One Year Later – Looking Back at Doctor Who’s 50th Birthday

A year ago today, the big geeky media event that we were all talking about was the 50th anniversary of what is arguably (I’d usually argue this) my favorite TV show, Doctor Who.  Season 8 (Only 8 seasons in 50 years?!  What?!  No no no, just kidding – if you don’t know, there’s actually been 34 full seasons of the show, plus extras, but they took a big break a while ago and then started counting all over again) which I’ve already written about here, has just ended.  But I wanted to take the opportunity afforded by Doctor Who‘s 51st birthday to look back at all that was going on a year ago, with all the various bits and pieces that went into the celebrations, and to pull 20 (a number chosen simply because maybe 50 would be a bit much to think of ) of my favorite moments.

The Twelve Doctors

Incidentally, for the purposes of this post, I’m pretty much counting the “50th Anniversary” as anything that came out in 2013 from the last episode of the 7th season–The Name of the Doctor–onwards.   The Name of the Doctor aired all the way back in May, but I’m counting it because it had a couple of things that tied directly into the 50th, and felt very much like part of the anniversary.

Also incidentally…what is “a moment” (not what is The Moment, which was also a bit of a big deal during the 50th Anniversary)?  My interpretation varies a bit from point to point, but generally speaking I’m thinking of what I’d call singular dramatic event, and often something limited to a single shot, exchange, or line of dialog.

So, my 20 favorite moments from Doctor Who‘s 50th Anniversary, counting down, from the perspective of a one year later.

20. William Hartnell sees a police box

An Adventure in Space and Time

An Adventure in Space and Time was a nice addition to the whole 50th Anniversary Celebrations, re-creating the events surrounding the original creation of Doctor Who with a certain amount of historical accuracy.  But the dramatic heart of the movie is the story of actor William Hartnell, played by David Bradley, taking on a role that in many ways turned out to be his last chance to really do something meaningful with his career.  The film opens with William Hartnell driving into work on his last day on the show, pausing at one point at the sight of a real Police Box.  Nowadays, that object clearly says “TARDIS” to anyone watching this movie, but it’s an interesting reminder that at the time there really were these police call-boxes peppered around the place.  More significantly, it’s a quiet but effective introduction to the story’s themes of the adventure that this aging actor has enjoyed, but that has now come to an end.

 19. Strax Delights in Torturing Popcorn

Cinema introductions to The Day of the Doctor

Watching The Day of the Doctor in the cinema was enjoyable for a number of reasons – one of them was the short little “introductions” that were filmed.  There were a number of amusing moments in these clips, such as David Tennant warning us about the impact of Matt Smith’s chin in 3D.  But the funniest was Dan Starkey as Strax the Sontaran, warning people that they would be eviscerated if they talked during the movie, and especially delighting in the human practice of torturing these “pop-corn” creatures by blowing out their insides and listening to their screams as you consume them.  A bit gruesome, but so over-absurd that it’s funny.

18. The 4th Doctor and the 8th Doctor Verbally Spar with the Master

The Light at the End

Both Tom Baker and Paul McGann will turn up on this countdown again, but before their memorable appearances during the 50th Anniversary Celebrations, Big Finish released The Light at the End, their 50th anniversary special, starring all of the Doctors from Tom Baker to Paul McGann (and featuring appearances by re-cast versions of the first three Doctors as well).  It was an enjoyable romp in which the Master attacks the Doctor in all of his incarnations in a goofy attempt to prevent the Doctor from existing with a disbelief-bomb placed in some poor guy’s rain, or something.  There are a lot of nice moments in it, but one of the highlights is the “buddy team” of the 4th and 8th Doctors that makes up the bulk of the first half of the story or so.  Prior to this adventure, I never really listened to Big Finish’s audios at all, so hearing Paul McGann again after his only (at the time) TV appearance had having him teamed with the presumptive best Doctor ever Tom Baker was a real treat for long-term fans (like me!)


