Easier than you think, actually. It somehow juggles three Doctors, two very nasty villains, two companions and even Queen Elizabeth the first into an interesting story about dealing with one’s past, and the chance to fix it.
The episode starts with Clara now teaching at Coal Hill School, where an unearthly child used to attend 50 years ago. She gets a call from the Doctor about another adventure, but then they get TARDIS-napped by UNIT, of all people. It’s all because of a 3-D painting called “Gallifrey Falls,” which sparks some unpleasant memories of the Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks. In the fall of Arcadia we see who we now know as the War Doctor (John Hurt), the incarnation after Eight. He marks on a wall the words “No More,” then leaves with “The Moment,” the ultimate weapon with a conscience. Not only that, the “conscience” resembles none other than Rose Tyler (Billie Piper). The War Doctor struggles with the need to use the weapon, while the weapon tries to guide his final decision. It also leads to the classic line, “Stuck between a girl and a box. Story of your life, eh, Doctor?”
Meanwhile, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart (Jemma Redgrave), the Brig’s daughter, hands the Doctor a letter from Queen Elizabeth… the first (Joanna Page). Apparently she and Ten had a thing, which has been mentioned in passing a couple of times. Back then, she was attacked by a shape-shifting Zygon as part of an invasion plan that lasts a very long time and uses a few of those 3-D paintings. Through some time fissures that also spit out fezzes, Ten and Eleven wind up together in 1562, and are rightly puzzled. While there’s some quibbling between the two, including comparing Sonic Screwdrivers, they do learn how to cooperate. It’s not like “The Three Doctors,” where Three resents having Two around, while the Original dismisses both of them as a dandy and a clown. Soon the War Doctor also winds up in the same spot as Ten and Eleven, while there are two Queen Elizabeths running around.
When they’re all trapped in the Tower, they talk about the fall of Gallifrey. Ten wonders how Eleven can forget how many people died, while the Moment/Rose reminds the War Doctor it’s history for them, but not for him. Then he says their respective Sonic Screwdrivers, like them, are the same software but different cases. So they use that to open the door… that wasn’t locked.
Clara found her way to the Doctors thanks to a time travel device UNIT tries to hide from everyone else, including the Doctor. They find a way to deal with the Zygons, but there’s still the War Doctor’s ultimate decision, which is really the decision of all of the Doctors. Their final choice is made after someone else makes a difficult choice, then an alternative is found. It’s a neat trick that David Copperfield would envy.
The performances by John Hurt as the War Doctor, David Tennant as Ten and Matt Smith are beautifully done, in a great script by Steven Moffatt. Just like the other anniversary specials in 1973 and 1983, the fate of Gallifrey is at stake, with multiple Doctors trying to save the day. There’s plenty of shout-outs for long-time fans from that classic scarf to pictures of old friends. There’s also a surprise appearance by someone who calls himself “The Curator.” Let’s just say he’s someone who appreciates a good scarf.
The special will be shown again twice in 3-D on Monday in selected theaters. Judging from the painting, special effects and the “time fissures” in the story, it looks like an attractive feature. You can get more information at the Fathom Events website.