the first of England in 1562?

Extras for this story on the 1-episode DVD volume include:

  • "Behind the Lens" featurette (14 min.) with writer Steven Moffat and actors Matt Smith (The Eleventh Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara),
    David Tennant (The Tenth Doctor), Billie Piper (Weapon Interface), Joanna Page (Elizabeth I), Ingrid Oliver (Osgood),
    Jemma Redgrave (Kate Stewart), John Hurt (The War Doctor), Paul McGann (The Eighth Doctor), and Tom Baker (The Fourth Doctor.....)
    Narrated by Colin Baker (The Sixth Doctor).
  • "Doctor Who Explained" documentary (47 min.), with Moffat, Matt Smith, Tennant, Coleman, Tom Baker, producer Marcus Wilson,
    Nicholas Briggs (Voice of the Daleks and Zygons), Peter Davison (The Fifth Doctor), Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy (The Seventh Doctor),
    Neil Gaiman, Julie Gardner, Nicola Bryant, Yee Jee Tso, Daphne Ashbrook, David Morrissey, Carole Ann Ford, William Russell,
    Freema Agyeman, Mark Sheppard, John Barrowman, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill, Frazer Hines, Mark Strickson, Matthew Waterhouse,
    Hugh Bonneville, Noel Clarke, and Sophie Aldred.
  • Prequel mini-episodes:
    • "The Night of the Doctor" (7 min.) starring Paul McGann (The Doctor).
    • "The Last Day" (4 min.)
  • Trailers (2.5 min.)

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have
already seen the program. To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide version instead.

Though this 50th Anniversary special may not quite have turned out to be as much of a massive-multi-Doctor spectacle as many had been anticipating, it does manage to stay focused on a few Doctors and their specific dynamics, and in the end it works quite well as a story. And though writer Steven Moffat appears to be working his way towards some of his usual shortcomings early on, he manages to stay out of the traps in the end. In fact, this really does become the "big" story that Season 33 (series 7) had been needing so badly, and that season doesn't really feel complete without it. There are a lot of loose threads and head-scratching concepts from earlier eras of the show getting both wrapped up and made more believable here, and I predict "The Day of the Doctor" will age well and gain appreciation as time goes on, going down as one of the best stories of the modern era.

An (Un)earthly Launch?

The opening of the show is pure nostalgia, from the opening black and white graphics slightly warped to fit a 16:9 screen, to the original rendition of the theme tune with just a bit of extra modern bass on it, to the policeman walking past the scrapyard sign, to the cut inside the school.... but hey wait a minute. Why is the sign for the scrapyard leaning against the wall of the school? Nostalgia is working; story logic not so much. Nice to see via another sign that Sir Ian Chesterton has been promoted to the top of the school's hierarchy. Clara's role here seems to have all the qualities of all three original companions rolled into one, both teacher and rogue student, as she heads for a police box and takes us through to the interdimensional sci-fi interior. And there we meet the mysterious scientific Doctor, and then launch into the main adventure. It's the first half hour of Doctor Who all over again, completed in about 2 minutes this time. Nice.

All this had me easily believing that it was 1963, and the Doctor and Clara had gone back there undercover for some unknown reason. This left me confused as to how 2013's Kate Stewart of U.N.I.T. could snatch them up a minute later. I thought I must have missed their jump forward through time. Of course, they had been in 2013 all along, and this was just the Doctor and Clara's latest "date". Okay, cool. Still, I'd sooner see the police box transmaterializing through time than one flying through the air in a helicopter's clutches, with Matt Smith dangling out the door. Ah well, this is kind of how THIS Doctor does things now, nicely emphasized by having his credit come up over the flying-dangling montage.

Of course, U.N.I.T. also makes a significant achievement here in this story. This is the first time on New Millennium Who that it finally features a major returning face from a previous episode, finally lending us the hope that the organization might start to build up a recurring cast with reliable charm. Jemma Redgrave as Kate Stewart delivers her wonderfully solid and trustworthy performance as she did last time in "The Power of Three" (story no. 234), and additionally has a scarf-toting fan-girl named Osgood as an assistant with whom she can demonstrate a bit of comic interaction. All to the good. Of course, one has to wonder if this Osgood is related to the tech-whiz sergeant we all remember fondly from "The Daemons" (story no. 59).

Wolf War Doctor

It seems to me that the introduction of the War Doctor played by John Hurt - as seen in the 50th Anniversary special itself - doesn't really tell the audience everything they need to know in order to place the character. For that you have to look to the prequel mini-episode "The Night of the Doctor", now included on the DVD and Blu-ray, which chronicles the final moments of Paul McGann's mightily underused Eighth Doctor, and how and why he turned into the John Hurt version. This little episode is in fact so satisfying and essentially important to "The Day of the Doctor" that it really should have been included within the main story.