17. Tasha Lem announces the Church’s Faith Change

The Time of the Doctor

Matt Smith’s swan song, The Time of the Doctor served not just as finale for the 11th Doctor, but also for most of the mysteries and story-lines that had been dragged out over his tenure.  Some of those wrap-ups and reveals felt rushed, some were surprising, but one that really worked for me was the answers to the whole thing of the “First Question” and what it had to do with the phrase “Silence will fall.”  Tasha Lem’s announcement of the her church’s new mission was an effective moment that efficiently gave us the answer (or enough of the answer) to the big questions of both Seasons 5 and Season 6, and allowed us to close off Matt Smith’s term as the Doctor with satisfaction.

16. Peter Jackson explains things to Sir Ian McKellan

The Five (ish) Doctors Reboot

Peter Davison’s short fan film, The Five (ish) Doctors Reboot was a delight in many ways, but one of the great amusing stand-alone scenes came when Sylvester McCoy slipped away from the filming of The Hobbit without permission.  We see director Peter Jackson nervously approaching Ian McKellan and explaining that Sylvester is missing, and asking if it would be all right if he could the next scene by himself.  In a moment that proves that everybody was having a good time on this production, McKellan quietly suggests that without McCoy, the scene will probably be a bit better…

15. All Twelve Doctors Look to the Future

The Day of the Doctor

In a moment that we will never see again outside of Youtube-hosted mash-up videos, The Day of the Doctor ends with the memorable dream-image of all 12 Doctors (thus far) looking toward the future.  History may prove different, but I think the most enduring impact that the 50th Anniversary special had was restoring the existence of the Doctor’s home world of Gallifrey in the Doctor Who status quo.  This isn’t the moment where that took place, but it’s when show best captured the fact that we were now looking ahead toward the next chapter of the series history.  “But at last, I know where I’m going,” says the Doctor.  “Home, the long way around.”

14. William Hartnell cries, “I don’t want to go!”

An Adventure in Space and Time

One of the most affecting moment in the dramatized story of Doctor Who‘s genesis was a private moment between William Hartnell and his wife.  Deliberately echoing the 10th Doctor’s final moments on the show, William Hartnell cries out that he doesn’t want to leave the show.  It’s a powerful moment well played by David Bradley.

13. We cruise through a tableau of Doctor Who‘s past and future

The 50th Anniversary Trailer

Sometime before The Day of the Doctor came out, the BBC released a “trailer”.  But for the most part, it wasn’t actually about the upcoming special – rather it was a one minute moving tableau of the series’ 50 year history, with a few hints to its future thrown in as well.  It was massive treat for fans, and really made it feel like we could dig back into the series’ history.

12. They win, after all

The Five (ish) Doctors Reboot

Peter Davison’s short film was all about whether he, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy could find a way to get themselves into The Day of the Doctor.  At the end, it seemed that they had succeeded.  But then, in a last second extra scene, it was revealed that they had been cut out.  But the, in a post-last second scene, it was revealed that they had in fact succeeded after all, overcoming the efforts of “villain” Steven Moffat–although not as they expected.  It was a great double-twist that helmake the little movie all the more satisfying.

11. “Bring me knitting!”

The Night of the Doctor

The mini-episode The Night of the Doctor impressively gave returning lead actor Paul McGann a lot to do in its nearly seven minute running time, including a great litany of defiance regarding his plight and situation.  After learning he has four minutes to live, he cries out, “Four minutes?  That’s ages!  What if I get bored, or need a television, couple of books?  Anyone for chess?  Bring me knitting,” followed by “Hang on.  Is it you?  Am I back on Karn?  You’re the Sisterhood of Karn, Keepers of the Flame of utter boredom.”  These brief lines are certainly part of the explanation why an online petition for more televised 8th Doctor adventures got up to 20,000 signatures.

10. The Doctors Save Gallifrey

The Day of the Doctor

“But don’t worry–I started a very long time ago,” he says.

