Doctor Who Recap: “The Day of The Doctor”


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Welcome to The Day of the Doctor, offering old faces, new surprises, and a major change in the way the Doctor Who universe has been understood since 2006. Now grab my hand, and lets run.

In an adorable hat tip, this TV movie opens with the original Doctor Who title sequence and theme, right down to the theremin. We start with Clara, who is now teaching school near Totter’s Lane, the original 20th century resting place of the TARDIS in the very first episode of Doctor Who. A colleague rushes in to ask her if she’s alright: her doctor called the office for her. It’s the end of the day and so Clara heads right off on her motorbike to a deserted road where a lone police box rests. Some warning beeps, and the doors open so she can drive right in all cool-like. But she’s still wearing a helmet. Helmets are cool. And help you masquerade as a terrifying spoon head.

Clara clicks her fingers and the TARDIS obediently closes the doors, so it seems clear that she and Sexy have worked out their differences from last season, and then she and the Doctor exchange some delightful banter, in which they seem on quite the equal footing. Eleven is excited that his pal is back, Clara is excited that she gets to hang with her pal again. I am optimistic about a new understanding between these characters without the Doctor keeping giant secrets from her.

Then the TARDIS is unexpectedly picked up by a helicopter and flown to the National Gallery in London, as if the movie is trying to say THIS IS A MOVIE GUYS A MOVIE BBC GAVE US SO MUCH MONEY OMG. The helicopter belongs to who else but U.N.I.T. (hereafter UNIT because this writer, who also recaps Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., does not have time in her life for that many periods). Kate Stewart (of the Lethbridge Stewarts) calls Eleven up to apologize, “I’m so sorry, we had no idea you were still in there.”

Where did you think he would be? I thought. Why would you want to take it if he wasn’t? Well, this is all very silly, Doctor Who, but now we get down to talking about what person needs the Doctor’s help. Kate and her science sidekick Osgood (the woman in the scarf with the inhaler) explain that they have instructions from the queen. That is, Queen Elizabeth. That is, Queen Elizabeth I.

The Queen’s credentials are inside the museum, because I guess being a Queen of England and knowing the Doctor well enough to leave him sealed messages to be given to him in the future isn’t enough? Inside the museum is a large painting of what is obviously Gallifrey, even to this never-watched-classic-Who-viewer. It’s got two titles, either “No More” or “Gallifrey Falls,” it doesn’t belong in this time or place and it’s in 3D IT’S 3D ARE YOU GUYS WATCHING IN 3D I BET YOU WISH YOU WERE WATCHING IN 3D NOW HUH the movie says.

“No More” jolts Eleven’s memory, and he explains to Clara that this painting depicts the Gallifreyan city of Arcadia on the last day of the Time War, the day another version of himself, the one he doesn’t like to talk about, committed “a crime that would silence the universe.” And we go live to the Last Day Of The Time War, a battle between those two age old foes, green lasers and red lasers.

There is death, destruction, and Murray Gold’s score, which in this scene sounds suspiciously, oddly, like it’s been clipped wholesale from old episodes. I’m well aware that Gold likes to play with leitmotif, but the music in this scene sounded exactly like the tracks from the Series 4 album, not even re-recordings or re-orchestrations. Anyway, this bit goes on for really quite a mess longer than we need to understand “bad things happening, yo.” John Hurt’s Doctor borrows a gun from a Gallifreyan soldier in order to carve “No More” into a wall of rubble. Then he gets in the TARDIS and kind of hilariously steamrolls over a bunch of Daleks on his way out.

He is off to steal the Moment, the last forbidden weapon that hasn’t been used against the Daleks. We find out from a group of arguing Time Lord generals that the Moment is a “galaxy eater” so powerful that the operating system became sentient and developed a conscience. Who, they, ask, would want to activate a weapon that could stand in judgement of you. Hurt!Doctor parks the TARDIS on a desert planet, and treks out to a small abandoned homestead while monologuing about how he’s served notice on the Time Lords and Daleks and this war ends today.