At the same time, it appears that Moffat is revealing things that challenge all the assumptions that fans have been making of the New Millennium series. Is John Hurt some kind of false aberration of the Eighth Doctor - "Doctor 8.5" if you will - created by the dark magic of the sisterhood of Karn? Or is he the proper, legitimate ninth Doctor, which close examination of the dialogue seems to be leaning toward? If so, this has a horrible knock-on effect, meaning we now have to re-label Christopher Eccleston as the tenth Doctor, David Tennant as the eleventh, and Matt Smith as the twelfth, which is messy to the point of not really being worth it. And it means there will be one less natural Doctor taking over the lead of the show before "unnatural methods" of further extending the franchise take over, which they will eventually do.

John Hurt does actually give a very nice performance in this story, and in the end I do like his Doctor. What he can't quite do (because he is brand new) is give us the sense of nostalgia we usually get from an older returning Doctor during a multi-Doctor adventure. For that reason, in addition to avoiding the re-write messiness, I wonder why we couldn't have got Paul McGann's Doctor instead taking the place of John Hurt's Doctor. McGann seems to be up for doing additional on-screen work on live-action Doctor Who, and he seems to have demonstrated enough range to handle everything Hurt's Doctor did here. It would have been nice to see McGann nearly double his screentime as the Doctor via this adventure, and the nostalgia factor would have been present and fully functioning. It seems unfair to instead confine his significant contribution outside of the main Anniversary special.

For the moment, much as I like John Hurt's Doctor, I want to think of him as Doctor 8.5, no more legitimate than Doctor 2.5 Tony Garner (from "Devious") or Doctor 12.5 (from "The Trial of a Time Lord"), and perhaps slightly less so than Doctor #1 alternate Peter Cushing (from the 1960's theatrical films). Still, I might just have to go and watch John Hurt travel through time in the Roger Corman film "Frankenstein Unbound" again, and pretend he's actually a disturbed War Doctor with amnesia, or something. That film may just become a bit cooler in retrospect now.

One source of disappointment during the opening credits was that, after giving us only Matt Smith and David Tennant to look forward to as advertised full blown participating recognizable Doctors, the only other famous returning name presented was.... Billie Piper. "Oh, NO!!!" I thought. Not her again! Again! I really was getting tired of impossible recurrences of Rose that didn't do anything to improve a story.

But in fairness, what we get here in this story actually works very nicely. Mostly it's because, despite her billing in the end credits, Piper is not actually playing Rose. She's playing a whole new character - a weapon with a holographic conversational interface, and a wise intelligent conscience as well. This just works so well, and it seems to confirm for me that my grudge never really was against Piper, but rather the character of Rose as written. I think Piper is really good as the interface, and it seems to be a far more compelling character. The relationship between Piper and Hurt's characters also works far better for me than the Rose-Doctor relationships ever did, and yet in another sense it makes sense that the weapon would choose this form for interacting with the Doctor at this point, since Rose in many ways was instrumental in drawing the heart-centered aspects out of the Doctor after he had lost his way.

In many ways, Piper's costume seems to be a bit of an improvement on the sloppy stuff she usually seemed to throw on as Rose.... as long as you don't let the camera pull back and count the rips. Oh dear, what's that all about? Can this woman ever get anything better than an old used hand-me-down? Thankfully, I hadn't really noticed such shortcomings during Nick Hurran's main material, but on the DVD extras, with David Tennant teasing her about it, suddenly the costume's shortcomings seemed to be much more in one's face.

Medieval Meddling

The most central multi-Doctor delivery of this story comes from bringing back David Tennant, which is absolutely correct and thoroughly enjoyable. Tennant is a favourite Doctor of mine, and it was great to have him on screen again. Nicely, his adventure here will fit neatly into his chronology as part of the extended jaunt of activity he reportedly had just prior to "The End of Time" (story no. 207), making sense of a lot of the off-hand comments he threw at us back then. We also get our best inkling here of the otherwise inexplicable conflict that the end of "The Shakespeare Code" (story no. 184) teased us with. Nice. Moffat's attention to the details and minutia of the show's past is gratifying and rewarding here.

Queen Elizabeth the first proves to be an interesting character and is played well by the actress. David Tennant often seemed to gel better with one-off guest characters than with his companions, and the trend seems to be continuing here. There's a fun bit of a comedic gag between them running through this adventure, which provides some good entertainment value while clarifying and commenting on their motivations for some outlandish stuff. Nicely done.

