"The Day of the Doctor" debuted last Saturday at the same time all around the world, breaking the Guinness World Record for the largest global simulcast of a drama. But the big news for Doctor Who fans was how the show's 50th-anniversary special changed much we thought we knew - just as writer/showrunner Steven Moffat promised it would. Also shown in 3D in movie theaters, the 75-minute episode featured an epic adventure in which Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor, David Tennant's Tenth Doctor and John Hurt's newly revealed War Doctor teamed up to face a devastating moment from the Doctor's involvement in the legendary Last Great Time War - and pulled a move akin to J.J. Abrams' reboot of Star Trek. One's mileage may vary on whether the new Trek is any good; I have serious issues with it, but I do admire how writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman managed to simultaneously provide a clean slate while not erasing anything that came before.
And what Moffat did with "DotD" achieved a similar end for the Doctor, boldly rewriting a crucial point in the Time Lord's timeline without taking away anything that's already happened. That is one of Moffat's true strengths: coming up with clever twists on what we think we know. And here, that twist alone was enough to make me almost forgive Moffat for every annoying thing he's done since taking the reins from previous showrunner Russell T. Davies. Read on for more on that, and the seven other reasons that "The Day of the Doctor" has me giving the Moff a pass at last.
8. We Found Out Why Queen Elizabeth I Hated the Doctor
Back in 2007, at the end of "The Shakespeare Code," the Tenth Doctor and new companion Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) save the world from the invading Carrionites in 1599 - and cross paths with Queen Elizabeth I (Angela Pleasence). It's a brief but unpleasant encounter with Her Majesty, who calls the Doctor her "sworn enemy" and commands her soldiers to remove his head. Ten and Martha beat it back to the TARDIS before that happens, but the Doctor has no idea why the Queen is so mad at him, saying he looked forward to finding out.
Later, in "The End of Time," the Doctor tells Ood Sigma that he married "Good Queen Bess," and that it was a mistake. When we meet Ten again in "The Day of the Doctor," he's galloping out of the TARDIS on a white horse in 1562 England, with a younger Queen Liz (Joanna Page) clinging to his waist. He proposes to her during an idyllic picnic...but it's apparently a ruse, because when she accepts, he accuses her of being a shapeshifting Zygon. Unfortunately for him, the Zygon is actually the horse, although it does soon replicate the Queen. But eventually the real Liz I insists on carrying out the wedding. Afterward, as Ten is in the middle of his caper with Eleven and War, he hops in his TARDIS and says he'll be right back. It seems he never returned - bringing on the enduring fury of a royal scorned.
7. We Got All the Doctors, After All
As expected, "Day" revolves around Eleven, Ten and War, but we did get to see all of the Doctor's incarnations, woven in where the story called for it - including Christopher Eccleston's Ninth and even Peter Capaldi's Twelfth (angry eyebrows shown above), who wasn't officially supposed to debut until the Christmas special. Granted, how all of his incarnations figured into a series of events that didn't seem to have anything to do with Doctors One through Seven was one of the parts that didn't make sense (see below), but oh well. I'll forgive that because it was such a delight to see them all again.
The BBC has given us a lot of extra material in the form of short films such as "The Night of the Doctor" and "The Last Day," and if you're jonesing to see the classic Doctors in action (or at least the men who played them), check out the Peter Davison-directed comedy "The Five(ish) Doctors," in which the erstwhile Fifth Doctor, along with Sixth Doctor Colin Baker and Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy, hilariously plot a way to crash the 50th-anniversary special. The 30-minute film also features Moffat himself, and it's packed with delightful cameos from companions and other figures from the series' history.
6. No Rose/Ten Reunion
In a post-special interview, Moffat told journalists that he didn't want to bring back Rose Tyler herself, because she belonged to RTD, her story was done and he didn't want to add to it. "But we did want Billie," he explained. "And I liked the idea of bringing back the Bad Wolf version."
Me, too. Here the Bad Wolf version of Rose vaguely resembles the human incarnation of the TARDIS, Idris (Suranne Jones), seen in Neil Gaiman's wonderful story "The Doctor's Wife." She's got wild hair and raggedy clothing like Idris, but no one can see her, except for the War Doctor. That's because Rose is the embodiment of the conscience of the sentient weapon called the Moment, the "galaxy eater" that the War Doctor has decided to unleash upon the Time War to end it, which will cause Gallifrey and the Daleks to burn up. In an echo of the TARDIS explaining that she doesn't always take the Doctor where he wants to go, but always where he needs to, the Moment's conscience pushes the Doctor to discover things about himself that he needs to come to the right decision.
A lot of shippers were bummed about the lack of Ten/Rose screentime, but frankly it was a relief to be spared yet another bout of that angst. Ten only realizes that the Bad Wolf was involved near the end of the adventure, when War gleefully exclaims, "Bad Wolf girl, I could kiss you!" But they're about to do something really important, so there's no time to even follow up on that little surprise. Well played, Moffat.
5. Lots of Easter Eggs
As obsessed as I am with Doctor Who, I don't feel confident saying I spotted every single passing visual reference to the show's long history, but I was delighted to see the ones I did recognize, such as how the opening moments perfectly echoed the opening of the very first episode, "An Unearthly Child," taking us back to 76 Totter's Lane, where we first see the TARDIS. And that current companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) has a new teaching job at the Coal Hill Secondary School, where the First Doctor's granddaughter, Susan (Carole Ann Ford), met her teachers Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), who became the Doctor's companions.
Not to mention River Song's red high heels from "The Time of Angels," the Space-Time Telegraph that the Fourth Doctor gave Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (and which Eleven uses here to contact the Brig's daughter, Kate, now the head of scientific research for global alien defense organization UNIT), Captain Jack Harkness's vortex manipulator (first seen in the Moffat-penned episode "The Empty Child") and the Tenth Doctor's last words ("I don't want to go") reuttered in a different, slightly more lighthearted context.
4. It Was Complicated...But Mostly Made Sense
The story veered from the present day to 1562 England to not-sure-when in outer space, and ticked pretty much all the boxes on Moffat's list of tricks and tropes. We got the mystery woman (or in this case "woman") who shows the Doctor the way. A seemingly throwaway moment that turns out to be a crucial part of the plot (early on, one of Kate Stewart's assistants gets a cellphone call, later revealed to be from Eleven, imparting important instructions). A formal invitation on paper, this time from Elizabeth I. An ordinary object that is not ordinary at all: a 3D painting depicting the Fall of Arcadia on Gallifrey that is actually a frozen slice of time itself. And creepy children...well, actually, this time the children weren't creepy, but the thought of what was going to happen to them was.
In the past, Moffat has left so many loose ends hanging that it felt like he himself lost track of them all. (And have we ever found out exactly why the TARDIS exploded? I've, uh, lost track.) But this time his usual breakneck pace was somewhat slowed, and almost everything was neatly resolved. That doesn't mean that fans aren't going to argue the details for months to come, but for once I don't feel like Moffat tried to wrap everything up with a string of rapidly delivered dialogue and a lot of literal hand-waving on the Eleventh Doctor's part.