Doctor Who: Mummy on the Orient Express (2014)

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Hello. I’m so pleased to finally see you. I’m the Doctor and I will be your victim this evening. Are you my mummy?”

One might get the impression that all I do each and every day is sit around watching British science fiction, but let’s get real here – I waste time with a lot of other stuff too! Pro Wrestling! TV! And Anime! All kidding aside, I wanted to start this review out talking about my love for space trains, you heard me right – trains all flying around in space for some reason or another. I chalk this all up to my love for the visionary Japanese manga creator Leiji Matsumoto and his epic series of space opera works including one called Galaxy Express 999. Originally written in the late 70’s, Three-Nine introduced me to a fantastical world where space travel was made more comfortable by echoing the past and looking back at the golden age of travel. Of course Mr. Matsumoto’s works also contemplated what is really meant to be human, and what it means to be loved in a universe where people seem to be abandoning such concepts. It was a little more than just the concept of the space trains I went for. I’m not going to lie though, I cheered on the inside when I saw the trailer for this episode.

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I’m not writing here about Galaxy Express 999 specifically, but I wanted to briefly point out a few thematic similarities between it and a few episodes of Doctor Who, chiefly Voyage of the Damned and Mummy on the Orient Express. If you like these episodes, you might seek the show out on Hulu. My love for the similar material has made me love these episodes quite a bit, despite the fact that I know for sure VotD was pretty unpopular with most fans. That’s how I am though, if I feel inspired by certain things in an episode, I love them no matter what, case and point was my adoration for Rings of Akhaten. I think it all goes back to that feeling of comfort in keeping things simple. Perhaps, that’s a world I’d love to live in: just as modern but somehow not as plastic and disposable….comfortable. Many folks may be scared of the dreaded mechanization and inhumanity of our present technological progress, dressing it up like older more simpler times may be the way to go. That’s at least what Leiji Matsumoto saw, and coincidentally what it seems a few Doctor Who episodes echo.

It has been a few weeks since the complete meltdown by Clara directed towards The Doctor. She has come to realize that she doesn’t actually hate him, and that she wants to travel one last time with him – “The Last Hurrah!” if you will. They arrive sometime in the future aboard a space train that has been modeled after the legendary Orient Express, with many of its passengers in period outfits. The Doctor quips that “There were many trains to take the name Orient Express, but only one in space.” It seems that they have arrived right after a mysterious death, perhaps even murder, in which an older lady claimed she was being attacked by “a mummy”, as in Egyptian dead person style mummy. After The Doctor does some research, he discovers that there seems to be a pattern with these mummy attacks – everyone claims to be chased by a mummy, and they die exactly 66 seconds later after a flash of light. This also seems to correlate to a myth that another passenger, Prof. Moorhouse, reiterates about the legend of a supernatural being called the Foretold.

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Suspicious of the ships computer system, Gus (voiced by John Sessions) and the fact that multiple people on the train seem to know a bit too much about the Foretold, The Doctor puts together that the train ride must not be a coincidence and that they have been brought there deliberately to solve the mystery. Suddenly everyone realizes that they have been duped by someone who is allowing Gus to force all of the various scientists, doctors, and engineers aboard to figure it out or die trying. Much to her fury, The Doctor even confesses to Clara that the mysterious figure that brought him to the Orient Express “even phoned the TARDIS once”. Astute fans might recall a line from The Big Bang, in which The Eleventh Doctor, answering the TARDIS phone, replies “an Egyptian goddess loose on the Orient Express, in space? A bunch more people die, and eventually The Doctor figures it all out.

I noticed last week that The Doctor seemed to be outright channeling Tom Baker a few times, and it seems like this has been kept going for this episode. The most blatant use of this is the discovery that The Doctor now keeps Jelly Babies, the candy that The Fourth Doctor always carried around, in a silver cigarette case.