Of course, this section does something else that fans have long been waiting for. The Zygons had long been the greatest recurring villains that had never recurred.... until now. Finally, they get the long awaited sequel that they had always deserved. Sadly, as far as their portions of the plot go, it is somewhat less than what they deserved. Apart from the recurrence of that old tired New Millennium Who trope that the Earth Invaders had to be here because their world was destroyed in the big whatever that the season finale will be about, nothing is really done to explore the aliens' culture, or why this batch came down in 1562, while the ones we know from "Terror of the Zygons" (story no. 80) arrived via spaceship in 1975 (or then-abouts depending on the dating protocol) from who only knows where else.

The Zygon look has changed a bit, and not for the better, in my opinion. Their faces now seem like they're trying too hard to be scary in obvious ways. Not that they have a particularly bad design here, but the 1975 version felt a bit more creepy because the face looked smoother and more undeveloped, and their walk was weirdly delicate. It almost made you fear to touch a Zygon because the Zygon might accidentally get squished. And then it acts menacing and pulls off the threat successfully via technology that we can scarcely comprehend. Plus, we got to see them scoot around in what was probably the coolest spacecraft of the entire era of producer Philip Hinchcliffe. There are definitely some important factors of the Zygons' previous success that aren't duplicated here.

A large amount of Zygon focus concerns mistaken identity and duplicates, something which is successful and possibly stronger here than in the original 1975 story. Somehow, the morphing effects from 1975 seemed cooler to me, possibly by being more holographic in nature than physical. Though there is an elaborate effect in this story (a bit gross for my tastes), it oddly isn't anywhere around as the first Zygon is revealed. Instead we get what looks like an actor stretching the mask as he sinks his face into it. Couple that with the dialogue about Zygons being rubbery, and it seems that the illusion is shattered a bit too much here.

But, getting away from the re-designed face, the rest of the Zygon is quite a good match to the original, and continues to work well here. Perhaps it's too bad they didn't get more screentime in their natural form, with one of them demonstrating a bit of personality to make a stronger impression. I'm not too sure this was the right story in which to bring them back.

In the end, their portions of the plot are left dangling and ultimately unresolved, which is a shame. It feels like an oversight. But the main draw of this story is elsewhere.

Memory Man

The fun goes up a level when Doctors 10, 11, and 8.5 meet each other and start interacting. As with previous multi-Doctor encounters, there's a bit of ego-centeredness and pseudo-antagonism in their banter with each other. In this case though, they seem to be a bit more pleasant with each other, and a bit more on the same wavelength, which better suits the way that the show, the audience, and television drama in general has grown. Moffat has greatly improved on this aspect since writing an encounter for David Tennant and Peter Davison in "Time Crash". Plus, the differences between the Doctors here in "The Day of the Doctor" become the true central focus of the story's drama. Nice.

One of the big criticisms I had of previous multi-Doctor stories was the lack of attention paid to the concept of this being the same person meeting himself through time travel, in terms of the specifics of where each version of him would be in his life and what his memories of his past would look like to each specific Doctor. To his credit, Steven Moffat eagerly embraces these challenges on a regular basis, and does an outstanding job of tackling the question again here. One early example of banter between the Doctors brings this problem to our attention early on, as Tennant's Doctor expects Matt Smith's to remember what would happen since he had been through this before, while Smith's Doctor defends his lack of knowledge by accusing Tennant's Doctor of not paying enough attention.

By the end of the show, somehow all Doctors instinctively know that anything they do together, any scene they have interacting with each other, will only be remembered by the most advanced Doctor present. It's a bit of a strange notion that I might not buy purely on its own time-traveling merits, but it so neatly resolves so many plot-holes and potential plot-holes in so many stories, in multi-Doctor adventures, and in others that didn't quite make as much sense in retrospect after the multi-Doctor stories.... in the end I'm going to endorse this new important bit of the mythology. I had in fact envisioned something similar when I tried to make an edit of "The Five Doctors" (story no. 130) as seen from the perspective of the Doctor's chronology, going through it five times over, with all of the first Doctor's scenes first, all of Patrick Troughton's scenes next, etc. I quickly realized that the best place for any scene of them together, to avoid showing it two, three, or four times, was best placed only as the most senior Doctor involved witnessed it. Previous Doctors would mysteriously miss a bit, and realize that there was a bit of a hole in their memory of events. I really can't fault Moffat for following a similar idea here, and REALLY making it work nicely. And the concept really comes nicely to the fore at the climax of this story.

