As is fitting for a show about time travel, the viewers were travelling in time from the very first moment of the show. A shot for shot remake of the opening credits from the very first episode was shown and this faded into a shadow of a policeman walking along a wall next to the scrapyard sign from Totters Lane. For a lot of viewers this would mean nothing at all, but for those who have been with the show from the beginning it was a promise from Stephen Moffat, and it was a promise I believe he lived up to.
We enter Cole Hill school, another part of the promise, and find that Clara is alive and well and working as a teacher. A quick off screen telephone call later and our companion is off to the middle of the nowhere to find the Tardis. In the last season the Tardis didn’t like Clara, but following her sacrifice she now shares the Doctors ability to snap her fingers and close the doors. It was a nice way to deal with the events of the last season without having them overpower the events of the special.
Three Doctors, No Waiting
One brief helicopter kidnapping later and we’re hurled into the story through a painting, changing from Smiths Doctor to Hurt. This is the moment he said “No more”, the moment the Time War broke him. He has seen the war affecting the rest of the universe, seen entire systems destroyed without either side pausing to count the cost. The benefit of an actor like Hurt is that he able to show that weariness easily. The weight of the war is evident in the timbre of his voice. His eyes carry how tired he is, and also the cost of the decision he is about to make. In ‘An Adventure In Space And Time‘ we see William Hartnell talk about being able to convey pages of dialogue with a look. Hurt shows us what that means repeatedly in this special and is a delight to watch all the way through.
Here we find out how Billie Piper is coming back, and it’s not as Rose. She plays the telepathic interface of ‘The Moment’, the device this Doctor is fated to use to destroy Gallifrey as well as the Daleks and Time Lords. One highly fated fez later (and finally we understand the Doctors almost subconscious obsession with those bloody awful hats) plus a confused polarity later and our three Doctors are pulled together around Tennants version, in the middle of an ill-fated date with Queen Elizabeth the First and a Zygon.
Yes, A Bloody Zygon
Remember the Zygons? You’re older than me if you do, or have access to a lot more of the classic series than most people can be bothered to watch. For the uninitiated, they look kind of a Fifty Shades of Grey and Cthulhu Mythos crossover. These aliens are shapeshifters looking to take over the world in a plan that is frankly ridiculous, and one of the weaker parts of the special. However it does act as a nice driving force to keep the three Doctors together and that is the meat of the movie.
So our two familiar Doctors are thrust together with the one they tried to forget, the Doctor who did the unforgivable, and it’s all thanks to the Zygons. Here we find the first real twist of the movie. Where we’ve been led to believe that Hurts Doctor will be an antagonist, he looks at the Doctors we know as if they were the monsters. The fact that they were able to go on after doing what he is about to do, makes them unrecognisable to him. Where we already know they can’t see him as The Doctor, it becomes evident that he can’t quite see them as The Doctor either.
The Zygon plot takes them into the future and we see their plan is to take over the world when it’s a bit more technologically able, because novelty dildo aliens love a little bit of home comfort. The human reaction to three Zygons and their plot is the destruction of London, because humans are bloody stupid apparently. No-one thinks about things like guns or a small bomb, it’s straight to the giant nuclear device hidden below London.
And so the Zygon plot becomes the human idiocy, and they’re both quickly defeated with the aid of a little time-travelling telephone call, a call that was blatantly telegraphed earlier on in the show but what can you do about that? There is no way to show that particular plotline without telegraphing it unfortunately as it could have been a neat twist if we hadn’t seen it coming.
The Moment Is Come
Hurts Doctor sees his future selves negotiating a deal between Zygons and humans, saving the world yet again, and feels that it is the guilt of his actions that makes them save people like this. He knows now what he must do, he knows that he must carry that guilt to become these men, he knows that he must be a monster on this day to become a hero in the future. But he is not the only Doctor in the room.
A plan is formed and we get to see the Gallifrey military faced with the idea of three Doctors. They don’t like it. And then it happens. In one of the most epic moments in fifty years of history, those three are joined by all nine of their other incarnations. A little stock footage and sound mixed with the current show and we have Twelve Doctors enacting a plan to save Gallifrey. It was a brilliant moment but not enough for Moffat. In a master stroke, he immediately followed that with something that caused a billion fans to joygasm all at once.
Thirteen Doctors, No Waiting
In the Christmas episode, Matt Smith will be taking a bow and regenerating into Peter Capaldi. We’ve known that for months now and so have the team. So, just as we get twelve Doctors on screen at once the thirteenth makes his debut. Capaldi appears on screen for an instant but he is there before he has even been regenerated, something that makes sense for a show about time travel but has never been managed before. Every Doctor ever, on screen all at once. It’s what the fiftieth anniversary gave us, and something most fans won’t forget.
So, the War Doctor is a good guy after all, and our Doctor only thought he’d killed all those Time Lords during the Time War. Happily he skips off into his own Tardis, his regeneration cycle beginning and his last words leading us to believe he’s on his way to meet Rose Tyler as Christopher Eccleston.
Tennant is off to see the Ood at the beginning of The End Of Time, and Smith gets to have a chat with Tom Baker. The entire point of this chat, apart from to shoehorn another past Doctor into the dhow in their present form, was to explain what just happened to those who didn’t understand it. Having seen some of the reviews since Moffat took over, I can see why he included that but it did come across as insulting to those of us who did understand it.
All in all, and ignoring Tom Baker as I generally try to do in most circumstances, the show was a triumph for fans of the series, young and old. Dozens of references to the classic series were worked into the show, from dialogue to photos, outfits to name drops, even those very first Tardis walls appeared for a moment. I’ve no doubt that a vast majority of modern fans missed so many of the references, but for someone like me it was just ablaze with nostalgia from that very first recreated shot.
And Then I Go And Spoil It All…
The last shot is awful. We follow Matts Doctor (who is now the Twelfth Doctor, it seems) as he narrates a little about how his new direction in life is to go home. As Matt walks out of the door we see him walking forwards to join the ranks of all the Doctors. We know what they’re aiming for even if it’s a bit artsy, but it’s a nice moment when shown from behind. However it just doesn’t work from the front.
Capaldi is missing for starters. They’re trying to keep his outfit secret and keep him mysterious so that no-one makes snap decisions about his Doctor before he has a chance, but he was shown earlier in the brilliant Thirteen Doctors sequence and is conspicuous in his absence in this shot.
That isn’t the only problem though. From the front this shot was almost painful to see. I know for a fact that the technology to do that exists, so this was either done on a fraction of the budget it needed, or was just generally bad to the point that it dragged the rest of it down a little.
Luckily this conclusion wasn’t the moment that this special was all about. Nor was it, as many fans expected, about the moment of the Doctors darkest moment. This was about his greatest triumph, when every life he had ever lived came together to save his home planet and his very soul.
And that moment, like the best moments of the show over the past fifty years, was incredible.