Time Travel

A Primer For Doctor Who’s ‘Day of the Doctor’ Episode

The BBC is simulcasting the 50th anniversary special 'The Day of the Doctor' worldwide. Here's five things you should know about the milestone episode. Warning: it’s pretty confusing.

Doctor Who is 50 this Saturday. To commemorate the milestone, BBC is simulcasting the 50th anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor” worldwide. Here we present five things you should know going into the episode.

1. What happened in the seventh series finale:

In “The Name of the Doctor,” The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) are lured to the planet Trenzalore after The Great Intelligence (Richard E. Grant) kidnapped Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, and Commander Strax. Travelling to Trenzalore is problematic, however, because Trenzalore is the location of the Doctor’s final battle and his grave (which is the TARDIS, a time machine spacecraft). Obviously, it’s dangerous for time travellers to visit their own grave.

It’s revealed that the vortex of light in the tomb is actually the scar tissue on the fabric of time and space created by all of the Doctor’s time travelling. The Great Intelligence enters the stream of light, thereby splitting itself into multiple fragments that are scattered throughout the Doctor’s timeline—with the sole purpose of killing the Doctor. And this is where Clara comes in: In order to save the Doctor, Clara has to enter his time-stream. By entering his time-stream, she too is fragmented and scattered throughout the Doctor’s history and dies each time saving the Doctor. Through a cool montage, it’s shown that Clara has not only saved the Doctor’s eleventh incarnation, but has saved the lives of every incarnation without most of them realizing.

The Doctor and Clara are eventually reunited somewhere in the depths of the Doctor’s time stream. All of the Doctor’s incarnations are running past them. In the distance, however, is an incarnation of the Doctor that Clara does not remember. The Eleventh Doctor explains that by picking the name “Doctor,” he made a promise, and all of the doctors have kept this promise except for this one.

The Doctor and the stranger exchange a few words:

Stranger: What I did, I did without choice... in the name of peace and sanity.

The Doctor: "But not in the name of 'The Doctor.'"

The Stranger turns to the camera and a caption on the screen reads: “Introducing John Hurt as the Doctor”


2. John Hurt as “The War Doctor”

The introduction of John Hurt as the Doctor was rather startling. Where does John Hurt’s Doctor fall in the Doctor’s history?

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On November 14, the BBC released a mini episode titled “The Night of the Doctor,” which featured the eighth Doctor played by Paul McGann. McGann played the Doctor in the U.S. made-for-TV Doctor Who film that was released in 1996, and took place prior to the Great Time War in which all of the Time Lords (except for the Doctor and the Master) died. Because the series was not picked up after the film, fans never saw the eighth Doctor’s regeneration. “The Night of the Doctor” takes place during the Great Time War, and fills the gap between the 1996 film and the 2005 revival.

In “The Night of the Doctor,” a wounded Doctor crash lands on a planet that is home to The Sisters of Karn. The Sisters tell the Doctor he must fight to the end Time War. They give him a potion that will let him pick his next regeneration. The Doctor says, “I don’t suppose there’s any need for a Doctor anymore. Make me a warrior now.” He takes the potion, regenerates and says, “Doctor, no more.” He is now the War Doctor. Yep, you guess it. That’s John Hurt.

All this means that Hurt will be playing the version of the Doctor who fought in the Great Time War, is guilty of a war crime by killing all of the Time Lords to end the war, and, in committing genocide, did not act “in the name of ‘the Doctor.’” The Doctor has tried to forget these terrible actions.

Some of you are probably asking, “Wouldn’t this revelation make Chris Eccleston the Tenth Doctor, David Tennant the eleventh, and Matt Smith the twelfth?” Thanks to semantics, the numbering does not change. The War Doctor is the same man as the Doctor, but he did not take the name “Doctor” as he chose to become a warrior. Thus, Eccleston is still considered to be the Ninth Doctor since he is the ninth incarnation to take up that name.

3. At least one past Doctor is returning

David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor, will also play a significant role in the 50th anniversary special. Tennant, who was recently voted the favourite Doctor of the past 50 years, left the show in 2010. The last time Tennant was seen on the show, he had just finished saying goodbye to his companions and regenerated into the eleventh incarnation of the Doctor. Judging from the promotional photos, the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors share plenty of scenes of together, so there will be many “lolz.” It’s still not clear, however, what brings the Doctor’s tenth incarnation back.

Tom Baker, who played the fourth incarnation of the Doctor, said he will appear in the 50th anniversary special. In an interview with the Huffington Post he said, “I am in the special. I’m not supposed to tell you that, but I tell you that very willingly and specifically; the BBC told me not to tell anybody but I’m telling you straightaway.” The show has kept mum, as a representative said, “"As with William Hartnell's recent appearance in the last season finale, anything is possible in Doctor Who. But nothing is certain."

4. Billie Piper is also returning for “The Day of the Doctor”

Billie Piper, who played the Ninth and Tenth Doctors’ companion Rose, will also return in “The Day of the Doctor.” The trailer only hints at Piper’s role in the 50th anniversary. She is seen standing alongside the War Doctor and not the Tenth Incarnation.

The poster and the trailer also suggest that the Bad Wolf story arc will return. In the first series of the revival, Rose absorbed the energy of the time vortex, which gave her godlike powers. She used her new powers to save the Doctor, defeat the Daleks, and to resurrect Captain Jack Harkness.

5. Joanna Page is guest-starring as Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth will factor into the events in “The Day of the Doctor.” The BBC released a press release that said, “in 1562, a murderous plot is afoot in Elizabethan England.” From the trailer, we can see that Queen Elizabeth I is present when the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors meet for the first time.

This will mark Queen Elizabeth’s third appearance in a Doctor Who episode. She last appeared in the episode “The Shakespeare Code” and was played by Angela Pleasence. When Queen Elizabeth saw the Doctor in “The Shakespeare Code,” she was not pleased and sent the guards after her “sworn enemy.” Later episodes have implied that the Doctor was at some point romantically involved with the Virgin Queen.