Fifty years is a long time for any franchise to stick around. Think about it. Aside from a few American soap operas, some news programs, and 'The Tonight Show', there hasn't been anything on the air with the staying power of 'Doctor Who' ('Star Trek' comes close, but it won't celebrate its 50-year anniversary until 2016). Granted, it hasn't been an uninterrupted run for the good Doctor. From 1989 to 2005 – with the exception of a 1996 television film – the franchise was dormant. In retrospect, that break may have been the best thing ever to happen to 'Doctor Who'. It gave the franchise a chance to be missed, to be 'reimagined', and to return with more popularity than it ever mustered before. Since Russell T. Davies' re-launch of the program in 2005, the pieces have slowly been put into place to connect the updated show with everything that came before it. With Steven Moffat now showrunner for the BBC series, the special 50th anniversary episode, 'The Day of the Doctor' finally and definitively bridges the gap not only between the two shows, but also with the 1996 movie – creating a single, continual 'Who' universe and legacy that seems positioned to continue for another 50 years, if not more.
Although I endeavor to never give away significant spoilers in any of my reviews, that task becomes nearly impossible when discussing the plot of 'The Day of the Doctor' – as this special is rooted in significant plot points of the past. Therefore, read no further if you wish to go into this release with little knowledge about the storyline, or if you are not yet caught up on the 'Doctor Who' episodes that lead up to this presentation. Unlike so many other specials of its kind, 'The Day of the Doctor' has been made with loyal fans in mind, so those coming in brand-new to the series will not only not be likely to follow the events, but they risk spoiling the enjoyment of prior shows that they've not yet had the chance to view.
As 'The Day of the Doctor' begins, the 11th Doctor (Matt Smith) sends a message out to Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) to join him on one of his latest adventures. When Clara arrives in the TARDIS, however, the time machine is hijacked by an unknown source and carried via helicopter to Trafalgar Square in the heart of London. It turns out that U.N.I.T. is responsible for the hijacking, and Kate Stewart (the daughter of the classic series' Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart) has an urgent message for the Doctor from Queen Elizabeth. That's Queen Elizabeth I, by the way! To establish her credentials, the Queen has sent a portrait to the National Gallery – it's a three-dimensional painting depicting the fall of Gallifrey – the Doctor's homeworld- on the final day of the Time War. That's the day where the Doctor decided to commit genocide on his own people in order to prevent the Daleks from destroying the universe. It's a plot point that was introduced by former showrunner Russell T. Davies back in 2005, and an event that has been haunting the Doctor ever since.
Without further detailing too many of 'The Day of the Doctor's plot points, the special introduces us to the 'War Doctor' (John Hurt), who was the Doctor between Paul McGann's eighth Doctor (from the 1996 TV movie) and Christopher Eccleston's ninth Doctor (from the 2005 reboot). We meet the War Doctor before he's made the fateful decision to destroy Gallifrey, which means that there might be a chance to re-write the past. While die-hard 'Whovians' might cringe at the idea of changing already-established history, there's a smart bit of dialogue in this special where one of the Doctors says "I change other people's histories all the time, why not my own?"
Of course, it's no secret that David Tennant returns as the tenth Doctor for this special. He fits into the storyline as he's courting Queen Elizabeth for marriage, something referred to a few times during Tennant's original tenure. Thanks to some time warping, the three doctors are able to come together, resulting in some wonderful banter between the three men about their past, present, and future (if anyone knew in advance that Tennant and Smith had such great chemistry and comedic timing, we might have seen more teamings between the two). Other familiar faces appear too, including actress Billie Piper – who previously played Rose Tyler, but does not play her here. There's even an blink-and-you'll-miss-him cameo by the next Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi. I refuse, however, to reveal the best cameo of them all, saved for the special's final scene, and one that will not leave a dry eye in the house.