The Moment itself is a very steampunky box, which Hurt!Doctor struggles to turn on (“Why is there never a big red button?”). He looks away for a moment, and when he looks back, Billie Piper is sitting on the box. Hilariously ignoring her mysterious appearance, he shuffles her out of the shack, only to find her still sitting on the box. “Why’d you park so far away,” she asks, “didn’t want her to see it?” Hello, TARDIS feels, how are you? Piper cheekily exaggerates his grumpy “no more, no more” and he finally figures it out: she’s the user interface for the Moment. She is the Moment. She can read him, all of him, and she chose this form from his past, or at least she thought she did. It’s not Rose, though, that she’s depicting, it’s Bad Wolf, the nigh-omnipotent hybrid of Rose and the Time Vortex that both saved the Ninth Doctor from destruction and caused him to give up a regeneration to keep Rose Tyler alive. “Look at you,” she says, “stuck between a girl and a box.”

There will be consequences for asking her to end the suffering of the universe by murdering two races, and he answers that he’s ready to die. But he doesn’t get the easy way out. His consequence she has for him is that he lives with the deaths in fire of the children of Gallifrey, the destruction of his entire race: he lives as the last lonely Time Lord. She invites him to see what that will turn him into before he makes his decision, and opens a swirly time thing into his future. It dramatically farts a fez at them.

End flashback. Return to 11 and Clara in the National gallery. The doctor finally opens the Queen’s note. She’s appointed him the position of watching over the Undergallery, and he is to be called when things are disturbed in it. She also calls him “husband.” Stewart leads them behind a historical portrait of Liz I and the Tenth Doctor to the Undergallery, and as they leave a UNIT underling gets a strange phone call. This is important.

Flashback time again! 10 and Liz I leap out of the TARDIS on a horse to have a cuddly picnic, so I’m going to assume that this is probably a post-Donna pre-The End of Time 10, as he alludes to her at the beginning of that episode. He proposes marriage to her and she accepts, but it turns out he was only proposing because her acceptance would confirm that she was an alien impostor, as his timey-wimey detector was indicating. But he’s wrong: she’s the real Liz and the horse is actually a Zygon. So, they run. Liz still doofily wants to marry him despite his admission that his proposal was completely non-genuine, even though the Doctor just said that the great Queen Bess would be too responsible to just agree to marry him, some random space bloke.

Anyway, they split up because it is important to the plot that 10 later come upon two identical versions of Liz I and not know which one was real. There is a bit of she said/she said and then a time opening thing that the Moment created appears and farts out a fez again. Or originally. Time travel.

In the present, 11 and Clara inspect the Undergallery, where Elizabeth I kept all the art that was too dangerous for public consumption (one has to wonder where all the unflattering political cartoons are). The Doctor tells Osgood to run tests on the stone dust that the floor in the statue chamber is covered with. This is important. They pass a fez in a display box, and the Doctor puts it on before they are shown the real problem: a room full of paintings of landscapes, where all the glass panes in the frames have been shattered from the inside.

Now, I’m for a striking image as much as the next person, and I’ll admit that the notion that the contents of the painting could have smashed out is nice, but when was the last time you saw a hundred year old painting in a gallery that had been framed with glass? It’s not that cool of an image that it makes me want to ignore logic.

The Moment’s timey-wimey vision portal opens up in the gallery room with 11 and Clara. He chucks his fez through, experimentally, and then leaps through himself, and is delivered to the Elizabethan era.

10 and 11 compare sonics for length both at rest and when extended. 10 tells the Lizzes that the real Liz should run away in the opposite direction from the fake Liz, because the Queen of England is obviously safer running from her life from a shapeshifter than standing where the Doctor can see her, I guess? No, this part doesn’t really make sense, it’s just clear that, like before, the plot demanded that the Doctor get some alone time. The Lizzes leave.

11 chucks his fez through the time thing to see if it is possible for him to get back to Clara through the time thing, which now explains how Hurt!Doctor’s time thing farted a fez. He doesn’t remember this bit of being 10, but says it must be 10’s fault for not paying attention at the time. Hurt!Doctor pops back with the fez, asks to be shown to the Doctor, hilariously assumes that 10 and 11 are his companions, is shown their two sonic screwdrivers, and thus begins a lovely scene of John Hurt: the cranky grandpa regeneration. The Queen’s guards attempt to arrest them all for bewitching her, and all he can do is throw massive amounts of shade all over the way 10 and 11 dress and treat their sonics as if they were rayguns and say things like “timey wimey.” He’s getting real tired of their shit like a popular crude drawing of Michael Caine meme.

An attempt to frighten off the guards fails as one of the Queens shows up and orders them imprisoned in the Tower of London (so this is the Zygon imposter, presumably). All three are thrown in one cell: 11 is scratches numbers and letters into a stone, while 10 is occupied with the bigger picture. He wants to know why all three of them are in the same time and place. Hurt is still grumping at them, asks “what is it that makes you so ashamed of being a grownup?” 10 and 11 leave quite the pointed silence afterward.

Bad Wolf/the Moment/Rose appears (only Hurt!Doctor can see her) to explain that they see him as the worst version of themselves. He asks them if they count the number of children who died on Gallifrey. 11 says no and 10 says yes, instigating an argument between them that forces 11 to admit that he purposefully forgot. “The man who regrets,” she says, “and the man who forgets.” NO, DOCTOR WHO STOP IT.

Although I do wonder where that leaves 9. Bad Wolf reminds Hurt!Doctor that even though the sonics have different cases, they’re all the same software, which means that they can use the four hundred year age difference between Hurt!Doctor’s sonic and 11’s sonic to perform the calculations needed to disintegrate the door of their cell and escape! But then Clara just walks in.

See, back in the present day, Kate Stewart took Clara to the Black Archive, UNIT’s most secret vault of alien technology, a completely TARDIS-proof location where the staff’s memory is wiped at the end of every day of work there. Apparently, Clara has also been there before, when UNIT conducted an apparently routine interview to make sure she was trustworthy enough to keep the Doctor’s secrets and then wiped her memory of the whole event, which is more than a little creepy, both on UNIT’s part and on the part of the Doctor for allowing that to happen to his companions. Kate suspects that the Doctor is leaving them a clue that will help them save him in the Tower of London. That clue will be the activation code to Captain Jack Harkness’ Vortex Manipulator, left to UNIT after one of his deaths.

In the Undergallery, Osgood has completed an analysis of the sand: it’s made primarily of marble and other statue materials, and in typical monster movie fashion she realizes that this must be because the Zygons who came out of the paintings smashed the sheet-covered statues in the first room of the Undergallery so that they could hide as the statues just as the zygons reveal themselves and go after her and another UNIT tech in the room. Osgood cowers in a corner as a zygon takes her form and her inhaler, chanting “the Doctor will save me,” until the zygon insults her and she trips them and escapes. So it’s a subversion of the a damsel trope, good, thanks.

A UNIT officer finds 11’s scratched notes in the Tower of London and sends a picture of them to Kate Stewart, who takes that moment to reveal that she has been a zygon since that time earlier that she stepped away and left 11 and Clara in the Undergallery woooooo! Now the zygons have a time machine! Except they don’t because Clara snatches the vortex manipulator, enters the activation code, and transports herself to Hurt!Doctor, 10 and 11 in the Elizabethan era. She could get into their cell because the door was never locked in the first place. (Also she recognizes 10 from her time inside the Doctor’s time stream, which is great because it confirms that we do indeed now have a companion who knows the Doctor’s life story.)

Queen Elizabeth arrives, and takes the four to see her diabolical plan in action: the zygons think Earth is kind of boring right now, so they’re going to wait to take it over until it becomes more interesting. So they’re putting themselves in stasis inside the pictures so that they can invade the future. Only the one masquerading as the Queen is left to be put in a painting. 10 says now he knows she isn’t the real Liz: the real Queen would never be so stupid as to explain her entire plan to him. But he’s still wrong: it turns out that the real Liz caught up with her double in the woods and stabbed her to death. “I may have the body of a week and feeble woman,” she says, “but I also have THE WINGSPAN OF AN ALBATROSS so did she.”

After that she went back to the Zygons and fooled them into thinking she was their commander to find out their whole plan. She’ll let the Zygons go to the future (not sure why they can’t just burn the paintings… maybe because if the paintings weren’t in the gallery then 11 would never have gone back to meet 10 and Hurt!Doctor, so that would mean changing the timeline? Are the paintings a fixed point? Timey-wimey, I suppose) and will let the rest of them go as well so long as 10 keeps his promise (which he immediately mentioned was false) and marry her.

