Previously on Doctor Who: the mystery of Clara and what, the War Doctor, what?
Suddenly Clara’s a teacher at a secondary school. Who knows where the hell that came from; let’s just head with her right to the TARDIS instead of prying for character development. She and Eleven reunite to joke about cocktails on the moon and Ancient Mesopotamia, only to be abducted with a GIANT CLAW (aww, that old chestnut!) pulling the TARDIS to U.N.I.T. headquarters at the Tower of London.
Kate Stewart, the Brigadier’s daughter, directs her asthmatic scientific helper Osgood (who sports a Fourth Doctor-style scarf) to have a pull at her inhaler as they watch the TARDIS hover dangerously from a whirlybird. Whoops, they didn’t mean to hijack it with the Doctor inside!
The Doctor dangles (Matt Smith did his own above-Trafalgar-Square stunts) and huffs when he lands that Kate should have known from her dad that he doesn’t like being picked up. But Kate’s acting on instructions direct from Her Majesty Elizabeth — no, not the one you spot on tabloid covers giving Camilla the what-for; the one who dances the Volta and drank a bunch of small beer every day for breakfast!
Everyone heads to the National Gallery to check out a cheery painting titled “No More”; also known as “Gallifrey Falls” depicting what seems to be the destruction of the Doctor’s home planet. It’s an oil painting, but appears in 3-D: of course it does, because it’s “Time Lord art, bigger on the inside; a slice of real time, frozen.”
“There’s one life I’ve tried very hard to forget,” the Doctor confesses to Clara, giving her details about the Time War. Flashback to Gallifrey, torn apart by warfare, its civilians and children running in terror. The War Doctor borrows a gun from a soldier to shoot the words “NO MORE” into the wall. “Explain, explain!” roar the Daleks on the surface who were ready to gloat that they had cornered the Doctor.
Back at the Gallifreyan High Council, the Doctor is dismissed as a madman. Well, that madman has your Moment, jerkwards. Um, the Moment is apparently the final work of the Ancients of Gallifrey, an operating system that became sentient and developed a conscience, and made everyone pretty uncomfy because it was hella-judgmental (super awkward having a weapon judging you, amirite?). The Doctor breached the Time Vaults and pilfered it from the Omega Arsenal, because of course he would.
The War Doctor takes the Moment in a sack to an abandoned barn. “Why is there never a big red button?” he complains as he views the fancy schmancy gear-driven weapon. When he hears a sound, a woman’s voice assures him it’s “just a Wolf” — Bad Wolf, to be precise, a form that Rose Tyler took back in the days of Nine (*yearns for those days*). The Moment appears in that guise familiar to the Doctor (except, haha, not THIS Doctor; even The Moment could use an extra cup of coffee before making major guise choices).
Bad Wolf, the conscience of the Moment, is privy to the War Doctor’s desperate plan to stop the war with total destruction of Daleks and Time Lords. “There will be consequences for you,” she warns. When he says he has no desire to survive, she answers, “That’s your punishment”. He’ll live to count the children on Gallifrey who perished. When she vows to open windows to his future to show the effects of the decision, a time fissure occurs and a fez drops out.
Elizabeth I’s letter explains Gallifrey Falls acts as her credentials, proving she’s genuinely contacting him. She’s made him Curator of an Under-gallery where “deadly danger to England is locked away”; if there’s any disturbance in that gallery, he’ll be summoned. “God speed, gentle husband,” she finishes. The Doctor and Clara follow Kate to the Under-gallery while McGuillop, a U.N.I.T. official, is puzzled when he’s mysteriously ordered to move Gallifrey Falls elsewhere.
The Tenth Doctor proposes marriage to Elizabeth I to prove she isn’t Queen Elizabeth. “It’s a machine that goes ding,” he explains indignantly of his detector that he thinks has exposed her for a Zygon (shape-shifting-alien) fraud. Nope, she’s real; it’s one of the horses that’s the Zygon. “I’m going to be king,” he says in some alarm, realizing his accepted proposal is now real as well. “Oh, good work, Doctor, nice one; the Virgin Queen — so much for history!”
