Let’s just start this right off with spoilers.
Now let’s continue this by discussing the basic points first: What did I think about the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special, ‘Day of the Doctor’? I liked it. The main reason you do one of these big anniversary specials is to get the actors together and let them do their party pieces, because there’s nothing funnier than watching the Doctor bicker with himself like an old married couple. We rarely get to see how good the chemistry is between the different actors that played the Doctor outside of these specials, which is a shame because they’re all good actors who play well off of each other, so really what you want is lots of scenes with Tennant and Smith (and yes, Eccleston and yes, that is a shame but he’s made his decision and he’s not the first, thank you Tom Baker for making up for lost time so well) and the special gave us that. Anything beyond that was pretty much gravy.
That said, I found it really interesting that they decided to bring back Gallifrey. (First, a brief aside addressing the discrepancies between the way that the Time War was portrayed under RTD and the way Moffat showed it here. My fandwave for that is that technically speaking, the Moment is a sentient Ultimate Weapon that does pretty much whatever its user needs it to; just because the Doctor doesn’t push the Big Red Button at the end doesn’t mean that the Moment wasn’t used. The Moment may well have destroyed the Skaro Degradations, the Horde of Travesties, the Nightmare Child, the Could-Have-Been-King and is army of Meanwhiles and Neverweres, and for that matter even Rassilon himself, and left the rest of Gallifrey intact. Part of its activation was testing the Doctor to see what he really wanted, and whether he really deserved what he really wanted. Who’s to say how it worked in the end? I also have a really really really fanwanky theory as to why it was called “The Moment”, but I’ll save that for the comments if anyone wants to know.)
But the point is, they brought back Gallifrey. And that’s interesting to me, because I’ve been saying for years now that one of the cleverest things that the relaunch did was to destroy Gallifrey in the first place. Because Gallifrey is, not to put too fine a point on it, the most boring place in the universe. That is in fact its role in the narrative, to be a world full of stodgy, boring old men (usually literally, always figuratively) who have existed so long that they’ve forgotten how to live. It is the place the Doctor left behind. It is the place he outgrew. It exists solely to be forgotten.
But it’s also been, as of the moment it was thought up in ‘The War Games’, a major part of the Doctor Who mythos. The Time Lords are the most powerful beings in the universe, and you can always invoke a sense of gravitas in a script by saying, “Even the Time Lords…” (Insert statement here.) As such, the Doctor has been on the run from the Time Lords, he’s done secret missions for the Time Lords, he’s saved the Time Lords, and he’s generally gotten involved with the Time Lords a lot since they were first introduced. And all of those stories have suffered from the inherent problem of trying to do something interesting with a race of beings specifically created to be boring as all fuck.
So the relaunch cut the Gordian Knot. It killed all the Time Lords. Suddenly, you have the benefits of being able to invoke gravitas (the Time War is constantly evoked as a major event) without ever having to have the Doctor talk to a bunch of stultifyingly dull aliens in high collars. It seemed like the only possible solution to the Problem of Gallifrey.
But in ‘Day of the Doctor’, Moffat finally admits that this approach has its problems as well. The Doctor is a different character when he’s the Last of the Time Lords as opposed to a Renegade Time Lord. It was impossible for the events of the Time War, with its double-genocide, not to have affected him emotionally. For all that the Classic Series Doctor could be emotionally distant and melancholy at times, he was fundamentally someone who was young at heart. Clara points it out perfectly in the special; all the New Series Doctors carry this weight around with them at all times, this weight of “all my people are dead and it’s my fault, primarily because I killed them” that makes it even more impossible to move past Gallifrey than it was when it was still around and constantly pestering the Doctor with one thing and another.
In other words, it seems like the only way to really get rid of Gallifrey is to bring it back. Then the Doctor can get back to safely ignoring it. And I’m really, really looking forward to that.