It’s not everyday a TV show turns 50 and is still around to celebrate it! When 2013 dawned, the BBC was ready. They celebrated Doctor Who the whole year, culminating with “The Day of the Doctor” on November 23, 2013. There were screenings at the British Film Institute featuring stories from each Doctor. On BBC America, they showed a story a month with an introduction called The Doctors Revisited.
Clara and the Eleventh Doctor, sometime after their adventure through the Doctor’s time stream as seen in “The Name of the Doctor“, are called in by UNIT to investigate 3D paintings with figures missing at a secret part of the National Gallery. At the same time the War Doctor is fighting the Time War. The Time Lords are not doing well as the Daleks have invaded their cities. The War Doctor has The Moment and intends to use it which will wipe out both the Daleks and the Time Lords except him. The sentient weapon decides to show him what will happen if he does use The Moment so she opens a portal to both the Eleventh Doctor and the Tenth Doctor.
The Eleventh Doctor follows the time portal to Elizabethan England where the Tenth Doctor is tracking down a Zygon invasion and getting to know Queen Elizabeth very well. The Queen has fallen for the Doctor hard, and the Time Lord is going along with it reluctantly because he believes she is a Zygon imposter already. But in a funny but slightly awkward moment it’s revealed the horse was the Zygon all along.
When the War Doctor meets the other Doctors, he doesn’t recognize them at first. He mistakes them for the Doctors’ companions. The three Time Lords are captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London. The Eleventh and Tenth Doctors realize where the War Doctor is relative to his timeline when he asks them questions about the destruction of Gallifrey. Together with Clara they travel back to the Time War. This time the War Doctor will not be alone when he destroys the Time Lords and the Daleks.
Thankfully the Doctors change their minds at the last minute. They work together – with archive footage of the all the previous Doctors – to lock Gallifrey in a parallel pocket universe:
The Doctor vows at the end of “The Day of the Doctor” to find Gallifrey, but he choses to go home the long way around. In fact two years later, Gallifrey is still out there somewhere. “The Time of the Doctor” revealed the Time Lords were ultimately responsible for the Crack in the Universe and gave the Eleventh Doctor a new set of regenerations. At the end of Series 8, Missy gives the Doctor false coordinates, much to his dismay. Who knows if or when Gallifrey will show up again. I suppose that is up to Steven Moffat or whoever replaces him as showrunner.
As a nuWho fan who’s favorite Doctor is Nine, I felt conflicted because I originally thought the 50th Anniversary erased all of the pathos behind the character. The explanation I use to resolve that is timey-wimey but it boils down to the fact that the Ninth Doctor wasn’t there to save Gallifrey, and the War Doctor admits before he leaves that he knows he’ll forget this. It does still cheapen Nine’s arc but at least it doesn’t dismiss it entirely.
The special is a wonderful love letter to Doctor Who as a whole. Unfortunately the Classic Doctors couldn’t be involved as much as some fans had hoped due to practical reasons. Steven Moffat admits as much in a Radio Times interview. But there were still plenty of celebrations of Classic Who released during 2013: Mark Gatiss wrote a wonderful docu-drama about the beginnings of the show called An Adventure in Space and TIme. Big Finish produced an audio drama starring the Eighth, Seventh, Sixth, Fifth, and Fourth Doctors called The Light at the End. And Peter Davison produced The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot as a spoof of the multi-Doctor specials. He’s joined by Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy as they try to get roles in the 50th Anniversary. If you have missed any of these, I definitely recommend seeking them out as they make worthwhile additions to the Doctor Who celebrations.