Normally I am not one to review stand alone episodes of a series. Well actually I’m not really one to review television period with few exceptions of course. But I felt that given the circumstances of this particular episode I can make an exception an give my thoughts on the 50th Anniversary of one of my favorite television shows, Doctor Who. From 1963-2013 the television screen has been graced with The Doctor and all of his amazing adventures… It is really hard to believe. But with a show as long tenured and popular as Doctor Who, I think it goes without saying that the 50th Anniversary Special needed to pull out all the stops… And Steven Moffat did not disappoint in the slightest. With the return of previous Doctors like Tom Baker, Paul McGann (in one of the prequels), David Tennant, and the new addition of John Hurt as the War Doctor, and of course the current Doctor Matt Smith… This really was a truly special experience for any Whovian.
The story shows the return of several things from the Doctor’s past including the organization known as UNIT, more closely associated with the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) as well as the race of shape shifting aliens known as Zygons that make their first appearance since 1975. It jumps between three narratives, each connecting with one of the Three Doctors. The story begins with the Eleventh Doctor and Clara Oswald being taken to UNIT where they show several dangerous Time Lord paintings, including a painting of Gallifrey’s last day before the end of the Time War known as Gallifrey Falls.
Meanwhile, the hidden Doctor also known as the War Doctor (John Hurt) finds himself in front of a galaxy destroying weapon of mass destruction known as The Moment. It is the device that the Doctor activates in order to stop the war between the Daleks and the Time Lords by annihilating both species.
Finally, the third story focuses on David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor who is enjoying his time with Queen Elizabeth I of England and finds himself in the midst of a Zygon plot. Eventually the three Doctors find themselves together and have to thwart the devious plans of the Zygons as well as face their demons and the destruction of Gallifrey… Sadly that is the best synopsis I can give you without providing any spoilers so I will leave it at there as we get into the Pros and Cons of this monumental episode.
WARNING: From this point on I will be talking about the show in greater detail, some will contain major spoilers, some not so much. You have been warned. If you do not wish to be spoiled then please skip to the conclusion and final score.
The Grandiose Nature of the Episode
It is the 50th Anniversary… You really need to pull out all the stops on that one… And man did Moffat and the cast and crew deliver. While the addition of the Zygons and the inclusion of Elizabeth I (A throwback to a previous episode) were decent touches. Actually back tracking and showing us the truth of what happened in the last days of the Time War and the Doctor’s ultimate decision. This episode could not be just like any episode and if they had tried anything else, it would have fallen well short of the expectations held by the fan base.
The Callbacks and Rewarding Fans for Their Support
I love the not so subtle that the show uses in this episode. The fact that one of the characters that worked for UNIT is very clearly a walking, breathing incarnation of the stereotypical Whovian fangirl complete with the Fourth Doctor’s trademark scarf. The fact that UNIT makes an appearance in the episode at all and a reference to the Third Doctor’s companion The Brigadier. It shows the Tenth Doctor wearing a fez and bridges the gap between the Eighth Doctor and the Ninth Doctor with John Hurt’s character. It actually shows the end of the Time War, what the Doctor did to end it, and what was going through his mind when it did come to an end. It is actually rewarding the fanbase for their fandom and continued support of the series.
Then there is Tom Baker… Arguably the most popular and loved Doctor out of the twelve, to see him return to reprise his role one last time is a rare and enjoyable site. It is a tiny cameo but a pleasant one all the same.
A lot of these things feel like small and albeit insignificant things… But they really do matter. The Doctor Who fandom is one that remembers little details. It is a series that picks out such tiny details in every episode and keeps them with them. They remember tiny articles of clothing that would be passed up in other television shows like bow ties and scarves and the type of jacket the main character likes to wear. It is good to know that the shows creators recognize this and give the fans what they want. They may be small and they may be meaningless to the plot itself, but the fact that they are there add cool moments of enjoyment that casual fans just wouldn’t understand.
And what clever forshadowing it was. (Spoilers) Near the end of the episode as the Doctors are attempting to save Gallifrey from falling, one of the Time Lords notes that all twelve versions of the Doctor are descending on Gallifrey when it is stated that there is actually a thirteenth Tardis rocketing towards Gallifrey and then cuts to a close up of a pair of determined eyes. This of course is the 12th Doctor, Peter Capaldi in his first appearance as the Doctor.
This was very clever and very well done. I really enjoy the fact that they did not bring out Capaldi in full view. The determined stare of Capaldi is all that was needed to understand what is to come with him and his portrayal of the Doctor… And it came at just the right time to give the viewers and fans of the show that exhilarating rush as he barreled towards Gallifrey.
I suppose it was to be expected. Christopher Eccleston has made it very clear what he thinks of the show and has voiced his opinion on several occasions that he does not wish to return to the show in any way. It really is a shame that Eccleston did not make an actual appearance and only his likeness was placed on-screen with the other versions of the Doctor. If there was any time for Eccleston to make a simple cameo appearance, this time would be the time. But sadly it was for not once again and we were left without the Ninth. I suppose it isn’t that big of a deal in the long run. Seeing Tennant, Smith, Hurt, and Baker on-screen was more than enough for any Whovian… But it is a tragedy that Eccleston wants no part in a fanbase that obviously wants him.
This episode is easily one of the best in the series. 50 years in the making and not a second disappointed. It was well written, grandiose, intense, and heart-felt. It gave the fans exactly what they wanted and rewarded them for their loyalty to the series for fans both old and new. It is a fun watch and one that you will want to watch over and over again.
Final Score 4.5/5
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