The episode featured an unusually extreme alteration to the course of history resulting from a change to a fixed point in time. It also showed how the Doctor survived his supposed death and it concluded a long-running story-arc when the Doctor married River Song. However, a new arc arose in its place with a prophetic statement about the Doctor's future battles, which would become a pressing matter in due time. It's also the first time since the first half of Series 6 that Amy's pain of losing Melody on Demon's Run is mentioned, and she takes her anger out on Kovarian by killing her.
This episode was notable for featuring Simon Callow to briefly reprise his role of Charles Dickens, who was last seen six years prior to this episode in the Ninth Doctor story, TV: The Unquiet Dead. The Eleventh Doctor stories had up until then remained somewhat detached from the Russell T Davies-era, introducing a purely new entourage of human and humanoid characters to work with instead of bringing back the old ones. This cameo effectively broke the practice.
Finally, this story notably retired a close ally of the Doctor who had made numerous appearances in Doctor Who's original 1963-1989 run: Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. His actor, Nicholas Courtney, had died of cancer the February of the same year, and his character was written out to pay respect to his passing. The character had made numerous recurring appearances from The Web of Fear in 1968 to Battlefield in 1989, and regularly starred in the series from 1970's Spearhead from Space to 1974's Robot, even making a guest appearance in The Sarah Jane Adventures story Enemy of the Bane in 2008 (three years before he passed away), which is also his last appearance on TV.
The death of Lethbridge-Stewart would be commonly referenced in future UNIT stories (which often included his daughter Kate) until Death in Heaven, when he returned as a benevolent Cyberman in a scene paying tribute to the late Courtney.
Something is wrong, in the fullest sense of the word. At first glance, the world seems fine, but upon closer inspection, dinosaurs, Romans, and other things throughout time have appeared. Oddly, nobody seems to be bothered by it, like it was part of everyday life.
Another oddity has occurred. Despite the sun rising and setting like normal, the time is always the same. Only the Doctor has the answer, and boy oh boy, it's gonna be a whopper!
The War of the Roses enters its second year as London picnickers are warned not to feed the pterodactyls and Charles Dickens is interviewed on television about his new Christmas ghost special. Holy Roman Emperor Winston Churchill returns to Buckingham Senate on his personal mammoth.
Churchill complains about his conference with Cleopatra in Gaul, saying that she's an excellent dancer, but annoying. He asks his Silurian physician, Malokeh, for the time; it's 5:02 PM on 22 April 2011. He finds this very troubling, despite being reminded it has always been the same date.
He orders that his soothsayer be dragged from the Tower. Upon the soothsayer's arrival, Churchill reminds him about his constant rambling about how something has happened to time. He asks to be told in simple terms what happened. Slowly, the soothsayer looks up, revealing himself as the Eleventh Doctor, who tells him why: "A woman."
In a flashback, the Doctor walks up to a figure from the shadows in a dark, damaged room with a fire burning in a corner. Speaking at a fizzling monitor, he addresses it with cold tranquillity: "Imagine you were dying. Imagine you were afraid and a long way from home and in terrible pain. Just when you thought it couldn't get worse, you looked up and saw the face of the devil himself... Hello, Dalek." It's revealed that a Dalek Supreme is damaged beyond repair; the Doctor takes it apart, scanning its memory banks for any information regarding the Silence.
The Doctor next arrives at a bar, asking the barman for a Father Gideon Vandaleur. The barman doesn't give a straight answer until the Doctor brandishes the eyestalk of the same Dalek he dismantled. Vandaleur meets with the Doctor as he reads Knitting for Girls, but the Doctor knows the envoy has been dead for 6 months. The Doctor zaps him with the sonic, revealing Gideon as the Teselecta in disguise. He stares into the eyes of the vehicle and asks to speak with the captain. The Doctor knows they've been spying on the Silence; he wants to find their weakest link.
