Ah, Ah, Ah… Spoilers
So we knew going into the episode that John Hurt definitely followed Paul McGann as The Doctor. John Hurt himself made this a public declaration months ago but because it appeared in The Sun nobody really believed him. But then the mini episode released a couple of weeks ago (called The Night of the Doctor) confirmed this. What his “crime” was that led to Smith condemning him in The Name of the Doctor was not stated specifically but was pretty obvious.
Of course, Hurt was going to be the Doctor responsible for ending The Time War in such a cataclysmic and harrowing fashion – the extermination of the Daleks and the Timelords in one fell swoop and he was to do it with a clockwork box that most definitely did not have a Big Red Button but did have a Rose Tyler inside it. It isn’t entirely clear where it came from, but a time rift brings all three Doctors together not to intervene in the Time War, but to foil a Zygon Plot to invade the present from the 16th century.
I’m not writing a full summary here because most people will have seen it at least twice by now and those who haven’t, probably haven’t seen it at all and I don’t want it to detract from the rather lengthy analysis to follow:
This was big and for a lot of reasons needed to be a standalone story. Yet there was enough here to encourage new fans as well as delight the long-term fans. So many references to the past, to the present and to potential future story lines. The fiftieth anniversary episode could only have dealt with the biggest storyline since the renewal (The Time War) and yet it does so by not sticking The Doctor into the heart of the war.
The Zygons were a welcome return for those who have been watching very long-term and for those familiar with Tennant’s final few episodes will have delighted in seeing Elizabeth I on screen. We were promised Daleks but these were surprisingly absent, existing in only a handful of clips in flashback form and of course that Dalek that they accidentally bring out of the 3D painting with them.
We never got a sense of the true atrocity of the Time War. The only part we did see was the Daleks bombing Gallifrey back into the Stone Age. What had the Timelords done during that war that was so wrong? What atrocities were they responsible for? Was there also a similar Timelord fleet carpet bombing Skaro? I never got a sense of atrocity beyond a few cowering children and this made the war feel a little impotent. Good battle scenes and wars with a sense of dread are vital for transmitting the correct level of horror and instilling a sense of dread in the viewer. The perfect example of this is the Narn-Centauri war from season 2 of Babylon 5 which was far more effective and with a fraction of the budget.
Before the episode aired, I wanted Hurt to be a haunted figure, a dark and moody man and I wanted him to be an unknown quantity (say, like Avon from Blakes 7) who you perhaps couldn’t quite trust but had to. I’m glad now that that wasn’t the case; I’m glad that he really was a Doctor. The only tragedy then is that he would never remember that he did not actually destroy the Timelords though mass genocide of the Daleks was a small price to pay for this of course! He was also far more humorous: “what are you going to do, assemble a wardrobe at them?” and practical than expected. In short, he really was more like our Doctors than the imposing and burdened figure that he appeared to be in The Name of the Doctor.
Smith and Tennant worked perfectly together, complementing each other both through their similarities and their differences. The bickering, the sonic screwdriver contest, “chinny” and “skinny” and finally that moment when Smith confessed to Tennant that he had to go to Trenzalore, showed the underlying darkness that hides behind the eyes of both incarnations.
It was a nice touch to have all of the Doctors and though I initially cheered inside to see Peter Capaldi, on reflection I need to ask what purpose it actually served. It will also take away some of the anticipation for Smith of what comes next so central to every previous regeneration, assuming that he met and interacted with all of the others off screen.
My Wild and Rambling Speculation Bit
It is never explained how and why the Time Lock was broken in order to bring War Doctor to the meeting between Smith and Tennant. Perhaps what happened at Trenzalore somehow opened the door to allow that to be changed. After all, War Doctor had been buried for a long time in his memories and the tomb that Clara jumped into perhaps unlocked a lot more things than it should have done. It seems from the teaser trailer for the Christmas episode that The Doctor will return to Trenzalore:
What other Time Locked incidents might now be open? I hope that we will get an explanation for why they were able to access this pivotal point in history – it can’t be merely brushed under the carpet. Would the GI have anything to do with it? The Timelords themselves? Or was it Clara’s actions at the previous visit. I’m sure we will found out in just four weeks time.
Okay people, have at it!