SPOILER ALERT: This recap contains storyline and character spoilers.
Three Doctors interacting! Rose returns! Clara’s got a job! Tom Baker and his scarf appear (separately)! And the biggest, game-changing surprise of all in “The Day of the Doctor,” the 50th-anniversary episode of “Doctor Who”: The Doctor’s home planet, Gallifrey, still exists! Somewhere…
Current Doctor Matt Smith, previous Doctor David Tennant, and pre-Christopher Eccleston Doctor John Hurt — introduced in the Season 7 finale — gathered in the episode for an adventure that was both cheeky fun and super productive. They banded together with all the other incarnations of the Doctor to spare their home planet, Gallifrey, from the destruction that had previously befallen it, via the Doctor’s own hand.
For those not fully immersed in Who-vian history, the Doctor once made the painful decision to destroy his own planet and its people (which included more than two billion children, we learned in “The Day of the Doctor”) because Gallifrey was one of two factions fighting a war that was ultimately destined to destroy the entire universe.
But a meeting of the Smith, Tennant, and Hurt versions of the Doctor ended with an idea of how, together with all their Who predecessors and their TARDISes (TARDI?), they could hide Gallifrey elsewhere in time and space, momentarily, leaving Gallifrean enemies the Daleks to “exterminate” themselves instead of shooting at Who’s home(planet)boys.
[Related: A Beginner's Guide to 'Doctor Who']
Along the way, former Who companion Billie Piper — aka Rose — appeared as a character referred to as “Bad Wolf,” who, along with current companion Clara (who, we learned, is working as a school teacher in her Who downtime), helped bring together future Doctor (Hurt), who was agonizing about the Time War; present-day Doctor (Smith), who was carried through the London sky, inside the TARDIS, via helicopter to the National Gallery; and past Doctor (Tennant), who was romancing Queen Elizabeth in 1562.
The three-Doc meet-up was a chance for fans to delight in the differing Who portrayals of Tennant and Smith, who poked fun at each other’s shoes, skinniness, bow tie, and TARDIS interior designs, but also had great chemistry together as separate versions of the same character.
The special also effectively serves as a bit of reboot, or at least infinite extension of the series, as the previous held “rule” of Who-dom was that there could only be 12 regenerations of the Doctor, meaning the upcoming takeover by actor Peter Capaldi as the 12th Who would have introduced the final Time Lord.
Now, with Gallifrey still in existence — albeit in a hidden piece of the universe that, presumably, will send Who on a quest to find it — other Time Lords are likely still alive, and the “Doctor Who” universe could go on, well, forever. Or at least for another 50 years.
Notes From Who-Ville:
* Matt Smith and David Tennant have great hair, but 73-year-old John Hurt gets the award for the special’s best ‘do, what can only be described as a nod to boy bands of the recent past.
* Tom Baker, the Fourth Who, showed up in a special appearance as the curator of the National Gallery, but his guest spot was foreshadowed earlier in the episode when Ingrid Olivier appeared as Kate Stewart’s assistant Osgood, wearing the colorful striped scarf synonymous with Baker’s Who.
* Speaking of Baker, it was during his Who reign that the shape-shifting Zygons were introduced into the Doctor’s universe. The monsters’ planet was destroyed during the Time War, and though some of them survived, “The Day of the Doctor” marks the first time they’ve been seen on the show in their monster form since their 1975 debut.
So tell us, Whovians: Did the anniversary special live up to your expectations? Were you satisfied with the explanation of how John Hurt was a “forgotten” incarnation of Who? Are you excited about new Who Peter Capaldi (who appeared ever-so-briefly in the montage of Doctors) and the possibilities the survival of Gallifrey provides? But, like us, are you also sad to see fez and bow tie-loving Who Matt Smith bid the series farewell in the Dec. 25 Christmas special?
Here's some “Who” fan reaction to the anniversary special:
On the flip side:
And in a pre-show shout-out, one Captain of space and time wished "Doctor Who" a happy 50th birthday, and expressed his wishes for a future Who:
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