Conflict Collapsing to Peace

The Doctors take great pride in resolving conflicts through peaceful means, and feel shame for any instance when peace isn't an option. This has been a theme central to the entire show, and sometimes it deals with it successfully, at other times not. Many 1980's stories often brought up the subject, but sadly couldn't think it through outside of a passive-aggressive paradigm.

This story is actually kind of clever in treating John Hurt's Doctor like Scrooge in Charles Dickens' infamous classic "A Christmas Carol", as a massive weapon treats him to visit two of the ghosts of his future, to witness the consequences of the decision he is about to make. As the banter between Tennant and Smith becomes as brutally honest as one would be with oneself, Hurt is listening, and gaining perspective.

Tennant and Smith pull off a great move in bringing the Human-Zygon conflict to a temporary stand-still, citing this as the kind of move that is up to their standard, the kind of thing they should have done way back when faced with Hurt's decision. It is a great moment. I love this bit. Unfortunately, the Zygon plot is abandoned without it really moving forward from here, making it feel as though there just wasn't enough space in this story to let this important aspect breathe properly. Memory once again becomes one of the key elements in this - at times it feels like it is becoming one of Moffat's key crutches, but I think the end result somewhat justifies UNIT's otherwise bizarre choice to have such devices guarding their sensitive areas.

The story's ultimate conflict takes us right back into the infamous Time-War, and the decision facing John Hurt's War Doctor. It's the age old question of whether to follow one's highest principles as best one can, or preserve a tragic history as you remember it. It's a question often posed by the narrative, and a decision that could fall either way up until the last minute. Though my own preference is always to sacrifice the preservation of history and go for the highest outcome in the moment, to never stop improving events, the opposite side of the coin has an additional weight here that it's never quite had before. The history in question here is not some obscure event that may have shaped the Earth or some other place for the worse. What's at stake here is the integrity of the last 7 seasons of Doctor Who adventures, which we all love watching over and over. Do we want to risk losing them in a rewrite, or having them count for nothing? Suddenly, the idea of preserving history, even a bad one, looks like it's got some emotional payoff after all.

And the Doctors appear to see that side of things. Tennant and Smith have been harsh with Hurt, blaming him for this decision that he hasn't actually made yet, which in this case truly is anger at oneself reflected off the image of the person standing in front of oneself. There's a nice beat here of them actually going beyond forgiving Hurt's Doctor for what he did, and actually endorsing the decision with their readiness to make the same decision all over again. It's a very powerful way of bringing John Hurt's Doctor into the fold and accepting him as a true Doctor.

But, unfortunately, it's still the wrong decision. The Time War itself is still a bit too vaguely defined for this action to hold up as the only believable option that the Doctor has. It also seems bizarre that Gallifrey appears to be the only planet actually at stake at this point. When I first heard mention of "the fall of Arcadia" years ago, I assumed that to be the name of another planet at stake here. It turns out it's actually a "second" city on Gallifrey. Gallifrey should have more than one city, of course, but Arcadia's status suddenly made the Time War feel smaller scale than before.

It is actually Clara that gets the Doctors to look for other solutions and pile on more options. And they all three get on board. Only NOW do all three of them deserve to be brought back into the fold of what a true Doctor is all about. Nice.

And the crowning glory to all of this is how the actual solution fits in with the new multi-Doctor memory premise. For once, Moffat chose not so much to rewrite history, but rather to reveal that the Doctor's memory of it had been at fault, partly as deliberate punishment for considering the use of a weapon of mass-destruction. Fascinating! This is an intricately appropriate web of events and circumstances. It now becomes thoroughly appropriate that we've never seen anything much of the "Time War" until now. We have our cake and eat it too. The Doctors make all the highest philosophical decisions possible, AND preserve their personal history and attitudes as seen in the last 7 seasons of adventures. Bonus!

And of course, if you've been reading my reviews of many of those previous stories, especially those mentioning the Time War such as "The End of the World" (story no. 162), "Dalek" (story no. 165), and "Gridlock" (story no. 185) to name a few, you know how much I regarded the Doctor's interpretations of Gallifrey's situation as something quite flawed and in fact impossible. I'm over the moon to finally see Moffat confirm that within the canon. Mind you, this new situation for Gallifrey might not be perfectly plausible either, but it is a MASSIVE improvement, and finally ropes misperception into the mix where it always should have been. I'll be piling on tons of points for Moffat for delivering this so beautifully. I often said (in "Night and the Doctor", "The Wedding of River Song", and the buyers' guide review for Season 32), that Moffat had far more wiggle room to explore the things that fascinated him if he focused more on memory than on actual time travel, and used the differences between perception and reality more creatively, and he has done that very satisfactorily here.

