‘Doctor Who’: The 13 Best Callbacks and References in ‘The Day of the Doctor’

As befits a special episode celebrating fifty years of a hugely beloved TV show, the Doctor Who anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor”, aside from telling a brilliant and compelling story in its own right, was jam packed with countless Easter eggs, hat-tips and “kisses to the past” by Steven Moffat. Even the most eagle-eyed of hardcore fans would have a job spotting them all, and we’re certainly not sure we’ve caught everything ourselves yet, but in honor of the thirteen incarnations of the Doctor that were glimpsed in the episode, here’s an equivalent number of references that we did pick up on …

“76, Totter’s Lane”

"The Day of the Doctor"

We could fill out almost an entire list based on the opening minute or so of the special alone, but instead let’s take them all as one entry. So, after opening with a shortened recreation of the original opening title sequence from 1963, we immediately get a similar recreation of the opening scene of the very first episode, “An Unearthly Child”, as a policeman approaches a junkyard gate with the name “I. M. FOREMAN” on it. This time, however, the gate is leaning against the wall of a school – specifically, Coal Hill School, the very place we first met the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan, and her teachers Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton.

Furthermore, the school’s sign lists one I (as in Ian) Chesterton as its Chairman of Governors, while its headmaster is “W. Coburn.” Anthony Coburn was the writer of “An Unearthly Child”, while a later spinoff prose story also named a “Wendy Coburn” as a classmate of Susan’s.

And finally, when Clara leaves Coal Hill, the clock shows 5:16pm, the exact time that the very first episode was broadcast in the UK. This is also later called back as the activation code for the Vortex Manipulator: “171623111963″ (bearing in mind, of course, that British convention would have the date as “23-11″ rather than “11-23″).

“Good Queen Bess”

The Tenth Doctor has had a history, of some kind, with the Tudor monarch Elizabeth I ever since the 2007 story “The Shakespeare Code”. There, at the episode’s end the Queen arrived just as he was leaving, angrily declaring him to be her sworn enemy and attempting to kill him. A possible romance between the pair was later hinted in both “The End of Time” and, later, “The Wedding of River Song”. “The Day of the Doctor” finally answers the question of just why she was so annoyed at him: it transpires that the Tenth Doctor accidentally proposed to her (believing her to be a Zygon), reluctantly went through with the wedding, and promptly departed to deal with the Zygons back in 2013. Evidently, he never quite got around to returning…

“Dating protocol”

It’s one of the biggest controversies in Doctor Who fan discussion: just when were the UNIT-based episodes of Jon Pertwee’s tenure supposed to have taken place? Dates have been given in the episodes themselves that are impossible to reconcile: the Second Doctor story “The Invasion” takes place in 1979, meaning that all the Third Doctor’s Earth-bound stories must be set in the 1980s or later. However, the Fifth Doctor story “Mawdryn Undead” states that Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (who is still very much active in “The Invasion”) retired in 1976, retrospectively placing the UNIT stories closer to the time they were filmed. It’s a question that will probably never be solved, hence the cheeky nod when the Brig’s daughter Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) declares that the organization’s files on the Doctor will be found “in the Seventies or Eighties, depending on the dating protocol used”.

“Nice scarf”

Ingrid Oliver and Jemma Redgrave in "The Day of the Doctor"

The scarf that UNIT scientist Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) wears is of course a direct reference to the famous one worn by the Fourth Doctor but Osgood herself shares a name with technical officer Tom Osgood from the classic story “The Daemons”. It seems that Kate isn’t the only person who followed her father into UNIT…

“Are you afraid of the big Bad Wolf?”

Back in the 2005 season, “Bad Wolf” was a mysterious recurring code phrase that ultimately ended up serving as a message that a Time Vortex-powered Rose Tyler sent back to herself from the future, as a clue that she could open the Time Vortex in the first place and rescue the Doctor. Since then, it’s been inextricably linked with the Doctor’s former companion, notably serving as a warning that she had returned from her parallel universe at the end of season four – and was referred to here as the aspect of Rose that the Moment, in attempting to appeal to the Doctor’s conscience, presented itself in the form of. Even though this particular Doctor hadn’t actually met Rose yet. Hey, kids, time travel!

