The Day of the Doctor will probably go down as one of the most significant Doctor Who episodes of all time (if not THE most significant). It was the 50th anniversary episode, the 799th Doctor Who show, and the episode that was simultaneously broadcast in so many countries that it set a Guiness World Record.
It was an episode chock-full of easter eggs and call-outs to the history of the franchise, for both long-time Doctor Who fans and ones like myself that hopped on board the rebooted series in 2005. It was a “love letter to the fans,” as the creators called it, but it was even more than that. It was a show of endings and of new beginnings, a pivotal point in the Doctor’s history in more ways than one.
My wife and I went to a late-night showing of The Day of the Doctor in the cinema, because we simply had to be part of the celebration with other Whovians. The theater was packed, outfits were in full display, and the crowd was jubilant and giddy. It was a fun time from start to end. So for us it was just as much an experience as an episode, something to break a long fast since the end of series 7.
What I’m really in awe of, after watching this episode, is just how perfectly The Day of the Doctor serves as a bridge, connecting gaps in the show’s run and lore. When the 2005 series started, there had been almost two decades since the TV movie and no detailed explanation as to what had happened with the Doctor since then. We picked up in bits and pieces that there was a Great Time War, that the Doctor’s people were annihilated along with the Daleks, and that he was largely responsible for it. But it was a pretty gaping hole nevertheless.
If you include the mini-episode the Night of the Doctor with this, then that hole is filled. We see the return of the Eighth Doctor and how he transitions into John Hurt’s War Doctor. We go through the War Doctor’s agonizing journey and see a new take on the proceedings that change our understanding of everything. By the end of the episode and the War Doctor’s regeneration into the Ninth Doctor (or, really, Tenth), what we assumed had happened was flipped turned upside-down.
Due to the influences of the Time Vortex, which takes the form of Rose “Bad Wolf” Tyler, the War Doctor is joined by Matt Smith’s and David Tennant’s Doctors as well — three for the price of one! The trio hop through several time periods, from Elizabethan England to the present to Gallifrey on the last day of the Time War. Whether you’re a Smith or Tennant fan, there’s much fun to be had here (I’m partial to Smith, myself), and the two — along with Hurt — have incredible chemistry together. It’s a funny, fun episode from start to finish, and I can’t imagine any Doctor Who fan not being thrilled to see the Doctor bouncing off of himself.
There are a few significant cameos and other franchise-connecting moments that are best left unspoiled, but it had the audience in the theater shouting and clapping. I think that above all else, it was an episode about what the Doctor does and why he calls himself that, and this concept is what connects all of the Doctors in their many incarnations.
Following it, I’m very excited to see where the show goes from here. As I said, it was an episode about endings, especially for Matt Smith who is one episode away from ending his run. It will be very sad to see him go, but The Day of the Doctor gives a new purpose to the Doctor that will go hand-in-hand with the next actor. It’s time for another change-up, and this is probably the most loving, the most upbeat way of doing so. This could have been a very dark episode, but instead it becomes a triumph for fans and the Doctor alike.