Doctor Who Review: “The Day of the Doctor”–Home the Long Way ‘Round

“You told me the name you chose was a promise. What was the promise?”

Craig Ferguson said it best: intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism. The Doctor is the one who makes people better. He couldn’t even handle calling himself the Doctor and fighting a war at the same time, because war doesn’t fit who he promised to be. 

eleven day of the doctor promise

It’s like the Doctor found himself all over again when he realized he could try to save Gallifrey. I love it. It’s exactly this character, and exactly this show, to suggest that there’s always another solution. But that solution has never been without consequence (everybody lives just this ONCE), so I’m curious how this whole thing will play out. It’s important for Doctor Who not to lose the complexity of its optimism. If and when the Doctor finds Gallifrey, I don’t want to gloss over the Time Lords we met in “The End of Time,” terrifying and power hungry, in favor of tattered mothers and kids skipping around maypoles. The Time Lords are kind of awful, especially in war. What will they want when they’re restored?

And as happy as I am for the Doctor, it feels a little hollowed out to think of Nine raging at that Dalek and realize he was breaking down over something that didn’t even happen in the end—although even if he had remembered trying to save his people, he couldn’t have been sure that it worked. His guilt was real, and it led him to become the man who fought so hard to find another way. That’s the paradox. The Doctor could only save Gallifrey by thinking he’d destroyed it and meeting a girl who would help him forgive himself.

“Look at you. Stuck between a girl and a box. Story of your life, eh Doctor?”

One of the best things about Rose Tyler is how completely human she is. It’s what the Doctor loves most about her. I can’t tell you how relieved I am that Moffat didn’t rewrite what drew Nine to Rose. He knew he needed her just because he liked her, not because he saw her as a mystery from his past and future. Everything about the Doctor and Rose’s story is still intact. Can we just stop to appreciate that? Rose and TenToo are still out there saving a parallel universe and making out in the TARDIS. They’re still them.

rose doctor you're still you hug

It’s hard to love something that a show about time travel can touch—it can always come back, but it’s never safe, either. With the 50th, there was always a chance that Rose and Ten could be written badly, or that their ending would be rewritten entirely, and I’m not sure I could have handled that. I love the Tenth Doctor so much that it physically hurts. I had a vivid dream where he held my hand and it still haunts me. I cry about Rose Tyler once a month at least. This is the life I’ve chosen. The Doctor and Rose have a story that’s so pure and poignant that as much as I wanted to see them again, I was scared to see it touched, and it turns out Moffat didn’t really want to touch it either.

Without rewriting Rose and the Doctor’s history, Moffat’s script pays homage to Rose Tyler as the character who brought the Doctor back to our screens and back from the brink. Of all people, the Interface chooses Rose. Of ALL the FACES, hers is the one that means the most in his head, and he hasn’t even met her yet. Just leave me here with my feelings. The Interface is the Doctor’s conscience in the same way that Rose is. She doesn’t tell him what to do or what to think. She just shows the Doctor himself. She keeps him company, and all of her goodness is right there standing watch, making him want to do the right thing. Bad Wolf still wants her Doctor safe.

“You know the sound the TARDIS makes? That wheezing, groaning? That sound brings hope wherever it goes, to anyone who hears it, Doctor. Anyone, however lost.”

rose interface even you

That’s so the mission statement of this show. It’s also the most Rose Tyler smile I’ve ever seen from someone who isn’t technically Rose Tyler, and there’s so much love in her voice that I’m finding it difficult to breathe. We didn’t get any actual interaction between Rose/Bad Wolf/Interface and the Doctors who’ve known her, but David and Billie wrote Rose and Ten’s whole history in their faces. She gets flustered when he walks by and can’t see her, because she knows what it would mean to him if he could (and because everything in Rose Tyler’s body jumps at the sight of him).

bad wolf watches ten

When Ten hears “Bad Wolf,” running me down with a tractor would be less painful than the desperation on his face. Everything around him stops.  Ten was literally born out of love for Rose Tyler. You can see it.

ten bad wolf face

And we’ve finally cleared this up: Elizabeth I wasn’t the Doctor’s post-Rose rebound. He never wanted to marry the Queen. He just thought she was a Zygon and wanted to unmask her. I didn’t really need her to be into him, especially since it subjected the Doctor to a series of kisses he didn’t actually want, but at least he didn’t return her affection. He was there to protect history. It just didn’t go according to plan. As if it ever could for him.