With the Teselecta's information, the Doctor tracks down Gantok. He challenges Gantok to a game of live chess, an illegal game that has electricity run through the pieces that increases with each move. The Doctor corners Gantok, with the queen being his only legal move; however, the voltage is too much, even with the protective glove he wears. Gantok asks the Doctor to concede in exchange for a favour; though fearful of retribution from the Silence, Gantok agrees to take the Doctor to Dorium Maldovar, who can answer the Doctor's questions. Gantok brings the Doctor to the Seventh Transept, where the Headless Monks keep their heads. The richest have their heads preserved in boxes, which shocks the Doctor upon finding Dorium's, which sneezes. Gantok then tries to kill the Doctor in revenge for being beaten at chess; however, he falls into a trapdoor that drops him into a pile of ravenous skulls.
The screams awake Dorium, who jokes about his condition. The Doctor asks about the Silence, and why he got stuck being killed at Lake Silencio; the location was chosen as it was easier to create a fixed point to ensure that the Doctor died without fail. Dorium insists that if the Doctor lives, on the fields of Trenzalore, at the fall of the Eleventh, when no creature can speak falsely or fail to answer, a question that must never be answered will be asked: the first question, hidden in plain sight. To Dorium's surprise, the Doctor doesn't know the question, despite its significance to him. He asks if his visitor wants to know the question. The Doctor agrees nervously.
Taking Dorium's head with him, the Doctor determines to continue his farewell tour. However, when he learns his old friend the Brigadier is dead, his bravado crumbles. He accepts his time has come. He gives the Teselecta invitations to deliver since it would involve crossing his own timeline, which is a bad idea. He goes to Lake Silencio with Amy Pond, Rory Williams and River Song, where they drink a bottle of wine Napoleon threw at him. An impossible astronaut rises from the lake and he goes to meet it; as before, he orders his companions to stay back and not interfere no matter what they see. The astronaut's visor lifts to reveal River Song, trapped in the suit by the Silence. She has no control over the suit as it prepares to kill the Doctor. He explains she won't remember murdering him and will serve time for a crime she doesn't remember and committed against her will. He forgives her unconditionally, shutting his eyes as her arm rises to deliver the three deadly blows.
There are five bursts that make him flinch. The Doctor opens his eyes and demands to know what she has done. River smiles. She has discharged her weapons systems harmlessly, saying that fixed points can be rewritten. The Doctor demands to know who gave her such an idea as everything sudden fades away into white.
The Doctor and Churchill discuss these events; the Doctor compares to how time now being stuck due to River's mistake to a record skipping. They see they are holding weapons. Tally marks have appeared on the Doctor's arms. They look up. The ceiling is infested with dozens of Silents. Before they can attack, a grenade rolls into the hall and a troop of soldiers under the command of an eyepatched Amy Pond invade. She shoots the Doctor.
The Doctor awakens in Amy's office on a train; he tries reasoning with her, and make Amy remember the proper timeline. However, he stops once he sees that the walls of the office are lined with drawings of their adventures. Thanks to the crack in the universe which Amy grew up next to, she can remember alternate timelines; however, she doesn't recall that Captain Williams, a soldier in her force, is Rory. The train is bound for the Great Pyramid of Giza - Area 52. Amy wonders if things can stay like they are, but the Doctor tells her that this mess on Earth will spread to the rest of the cosmos until all of reality will fall apart.
In Area 52, the Doctor and Amy walk past more than 100 captured Silents; he is given an eyepatch, which is explained as an external memory storage system to remember the Silents. They arrive in the King's Chamber, where River awaits them. Kovarian is a prisoner, tied to a chair, annoyed at how the Doctor continues to live. "Did my best, dear; I showed up. You just can't get good psychopaths these days." River taunts Kovarian, telling her it was a big mistake to kidnap and raise a girl into a perfect psychopath and introducing her to the Doctor; who else would River fall in love with?
The Doctor goes to take River's hand, but she knows they are opposite poles of an explosion waiting to destroy this timeline. She has him handcuffed and tries to convince him to live. The Silents, who have actually just been waiting, escape because it is their trap. As the soldiers retreat to the King's Chamber, their eye drives electrify and kill them. Kovarian mocks them by explaining that the Silents never allow a true advantage until her eye drive sparks too. Rory stays to hold off the Silents, while River, Amy and the Doctor go to the apex of the pyramid to see what River has built. The door flies open; Rory falls to his knees as the Silents enter and begin to electrocute him, but Amy, at last remembering who he is, returns to kill them with a machine gun.
A weakened Kovarian asks Amy to help her, having gotten her eye drive partially off. Amy burns with rage, stating that Kovarian stole and hurt her baby and that even though her child is okay now, she will never see her baby again. Kovarian says that Amy will help her as she wouldn't want to disappoint the Doctor. Amy points out that while the Doctor means a lot to her, he's also not with them. Kovarian's face goes blank with terror as Amy places the eye drive back on, stating "River Song didn't get it all from you, sweetie." They leave a screaming Kovarian to join the Doctor and River. Amy then suggests to a very happy Rory that they should get a drink when everything is over, and then married. Rory complacently agrees to both suggestions.
Atop the Great Pyramid, River has built a beacon, signalling to the universe across all of time: The Doctor is dying. Please help. She goes on to explain that the sunspots that keep getting reported in the news are actually replies to her message. And every reply is, "Yes, of course". To the Doctor's own surprise, River explains that he's done so much to help others, they are more than willing to return the favour. The Doctor, however, insists that no one can help him. He must die to prevent all of time disintegrating.
River despairs, claiming that she will suffer more than every living thing in the universe if she has to kill the Doctor. Seeing that there is only one way to pacify River, the Doctor tells Amy to uncuff him. He uses his bow tie to marry River in a rushed ceremony. He whispers a secret into his bride's ear and tells her she must never tell anyone what he has just told her. As she looks at him in wonder, the Doctor asks for her help.
They kiss and time moves again. River shoots the Doctor thrice, preventing his regeneration. He dies. The distorted timeline vanishes.
Sometime later, River, fresh from the crash of the Byzantium, arrives at her mother's home to split a bottle of wine. Amy wonders what the events in the aborted, frozen timeline say about her, particularly her murder of Kovarian. She needs to talk about her guilt with the Doctor, but he is dead. River disagrees. Amy notes that her daughter is still having adventures with him in the centuries before his death, but River tells her a secret which she probably shouldn't. As Rory joins his wife and daughter, they dance for joy until Amy realises to her horror she is the Doctor's mother-in-law.
A monk carries Dorium's head back to the Seventh Transept. Dorium recognises the Doctor and asks how he escaped. Discarding his disguise, the Doctor explains that he asked for some help from the Teselecta crew; he had it disguise itself as him while he and the TARDIS were safely inside of it. Simply, he was at Lake Silencio but had someone else take his place.
The Doctor goes on to explain that he got too big, too noisy; now that the universe believes him to be dead, it's time to step back into the shadows. Dorium points out that River Song has been imprisoned for the rest of her days for a false murder; however, the Doctor says that her nights are between her and him. Dorium offers to help keep the Doctor's secrets but calls him a fool since the prophecy is still waiting for him.
The Doctor heads back to the TARDIS. Dorium calls after him with the question that must never be answered at the fields of Trenzalore, the question the Doctor has been running from his entire life: "Doctor who?"
- The Doctor – Matt Smith
- Amy Pond – Karen Gillan
- Rory – Arthur Darvill
- River Song – Alex Kingston
- Madame Kovarian – Frances Barber
- Dorium Maldovar - Simon Fisher-Becker
- Emperor Winston Churchill - Ian McNeice
- Dr Malohkeh- Richard Hope
- The Silent - Marnix Van Den Broeke
- Voice of the Dalek - Nicholas Briggs
- Charles Dickens - Simon Callow
- As herself - Sian Williams
- As himself - Bill Turnbull
- Newsreader - Meredith Vieira
- Gideon Vandaleur - Niall Greig Fulton
- Barman - Sean Buckley
- Gantok - Rondo Haxton
- Dr Kent - Emma Campbell-Jones
- Nurse - Katharine Burford
- Carter - Richard Dillane
- Canton Delaware - William Morgan Sheppard
- Marines - Jon Davey, Chester Durrant, David Stephens, Iestyn Bryn Jones, Kevin Read, Jason Caplin, Harry Burt, Alastair Sanderson, Ryan Woodward, Dennis Gregory, Yiannis Iaoutaris, Dean Anderson, David Lamb, Richard Laws, Charlie Walker
|Executive Producers Steven Moffat, Piers Wenger and Beth Willis|
|Not every person who worked on this adventure was credited. The absence of a credit for a position doesn't necessarily mean the job wasn't required. The information above is based solely on observations of the actual end credits of the episodes as broadcast, and does not relay information from IMDB or other sources.|
- The Doctor and River perform "the quick version" of a wedding because they are in the middle of a combat zone.
