Well, I have been at this whole near-daily Doctor Who stuff for a while. Here I am, maybe a decade (the show’s time) out from current episodes, with the 50th anniversary story. And it’s one of those big ones with extra Doctors running around, this time to finally explain what the heck happened during the Time War that led to the destruction of Gallifrey and, almost, the Daleks.
The Daleks never quite stay dead.
The producers tried to get Christopher Eccleston back, but he ultimately said no due to his past experiences on the show. That meant John Hurt’s War Doctor, and I think the show is better for it.
So, what did happen in the Time War? Well, all we’ve ever been told is the Doctor did something that wiped out the Time Lords, destroyed Gallifrey, and appeared to wipe out the Daleks as well. The Daleks have been wiped out more times than I can count, so that clearly didn’t stick. The idea is, as shown in a webshort, Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor, depressed over the way the Time War was going, regenerated into a Doctor who could fight in the war. That was the War Doctor, and what he did was so terrible that when he regenerated into the Ninth Doctor and every Doctor after that, he’s been feeling nothing but extreme guilt ever since. Sure, the Ninth isn’t part of the main story, but that fits with the Tenth, who here is spoken of as the Doctor who remembered, and the Eleventh, the Doctor who did his best to forget what happened.
That certainly fits both characters. David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor certainly looked gloomy fairly often when he wasn’t slipping into self-righteousness. Meanwhile, if there was a Doctor said to be trying to run away from everything, it would be Matt Smith’s Eleventh.
As for the story here, the War Doctor stole the Moment from the Time Lords’ vault of forbidden weapons, a self-aware device that has a hell of a conscience. It can destroy galaxies, and the use of it would destroy both the Time Lords and the Daleks. However, the Moment appears as a woman only the War Doctor can see and hear, in the form of Billie Piper (so, not quite Rose Tyler), knowing the face would mean something to the Doctor…eventually. Piper isn’t involved much here, and even when she and Tennant are on-screen together, he can’t see or hear her, so…OK.
The Eleventh Doctor gets involved in the present when UNIT finds some Time Lord art with a note from Queen Elizabeth I, wife to the Tenth Doctor. Kate Stewart is there, as is a scientist who wears the Fourth Doctor’s distinctive scarf, and the Zygons come back, so what does all that have to do with the Time War? Not much. The Doctors convince UNIT to negotiate a peace treaty with the Zygons, and then it’s off for the War Doctor to detonate the Moment. Sure, both Doctors initially come along to try and offer to share the burden (even though all of them are the same person) until Clara says something about how the Doctor always has a solution.
Because of course it was Clara.
By the by, UNIT has a whole wall with photos of past companions and a ton of Doctor Who Easter eggs in its vaults, so that was nice.
Also nice: it turns out that while the guilt-ridden Tenth Doctor calculated how many children died on Gallifrey, the Eleventh Doctor spent the last 400 years calculating a way to prevent the destruction of Gallifrey, and given each Doctor has a TARDIS, they can simply shunt Gallirey into a side dimension, a moment of frozen time seen in the artwork, and the Daleks would wipe themselves out. It’s a task that requires more than just three Doctors, so thanks to some archival footage, all of the past Doctors likewise show up to save the planet, and there’s even a brief glimpse of Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor. Gallifrey falls no more, the Daleks lose the war, and the Doctor has a huge weight lifted off his shoulders, even if the nature of the event means the War Doctor and the Tenth Doctor won’t really remember any of this.
And then Tom Baker walks out to have a chat with Matt Smith.
Was it a great story? Well, maybe not. The Zygons had little to do with the Time War, and that acted largely as filler to give the fans an extra-long episode. But these sorts of stories are there more as a treat to fans than anything else. For once, the Doctor seems to largely get along with himself as Tennant and Smith work together brilliantly. Hurt, meanwhile, is something of an old grump, pointing out more than once that the sonic screwdriver is a tool, not a weapon, and being utterly exasperated with everything his two future incarnations do, ending the episode as his own regeneration starts. Piper may not have a lot to do, but she is an appropriate face for the Doctor’s conscience. Sure, I could do without Clara, but there were worse companions. She’s just…there and a little too cute.
And with that, Matt Smith’s Doctor had only one more official appearance left…