TVTV Recaps

13 Head-Scratchers From the 50th Anniversary DOCTOR WHO Special

By now all us Whovians have had a chance to se the 50th Anniversary Special (if you haven’t, turn back now and go see it!).  I found the episode a thrilling and delightful love letter to fans young and old throughout the years, but as is often the case with Doctor Who, there were several moments that made me cock my head and go “Huh?”  Of course, I always remind anyone who overanalyzes Doctor Who that this is a show where the main character literally runs around with a Deus ex Machina device in his hand, and they should really just go along for the ride.  Even so, here are thirteen questions (one for each Doctor if we include John Hurt!) that had me a bit puzzled…

1. How did Clara and the Eleventh escape the Doctor’s time stream?

When we last saw Clara Oswald and the Eleventh in “The Name of the Doctor” he was rescuing her from his own time stream which was collapsing in on itself.  There they confronted the one who broke the “promise,” the War Doctor (played by John Hurt).  I assumed much of the 50th would be an adventure taking place within the Doctor’s own time stream as he and Clara tried to escape from it (or possibly rewrite parts of it), which would be a cool way to revisit much of what Doctor Who has done over the years.  When “Day of the Doctor” opened with the original title sequence from 1963 I indeed thought this was the plan, but of course I was totally wrong.  Still, we never really found out the Doctor and Clara managed to escape his own time stream on Trenzalore, or what the repercussions of the Doctor entering his own time stream might be.  However we are supposed to revisit Trenzalore in the Christmas special, so maybe we’ll find out then?


2. Why did the asthmatic UNIT girl have the Fourth’s scarf?

This was probably more of a nod to the fans than anything else, but why did that girl have Tom Baker’s old scarf?  Was it supposed to be the actual scarf belonging to the Fourth, or just a replica?

3. Where in the 10th Doctor’s timeline did this take place?

Bringing back David Tennant (my personal favorite Doctor) was a total blast, but I was curious where in his timeline his story with Queen Elizabeth and the Zygons might have taken place.  His marriage to Queen Elizabeth I is mentioned in both “The End of Time” and “The Shakespeare Code,” but both of these are rather non-specific in terms of when such an event happened.  However the Tenth perks up when he hears the War Doctor mention “bad wolf” meaning this is clearly after he has lost Rose in “Doomsday.”  Since he was already traveling with Martha Jones during “The Shakespeare Code” this adventure must take place sometime between his time with Rose and Martha.  Since “The Runaway Bride” Christmas special takes place immediately after “Doomsday” and the end of Series 2, this must be an adventure happening just before Series 3 starts up.  And it makes sense, since in “The Runaway Bride” Donna Noble urged the Doctor not to travel alone.  Looking for some companionship, he must have ran into Queen Elizabeth I.

4. How did the Eleventh “remember” the Fez falling through the time vortex?

When a time vortex opens up out of nowhere a fez appears at the Tenth’s feet, and he is at first confused.  Later, however, we learn that the fez is thrown by the Eleventh in the present-day museum, because he remembers the fez landing at his feet ages ago.  However at the end it is mentioned that the Tenth won’t remember any of the events that have taken place once he returns to his time, so how would he remember the fez at his feet?  Come to think of it, the Tenth’s memories of his entire adventure with Queen Elizabeth I itself should have been forgotten too…and how did the time vortexes even appear in the first place again?  Did Rose/ the Moment create them?  Also, I’m guessing the fez the Eleventh threw through the vortex was actually placed in the museum by Elizabeth I in the first place, meaning it didn’t originate from anywhere (whoa!) but was stuck in a constant time loop!  This is some stuff I’m going to have to pay attention to when I watch the 50th again on the big screen tomorrow, because my brains are feeling a little scrambled.


5. Wow, Clara sure got that password for the vortex manipulator just in time, right?

This is more of a plot contrivance than a plot hole, but it was rather convenient that UNIT researchers were able to unearth the password the Doctor was scratching on the stones of the tower of London at the exact moment Clara is menaced by Zygons, so she can use the vortex manipulator to escape.  And how would Clara even know how to use a vortex manipulator, or when or where to go?  Just because she’s spent a lot of time in the TARDIS doesn’t mean she can immediately use any complex time-traveling device at a second’s notice…does it?