Fashion and clothing
- The Doctor wore the Stetson given to him by Craig Owens up to and including the time he is hidden aboard the Teselecta.
- Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart passed away before the Doctor phones the institution where he was staying; he talked about the Doctor all the time and insisted on having a spare glass of brandy ready in case he should show up.
- Charles Dickens was interviewed on television in the alternative timeline.
- Anderson is one of Rory's soldiers that is killed by the Silents.
- The Doctor mentions his former companions Rose Tyler and Jack Harkness.
- The Doctor was reading Knitting for Girls.
- The Londinium Cotide reported that the War of the Roses has entered its second year.
- River built a timey-wimey distress beacon.
- Gantok used gauntlets as limited protection against the electrified chess pieces.
- Dorium says that the Seventh Transsept has excellent Wi-Fi.
- The revelation that the Oldest Question is "doctor who?" is also a joke on the audience, since it was said it was hidden in plain sight (as the name of the show/franchise).
- This episode pays tribute to Nicholas Courtney, who died in February 2011. The Doctor learns his character, Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, died peacefully in his sleep, fulfilling the prophecy made by the Seventh Doctor in the 1989 episode Battlefield. The episode also contains scenes in which "everybody was wearing an eyepatch"; this is a reference to an anecdote Courtney frequently recounted at Doctor Who fan events, about an incident while recording of the 1970 serial Inferno (DWMSE 31).
- In the serial Courtney played an evil, alternate universe version of the Brigadier who wore an eyepatch. During filming he began with his chair turned away from the cameras and spun it around to reveal his character. When Courtney spun the chair around, all of the cast and crew were also wearing eye patches but he managed to continue with the scene as if nothing was wrong.
- Furthermore, Amy says to the Doctor "We'll be in Cairo soon", Cairo being Courtney's place of birth.
- A prequel to this episode was released online.
- Meredith Vieira, co-host of the American morning news/chat programme Today, filmed her cameo during a visit to the Upper Boat Studios as part of a profile of Doctor Who produced for Today. The profile aired on 9 May 2011, contained several minor spoilers for this episode. It revealed the cameo appearance by Richard Hope as Malohkeh and the return of Ian McNeice as Winston Churchill. Appearances by several Cybermen served as a "false flag" spoiler suggesting they might also appear in the episode. They did not.
- This is the first series finale of the revived series not to be a multi-part episode. In fact, it is the first series finale ever to only be one episode, though it can be seen to be completing the multi-part story started in TV: The Impossible Astronaut. It was also the first-series finale of the revival series not to feature a "classic series" adversary as the main antagonist, even though it featured a cameo of a Dalek.
- In TV: The Impossible Astronaut the versions of the Doctor give their ages as 909 and 1103. The Doctor has apparently lived for almost two hundred years between these two episodes. Writer Gareth Roberts indicated in an interview that this is indeed two hundred years after The God Complex for the Doctor and he spent these years "waving" at Amy and Rory through history books.
- The hat shot off the Doctor's head by River in TV: The Impossible Astronaut was a copy made by the Teselecta.
- This is the ninth time the actor playing the Doctor has portrayed a different character in the same story. This previously happened with:
- This is the second time the Eleventh Doctor is shown with facial hair; coincidentally, he is previously depicted with it in TV: Day of the Moon, which was directly tied with this episode.
- This was the last episode to be covered by Doctor Who Confidential due to that series' cancellation. Starting with The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, the official Doctor Who website would feature short making-of videos after each episode's transmission.
