Today Is the Day of the Doctor

Bad Astronomy
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Nov. 23 2013 8:00 AM

Today Is the Day of the Doctor

Doctors Who
This is relevant to my interests.

Photo by BBC, from "The Day of the Doctor" trailer

So, my fellow Whovians, today is the day: the airing of the 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who, “The Day of the Doctor.” It’s playing on the BBC, of course, but also on BBC America at 19:50 UTC (2:50 p.m. EST), so us poor Colonists can watch it as well.

First, did you see Friday’s Google Doodle? Slate has more info on it at Brow Beat.

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Next, the BBC has been running related programming all week. One of those shows is “The Science of Doctor Who”, with my old friend Professor Brian Cox (it premiered a few days ago, but will be replayed on Nov. 24 — the BBC has a schedule online). I watched it, and quite liked it! Set up as a lecture at the Royal Institution (with some pretty funny and cool demos), he talks about things like how we perceive time, why it’s relative, how black holes affect space and time, and why time travel is probably impossible.

However, “impossible” is a word the Doctor doesn’t care for…as we discover in a series of vignettes in the show with Brian and the Doctor in the TARDIS. Mind you, Brian is hugely popular in the UK, featured in numerous documentaries and TV shows. But after all these years, I’ve never actually felt jealous until I saw those short acts of him with the Doctor.

Sigh.

Anyway, I have to say, I’d love to see shows like this on networks here in the States, but I despair of that ever happening. Brian actually put up equations on his chalkboard! And a graph showing spacetime world lines and light cones! Sadly, such things are completely outside the realm of American-made TV.

Still and all, before I forgot: Watch until the very last moment. Oh yes, I choked up a wee bit. Well done, Brian.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

Back to the Doctor, though! There’s a pre-show airing, um, pre-show — that is, right before the actual episode — hosted by another pal of mine, Veronica Belmont. That will air on BBC America and also be streamed on YouTube, so no excuses! It starts at 19:30 UTC (2:30 p.m. EST).

Also, in case for reasons beyond my understanding you haven’t seen it, a prequel to the episode has been online for a few days now, and it has a major spoiler from the cliff-hanger from last season. Seriously, if you’re blissfully unaware of what happened, you don’t want to see this. Everything after this is should be considered to be under a SPOILER ALERT.

Oh, my. That was well done! It explains what happens after Paul McGann played the Doctor, and how John Hurt fits in even though we know the next Doctor is Peter Capaldi!

It also means (at least, judging from what we know now, before the new episode airs) that Matt Smith is the 12th Doctor, and not the 11th! This directly contradicts the idea that a Time Lord can only have 12 regenerations, as stated in the classic episode “The Deadly Assassin.”*

As I see it, there are two ways out. One is that they just ignore the old show, which wouldn’t be the first time. However, a more elegant way would involve River Song. She gave the Doctor her regeneration power, remember, in “Let’s Kill Hitler”. So perhaps he has a little sparkly energy left in him.

And hmmm, he has River’s power…and she is most certainly a she. Not only does that mean he can continue on past the 12th regeneration, but perhaps it could also mean we’ll see a woman playing the Doctor sometime in the future. I vote for Jennifer Saunders. That would be absolutely fabulous.

Oh, and one more thing. You all know how much I love this show, and how I love what Craig Ferguson said about it: It’s about “the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism”.

Having said that, watch this. It’s brilliant, and precisely why I love this show so much.

Correction, Nov. 23, 2013 at 17:30 UTC: I originally stated that the 12-regeneration limit was in the episode "The Brain of Morbius"; I was incorrect in my memory of that episode (from when I watched it when it originally aired in the U.S.). That episode did feature past lives of the Doctor, causing its own controversy. I also mistaken typed "lives" when I mean "regenerations," talking about a Time Lord's limit. My apologies for any wibbly wobbliness.

Correction, Nov. 24, 2013: Gah. I made a mistake here. I conflated two arguments: I was thinking about how they would continue the show after Peter Capaldi and somehow got that twisted in my head that Matt Smith was the 12th regeneration, not the 12th Doctor. The 12th regeneration produces the 13th Doctor: Capaldi. So we're good for Capaldi, but if they want to keep the show going after he leaves, then what I wrote hereafter still comes into play. Several people pointed this out to me, so thanks to them. Allons-y.

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