“Same software, different case.”

ten eleven screwdrivers

Meeting up with yourself makes for a special kind of bromance. Ten and Eleven finish each other’s sentences and bicker like twins. They even move like mirror images of each other. Put them against the War Doctor and they’re two kids competing for granddad’s approval. (“Timey what?” “I’ve no idea where he picks that stuff up.”) More than that, though, they’re two wounded men afraid of growing up.

The War Doctor gets some great jabs at the youth of his future selves (“Am I having a midlife crisis?”), but he also hits them where they’re most vulnerable. They’re young because they’ve borne too much responsibility lately. Matt Smith can turn from a bouncing little lamb to a sad old man in a single line, and he took the air out of that Tower cell with, “I can’t remember if I’m lying about my age; that’s how old I am.” The Doctor has essentially aged in reverse, from the snarky old man with young eyes to the one trying to forget.

I think we all expected the Time War Doctor to be dark and broody and not particularly like the Doctor at all, but he is the Doctor, which is really the point. If he were entirely unrecognizable, it would be easy to separate his actions from the Doctor’s. It’s the familiarity in Hurt’s War Doctor—the way he wishes for a big red button and sasses his young counterparts—that makes his impossible choice so personal. And the sass really is glorious.

 “Just the old favorites.”

There’s something in the water at the BBC that makes these people crafty. Moffat spun a huge web about not looking back, but he gave us one inside reference after another. From the old-school opening credits to the code for Jack Harkness’s vortex manipulator, “The Day of the Doctor” is a celebration of Doctor Who’s 50-year history. We even get the round things.

i love the round things

David loves the round things, you guys. He decided to be an actor at age three because of this show. He had posters of Sarah Jane Smith on his wall and his grandmother knitted him a scarf like Tom Baker’s and he worked it into every essay he wrote, until finally his teacher had to call him on it. If there’s ever a line to deliver as yourself as much as your character, this is the one. David saw the opportunity and he took it. This makes me really happy.

I think you’re allowed to pat yourself on the back when your show has lasted 50 years. You can bring in the next Doctor, show us his eyebrows for two seconds, and trust the fandom to explode (we did). And I’m still not sure I understand how all of the old Doctors knew to show up for this, but I don’t care, because when I see their faces, even in stock footage, I’m so proud of this show. It has a past that I think does guarantee its future.

“After all, in a world where very little is a surprise, and everything is viewed with cynicism, Doctor Who is a genuine rarity. It represents one of the very few areas where adults become as unashamedly enthusiastic as children. It’s where children first experience the thrills and fears of adults, and where we never know the exact ending in advance. With its ballsy women, bisexual captains, working-class loquaciousness, scientific passion and unremittingly pacifist dictum, it offers a release from the dispiritingly limited vision of most storytelling. It is, despite being about a 900-year old man with two hearts and a spacetime taxi made of wood, still one of our very best projections of how to be human.”–Caitlin Moran

That's fine I didn't even need my heart.

That’s fine I didn’t even need my heart.

Timey wimey stuff

TOM BAKER: either you felt something or you don’t have a soul

tom baker who knows

“Nothing is ever forgotten, not completely. And if something can be remembered, it can come back.” Has a totally new meaning now, yes?

“Never cruel or cowardly. Never give up, never give in.” That’s the Doctor’s promise. Fifty years and they still haven’t run out of ways to say that the words we choose matter.

“Bad Wolf girl, I could kiss you!” “Yeah, that’s gonna happen.”

matt  smith hands doctor who 50th

I can’t tell you the amount of noise we made when we thought we might see Nine. To quote Sage, “When the War Doctor started to regenerate, all five of us watching together stood up, held hands, and screamed at the top of our lungs like we were trying to conjure him. Were fangirl powers worth the strength of our love for Nine, he probably would have appeared in the middle of that very room.” Love you, Nine. 

“I don’t want to go” was just rude. RUDE, Moffat. The whole point of that line is that Ten only said it one time. Let’s not go ruining everything. My vote would’ve been for Ten to tell the War Doctor that he’s going to have a really great year, though I think he has more than a year to go until he meets Rose. “You’re gonna have a really great century”?

tennant frown 50th

Clara’s a lot of fun, and it was great to see her remind the Doctor of himself. He always needs someone. But I’m still side-eying her for calling Ten a hero and then saying “Any old idiot can be a hero.” Actually, no, I don’t even want to lay all of that on Clara. Side-eyeing Moffat for that thing he does where he tries to take the name of the Doctor away from Ten. Also, if we’re getting technical here, Ten’s a lot more staunchly non-violent than Eleven. Can’t Clara see a good thing when he’s smiling at her like this?

tennant smile 50th

How do you even use your face, sir?