Yeah, can we have less of the annoying, forcing-men-to-marry-her Queen that’s a really tired “hurr hurr chicks are all ‘commitment’ amirite” character trope and more of the competent, alien-fooling, stabby Queen? Thanks. 10 marries Elizabeth as I yawn and roll my eyes, and then everybody pops into his TARDIS for a ride back to the present. The Doctors spend a few minutes getting nostalgic over TARDIS consoles and throwing shade on the future ones before the TARDIS reverts to 11’s new console.

Speaking of, the Zygons are gloating over how they’ve successfully gained control of the Black Archive. Osgood, who has managed to rescue Kate Stewart from the place that the Zygons had her imprisoned (because Zygons need to renew their disguises every two hours is information from classic Who that could have used some reiterating for the folks who’ve only seen New Who), and the two of them attempt to infiltrate the Zygon group by pretending to be Zygons. This works for about five seconds until their doubles show up, so Stewart locks the Black Archive and begins its five minute nuclear self destruct sequence, intending to sacrifice London to keep the Zygons from obtaining technology that would allow them to take over Earth.

11 has wind of this and tries to convince Stewart to cancel the countdown. The parallel to destroying Gallifrey in order to save the universe is not explicitly stated, but it’s pretty clear. Stewart refuses, and since the Black Archive is TARDIS proof, they can’t land. Hurt!Doctor points out that there are other ways in which they can make it into the Black Archive, as he picks up the Zygon artifact that they used to put themselves in paintings.

So 11 calls that one guy who got a mysterious phone call from the beginning of the episode and orders him to take “No More” or “Gallifrey Falls” to the Black Archive. The Zygon Stewart and the real Stewart have a shouting match at the Black Archive’s voice activation systems, stopping and starting the nuclear countdown. Osgood starts basically praying to the Doctor again, which makes me make this face : /

The Doctors put themselves and Clara into “No More” at some point in the past (it’s not made clear, but hopefully they were not there for too long) and collaboratively sonic a dalek out of the painting, smashing the glass and destroying the creature. So now, everybody is in the Black Archive with the clock counting down. Since Kate can’t be convinced to stop the countdown, 10 and 11 come up with a clever plan. They’re going to sonic the Black Archive’s mind wiping technology to make all the doubles and their originals forget whether they’re Human or Zygon for two hours, during which they will stop the countdown, sit down, and negotiate for peace.

This works (and even though Osgood and Zygon Osgood can tell which one is real because only one of them has her inhaler, they don’t disrupt things), and everybody starts to live happily ever after.

Clara talks to Hurt!Doctor alone, telling him that she can tell he hasn’t destroyed Gallifrey yet: his eyes are too young. “Time I grew up,” he says, letting the Moment know that he’s ready to go back to his own time and destroy Gallifrey. For a moment, it seems as though Clara can hear the Movement’s voice, and when she turns back around, Hurt!Doctor is gone.

Back on the desert planet, the Movement has made Hurt!Doctor his big red button. “Great men are forged in fire. It is a privilege of lesser men to light the flame, whatever the cost.” Behind him, two of the TARDIS materialize, and 10 and 11 step out. Some expository dialogue explains that they shouldn’t be able to reach this point in space and time, but the Moment made a way for them.

Hurt!Doctor begs them to go back to their own times to make what he does worthwhile (earlier the Moment said something about how if she ever needed an Ego she’d hire him, and I’m beginning to see the full extent of it, frankly). 11 says they’re there because they remember being Hurt!Doctor and making the hard decision on a day that it wasn’t possible to “get it right,” and they don’t want him to have to do it alone. All three doctors place their hands on the button. “What we do today is not out of fear or hatred, it is done because there is no other way. And it is done in the name of many lives we are failing to save.”

In the background, Clara shakes her head. 11 asks her what’s up and she answers “You told me you wiped out your own people. I just never pictured you doing it.” Like Clara, I am less than enthused with the idea that the Doctor would go back to relive and reinforce what he considers to be one of the most evil things he’s ever done (albeit in the name of good) just to make his earlier self… feel better about it. And I’m also uncomfortable with the implied notion that the Doctor was convinced that destroying his entire race was okay because it would mean that later down the line he’d be “a great man.”

