The Last Day (prequel): I was so excited to get on to today’s main feature that I forgot to watch the prequel beforehand. I watched it afterwards, so it was naturally a bit of an anti-climax to see the events leading up to the Fall of Arcadia after I’d seen the actual Fall of Arcadia. I’m sure it would have been fine the correct way round.
Quite simply, this is the best episode of Doctor Who of all time. Saturday 23rd November 2013 was the last time our big group of friends all got together to watch a new episode, and will probably remain so now that we’ve all got busy jobs and people have started moving away and getting married and having babies. But what a high to go out on. Everyone came round to mine at around lunchtime, and we watched An Unearthly Child (just the first ep, not the full thing), The Three Doctors, The Five Doctors, Dimensions in Time, Time Crash, The Name of the Doctor and The Night of the Doctor as a warm-up.
None of this information is pertinent, but I mention it because it was a very happy day that will forever be lodged in my memory. It’s what makes Doctor Who so special to me, the way it’s intrinsically linked to certain times and certain people. The Day of the Doctor gets that, and it’s the perfect celebration. You don’t need me to write a review telling you why, and I don’t feel capable of doing so. So let’s see if I can do something different. In no particular order, here are fifty things I love about the fiftieth anniversary special.
- The original titles and music
- I.M. Foreman
- Coal Hill School – and having Clara work there is the first step in her transition from the mystery girl into a real person that we can begin to care about
- Riding a motorcycle into the TARDIS
- Kate Stewart – this is the first time she gets to take control in the same way that he dad used to, having been a bit of a passenger in her first story
- Osgood – she’s mostly just a cute fan representative at this stage, but the moment with the inhaler hints at the depth that’s to come
- “Codename: Cromer. 70s or 80s, depending on the dating protocol”
- Finally seeing the Time War, and it not disappointing after such a build-up
- It’s got Billie Piper in it
- It doesn’t have Rose Tyler in it – how wonderful to give Billie the chance to do something different, rather than further chip away at Rose’s resolution
- The design of The Moment itself is just gorgeous
- The way the three main settings – modern London, the Time War and Elizabethan England – are each given their own establishing scenes, one after another, before the Doctors are united, like a more in-depth and expensive version of The Five Doctors
- The trail of fezzes leaping from location to location, tying them all together
- It made me like Tennant again, having become a bit sick of him by the time he’d left three years earlier
- Specifically, I think it was the bit with the rabbit that did it
- A silly gag four years ago implying that Tennant shagged Queen Elizabeth I is now a key element in the fiftieth anniversary episode
- The fact that Smith and Tennant are quite matey with each other, which at this stage is a subversion of the norm for a multi-Doctor episode
- Conversely, how grumpy the War Doctor gets with how young they are, how they use their screwdrivers, and their silly catchphrases
- The War Doctor being so much more than just a substitute for Eccleston – he represents the classic era itself, and how despite the different approaches, it’s clear that the new regime owes it all to the original
- Just the fact that John Hurt is a Doctor now. John Hurt!
- The way that our introduction to him is so bad-ass – a machine-gunned message of defiance
- Smith and Tennant’s delight at both having put their clever specs on
- The War Doctor assuming they’re both the companions
- Smith calling Tennant “Dick van Dyke”
- The realisation of why the stone dust in the statue room was relevant
- The Black Archive, with its many pictures of old companions in bizarre combinations
- The choice of Zygons as the main baddy in only their second appearance – they must have the best average hit rate for any returning monster ever
- The relative restraint in only bringing back them and the Daleks – unlike previous anniversary specials, this story is about the Doctor, not any of his friends or foes
- Coming up with a brilliant plan to set the Sonic a 400-year task of disintegrating the cell door, only to discover it wasn’t locked
- The code for the vortex manipulator being the time and date An Unearthly Child aired
- John Hurt asking if there’ll be a lot of kissing in the future
- The multiple TARDIS interiors, and the reference to “the round things”, and of course the inevitable “you’ve redecorated” line
- The Space Time Telegraph turning up, of all things
- That weird, sinister-sounding phone call the UNIT guy takes towards the start suddenly making sense towards the end
- The various instances of people having to figure out which is the real person and which is the duplicate reminding me of Red Dwarf‘s Psirens
- The tension of that Kate Stewart vs Kate Stewart scene, and the parallel between her threatening to nuke London and the War Doctor’s dilemma
- The fact that it lead directly to The Zygon Invasion/Inversion, which is another of my all-time favourites
- “Never cruel or cowardly. Never give up, never give in”
- The fact that this episode doesn’t actually change anything about the Time War – this is what always happened, it’s just that the Doctor thought that it happened differently. Moffat-haters still can’t grasp this.
- “Calling the War Council of Gallifrey. This is the Doctor.”
- “No sir, all thirteen” and Capaldi’s eyebrows – I cannot describe how exciting this was at the time. That screenshot was my Facebook cover photo for years.
- “Geronimo!” / “Allons-y!” / “Oh, for God’s sake.”
- Hurt’s reaction to his regeneration – we’ve never seen the Doctor *happy* to change before
- YOU KNOW I REALLY THINK YOU MIGHT
- The whole idea of the Doctor reusing his previous faces – “but just the old favourites, eh?”
- Tom Baker appearing in Doctor Who in 2013. I cried then, I cried tonight. A wonderful, wonderful surprise – the greatest the show has ever pulled.
- For all its dodgy effects, the shot of the twelve Doctors all together was a beautiful thing to end on
- The fact that it’s still very much Matt Smith’s story, as per Pertwee in 1972 and Davison in 1983
- The faces in the closing titles, and the return of the middle eight
- The fact that it wasn’t just me and my friends gathered together to witness Doctor Who celebrate 50 years with the finest piece of television it’s ever produced, but 12.8 million people watching on BBC One, and millions more watching at cinemas or on TV in 98 countries around the world simultaneously.
And then afterwards, we all watched Zoe Ball desperately trying to get One Direction’s thoughts on fifty years of Doctor Who, over a satellite connection with a delay of what felt like fifty years itself, while Moffat watched on with his head in his hands. What. A. Night.
In case you hadn’t guessed: