“Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame, whatever the cost.”
I’m not quite sure what I am to make of this episode because all things considered, it was predictably underwhelming. I had made the assumption a few days ago that due to showrunner Steven Moffat and his massive ego that tags alongside him that the episode would be hindered due to it. There would be overblown concepts, stuffed narratives, a whole bunch of timey-whimey nonsense and not enough of what the fans really, really wanted.
You know, like past companions and more recognizable faces. I mean, not even John Barrowman was up to making an appearance as the much loved Jack Harkness?
This is 50 years of history in a two hour stint—this is an episode that has been hyped since the seventh season finale when John Hurt made a surprise appearance at the end of the episode as the Doctor our Doctor would like to forget. This is the episode that has had an entire week dedicated to it, that has had special upon special, a documentary drama starring John Bradley, that has been largely anticipated all over the world.
This is the episode that, on my airing, had its own countdown!
There was a lot of lofty expectations tossed at this one episode of television and they weren’t entirely met.
But does that mean it was a waste? No. Does it mean we were given a stellar moment in television? No. But, it did give us individual moments of greatness that allowed the episode to pick itself up, brush itself off, and not be the complete let down that it could have been.
And how did it accomplish that? Well, with the quiet moments.
The storyline has to be posted all over the internet at this point so there’s no use in discussing the useless moments (aka the moments I tuned out): the Zygons, Tenth’s marriage to Queen Elizabeth, the fan insert Tom Baker fanatic, anything in between the real meat of the episode was plain boring. Which, a show about a time traveling alien really should never be. It was the moments between the three Doctors or the quieter ones that really sold on the emotional premise.
John Hurt’s Doctor is about to make his decision to allow Galifrey to burn, for all of the children of his planet to die, but before he does the Bad Wolf—embodied in Rose Tyler’s body—allows him access to some of his future selves first.
Ten and Eleven are suitably playful, synchronized and enthusiastic with Matt Smith and David Tennant possessing a great chemistry with each other. Tennant seemed to liven up once his scenes began to involve Smith, picking up on the latter’s enthusiasm.
It’s interesting to note that in this storyline, Hurt’s version is the youngest, Tennant’s in the middle, and Smith’s is the oldest—despite physicalities that speak otherwise and the actors have gone above and beyond to prove that point. When they’re locked in a cell by Queen Elizabeth they all go about their breakout in different manners: the Warrior Doctor wants to use brute strength, the Tenth wants to know why they’re all together in the first place, and the Eleventh is already thinking three steps ahead. None of this particularly matters since Clara arrives to save the day but for a few moments, despite the three of them sharing the same title, we got to see the differences in personalities and processes.
The biggest differences in their characteristics are in how each one of them deals with the decision they made. Hurt’s character asks them how many children really ended up dying in destruction of Galifrey and Eleven says he doesn’t remember and Ten lists off the number. He’s disgusted that he, himself, could get to a point in his timeline where the most defining moment in his life is hazy, that he won’t be able to remember specifically the death and destruction he’s caused. Ten is still the more openly emotional of the two; he wears his emotions on his sleeves whether it be fear or sadness or love, whether he’s hopeful or vengeful, it’s hardly kept a secret, he hasn’t developed his mask yet.
Eleven on the other hand is also masquerade—he’s an old soul in a young man’s body, he’s tired and he’s gone through many more grievances since that day and no longer is he jubilant or youthful. He’s still curious he’s still playful, but he isn’t pure enthusiasm, everything has a catch and he studies everything, more cynical now than ever.
At first I was annoyed that in a 50th special we were going to be forced to spend a portion of the time dedicated to learning all about a new Doctor that we had never heard about. However, John Hurt is—unsurprisingly—so good, so sweet in the role of the man who had to make the worst possible decision, that it feels as if we know him mere minutes into the episode.
It isn’t until the three of them are in the trigger room, having been lured back by regret and past mourning and all of the deaths of children, that the episode really hits its final third stride.
(It’s important to quickly note the significance of mentioning children as many times as they did in relation to Eleven’s character who has always been on the lookout for children in need in his run. Which makes it all the more surprising that he would forget—if he did forget.)
They walk up to the Warrior version of themselves and tell him that this is the darkest day of their history and that it was day that there was no right choice to make so at least this time he won’t have to make it alone, and they walk up to him and all put their hands on the trigger to end it all.
It’s sad, accompanied by no music and it puts into perspective that the Doctor does indeed have blood on his hands—he isn’t a martyr, he isn’t some magical cure-all, but he tries is best. Clara however cannot accept this and the Bad Wolf shows a projection of what will happen to Galifrey.