“You’re a Zygon!”

You could be forgiven for thinking the Zygons were a brand new monster, as they’ve only actually appeared in one Doctor Who story before. But that story, 1975′s “Terror of the Zygons”, is a much-loved classic – and in “The Day of the Doctor” those “big red rubbery things covered in suckers”, are very faithful in looks and methods to how they were presented all those decades ago. Although interestingly, while this gang of Zygons preferred to wait until 2013 to invade, it must have been a separate group that were happy to try to take over 1970s Scotland.

“The Black Archive”

"The Day of the Doctor"

UNIT’s secret repository of Doctor-related info and weaponry looked like it could be the garage of a particularly dedicated Whovian, from River Song’s shoes (as seen in “The Time of Angels”) to Captain Jack’s vortex manipulator, to a pinboard covered in what we think (we haven’t had a chance to count for sure) are photos of every single one of the Doctor’s companions.

“We’re both reversing the polarity. We’re confusing the polarity!”

“Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow” was a meaningless piece of technobabble written by Terrance Dicks for Jon Pertwee’s Doctor – and became somewhat famous as the Third Doctor’s catchphrase from then on, even though he rarely actually said the phrase in its entirety. It was, however, frequently used in prose novelizations, and has subsequently been referenced by various other Doctors. Including, this time around, the Tenth and Eleventh …

“You’ve redecorated!”

Another callback line of dialogue, here – the line “You’ve redecorated! I don’t like it” became a staple of “multi-Doctor” stories thanks to the Second Doctor, first saying it of the Third Doctor’s TARDIS in “The Three Doctors”, and later of the UNIT headquarters in “The Five Doctors”. It also made an appearance in the 2011 episode “Closing Time”, although there the Eleventh Doctor was talking about Craig’s home (which, besides, he hadn’t redecorated but instead moved house).

“No, sir. All thirteen!”

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Aside from the Tenth, Eleventh and War Doctors, it turns out that every single prior incarnation was also involved in the plan to rescue Gallifrey by dragging it away to a pocket universe. Footage of each of the previous Doctors is reused—notably, the Ninth Doctor clip is taken from “The Parting of the Ways”—but there’s also time for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, specially-shot, appearance from a Doctor we haven’t seen yet. Yes, in case you didn’t catch it, for the first time ever, Doctor Who fans have seen the new Doctor in an episode before his actual regeneration scene, as even the upcoming Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi came back to help his past selves rescue his home planet.

“I don’t want to go!”

Aside from being a cute nod to what would become the Tenth Doctor’s last words, we could theorize that they add new meaning to the moment he originally delivered them, back in “The End of Time”. Perhaps, as he tearfully said it, it wasn’t just that he didn’t want to stop being the Tenth, but that he knew that by becoming the Eleventh, he was bringing ever-closer the time when he would have to go to Trenzalore…

“Wearing a bit thin…”

The first time the Doctor ever had to regenerate, in “The Tenth Planet”, he explained to his companions that his body was “wearing a bit thin”, just as the War Doctor muses to himself, here. And his hope that “the ears are a bit less pronounced this time”, of course, calls to mind the Ninth Doctor spotting himself in the mirror all the way back in “Rose”…

“I’m just a humble curator…”

Tom Baker and Matt Smith in "The Day of the Doctor"

We’re sure you don’t need telling who Tom Baker is, after all, he was just voted the greatest Doctor of all on this very site. Even so, Moffat has pulled something of a surprise move by suggesting that one day in the future, not only will the Doctor start to be able to choose his faces (although that possibility has been hinted at before, of course), but that he “might find himself revisiting a few”. Of course, it’s unlikely that this will ever become a serious plot point, but the idea of the Doctor living countless, ever-circular lives is a lovely one, and it’s somewhat fitting that the 50th anniversary special should have paid tribute to the show’s most loved era in this way.

See more:
‘Doctor Who’ Recap: ‘The Day of the Doctor’
‘Doctor Who’: 10 Great Moments from ‘Day of the Doctor’… in GIFs
Steven Moffat Adds Further Twists To The Regeneration Riddle