“A man who regrets, and the man who forgets”
Being one of the longest-running TV shows in history, Doctor Who has an insane amount of continuity and mythology to build off of. Even with the new series being a semi-reboot, there are lots of old references and dynamics reprised. But for its 50th anniversary, it pulled out all the stops to craft a multidimensional, cross-generational resolution to the Gallifreyan War, which had gone mostly undocumented until then. Through the magic of plot devices, Ten and Eleven square off against one another and try to work together for lots of fun fan-service. Meanwhile, a nigh-omnipotent facsimile of Rose (esoteric plot stuff, don’t worry about it) meets Clara, both women slaves to the whims of time and the universe. Against this tableau, a lot of backstory is filled in, which gives a sense of the old series’ lore and mood. The War Doctor (John Hurt) isn’t counted among the official regenerations for story-centric reasons, but his sole appearance is appropriately studious and pained.
Having existed across several decades and media, Doctor Who is no stranger to promotional events like this blowout. In fact, one of its seasons was truncated or expanded (depending on who you ask) to include several extra-long wrap-up specials. Similarly, season seven was divided up between a couple years, and had this extra-long feature as its climax.
There are certainly some plot holes to be found in The Day Of the Doctor, but they’re nicely retconned at least. Foremost among them is an issue that has always plagued the series: when and how it decides to rewrite its own narrative. Depending on the needs of the story and its gravity, the Doctor can insist that important “fixed” events in time must not be changed, but sometimes he characteristically bends his own rules to provide a happier ending.
Besides its auspicious space in the annals of DW history, this episode does a good job of emotionally bridging different eras of the show. Beyond just utilizing the mythos for callbacks, it gives a sense of the show’s scope and importance to entire generations of UK and US viewers. An esoteric cameo at the end reinforces that this old workhorse is one of the most important progenitors of modern cult TV.