- A message that "Doctor Who Will Return" appears at the end of the episode.
- This is the first series finale of the revived series in which the final scene is set outside the TARDIS.
- This is the first and only time the doctor wears his green, double-breasted moleskin coat in an odd-numbered episode.
- UK Overnight: 6.1 Million
- Final: 7.67 million
- The Doctor will get married. This was proven true.
- Part of this episode will be set in Egypt. This was proven true.
- The Doctor's reflection in River's helmet shield is not reversed, as it should be.
- When Gantok falls into the pit of skulls his hat falls off, yet it's back on right before he's devoured completely.
- When River is about to shoot the Doctor, she begins raising her hand. In the next wide shot, it is risen fully and ready to fire. However, in the next close-up, she is still raising her hand.
- Time was frozen at 05:02:57, and progressed to around 05:03:06 the first time the Doctor and River touch, but when the Doctor and River kiss later, a clock is shown on screen, with time resuming from 05:02:00.
- When Amy and her team arrive to save the Doctor in the senate hall, the Doctor throws Winston Churchill to the floor and takes a few steps forward. A second later he is shown on the floor right next to Winston.
- When the Doctor flashes back to the picnic on the lakeside, he fills River's wine glass about a quarter full, but when they all say, "Salut", the camera changes angles and the glass looks full; when the camera returns to its starting position, it is back to a quarter.
- When the Doctor is talking to Rory about Amy in front of one of the Silence tanks, the Doctor's reflection shows both of his eyes completely visible, even though he is wearing his eye-drive.
- Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart is said to have died in his sleep peacefully at a nursing home. The Seventh Doctor had stated that this was exactly how his old friend would pass away. (TV: Battlefield)
- The Doctor uses the internal TARDIS phone. (TV: World War Three, The Beast Below, The Big Bang)
- Charles Dickens appears in an interview talking about an upcoming Christmas story involving ghosts. (TV: The Unquiet Dead)
- Winston Churchill is the Holy Roman Emperor. (TV: Victory of the Daleks, The Pandorica Opens)
- The Silurian scientist Malokeh is Winston Churchill's physician. (TV: The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood)
- Dorium Maldovar returns as a head. He was beheaded by the Headless Monks. (TV: A Good Man Goes to War)
- The Doctor tells River that archaeology and gossip are the same thing. His previous incarnation told her "I'm a time traveller. I point and laugh at archaeologists". (TV: Silence in the Library)
- Amy draws several creatures and moments from her adventure with the Doctor, including:
- the Krafayis (TV: Vincent and the Doctor)
- the Weeping Angels (TV: The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone)
- the Saturnyns (TV: Vampires of Venice)
- the Silurians (TV: The Hungry Earth, Cold Blood, A Good Man Goes to War)
- the Daleks (TV: Victory of the Daleks, The Big Bang)
- the Minotaur (TV: The God Complex)
- the Cybermen (TV: The Pandorica Opens)
- the Smilers (TV: The Beast Below)
- a self-portrait of herself as a pirate (TV: The Curse of the Black Spot)
- and of herself emerging from the Pandorica (TV: The Big Bang)
- Amy mentions the Doctor making it so that the Silence are killed on sight by humanity. (TV: Day of the Moon) Combined with the Minotaur in her drawings, this means the alternate Amy's memories go through to The God Complex.
