Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor: Saturday, BBC1
Months of speculation and brouhaha – whohaha? - climaxed last weekend with the grand unveiling of Doctor Who's 50th anniversary special. Did it deliver? Simulcast to a record-breaking 94 countries around the world, and with a domestic audience of over 10 million viewers, it was always going to struggle against such overwhelming expectations.
But never mind the hype. What's more important is that it triumphed as both an entertaining celebration of Doctor Who's legacy and a significant addition to its ongoing lore. That's quite an achievement. It wasn't perfect, of course: the first half suffered from flabby pacing, the shape-shifting Zygon and Elizabeth I sub-plot - although amusing - felt like padding, and Billie Piper's cameo was superfluous.
But it came together beautifully once the three Doctors – Matt Smith, David Tennant and battle-scarred “War Doctor” John Hurt - joined forces, and current companion Clara was at last given something important to do rather rather than act as a mere plot device
Writer Steven Moffat wisely focused on telling a witty, clever and inventive yarn rather than falling back on sentimental self-indulgence. Despite the self-mocking gags and affectionate nods – using the original opening titles was a lovely touch, as was the climactic tribute to every former Doctor – the special was primarily concerned with pushing things forward.
Like Moffat's celebrated season five finale, The Big Bang, it told an epic story on a relatively intimate scale. Impressively realised scenes of the hitherto off-screen war between the Time Lords and Daleks mingled with emotionally charged moments in which the Doctors wrestled with their decision to commit genocide in order to save the universe. What other show could effortlessly blend such weighty themes with gags about Derren Brown and screwdriver envy?
A seminal event in he Doctor's life, the Time War has underpinned the show since it returned in 2005: guilt, remorse, self-loathing and loneliness have been key components of the character for the last eight Earth years.
So it was incredibly bold of Moffat to reboot the series, without in any way contradicting established continuity, by allowing the Doctor a life-affirming reprieve: no longer the destroyer of the Time Lords, he instead became their saviour by gathering the combined genius of his thirteen incarnations to freeze his home planet in suspended animation (simply writing this synopsis reminds me of why I love Doctor Who).
His quest to find Gallifrey will presumably drive Peter Capaldi's eagerly anticipated tenure in the TARDIS: I know I wasn't alone in being thrilled by the unexpected glimpse of his eyes in The Day of the Doctor.
While it's frustrating that stubborn party pooper Christopher Eccleston declined to take part, the sparkling chemistry between the three Doctors easily compensated for his absence. Hurt exuded husky pathos and wry disdain, Tennant slipped back into the role as if he'd never been away, and Smith proved once again that he's the most naturally charismatic Doctor since the great Tom Baker, whose touching cameo as – well, who, exactly? - fondly embraced the past while prodding our hero towards his future.
Was the episode impenetrable to those expecting a straightforward birthday bash? Possibly. But Doctor Who, confident in its position as one of the world's biggest and best TV shows, can afford to baffle casual viewers from time to time. This was a special occasion, a glorious blow-out, a heartfelt gift to millions of fans from a brilliant writer who loves and understands the show completely.
As shape-shifting alien Noddy Holder once sang: here's to the future, we've only just begun.