The Doctor, all hepped up on adrenaline, confronts a bunny with his scary titles. Said bunny looks very fluffy and extremely unimpressed to meet the “Oncoming Storm.” Okay, now there are two Elizabeths, as well as a time fissure above them. “Anything could happen,” Ten exclaims. Like, for instance, a fez falling out (you see how we’re interlinking time fissures, yes?).
Back at the National Gallery, the Eleventh Doctor examines stone dust on the floor, saying, “In 1200 years, I’ve never stepped in anything that wasn’t” important. What about linty gum, huh? “Oh, are you science-y?” he asks enthusiastically of Osgood, sending her off to make reports and graphs and diagrams. Poor Osgood nearly passes out with her fangirling, as those wacky hysterical fangirls OBVIOUSLY ALL DO; haha, we get it, Moffat, you don’t think so much of our self-possession! “Inhaler!” Kate barks out as a reminder.
Eleven finds a fez in the Under-gallery and dons it. Broken glass all around them leads to the discovery the “shatter pattern” shows the landscapes hanging there were all broken from the inside. “There used to be” figures in them, Kate observes. That can’t be good. A time fissure opens. “Oh, of course! This is where I come in,” Eleven exclaims with delight. He tosses the fez into it and jumps in after.
In Elizabeth’s time, Ten puts on the Fez and soon banters with Eleven to reveal them both as the Doctor, starting an instant competition. Oh boys, shake your Sonic Screwdrivers and put them away, hmm? There’s confusion as both Elizabeths kiss the Tenth Doctor and run off (problematic, what with those pesky venom sacs in the tongue Zygons have). “Fez incoming,” Eleven calls to Clara when he hears her voice through the fissure. “Nothing here!” Clara calls back; the travel between the times seems only possible in one direction for now.
There’s a bit of fun with Ten and Eleven’s Sonic Screwdrivers canceling out each other’s polarity-reversal.
“Anyone lose a fez?” the War Doctor offers as his entrance line. “Are you [the current Doctor’s] companions?” he asks of Ten and Eleven. “They get younger all the time!” Ahahaha! “Why are you pointing your screwdrivers like that?” he asks disdainfully when they brandish their Sonics as proof they’re actual Doctors. “They’re scientific instruments, not water pistols!” That’s right, boys; shake ’em and put ’em away. Ahem.
When Elizabeth returns with her soldiers (and the insinuation the Zygon version’s killed the “real” Elizabeth), Eleven tries to get Clara to do a bit of supernatural freaky-deaky voice-over from the other side of the time fissure to scare them away with claims of witchcraft. “Off you pop, or I’ll turn you all into frogs,” Clara calls in a singularly uninspired fashion.
When Elizabeth announces their arrest and tells her men to “take them to the tower”, all the Doctors embrace this idea enthusiastically. “Dear god, that man’s clever,” Kate says (back at the Under-gallery), realizing the major hint-dropping going on. She invites Clara back with her to U.N.I.T. offices at the Tower of London.
All three Doctors are thrown into a cell, bickering over “nasty anomalies if we don’t get out soon,” and complaining about the wooden door that’s unresponsive to Sonic Screwdrivers.
Back at the National Gallery, Osgood finds a number of smashed statues but plenty of sheet-draped figures. Oh, those wouldn’t be the figures that escaped from the glass-cracked paintings who “needed somewhere to hide,” hmm? Eep! Soon Osgood is copied by a Zygon who also gains her “perfectly horrible memories” of her prettier sister. Then Osgood trips her Zygon double by stepping on her Fourth Doctor scarf: take that, smarmy klutzy aliens everywhere!
One of the creepier throw-aways of the episode: learning U.N.I.T. employees of the Black Archive have their memories wiped at the end of every shift. Clara’s greeted by someone on his first day on the job, aww! Of course he’s actually been there ten years. Ugh.
Kate shows Clara Captain Jack Harkness’s Vortex Manipulator. Too bad they don’t have the code (only the Doctor does). Osgood and McGillop saunter in, and they and Kate all reveal themselves to be Zygons (d’oh!). Clara views a message the aliens received with digits, and taking a chance, uses it to zap away via the Vortex Manipulator.