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It is later explained that our nefarious mummy is actually an ancient warrior that has somehow been kept alive long past it’s own expiration. This is due to a faulty life support system that basically doomed the poor soul to warp around absorbing life force to keep fighting the long forgotten war that it was still fighting. In some ways, this almost makes The Foretold a creature not unlike a rogue cyberman – desperately trying to do what it can to survive in an almost mindless manner. The Foretold was pretty scary for a mummy considering we’ve all been around various mummy stories for upwards of 80-100 years. Usually these mindless beasts are nothing more than cursed specters that attack anyone in sight but are easy to foil. The Foretold, however, can teleport, change it’s dimensional phase to only appear to certain people, and ruthlessly kill just about anyone in under a minute. A far cry from the one Abbott and Costello fought. On a side note: I am glad that, upon the realization that The Foretold was actually a soldier, The Doctor didn’t slip into another anti-military rant as those are starting to get a bit forced.

Thankfully this episode doesn’t end with a gigantic fight between Clara and The Doctor, as she finally seems to be certain that he is a good man – manipulative perhaps, but good at his core. She did promise her now boyfriend Danny Pink that she was done with her travels, so I can see some more Doctor vs Danny drama coming up. Since we’re past the halfway point, and it’s rumored that Jenna Coleman isn’t going to be on the show much after the Christmas special, I want to see a few episodes where there isn’t tons of tension between the characters. I always hated most of the Peter Davison era because characters like Tegan and Adric were constantly at his throat, and I really do not want a return to that tone.

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What can I say? Show me a space train, and I’ll enjoy the hell out of it. Yeah, the mummy was a bit silly in space, and we didn’t find out who the real villain was (hopefully it’s shown later) but it was a solid episode nonetheless. I really enjoyed the atmosphere, the majority of the side-characters, and even that cool version of Queen’s Don’t stop me Now sung by pop singer Foxes. This was another almost legitimately scary episode, and the body count may prove that this was potentially a bit much for some kids. I’m glad the show is getting creepier, as the horror episodes are some of my favorites.

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Doctor Who: Into The Dalek (2014)

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“This is Clara. Not my assistant, she’s ah, some other word. […] Yeah. My carer. She cares so I don’t have to.”

At first glance, Into The Dalek could be seen as an homage to 2005’s Dalek in many ways. The episode centers around a military confiscation of a wounded Dalek, The Doctor being brought in to examine it, and it’s eventual rampage through a base. Luckily, this similarity isn’t the case for the most part as Into The Dalek goes off into it’s own direction almost immediately, and is a whole different affair than the Rob Shearman classic.

Rather than existing as a tired “base under siege” story, we get something that harkens back to 1966’s Fantastic Voyage, a film where a crew of scientists shrink themselves down and enter a human body; except this time it ain’t no human! Inventive things like this are my favorite sort of Dalek stories, as we’ve seen all of the Dalek tropes hundreds of times each to a point where nothing is new. I’ll hand it to Steven Moffat, after this and Asylum of the Daleks, he can sure write a solid Dalek epiosde.

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After accidentally ditching Clara in Glasgow during a “coffee run” The Doctor finds himself in the middle of a war between one of his oldest foes, The Daleks, and a human outpost. He ends up on the bridge of a haggard military ship with a new secret weapon – a captured Dalek. Bound in chains, this Dalek (or “Rusty” as The Doctor dubs him) seems different. Sure it’s a genocidal killing machine hell-bent on universal domination, but this one seems to hate one thing more than any other – his own race. If only the crew of the Aristotle, a former hospital ship locked into battle with the Dalek Empire, can figure out what makes the heretical “Rusty” tick, perhaps they can end the war for good. With this in mind, they do what any reasonable military squad would do – shrink themselves down and adventure into the beast itself!

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So far, Peter Capaldi is doing an awesome job portraying everyone’s favorite space hobo, and the main selling point for me is a return to his more emotionally distant state. He gets chastised many times for being a bit too callous when faced with the deaths of seemingly unimportant characters, showing that to him the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few – a direct callback to the Hartnell era. At one point, a soldier causes a flood of Dalek “antibodies” to swarm the party, the Doctor tosses a device to him and urges him to swallow it as fast as he can. When he does the Dalek spheres immediately kill him. When everyone gets mad, the Doctor has to acknowledge that the man was already dead, and The Doctor bought everyone else time. This is a far cry from the Tennant-era teary-eyed doctor apologizing every time something went wrong.

