We open on 76 Totter’s Lane, where “Doctor Who” began 50 years ago. The junk yard is around the corner from Coal Hill Secondary School, where Ian Chesterton is now Chairman of the Governors. It is the school where he and Barbara Wright (the Doctor’s first human companions) taught in 1963, and Susan Foreman, the Doctor’s granddaughter, attended.
The school has been modernized, with clear dry erase boards and a brand new teacher: Clara Oswald. Clearly, the Doctor’s companions have gone full circle. Clara receives a call from “her Doctor,” and takes off on motorcycle, driving straight into the TARDIS.
Just as they begin to make plans for the week, however, the TARDIS shudders. It’s being moved, and not of its own volition. The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) places an angry call to Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, before toppling out of the doorway. UNIT is commandeering the TARDIS!
Cue the movie-esque title sequence, as Eleven hangs from the bottom of the TARDIS. Gently set down at the National Gallery, he and Clara are greeted by Kate, Osgood (a glasses-clad science officer in a Tom Baker scarf), and a sea of armed soldiers. Kate apologizes for the error–she thought the ship was empty!–and hands Eleven a sealed letter from Queen Elizabeth I.
Inside the gallery sits a three dimensional painting, entitled “No More”…or “Gallifrey Falls.” It is a slice of history, holding within it the Fall of Arcadia, where John Hurt’s War Doctor carved the words “No More.” This, Eleven explains to Clara, was the day the War Doctor killed them all.
We cut to the Time War. Battle ships fire from overhead, setting the ground aflame. Families scramble, running from laser fire as warriors fall. Daleks appear in the streets, but their focus is detracted from the ordinary men, women, and children of Gallifrey as they sense the appearance of their sworn enemy…the Doctor.
Meanwhile, the Gallifreyan High Council is busy planning their ascension. Thus, instead of a reappearance of Timothy Dalton as Rassilon, we see the generals of Gallifrey, still under attack from the Daleks in the war room in Gallifrey’s capital.
The Time Vaults, they learn, have been breached. The Doctor has stolen the most dangerous weapon in the history of the universe: The Moment. What was first named in “The End of Time” is now explained; The Moment is a sentient weapon of mass destruction. It holds within it a conscious interface…one which will choose an appropriate punishment for anyone who dares to use it.
That interface, we quickly learn, comes in the form of Billie Piper. Having selected an image from his past (or, as it turns out, his future), the interface has taken on all of the attributes of Bad Wolf Rose…including, it seems, a desire to stop the Doctor from making the worst mistake of his life.
His punishment, should he choose to activate the Moment, will be to survive the war. Before he can do so, however, Interface-Rose suggests he have a look at the man he will become. She asks him a sobering question: how many children will he have to murder to save the universe?
We return to the gallery, which holds a rather unusual painting of Queen Elizabeth I…and her husband, the Tenth Doctor!
Which brings us the Elizabethan England, and a love affair between Ten and Elizabeth I. Asexual-Doctor purists and Doctor/Rose shippers alike may have some misgivings about the matter (so much for the virgin queen, the Doctor laments!), although it does appear that the Doctor’s relationship with Elizabeth is all part of an elaborate sting operation to reveal her as a Zygon.
Unfortunately, he has gotten that part wrong; his horse is the real Zygon! Following a picnic and marriage proposal, they are forced to flee into the woods. The Doctor encounters a rabbit, to whom he gives his impressive credentials, and Elizabeth is duplicated by the Zygon.
Before Ten can figure out which Elizabeth is real, however, a time fissure opens, and out pops a fez.
Back in the present, Kate opens the door to the Under Gallery, where Eleven examines the stone dust on the floor and asks Osgood to analyze it. As they meander through the gallery, the Doctor spots a fez, and, of course, puts it on his head. Kate leads them to another painting, from which an army of Zygons have escaped. But before the Doctor can do anything about this worrisome turn of events, a time fissure opens. He throws his fez through, and then leaps in…landing in Elizabethan England, where Ten places the fez on his own head!
Here, Eleven gives Ten a nickname of which Donna Noble would be proud: “Matchstick Man,” in honor of the Tenth Doctor’s incredibly skinny frame. They compare sonic screwdrivers, and Eleven makes a few cracks about Ten’s unfortunate affair with a Zygon (both Elizabeths kiss him goodbye).
Eleven tosses the fez back to Clara through the fissure, but it lands at the War Doctor’s feet instead. Soon, he jumps through the fissure to pay the Doctors a visit…but he mistakes them both for his future companions! He accuses his future selves of having a midlife crisis, and is flabbergasted when they both point their sonic screwdrivers at him defensively.
Soon, all three Doctors are captured by Queen Elizabeth and her army, and are thrown into the Tower of London, where Eleven proceeds to scratch a message into the wall. The three Doctors argue amongst themselves, and Interface-Rose makes another appearance.