The Doctors bicker about science-y matters — the War Doctor proposes a sonic shift solution to escape their prison that Ten dismisses because it would take centuries to calculate the necessary formula — before shifting to the somber topic of the children on Gallifrey on “that day”. Eleven claims not to know while Ten bitterly cites the exact number (2.47 billion). “The man who forgets” and “the man who regrets” are both the War Doctor’s future if he chooses destruction (reminds Bad Wolf / The Moment, who only the War Doctor can see).
Oh, but hey, since the Doctors all have what’s essentially the same Sonic Screwdriver (“same software, different case”), they have a go at scanning the door, taking advantage of the time disparities to technically begin the calculations the required 400 years ago. “We are incredibly clever,” they congratulate each other — only to have Clara walk in, using the door that was unlocked the entire time. Elizabeth arrives, explaining she left it unlocked deliberately as a test (awk-ward!) and takes them to see the Zygons plans.
Osgood finds the real Kate still alive, trapped in a Zygon nest; they hustle to the Black Archive. Back in Elizabethan times, the Zygons explain they plan to zap themselves into stasis cubes to await a more technologically-advanced age on Earth. “Like cup-a-soups except you add time,” Eleven explains. “The Zygons are invading the future from the past.” Great, now I want cup-a-soup.
Ten berates Zygon!Elizabeth for being such a bad copy — of course to find that she is the *real* Elizabeth (double d’oh!) who killed her Zygon double with a dagger (you go, QEI!). The Doctor must now save England, but not before Elizabeth marries Ten (never propose just to uncover an alien double if you don’t plan to follow through), with Clara and the other Doctors as witnesses.
The TARDIS desktop glitches with all three Doctors aboard, flipping through interfaces and letting them insult both Ten and Eleven’s remodels and get nostalgic over the War Doctor’s version as they zoom toward the Black Archive. Too bad the Tower of London is TARDIS-proof!
At U.N.I.T., Kate confronts her double playing a dangerous bluff by setting the Tower to self-destruct in five minutes (destroying London to save the world). Ten and Eleven, speaking remotely, tell her not to make a decision she can’t live with. Can the Doctors save the situation without landing in the TARDIS-resistant Tower? “Cup of soup,” the War Doctor suggests, prompting Ten and Eleven to grin at each other.
Ah, okay, so it was Eleven who phoned McGuillop to tell him to move Gallifrey Falls to the Black Archive. They force their way out of the painting (having put themselves in it earlier, timey-wimey) and bamboozle the high-stakes game by confusing both Osgoods and both Kates as to whether they’re actually human or Zygon. Everyone agrees to a peace treaty so they can suss out who the hell they are, stopping the detonation.
Clara realizes the War Doctor hasn’t yet used The Moment and tries to convince him Eleven would do anything to take back that action. “I’ve seen all I needed; the Moment has come,” the War Doctor tells Bad Wolf Rose (to Clara’s confusion); he’s determined to follow through.
“You wanted a big red button,” Bad Wolf / The Moment tells the War Doctor (the device now has a prominent one).
“Those men? Extraordinary,” he murmurs of the other two Doctors when she reminds him of the man he will become should he follow through. “No, great men are forged in fire,” he argues when she insists they’re all the Doctor. “It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame.”
As his hand hovers over the button, Bad Wolf reminds the War Doctor of that wheezing groan the TARDIS makes that “brings hope wherever it goes” to all who hear it, even him. Twin engines grind and two TARDISes materialize in the barn. Ten and Eleven have arrived even though the events should be closed to them / time locked. “You clever boys,” Clara praises so she can admire them and also trot out her catchphrase.
Eleven explains to the War Doctor he was wrong “pretending you weren’t the Doctor…you were the Doctor on the day it wasn’t possible to get it right.” Now he won’t have to act alone; Ten and Eleven prepare to press the button with him, not out of “fear or hatred; it is done because there is no other way,” Ten says.
“And it is done in the name of the many lives we’re failing to save,” Eleven adds, while Clara looks upset. She just never actually pictured him doing this; she implores him to “do what you’ve always done: be the Doctor.” There’s got to be some other way than destroying his own people or letting the universe burn.