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The “carer” quote that I placed above is a good nod at this newly re-discovered saltiness, and Clara seems to be there to keep The Doctor from being a self-absorbed jerk to everyone. When he says that Clara “is his carer” I don’t see it as simply wanting to do whatever he wants with no regard to others, Clara is there to ground him. Instead of existing as a convenient Deus Ex Machina as with her previous season, she has evolved into something more.

Her character development has accelerated in these last two episodes, and she’s finally shaping up to be something special. While Capaldi definitely has a “fatherly” vibe to himself, I wouldn’t say that he acts as her father figure. In many ways, I’d even suggest that he’s almost more childlike that he was in previous incarnations.

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The Doctor once again brings us to one of the themes this year, his questioning whether he’s a “good man” or not. While Deep Breath reveled in his moral ambiguity and questions of unscrupulous things he may or may not have done, this episode is a bit more weary. In many ways it reminds me of season one’s Ninth Doctor trying to recover from all of the bad things he thought he did in the time war, but instead of survivor guilt he seems to be saddled with the feeling that he’s always doing bad things and hurting people.

Since he recently undid the thing that ultimately made him feel the worst (the destruction of his people) and lived 900 years in a wonderland where he was beloved by many (The Town of Christmas) one would wonder why he isn’t a bit happier. Could he be worried that’s he’s going down the same path that so many of his former Timelord acquaintances went down? Could we see a return to the sheer arrogance of The Doctor we saw in Waters of Mars?

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On a slight side-note: Capaldi also gets all of the best lines in the episode, my personal favorite being a quip regarding the “shrinking machine”: “Fantastic idea for a movie. Terrible idea for a proctologist.”

This episode sees the inclusion of a character that I hope becomes the second companion this year – Danny Pink as played by Samuel Anderson. It’s immediately apparent that Pink is going to be Clara’s love interest this season, seeing as The Doctor is now off the table. A former soldier with a dark past, Pink could be the sort of action man that I’ve been wanting since John Barrowman left the show years ago. Danny Pink’s secret obviously involves his accidental killing of a civilian or something similar, as we see hints that he didn’t come back in one piece after his fighting.

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With the Doctor’s assertion that “he hates soldiers”, I can see there will be some sort of sparks flying this year. While I liked Rory during the Eleventh Doctor era, he was usually emasculated for comic relief ala Mickey Smith a lot of the time. Since The Doctor shouldn’t have that whole jealous love-triangle thing going on, I hope they can get on as friends. Strong male companions are about as rare as strong female characters in about every other show, and I hope this season puts an end to that!

I refrained from discussing another supporting cast member in my last review aside from a tiny sentence, but here we go – Who is Missy!? Michelle Gomez plays this new character that, while not specifically shown to be evil, comes across like a dark Mary Poppins. So far, she has plucked two characters from certain doom (at the hands or suggestion of The Doctor) and taken them to a place called “Heaven”. I have no idea what her motive is at this point, but it’s fun speculating on who she is. Everything is pointing to her being a fellow renegade Timelordess, but the real question is – who? Could she be the Rani? The Master (Mistress)?, or a totally new character? For right now all I can say is that she’s creepy, and I hope we see more of her this season.

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Before we close out today’s review, I’d like to touch on the direction of this episode. Ben Wheatley seems like one of the many Doctor Who directors that can really make an episode look far more polished than other similar shows. His use of blue-lighting, slow motion for action sequences, and pyrotechnics really made this feel like a movie in certain places. Hopefully Mr. Wheatley does more work for the show, as both episodes so far have looked great.

My only real quibble is that the sound mixer has once again allowed the soundtrack to overcome some of the dialog in certain scenes, a problem that has been plaguing the show for years. I blame the fact that everyone is expected to have huge home theater systems in 2014, and those of this that do not are simply out of luck.