Back in the present, the Zygons attack; they’ve smashed all the statues in the Under Gallery (hence the stone dust), and taken their place. Osgood escapes, and finds the real Kate Stewart trapped in Zygon tendrils; meanwhile, Zygon-Kate has taken Clara to a dangerous vault in the Tower of London. The vault (called the Black Archive) is full of items so dangerous that those who work there must have their memories wiped every day.
In the past, Eleven continues to scratch out a code to leave for Kate: the code to Jack Harkness’ Vortex Manipulator, now stored in the Black Archive. Interface-Rose is still whispering in the War Doctor’s ear; at her behest, he asks his future selves how many children were on Gallifrey the day it burned. Eleven has forgotten, but Ten, full of remorse, names a number.
The three Doctors put their heads together and try to figure out a way to break out; they decide to program the War Doctor’s sonic screwdriver to calculate the necessary resonance to break through the wooden door. But just as the calculations reach Eleven’s software, the door bursts open; Clara has escaped Zygon-Kate using the Vortex Manipulator!
The Doctors are flabbergasted; how did she get in? Very easily, it turns out; the door was unlocked!
Queen Elizabeth reappears and brings the group to the Zygons; there, they are trapping themselves within 3D paintings, waiting to invade the future. Ten puts his foot in his mouth when he again tells the queen why she’s really a Zygon, only to discover that she is, once again, the real Elizabeth.
Before the trio can return to the future to halt the invasion, Queen Elizabeth has one last request: a wedding. Ten runs off after they take their vows…presumably never to be seen again. No wonder Elizabeth is so angry when they meet again in “The Shakespeare Code!”
Back in the present, Kate has set the Black Archive to self-destruct…which would destroy London as well. The Doctors arrive via painting (the TARDIS cannot land inside), and temporarily wipe the memories of everyone within the room. Neither the Zygons in human form nor the humans themselves can remember which one they are, forcing them to negotiate a treaty instead.
The War Doctor watches, and sadly realizes that his future heroics are the result of remorse over the destruction of Gallifrey. He must use the Moment, or else he may not save so many lives in the future. Interface-Rose, however, isn’t so quick to give up.
Back in the shed on Gallifrey, two TARDISes appear; Ten, Eleven, and Clara have passed through the Time Lock. Ten and Eleven decide to join the War Doctor in pressing the button, but Clara stops them. Soon, the three Doctors come up with a plan to save Gallifrey. Instead of destroying the planet, they will freeze it inside a painting, and, trapped in a single moment, there will be hope that it can come to life once more.
The War Doctor utters a cry of gratitude toward “Bad Wolf Girl,” and the expression on Ten’s face is priceless. There is no time, however, to contemplate the implications of such a statement; the Doctors have a plan to enact. They will make it look like the Daleks and the Time Lords annihilated one another, even as they attempt to trap Gallifrey in a pocket universe instead.
The Doctors send a message to the Gallifrey High Command, telling the generals of their plan. Somehow, every last one of the Doctors incarnations is involved in making the calculations…including the upcoming twelfth Doctor, in a moment of new Peter Capaldi footage! Thirteen TARDISes converge at once on Gallifrey, but is it saved? The Doctors have no true way of knowing.
Over a spot of tea, they agree that, at the very least, they did the right thing in trying. The War Doctor returns to his TARDIS, where he regenerates from old age. He asks for less conspicuous ears…and the universe must have either misheard or played a trick on him, given the Ninth Doctor’s rather large appendages. The Tenth Doctor asks Eleven where they’re going (neither Ten nor the War Doctor will remember the events of the day), and Eleven tells him about Trenzalore.
“I don’t want to go,” Ten says, in a moment of pure fan service, before disappearing into his TARDIS.
With a kiss on his cheek, Clara leaves Eleven alone with the painting entitled “No More,” aka “Gallifrey Falls.” There, he awaits the curator.
And this, dear readers, may be the most confusing moment of the entire episode. An elderly Tom Baker makes his appearance as the Curator…but there is a hint that he, too, might still be the Doctor. “In years to come, you might come to find yourself revisiting a few [faces], but just the old favorites,” he says. Could this be a hint about Capaldi, who has appeared in the Whoniverse twice before?
Baker’s curator has a purpose besides fan service and enigma, however. He explains the title of the painting. It is neither “No More,” nor “Gallifrey Falls”…but, rather “Gallifrey Falls No More.” The Doctor’s plan has worked.
Will we see the return of Gallifrey at some point in the future? It certainly looks that way. And if the resurrection of Gallifrey is the Doctor’s new destination, will he manage to escape his fate at Trenzalore? Just how much did the Doctors change that fateful day?
And speaking of Trenzalore…watch the first teaser for the Christmas special below!
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