The Thirteen Doctors?

Well, if this story presented a challenge for us to keep track of three Doctors, the concluding moments quadruple that challenge as every proper television Doctor now gets a short TARDIS-console-operating clip thrown onto a monitor of varying quality. So.... is this enough interaction for the new memory sync thing to click in? What exactly drew them in, and how do they know what to do? Does the next Doctor know enough to keep away from Matt Smith, so that Smith's Doctor can remember the whole thing? Well, it's a nice enough nostalgia reunion-party moment. Let's not pull too hard at its loose threads.

I'd always hoped that a re-visitation of the Time War might show us Paul McGann turning into Christopher Eccleston at some crucial moment. McGann had done some nice bits, sadly left out of the 50th Special proper. Now on the other end of things, John Hurt seemed all set to turn into Eccleston for us. The effect begins.... but doesn't quite complete itself. Too bad. This story really could have done with a bit of Eccleston, but it now feels like he's the new black sheep of Doctordom, refusing to return to the role for reasons unknown.

Conversely, Colin Baker manages to narrate the main behind-the-scenes featurette, and seems so enthusiastic and keen that it's a shame he didn't have an on-screen role in the show as well. His passion for Doctor Who has always been a great asset for his performance and for the show, and it would have been great to harness that more and let him contribute to the full extent of both of his hearts.

Personally, I'd been hoping even more for appearances of my favourite Doctors Tom Baker and Peter Davison during this, and although the in-flight clips didn't give me enough of Davison to really satisfy, to my sudden astonishment, we suddenly got a lovely scene of an elderly Tom Baker. Pile on the points; I'm over the moon again! Baker seems to be well over whatever caused him to miss out on "The Five Doctors", and nicely makes up for that absence with a fun and affectionate scene here. He's positively bubbling over with mischievous glee, which is infectious, both to Matt Smith's Doctor and to the audience. I got goose bumps seeing him on screen again. Awesome!

In true Steven Moffat style though, Tom Baker's character here is a bit of an enigma. It seems to be deliberately ambiguous whether he's playing the 4th Doctor here or a completely new character, in the hopes that each member of the audience will choose the interpretation that they like best. Trouble is, his dialogue doesn't seem to really ring true for either the 4th Doctor or a completely new character. On first viewing, it felt more to me like a behind-the-scenes conversation between Tom and Matt. On subsequent viewing, it is perhaps even more baffling. Perhaps Tom Baker is a product of the current Doctor's imagination, a way of talking to himself in his daydreams, as he solves a current puzzle. Or perhaps Tom is actually a face re-visited, as in maybe he's really Doctor 13.4, or Doctor number 16. He hints that the answer is not in Matt Smith's past but in his future and... SPOILERS! .... That's all he can say for now. Nice one, Mr. Moffat, nice one!

And then a narrated dream sequence allows the story to go out on a powerful closing shot and a poetic note, plus of course a special closing credit sequence and a very cool, traditional-bare-bones only rendition of the theme tune from Murray Gold, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

In short, "The Day of the Doctor" delivers a lot of the best material that we fans could want from this show, while tidying up a few of its longest running arcs so far and apparently re-launching in a slightly different and new direction. Time will tell exactly what that is as we move forward. If this story were to be ranked within the past season, I think it would have to take the top spot. Too much of it was just too correct and satisfying, and congratulations should be offered to all those who participated in it both centrally and peripherally. Happy 50th, Doctor Who! And best wishes for the next 50 years!

International Titles:

Deutsch: "Der Tag des Doktors"

Magyar: "A Doktor Napja"

Français: "Le Jour du Docteur"

Русский: "День Доктора"

Italiano: "Il giorno del Dottore"

This story has become available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary story:
"The Day of the Doctor"
starring Matt Smith, David Tennant, and others....

Status: Complete

Region 1 NTSC DVD release December 10, 2013.
Region 2 PAL DVD release December 2, 2013.

Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor -
50th Anniversary Special
Region 1 U.S.

NEW for
Dec. 10, 2013.
Region 1 Canada

NEW for
Dec. 10, 2013.
Region 2 U.K.

NEW for
Dec. 2, 2013.
Blu-ray 3D U.S.
Region A/1

NEW for
Dec. 10, 2013.
Blu-ray 3D Canada
Region A/1

NEW for
Dec. 10, 2013.
Blu-ray 3D U.K.
Region B/2

NEW for
Dec. 2, 2013.

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Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "The Time of the Doctor"

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