Tennant was so thoroughly the Doctor in this episode, it was like he’d never even left. He had his glasses and his long coat and his machine that went ding. He said “allons-y” and unleashed a little righteous indignation on behalf of 2.47 billion kids. But happy Ten is still my favorite. I think he just high-fived the TARDIS.

ten tardis high five doctor who


“On my desk. Tomorrow morning. ASAP. Pronto. LOL.”

“That is proper skinny…It’s like a special effect!”

“Good. I’ve always wanted to meet someone called Yes.” Eleven, was that a dad joke?

Matt Smith’s delivery of “Are you sciencey?” is the type of thing only he could pull off—the curmudgeonly old man who also makes you wheeze when he winks at you.

cybermen raft of the medusa

This is the Raft of the Medusa, but with Cybermen. My entire education has led me to this joke.

“Oh, the pointing again. They’re screwdrivers. What are you gonna do—assemble a cabinet at them?”

I’ll see you all at the 100th.

yeah that's right I kissed your woman Sandshoes got game

Sandshoes just kissed your woman.


  1. Great review, even if I read it two years too late (and stole a couple gifs, hope that’s okay!) Can’t they like, show this once a year, every year? For New Years or on the anniversary or something? And in 3D! I mean, watching this is like…well the only equivalent I can give is it’s like watching “The Crow” with Brandon Lee, which is my favorite movie. Of. All. Time. SInce it came out. Over 20 years ago.
    I LOVE that movie. It is one of my strongest passions, so much so that I can hardly watch it (mostly because I know Brandon died making it) but it raises so many emotions in me, to levels I’ve only felt watching that movie-and in one relationship, which had equal amounts of Love, Loss, and Pain and more emotions than I can give names to. Dark and morbid as parts of it were (The Crow, not the relationship) was breathtaking. If The Crow is a Ten for me (Ten is my Doctor! Oh wait, wrong fandom, more on that in a moment..) then my next favorite movie, A Knight’s Tale with Heath Ledger, a movie I ADORE, is a Six, then Ever After coming in 3rd place at a5 rating. LOVE that movie! But The Crow is just at it’s own level, and nothing ever came close to affecting me like it. Until this. DOTD makes me cry everytime I watch it. Partially in Joy-I miss those boys, 10 and 11 so very very very much, even if Capaldi did finally win my genuine LIKE this series (9) I’d still give a finger to have Matt back, with David showing up often. And part when I’m cheering with tears rolling down my cheeks when all the Doctors are there and we hear “No Sir! All 13!”

    The only other movie that left me breathless was The Hobbit in 3D, because it was so strikingly beautiful, and also entertaining. But still, like, a 7. Even though DOTD is technically a show, it’s a 9.5. And it only loses that half a point because there wasn’t enough of it.

    Thinking of the DOTD makes me sad, in the same way that thinking of dancing at my Dad at my wedding does. Or him walking me down the aisle. I lost my Dad to Parkinson’s last year and the marriage was a bust, but after a while I realized I was meant to be married to that loser, even with all the crap that went with it, because it gave me those beautiful moments with my Dad. I’m not trivializing those moments-they’re the ones I’d relive given a chance. A poor comparison perhaps, but my point was, seeing TDOTD in 3D was such a wonderful, fantastic, brilliant, geronimo allons-y moment, it makes me so sad I can never live it again.

    I think we need to find a billionaire to finance a sitcom starring Matt and David, as brothers or something, with Sir John Hurt (who I pray for every day as he fights his pancreatic cancer) as their Dad.

  2. So I just saw this review and I thought two years! It’s been two years already. I really loved this episode, for all the reasons you detailed. I loved David’s doctor. I loved Matt’s doctor. I liked the War Doctor and his grown up sensibility. I loved how they incorporated the Rose character. And I tolerated Clara (never a big fan). All of the references to previous doctors made a classic Who fan giddy. And I was never so happy to not have been spoiled as at the end. That voice! I about came out of my skin! So happy Tom Baker made an appearance. If there had only been a reference to Sarah Jane, my joy would have been complete.

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