Declaring he’s had 400 years to think about this, Eleven says, “I’ve changed my mind,” and sonics the red button powerless. What if they made Gallifrey disappear, and the Daleks destroyed one another in the crossfire? The planet would be gone, the Daleks annihilated, and to the universe, it would look as if the narrative of destruction had played out. But Gallifrey would be safe, preserved and frozen in an instant of time, “like in a painting.”
“My worst nightmare,” the Gallifreyan general despairs when he sees three Doctors standing ready and telling him of their plan. They fly three TARDISes in at equidistant intervals around Gallifrey, prepared to trap it in a stasis cube in a parallel universe. But the calculations to perform this would take hundreds of years. “Oh, don’t worry,” Ten reassures him. “I started a very long time ago.” “You might say,” Eleven adds, “I’ve been doing this all my lives.”
Cue moments of ALL THE DOCTORS “commencing calculations,” locking on to coordinates, flashes of each Doctor somehow in the past contributing to the solution that leads to this final moment that will save Gallifrey (including, at the end, a brief flash of Peter Capaldi’s eyes as the Twelfth Doctor).
“Geronimo,” Eleven calls. “Allons-y,” Ten adds. “Oh for god’s sake, Gallifrey Stands,” says the War Doctor (which, if you think about it, is a damn exciting catchphrase).
Back at the National Gallery, all three Doctors have a cup of tea, musing whether they actually succeeded or not. They prepare to take leave of one another with the sobering knowledge that the War Doctor won’t remember the events because the time streams are out of sync. He’ll never recall he tried to save Gallifrey rather than choose to burn it. But even if he has to live with that idea, for this moment, “I am the Doctor again,” he says, looking immensely relieved.
After a bit of which TARDIS is which, the War Doctor begins to manipulate his TARDIS’s console, only to see his hands flickering. His regeneration is already starting (into Nine). “I hope he is a little bit less conspicuous this time,” he murmurs as he changes (reinforcing the fact that Nine won’t remember Gallifrey might actually have been saved).
Ten decides “you might as well tell me,” other bad news, because he won’t remember either. But he doesn’t believe Eleven’s tale of seeing where he’s buried at Trenzelore after battling among millions. “We need a new destination, because I don’t want to go,” Ten says before he steps into his TARDIS (echoing Ten’s last line as the Doctor).
Clara leaves so Eleven can have a moment alone with his painting, mentioning the curator was looking for him. Eleven tells himself he’d be a great curator. “You know, I really think you might,” says TOM BAKER! Excuse me, rather a man who looks like an aged Fourth Doctor says as he strolls in.
Honestly, BEST MOMENTS OF THE EPISODE, hands down (Four is my Classic Who’s Nine, which makes all sorts of sense in my head).
When they discuss the painting’s title, the curator corrects Eleven — there aren’t two titles but one: Gallifrey Falls No More. “It worked. It’s still out there,” Eleven marvels. “I’m only a humble curator; I’m sure I wouldn’t know,” says Tom Baker, who has more charisma in the few moments he appears than, well. *throws hands into the air* EVERYONE!
In a voice-over, Eleven says when he tells Clara he dreams about where he’s going, she says, “You’re just wandering about.” But “that’s not true, not anymore.” He steps from the TARDIS to join a formation of all the Doctors as they look into the sky.
“At last I know where I’m going, where I’ve always been going. Home, the long way round.”
Whooeee-ahooo-vzooo! It’s absolutely fascinating and exciting to know Gallifrey still exists. Though the whole Lonely God thing can seem compelling, I’ve always felt wistful there weren’t other Time Lord, that the Doctor had lost not just his place of origin but the opportunity to engage with it as he continues traveling.
At the same time, however, it’s also discomfiting to me how Steven Moffat has yet again rewritten across the Doctor’s history something we’ve understood to be fundamentally true since Doctor Who returned. So it’s a change that brings out terribly convoluted feelings for me. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it if you’ve got ’em! And be on the look out tomorrow for my recap of “The Time of the Doctor”!