The climax of The Day of the Doctor contains the moment that changed the series forever.  Gallifrey, revealed as destroyed ever since the revival series second episode, is saved.  It starts when Clara convinces the 11th Doctor to find a way, which leads to him talking about all the time he’s had to think about what he did when he made the decision to use the Moment to destroy his home-world.  This leads to one of the most spectacular scenes we’ll ever see in the series, as archival footage is used to bring all twelve Doctors (“No, sir!  All thirteen!” we hear as Peter Capaldi makes a surprise cameo) come together to save their home.

9. Peter Davison hangs up on Russell T. Davies

The Five (ish) Doctors Reboot

Probably my favorite moment in this unexpectedly delightful film comes near the end, as our protagonists ride away from their successful attempt to play a part in Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary.  Russell T. Davies, the producer who brought Doctor Who back to the small screen in 2005 suddenly shows up, pleading for an opportunity to be part of Davison’s film.   Davison finally gets his own back when he hangs up on him.  And with this, we get probably the nicest shot of the piece, with Davison sitting satisfied in the foreground, while Sylvester McCoy and Colin Baker are both dozing contentedly in the seat behind him.

8. Matt Smith salutes William Hartnell

An Adventure in Space and Time

At the end of An Adventure in Space and Time, William Hartnell prepares to play his final scene as the Doctor, lamenting the end to this chapter of his life.  Suddenly, Matt Smith is there – the actor who would play the role Hartnell originated, 50 years later.  And the young Smith gazes at Hartnell, recognizing in a moment of quiet fantasy the legacy that the aged pioneer has left him, and all of the fans of the series.

Of course, another possible explanation is that Smith was actually playing the Doctor himself, and An Adventure in Space and Time is actually a historical adventure that the Doctor is having, mostly on the sidelines, where he is watching the production of a TV series about the legends of his life.

7. Clara nervously enters the TARDIS, and we all wonder who she will find…

The Time of the Doctor

Last Christmas, as The Time of the Doctor unfolded before our eyes, we knew that this was the end of Matt Smith’s time as the Doctor.  And as the story neared its end, we knew that there was a regeneration inevitably approaching.  And what a regeneration Matt Smith had – a suddenly influx of energy from the recently restored Time Lords, which allowed him to destroy the Dalek army that was terrorizing Christmas.  In the wake of all the destruction, Clara makes her way across the landscape to the TARDIS.  She finds the phone off its hook, and creeps inside.  Clothes are strewn on the ground, fish fingers and custard on the console, mysterious footsteps ascending the stairs…and for a minute, we really wonder:  have they had him regenerate off-screen?  Would they really do that?

But no, they didn’t.  It’s Matt Smith – a newly restored Matt Smith.  And we know that this isn’t going to last, but if you’re a fan of the 11th Doctor you can’t help to hope alongside Clara for just a second that maybe he’s not really leaving, maybe we don’t have to say goodbye.

But no, it’s started, this is just the reset, and any minute now, he’s a-coming…

6. The Doctor chats with a Humble Curator…

The Day of the Doctor

This probably would have been higher if it hadn’t been spoiled by Tom Baker himself a few days beforehand.  Oh well, that’s what I get for poking around the internet.  As I write this I am still traveling, and thus unable to watch the two part finale of the current series, so I’m fastidiously avoiding reading anything that would spoil those episodes!

But, even spoiled, the final proper dialogue scene of The Day of the Doctor was a treat.  The drama is over, the threat resolved, and Gallifrey possibly restored to existence, and the surplus Doctors moved on.  The story could have ended there, and we would have been none the wiser.  But instead, the 50th Anniversary special gives us one more special moment: a couple of minutes with the oldest living Doctor around, and for many fans the most popular.  And it’s a good scene that proved that in three minute spurts at least, Tom Baker has still got it.

Continuity is thrown into the blender for the scene.  “The Curator” might be the Doctor in the past, or might be the Doctor in the future, or might not be the Doctor at all.  Who knows?  And really, who cares?  Well, probably some fan fiction writers will care, but for the rest of us, we’re just enjoying the opportunity to get one more glimpse of the Fourth Doctor.