Clara can’t visualize her Doctor being the person who caused all of the death and she tries to make them think of something else to do, of some other way to change history. She tells them that any odd idiot can be a hero, what they need is a Doctor. A Doctor who chose his name on the morals to never be cruel nor cowardly, to never give up or never give in. On that fateful name he gave in, seeing no easy answer out of the situation.
But now as the Doctor says, he’s had 400 years to think about his decision and he’s changed his mind. They’re going to rewrite their own history, they’re going to seek out the impossible answer. Together and with the efforts of all of his previous selves, they’re going to manage to try and freeze Galifrey in time, transporting it into another pocket universe, where it can live in peace, if not total unanimous happiness.
At least their world won’t crumble.
The time lords aren’t pleased to see the Doctors but they admit that they need all of the help that they can get.
Then there is the one instance that spoke to all of our inner fans as we see only the eyes of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, as he adds to the list of them who are there to help. It’s a smart move to hint at the upcoming change as well as saddening. If anything this episode has reminded me just how much I enjoy Matt Smith’s take on the Doctor. Despite my recent marathon stints of the previous two Doctors, its Smith’s that I’m drawn to. I just began watching this show four years ago, right before I was to enter my freshman year of college and he as well as the world created an escapism to use to offset the stress of my changing life. I’m incredibly attached to my Doctor, no matter the annoyance I’ve felt at Moffat, and I will be incredibly moved when it’s his time to exit in his final stint.
The three of them do what they need to and go back to the museum where our Doctor first was to say goodbye. Hurt’s character goes with the wistful realization that he’ll never remember the good that he did—that he may have saved Galifrey. And then, as the last shot, we seem him in his Tardis just as he’s about to regenerate into the Ninth Doctor.
Tennant’s version stays true to his old words as he finds out about his future, and tells Eleven that they’re going to have to find a new destination to follow, because he doesn’t want to go. This, beautifully, means that Ten’s last words he’s ever spoken on the show are still “I don’t want to go.”
Clara and Eleven are left, and she realizes that he needs a moment alone with his painting and tells him that the museum curator wanted a word with him. So he sits and he waits and he makes an offhand comment about how he could have been a great curator. It’s reflexive and momentarily we wonder if he yearns for a quiet life, a human life, where he could simply do something he loved routinely, rather than fighting each day for those he loves.
And then Tom Baker, the fourth Doctor, appears onscreen and I’m left wondering why the entire episode couldn’t have been as magical as this. Spectacle and wars don’t equate to magical moments, to exciting moments. Moments of character introspection can go just as far, if done correctly.
At first when Twitter (the bastard…) spoiled me about what had happened with Galifrey, I was furious and I mean fan furious—and I’ve only been watching the show for four years. How could such a consequential moment of such a historical series be rewritten in a single special? How could it be justified, why was it being justified? Ever since the 2005 revival each incarnation of the Doctor has been influenced by the decision he made for the Universe and against his own people. It’s left him vengeful, isolated and fearful of loneliness. It’s made him into the character that most of youthful audiences know him as today.
How is that rewritten? How are personality traits synonymous with the Doctor supposed to erase themselves? They don’t entirely. There are still those he’s lost, companions he’s forgotten or betrayed, faces he can never see again despite the constant longing and the multiple good byes he’ll always have to face. But now, now amidst the heartache our Doctor was allowed this sliver of hope. The Warrior Doctor and the 10th Doctor, they’ll forget what they did to save Galifrey, they’ll still have to live with the regret. But the 11th? He’s been given the chance to hope.
So I can harp and whine about what Moffat’s done to the show’s entire story arc but I can’t question the chills I felt when Tom Baker stepped up as the “curator” of the museum and told the Doctor that Galifrey falls no more. Matt Smith played this beautifully, his face lighting up almost instantly, in a fashion that we haven’t seen since he parted with the Ponds. His old soul, his big sad eyes, they’re bright and lively again and I can’t question the sincerity of it. I can’t complain when a character I’ve become so enamored with is so utterly transformed with happiness.
It all leads to the very last minute of the episode where we hear a voice over of the Doctor talking about Clara asking him if he dreams and him telling her of course he does. He dreams about where he’s going and we’re delivered possibly the most insightful line of the entire episode:
“At last I know where I’m going, where I’ve always been going: home, the long way round.”
He isn’t simply a wanderer anymore—he has a destination set, and we see him and his fellow past selves staring up at the home they’ve often yearned for, and it’s a lasting shot.
And with that I will see you again on the very sad day as we bid adieu to our number eleven, as Matt Smith takes his curtain call as The Doctor.
Bring your tissues, I’ll have a box all to myself.