'The Day of the Doctor' doesn't come without controversy, though, as it winds up significantly changing several major plot points that have come before, not the least of which is the actual numbering of the Doctors. It's been well-established in 'Who' history that the Doctor can only regenerate a dozen times, meaning if Peter Capaldi is the twelfth Doctor, whomever he regenerates into will be the final regeneration. However, 'The Day of the Doctor' reveals that the ninth Doctor wasn't Christopher Eccleston's Doctor, but rather John Hurt's Doctor – meaning that Tennant and Smith's Doctors have been renumbered as the eleventh and twelfth, respectively, and the regeneration of Smith into Capaldi (due in this year's Christmas Special) will, in fact, be the final regeneration. However, this being science-fiction, there's no chance they'll be killing the Doctor off after Capaldi has completed his run (however long it may last), but it does set up a pretty good premise that the next Doctor may, in fact, be female (Twelve male regenerations followed by twelve female ones? Sounds like a plan!).
Controversial plot points aside, there's no denying that 'The Day of the Doctor' is a blast to watch and a wonderful way to celebrate this long-running program. It's a must-own for all 'Who' fans, no matter what incarnation of the Doctor is your favorite.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Day of the Doctor' arrives on Blu-ray in a Blu-ray 3D/Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. The eco-friendly keepcase houses two discs, with the Blu-ray (containing both the 2D and 3D versions) on the inside left and the DVD on the inside right. Also included inside (for what may be a limited time) is a sealed pack of 12 Topps trading cards commemorating the 50th anniversary. The release comes with a slipcover with a lenticular front-cover that matches the cover of the slick.
Both the DVD and the Blu-ray are front-loaded with trailers for the Doctor Who Series 1-7 Limited Edition Giftset and Copper: Season 2, plus a promotional ad for the BBC America channel. Before reaching the main menu, the Blu-ray has a menu in which the user must select between the 3D and 2D versions. The menu contains video of the wormhole that the TARDIS travels through, with menu selections along the bottom of the screen. If choosing the 3D version on the Blu-ray, the menu is also in 3D (although all the bonus materials remain in 2D).
Prior to watching this Blu-ray release, I had viewed the worldwide broadcast on BBC America, which was shown in 2D, and did not go to one of the theatrical 3D showings – so this release was my first chance to see 'The Day of the Doctor' in three dimensions, and it's amazing what 3D adds to one's enjoyment of this anniversary special. The special was filmed in native 3D, meaning this is not an upconvert. The results are eye-popping, as the image has wonderful depth to it, while retaining both rich color and clarity. Scenes that originally seemed a little too drawn out in my 2D viewing (such as the Dalek attack on Gallifrey) now take on a new enjoyment because of the fun of seeing them in 3D.
Overall, this special retains the sharpness and color scheme (bright and verging slightly on the over-saturated side) of the other episodes, so those who have bought prior seasons of 'Who' on Blu-ray will know exactly the quality they will be getting here. Contrast is solid throughout, black levels are inky, and details are, for the most part, crisp and well-defined. While 3D is definitely the way to go here, those who don't have 3D capability on their players/sets won't be disappointed with the two-dimensional presentation.
The English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track (the only audio option on the Blu-ray, while the DVD features a 5.1 Dolby Digital track) is everything one would expect. Although it falls short of being reference standard by not being quite as immersive or as consistently active as I would have hoped, there's still very little to complain about here, and certainly nothing as far as glitches or dropouts are concerned.
Dialogue is almost exclusively up front, while explosions and other impactful noises make use of the low-end frequencies. Directionality is less evident, which leads to the lack of immersiveness I mentioned above. Balance is well-done, and neither the music nor other soundtrack noises ever drown out dialogue from the performers.
It would have been easy for Steven Moffat to gather up some of the previous actors, throw in some Daleks, and celebrate 'Doctor Who's 50th with a fun, but inconsequential, story. Instead, he gets those actors (and the Daleks) and throws them into a storyline that will/should impact the next 50 years of 'Doctor Who' in very significant ways. 'Whovians' couldn't have asked for a better birthday present, and this release comes highly recommended.