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All in all, this was another solid episode – nothing classic by any means, but another fine example of what the show can offer. I was happy to see some familiar faces in there, like Michael Smiley from Spaced and The World’s End, showing that this show has some of the best supporting casts out there. I can’t wait to see Danny Pink in action, and hope The Doctor treats him better than other male companions as of late, we don’t need another Mickey! Here’s to the next episode Robot of Sherwood, and to more of this solid season!

More Lost DOCTOR WHO Episodes May Have Turned Up « Nerdist

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More Lost DOCTOR WHO Episodes May Have Turned Up « Nerdist

I’ve been trying not to hype the so-called “omni-rumor” so much, but it looks like we have more recovered Doctor Who on the way. For those not in “the know”, there has been a rumor going around for months years hinting towards a MASSIVE haul of recovered BBC material that was believed to be lost. After the reveal of two such releases late last year, anything seems possible now! After the recent Gallifrey One convention, it seems that people high up in Doctor Who have all but confirmed that more is on the way, click the above link for details!

 

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Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor (2013) 50th Anniversary Special

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Be warned, there are spoilers below:

This has been a real hard weekend for me because I had to wait until 10:00 Monday night to watch The Day of the Doctor while most everyone else saw it over 48 hours ago. This was because my wife and I scored some tickets at a (relatively) close theater in order to watch the special in 3-D on the big screen. We almost missed our chance because the original 7:30 showing sold out in a few days, leading the company to create a second showing. This wasn’t just an isolated case either, my area (the greater Kansas City area) had around 6-7 theaters that were ALL sold out.

The reason I was initially slow at getting tickets was that I stupidly underestimated the popularity of the show in 2013. This is of course because I recall being one of the few people that had ever heard of the show back in 2005-6, and assumed I could roll in late and still get tickets. Back then, I was basically mocked for liking “a show nobody has heard of” from a few people that shall remain nameless (You know who you are!). I’m so happy that Doctor Who seems to have such a large dedicated fanbase here in The States today. I should have known that younger folks enjoyed it, as you often see tons of cosplayers at anime and comic conventions in the area. Thanks to AMC and their events company for opening a second showing, that was a great thing for the fans (and AMC’s cash tills!).

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When we got there, a huge line suddenly appeared about 60 to 90 minutes before the showing, and I have never seen so many fezzes in one place in all my life. There were cosplayers of a few Doctors (mostly Matt Smith) including someone rocking an awesome First Doctor costume. We were there super early, and chatted up some of the other people in line. We got to hear some pretty good theories and even some pretty ridiculous ones from everyone, but all in all it was a great crowd.

I figured I’d go into the general theater experience, since people may want to know what was different, and how the crowds were. Any UK readers will be happy to know that we seem to have got the full experience over here as well. When we were finally seated, the usual asinine movie trivia on the screen was replaced by Doctor Who trivia. In many instances you could hear people in the audience participating, and it was cool seeing some of the younger fans, or at least newer fans, gasping at some of the answers. One in particular was a question like “which of these rock bands appeared in the 1960’s episode, The Chase?” When it was revealed to be The Beatles, you could hear a sudden enthusiastic murmur, where one could tell that minds had been blown.

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There was a funny moment where there was a ridiculously long pause before the 3D “reel” was switched on (I’m aware they do it with hard drives now), and about 25 sonic screwdrivers suddenly appeared from fans, young and old, attempting to fix the problem. This atmosphere was awesome to behold. I’ve been to midnight releases and special events in the past, and the most you’d ever see might be the odd clapping at the end of the film. These fans let out many “squees” during the episode itself, and I’ll later post what got the biggest reaction. You could tell that many saw this as a “once in a lifetime” experience. Everyone was excited, energetic, and happy.

Before the show, we did get treated to two short intro videos that I’d assume were not on the TV broadcast. One involved everyone’s favorite Sontaran warrior Strax briefing the audience on general theater rules. He apparently brought his own clone batch to the theater and wanted to make sure there would be no trouble from us “flesh creatures”. He reminded us not to use our cellphones, and showed what happened to the last guy he caught with one. He walks by a man trapped in restraints on a wall behind him. Accused of sending spy messages to his field commander, this man was not in good shape after Strax got done with him. Another complaint was “talking during the film” which was illustrated as having a similar punishment. Strax did approve of our cultures obsession with torturing “small corn creatures” until the exploded, then eating their fluffy bodies. He remarked how the “tiny screams” of the popcorn made him happy. The audience seemed to love Strax, and this vignette.