6. It really isn’t the “same” sonic screwdriver, is it?

I really enjoyed the scene where the War Doctor is able to scan a door with his screwdriver, and since all three Doctors own the same screwdriver, the Eleventh is able to come up with the result over hundreds of years of “calibration” instantly.  However you’ll remember that the Doctor’s screwdriver has actually been destroyed at least twice…once in “Smith and Jones” and once in “The Eleventh Hour.”  Maybe the TARDIS keeps the Doctor’s screwdriver calibrations on a backup drive…


7. Does “Day of the Doctor” contradict other Doctor Who episodes?

Short answer: probably.  But in particular I’m wondering about “The End of Time,” which was the Tenth’s last appearance, and also showed the Time Lord High Council in their last moments, led by Timothy Dalton (who I was hoping might appear in this special, but I guess not).  In that episode the High Council was trying to escape time-locked Gallifrey through a sinister plan involving the Master.  Here it seems the War Doctor originally destroyed Gallifrey rather than time-locking it, but then found a workaround in “Day of the Doctor.”  However it’s puzzling to figure out how the High Council will figure into all this, or if we’ll even see them again once the Doctor finds his home planet again (something I’m sure will be a big plot in the upcoming series).  Also I could be getting my facts wrong, but weren’t the Daleks trapped in the Void in “Army of Ghosts / Doomsday” rather than destroyed?

8. Why even bring back the Zygons?

This is more of a personal opinion than anything else, but the Zygons felt like a bit of an ineffective threat compared to the other larger conflicts going on.  Their story is basically wrapped up about two-thirds of the way through the episode, and we don’t see them or the UNIT characters again after that.  I will admit part of the fun is seeing a “typical” Doctor Who monster-of-the-week adventure (with Tennant and Queen Elizabeth I) interrupted by a far more outlandish one.  However the Zygons could have just as easily been written as the Slitheen (large fat aliens that can also take the form of people and are trying to take over the Earth) and nobody would have noticed.


9. How did Doctors 1-8 know to show up and help end the Time War?

It was probably the purest geek-tastic moment of the show when all the TARDISes (plural of TARDIS?) flew in to save Gallifrey, but how was that orchestrated exactly?  Doctors 1-8 had no knowledge of the Time War.  In the prequel short “Night of the Doctor” we even see the Eighth make the choice to turn into the War Doctor, which he would never do if he had already flown in and helped rescue Gallifrey.  I’m chalking this up to the fact that, as the Tenth mentioned, all the Doctors would forget their memories after returning to their own time, but it is very timey-wimey when you think about it.

10. Why did the War Doctor regenerate?

There’s probably an answer for this, which is just that “he’s old.”  His job was to fight the war, and now his job is finished.  Time to turn into Christopher Eccleston!

11. What the heck was the old Fourth Doctor doing there?!?!

This is the one I’m having the most trouble folding my head around.  Was the Curator actually the Fourth Doctor from an alternate timeline?  Or just a human who happened to look like him (probably not)?  Or (most likely) is he a future regeneration of the Doctor, living out his life in peace and retirement?  That may be the most likely case, but it does break the regeneration rule (which I’ll get to in a moment).  And it sort of kills the suspense, knowing that any Doctor from here on out will be just fine until they turn into old Tom Baker.  Of course this is Doctor Who, anything is possible.  Also this might explain how the UNIT girl got her scarf…maybe she and the Curator are friends!


12. Is the Doctor out of regenerations now?

A classic episode, “The Deadly Assassin” has stated that a Time Lord can only have twelve regenerations, in addition to their first “life.”  Since John Hurt is effectively the “new” ninth Doctor we never knew about, it means that Peter Capaldi will really be the Doctor’s final regeneration, unless they find a workaround (we’ll ignore the “double” regeneration by Tennant in “The Christmas Invasion,” which likely doesn’t count).  After fifty years, it would be a shame to say goodbye to Doctor Who so soon!

13. What will happen next?

Obviously a huge motivation for the Doctor in the upcoming stories will be finding and/or restoring Gallifrey, which should often a whole myriad of new story opportunities.  However we know that Matt Smith is supposed to regenerate into Peter Capaldi in the Christmas special, and in the very brief preview we saw that many of the Doctor’s greatest enemies are assembling against him (daleks, cybermen, weeping angels, and the Silence).  Some of these shots could be footage reused from previous episodes to throw us off track, but we still hear that the Doctor will be returning to Trenzalore, his final resting place.  Given that the Doctor’s regeneration issue is also rapidly approaching, I’m guessing this will be a dark gut-wrenching episode about his death and rebirth, possibly coming up with a solve for more future regenerations.  It also probably won’t happen in the Christmas special, but I’m curious if there will be mention or appearance of the Valeyard, a “dark” version of the Doctor that is supposed to exist right before his final regeneration (which, theoretically, is Capaldi).  No pun intended, but only time will tell!

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The Author

Daniel Johnson

Daniel Johnson

Daniel Johnson grew up in Santa Barbara, CA. Son of an archaeologist, he spent his childhood years developing a fondness of nature and the outdoors, which was rivaled only for his love of filmmaking and storytelling.
In 2008 he graduated from the University of Southern California's film program, and currently makes a living as an editor in addition to working on his own creative projects.
He has a weakness for redheads, seafood pasta, and dinosaurs.