5. The First Doctor flees Gallifrey

The Name of the Doctor

When we first saw the opening moments of The Name of the Doctor at the end of Season Seven, we could have been forgiven for thinking that this was the 50th anniversary special that we’d been hearing about.  There was Clara, running around and intersecting with all of (or so we thought) the previous Doctors, giving us glimpses of our hero’s long and complicated history.  But then comes the real treat – some fancy editing and Forrest Gump-style special effects provide for us the closest we’re ever going to get to a brand-new scene featuring William Hartnell as the Doctor, and such a pivotal one at that, as we see the moment that the Doctor embarks on the adventure that’s kept us entertained over all of these years.

The Name of the Doctor

4. The Man Who Regrets / The Man Who Forgets

The Day of the Doctor

Far from the most spectacular moment in The Day of the Doctor, this was still my personal favorite scene in the episode.  Three Doctors, all trapped (or so they think) inside a dungeon in Elizabethan England, in the mandatory quiet moment before the storm that gives rise to some not unexpected character-driven dialog, but done very cleverly.  Given the presence of the Warrior, conversation naturally turns around the Time War, and we see how the different Doctors have handled their part in this tragedy (how would they have characterized the 9th Doctor if Eccleston had opted to participate?) The 10th Doctor gets to be appalled that someday he will forget how many people he killed.  The 11th Doctor can’t see the point in remembering.  Then in the midst of this they introduce the cleverest time travel idea of the episode (which will give rise to #10 above), with the line about “Same software, different case,” and the sonic screwdriver covering 400 years of calculations in four minutes.

Good writing, good acting, and clever concepts.

3. The 11th Doctor shows his self-hatred

The Name of the Doctor

The ending of the Season Seven finale just killed it.  Because of the episode title, and becuase of the various hints that had been thrown out in the year prior, our expectation was that this episode would revolve in a way around the Doctor’s real name.  And so it did, to a limited degree, with the Doctor’s name being necessary to open the Tardis and River Song (already established as knowing it) uttering it off camera.

But then we get the last scene, where the script pulls out the real point of the title.  Clara has saved the Doctor throughout his time line, but is apparently lost herself, until her Doctor jumps in after her and saves her.  But before they leave, there is that one shadowy figure standing nearby, with his back to them.  And the Doctor begins to talk about his name – not his real name, but the name he chose for himself:  “the Doctor,” and the promise to himself that that represents.  That shadowy figure is the one who didn’t keep the promise.  That’s right–a Doctor that had never known before.

“What I did,” says the gravelly voice, “I did without choice…in the name of peace and sanity.”

To which the Doctor bitterly replies, “But not in the name of the Doctor!”

2. “I’m a Doctor…but probably not the one you expecting.”

The Night of the Doctor

A couple of weeks before the big day of November 23rd.  The 50th Anniversary special is on its way.  A mini-episode is suddenly released online.  I decide to have a quick look of it on my phone before I go to bed, and what do I see?  I see Paul McGann suddenly turn up, delivering what might be both the most memorable line of dialog and the best surprise of the entire 50th anniversary.  It’s enough to make me and a whole lot of other people hope to see more, even whole episodes featuring the 8th Doctor and the events leading up to the Time War.  It’s all fantasy, of course, but what a treat.

1. “I will always remember when the Doctor was me.”

The Time of the Doctor

The 2013 Christmas special of Doctor Who was not perfect.  But man, it had perhaps the best final 5 minutes of anything I’ve ever seen on the show.  And the best regeneration scene.  So good that it makes for two moments on this list.  Maybe it could even be more, with little Amelia running around, and the Doctor’s poetic speech:  “We all change, when you think about it.  We’re all different people, all through our lives.  And that’s okay, that’s good.  You’ve got to keep moving, so long as you remember all the people you used to be.  I will not forget one line of this.  Not one day.”  But the part that really got me was when Amy Pond turned up, tenderly approached the Doctor, and whispered, “Raggedy Man, good night.”

And Bam – Peter Capaldi and his kidneys!

Time to stop look backwards.

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