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The second mini-episode, if you could call it that, was one of Matt Smith and David Tennant (in character) hyping up the crowd. It opened with Smith’s Doctor in a white room congratulating the fans on making it to this “100th anniversary special, in amazing 12-D” someone came out and reminded him that this was only the 50th anniversary, and he seemed bummed. Apparently 12-D is something to behold, and mere 3-D is quite boring. The Doctor assumes it has something to do with budget cuts and apologizes. We get some banter from Smith and Tennant in the form of instructions on how to use the 3-D glasses and a special warning that Matt’s chin “could be unnerving” in 3-D. Eventually they both ask “wait wasn’t there supposed to be a third dimension” as John Hurt appears facing the other direction. You could have heard a pin drop in the audience after the initial GASP of shock on seeing “The War Doctor.”

There was also a “making of” featurette after the credits, narrated by Colin Baker, it was really good, but wasn’t anything earth-shattering.

NOTE: Before I talk about the actual episode, I’d love to hear if anyone else had similar theater experiences, feel free to drop a comment! Man, I’ve written quite a bit already for not actually talking about the episode!

Right from the opening seconds of The Day of the Doctor I knew I was in for a treat. Instead of the new opening title sequence that we got used to seeing throughout series seven, the episode opens with the original 1963 opening titles. The camera pans over the shadow of a policeman, and a sign that reads “I.M. Foreman, 76 Totter’s Lane” advertising a local scrap merchant. For those that do not know, it’s basically a remake of the very first scene of the very first episode, An Unearthly Child! To completely drive it home, we even see that Clara has some sort of teaching position at Coal Hill School, yet another callback – that was the school Susan attended, and Ian and Barbara taught at. According to a sign inside Ian Chesterton has even been promoted to a governorship in the school! At this point, I knew that this episode was going to be an “Easter egg hunt” for little tidbits that look back at the show’s past.

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Before I get to far into this, I’ll mention the 3D. I’m generally not a huge fan of 3D in movies because it often distracts from the film. I loved Avatar, Coraline, and Tron 2, but those are exceptions that used the effects well. Usually studios have a tendency to abuse the effect and make films nearly unwatchable. I’d say The Day of the Doctor uses it pretty well for the most part. Some scenes seem overdone like the helicopter scene and others use the effects to add depth to the picture. Sort of like having the picture be “bigger on the inside” 😛 I’d say it wasn’t necessary to see this in 3D, but it helped the theater experience immensely.

Right from the very beginning, one can see that The Day of the Doctor seems to have a noticeable budget increase over it’s normal TV brethren. It looks expensive (but not flashy), important, and movie-like, if that makes any sense. Just the way the opening titles are presented, the Tardis being airlifted to Trafalgar Square via helicopter, seems like the opening of something like a James Bond film. I think seeing this in a theater was a great decision on my part, because you can tell it was designed for it.

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The story follows The Eleventh Doctor as he is summoned to The Tower of London by U.N.I.T.’s very own Kate Stewart. She has special instructions from Elizabeth I of England, to have The Doctor check out a secret stash of Timelord art. It appears that Timelords create moments of time preserved in stasis that take the form of “3-D pictures” in frames. It seems many “paintings”in this gallery have been smashed from the inside, implying that something has escaped the pictures themselves. With this we are shown a painting called either ”No More” or “The Fall of Gallifrey” that depicts the final day of the Great Time War. This was the very day that The Doctor’s unmentionable past incarnation “The War Doctor” (John Hurt) ended the time war.

I loved this scene because the “Time War” has been so vague in the past, that seeing the Dalek invasion of Gallifrey’s “second city” Arcadia was awesome. It is at this point that we see “The War Doctor” steal a devastating super-weapon from the Timelord armory, one that has the power to annihilate entire galaxies.