- The Doctor encounters the Teselecta again, and its captain. (TV: Let's Kill Hitler)
- The Doctor again sports a beard. (TV: Day of the Moon)
- When talking to Amy after the timeline has been restored, River mentions climbing out of the Byzantium. She is still in her combat fatigues and has just seen a younger Amy who had no idea as to River's identity. (TV: The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone)
- Amy is partially protected from some kind of temporal changes by her long-term exposure to the cracks in the universe. (TV: The Eleventh Hour, The Big Bang)
- When River says to the Doctor that time can be rewritten, he replies "Don't you dare." This is what River says to the Tenth Doctor in a similar situation (TV: Forest of the Dead) and echoes the sentiment of the First Doctor when trying to stop Barbara Wright interfering in Aztec history. (TV: The Aztecs)
- River mentions "Rule #1: the Doctor lies." (TV: The Big Bang, Let's Kill Hitler, The Angels Take Manhattan)
- A Silent calls Rory "The man who dies and dies again". (TV: Amy's Choice, Cold Blood, The Curse of the Black Spot, The Doctor's Wife)
- When the Doctor meets River in Area 52, he again greets her by saying, "Honey, I'm home." River again replies "And what sort of time do you call this?" (TV: The Big Bang)
- The Doctor mentions Elizabeth I waiting in a glade to elope with him. (TV: The Shakespeare Code, The End of Time, The Beast Below)
- The Doctor says, "Geronimo!" again. (TV: The End of Time, The Eleventh Hour, The Beast Below, The Big Bang)
- The Doctor asks River, "Why do you always have handcuffs?" (TV: Forest of the Dead, Flesh and Stone)
- Dorium tells the Doctor what the "question that must never be answered" is. (TV: Let's Kill Hitler)
- The notion of "Doctor Who?" as a dark secret rather than simply a question has been mentioned before, (TV: Silver Nemesis, The Girl in the Fireplace) and hinted at by Ian Chesterton: “Who is he? Doctor who? Perhaps if we knew his name, we might have a clue as to all of this”. (TV: An Unearthly Child)
- The barman on Calisto B is a red humanoid. (TV: New Earth, Gridlock, The End of Time, The Pandorica Opens, COMIC: Agent Provocateur)
- While held captive, Madame Kovarian is annoyed at River and the Doctor's flirting, as Amy was earlier. (TV: Day of the Moon)
- River mentions having to pretend not to recognise a space suit in 1969. (TV: The Impossible Astronaut)
- A heavily damaged Progenitor Dalek appears.
- The Doctor makes marks on his arm when he sees the Silence. He also discovers them under the same circumstances as Amy did, inadvertently looking up at the ceiling where a large nest of Silence is roosting, then forgetting the encounter over and over as he keeps looking down, putting increasing numbers of tally marks on for each time he notices the Silence. (TV: Day of the Moon)
- River says she is a child of the TARDIS. (TV: Let's Kill Hitler)
- The Doctor closes his eyes, holds out his arms, and waits to be shot, (TV: The Parting of the Ways, Evolution of the Daleks, The Impossible Astronaut) only to scrunch his face and peek when River fails to fire.
- The Doctor reads a knitting magazine. (TV: Day of the Moon)
- River shoots the Doctor shortly after marrying him. Her father, Rory, shot Amy while they were engaged. (TV: The Pandorica Opens)
- The Doctor gives River important information by whispering into her ear. (TV: Forest of the Dead, Let's Kill Hitler)
- The Doctor is revealed to simulate a regeneration through use of the Teselecta. He explains he had exhausted all twelve of his allotted twelve regenerations; thus, if he had suffered lethal wounding at Lake Silencio, he would not have begun to expel regeneration energy - instead, he would have died immediately. (TV: The Time of the Doctor)
- The Doctor faces Dorium Maldovar's prophecy in TV: The Time of the Doctor. There it is revealed that the Silence's efforts to change the future led to it coming to pass.
- Its revealed that the messenger that delivered the messages to the Doctor and his companions in The Impossible Astronaut is the Teselecta acting on the Doctor's instructions so that he won't cross his own timestream, something he once again states is a bad thing to do.
- The events with the future Doctor in The Impossible Astronaut are explored and what really happened is revealed.
- In an alternate timeline created by a continuity bomb, the Doctor did not seek the help of the Teselecta and allowed River to prevent his death. The two then married and settled down for a domestic life as time remained frozen. (COMIC: Four Doctors)
- For River Song the majority of the events take place before TV: The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone and after TV: Closing Time. Her final scene takes place before TV: A Good Man Goes to War and after TV: The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone.
Home video releases
The episode was later released in the complete series 6, which included the first and second half of the series, was released on DVD and Blu Ray on the 21 November 2011.
- Smith also plays the Teselecta that assumed the appearance of the Doctor.
- Doctor Who Ratings - UK final