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This weapon, called “The Moment” is classified as a “Galaxy Eater” and was locked away because it gained sentience and could not be controlled. With this weapon, “The War Doctor” heads to a desert and plans his ultimate sin against his own people. Suddenly a manifestation of “The Moment” appears, looking exactly like Rose Tyler, and rips holes in space and time in order to show “The War Doctor” his own future. This causes cracks to appear near The Eleventh Doctor and “War Doctor” causing them all to end up in Elizabethan England, the exact place where “The Tenth Doctor” is trying to stop a Zygon invasion. This is where everyone puts it all together and realizes that The Zygons are the ones that escaped the paintings using Time Lord Technology.

Once the threat is eliminated in a peaceful manner, “The War Doctor” goes off to activate “The Moment” as he believes his ultimate sacrifice causes peaceful things to happen such as the end of this Zygon invasion. He is headed off by Ten and Eleven, and they all discuss the situation. All incarnations after “The War Doctor” hated what happened, and blamed this forgotten incarnation for all sorts of bad things. They decide to help him not be alone in his decision, to lessen his burden. That is until Clara’s tears inspire a new choice: not killing everyone on Gallifrey. Eleven proposes that they could conceivably lock the entire planet of Gallifrey away, much like those paintings, and only make it appear that it was destroyed.

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This following scene is one of the best scenes in all of Doctor Who in my opinion, and involves a co-operative effort by these three Doctors to save their planet. The Arcadian leadership seems less than thrilled to find out that they have been targeted by three versions of one man they really can’t stand, and are even more annoyed when they find out “All twelve of them are here”. This cuts to a scene where you see twelve TARDISes heading into battle, and footage of EVERY SINGLE DOCTOR helping out. This was of course stock footage pulled from old episodes like the trick used in The Name of The Doctor, but it was still awesome. I nearly teared up at this point, probably because I had something in my eye, but held it back like the badass dude that I am. I was shocked when one of the Gallifreyan higher-ups said “No, Sir all thirteen”, since I had no idea that Peter Capaldi was going to make a “teaser” appearance in this. I have no idea how the internet kept this quiet, and I thank all of you.

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The Doctors Thirteen saved the day (hopefully) and went their separate ways. Happy in the fact that he did the right thing, “The War Doctor” starts regenerating from all the stress he had and we briefly see a glimpse of Doctor number Nine. It sucks that Christopher Eccleston didn’t want to help with the anniversary, but I’m glad we have finally seen all of the regenerations now.

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Everything winds down and fans are treated to the cameo of all cameos – Tom Baker’s return to the show. He is introduced as “The Curator” and seems to have a bit more knowledge than he should about the Doctor, Gallifrey, and Timelords in general. This character is kept fairly vague as to his true nature, but it was pretty great seeing Tom back after all these years. Finally, there is one more shot to hammer the point home that we saw something special:

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It may have been the atmosphere, it may have been the theater experience, and it may have been the 3D, but I feel that this was the most fun I’ve ever had at the theater, and it may have been the best episode of Doctor Who I’ve ever seen. It had awesome side characters, although there were very few. Elizabeth I was cool, and I loved seeing Kate Stewart and her assistant Osgood, and hope they show up more often in the show. I love multi-Doctor stories, but generally find them somewhat confusing and borderline nonsensical. That wasn’t the case with The Day of The Doctor, it all fit together, filled in some plot holes leftover from the Davies era, and made me excited for season 8’s search for Gallifrey!.

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As Promised, here are the biggest audience reactions of the night:

  •  The first scene with David Tennant got a big “Squee” from some fangirls.
  • Seeing Billie Piper got a similar reaction.
  • A lot of big laughs in certain scenes like “The Wedding”, The Banter between Doctors, Clara opening an unlocked door etc.
  • When the fans saw 12 TARDISes in in the climax there was some cheering, then it exploded once you saw Peter Capladi say “Make that Thirteen”. I was happy because some fans are concerned female fans will reject him next year.
  • The scene with Tom Baker went over VERY well.
  • The final scene involving all 12 Doctors standing together got cheers.
  • The end credits exploded in cheers and applause.

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