The Moment choses this moment to invite them all to take a closer look, particularly at the Time Lord families who will burn if Hurt!Doctor destroys them and the Daleks. Still, the Doctors insist that there’s no other way: either they destroy their own people or the universe burns. Clara reminds 11 that he said his name was a promise as day breaks over Arcadia, and the Doctors consider changing history.

Hurt!Doctor crows that the “Bad Wolf Lady” showed him exactly the future he needed to see (10 “Wot?”s) They can hide Gallifrey in an instant of time, just like the Zygons in the painting, and all the daleks firing towards the planet will shoot each other. The immense calculating power needed to do that can be accomplished with the TARDIS over time in the same way as their screwdrivers. The Doctors tell protesting Time Lord generals about their plan, so that there’s someone to dramatically narrate what happens next.

Thirteen Doctors, yes thirteen, and its very exciting.

Thirteen doctors all get together to make calculations and take up positions around Gallifrey, locking the planet away in stasis, taking it somewhere else, and there’s a massive explosion as the amassed Dalek forces blow themselves up. (Also, Hurt!Doctor’s catchphrase is technically “Gallifrey stands!” but I really wanted it to be “Oh, for god’s sake!”)

We rejoin our Doctors having tea and looking at “No More” in the National Gallery. They can’t be certain that they actually succeeded in saving Gallifrey, and they still haven’t figured out how a painting of the last day of the Time War got to Queen Elizabeth I. But “at worst they failed doing the right thing rather than succeeding doing the wrong.” Because it is necessary to close plot holes, I mean, because of the timey-wimey, only 11 will remember that they changed the fate of Gallifrey once Hurt!Doctor and 10 leave this time and space. He’ll fly away thinking he destroyed Gallifrey, and have to emotionally deal with that in his next regenerations.

Hurt!Doctor says his goodbyes, gets in his TARDIS and moments after flying off begins to regenerate, and I try to put a lid on my rapidly rising hopes, but… the show cuts away just as he is beginning to look a little bit like Christopher Eccleston, because it wants to rip my heart out.

10 and 11 talk about the dark stuff that lies ahead. 11 specifically mentions Trenzalore, where he/they will eventually die in a battle of millions. 10 leaves, after saying his line. You know, his line.

Clara leaves 11 alone with “No More,” because she senses he’d like some time with it, but she tells him that the curator was looking for him. 11 muses to himself that he’d be a good curator, and the curator answers “You know, I really think you might.” It’s Tom Baker, the biggest classic Doctor surprise of the episode, considering the rest were all made of CGI and stock footage.

11 recognizes him, and Baker says implies that in future regenerations the Doctor eventually comes round to re-regenerating into some of his favorite old regenerations (and apparently also spends some time letting his regeneration get old and working at the National Gallery). He says that he acquired “No More” in “remarkable circumstances,” and that the trick is that it doesn’t have two titles, it has one: “Gallifrey Falls No More.” Just to make sure that he’s picking up what Baker!Doctor is putting down, 11 asks, and Baker responds that it means that Gallifrey is still out there, lost, and that the Doctor can go looking for it. The Doctor can go home.

All in all, “Day of the Doctor” was a very solid installment of Doctor Who, and a welcome relief after a not particularly well received seventh season in which even the very tolerant Doctor Who fandom started getting a little annoyed at all the plot holes and skipped character development. The special did not have a lot of Clara, for obvious reasons: what everybody wanted out of this, including me, was the spectacle of the Doctor interacting with his past and future selves. Some companion interaction would have been nice, but with Billie Piper playing the role of a computer program only visible to one person mimicking her character (also reasonable because of the plot shenanigans it would have taken to get Rose Tyler out of the parallel universe she’s been trapped in since series 2) rather than Rose Tyler, the viewer understood that that possibility was not on the table.

But what we did see of Clara were things that I liked: interactions with the Doctor in which they seemed on more equal footing than they have been in Series 7 and Clara completing the ultimate function of the companion, reminding the Doctor when he’s about to do some stupid, myopic shit. It’s going to be very interesting to see how Clara reacts to a regeneration. It’ll be the first time a companion remains consistent over a regeneration since Rose in Series 2. Setting Clara aside, nearly every character with a speaking role in the episode who was not one of the Doctor’s regenerations was also a woman (or at least had taken the form of a woman), in a variety of personalities and roles. The only one I was mostly disappointed with was Elizabeth, whose slotting into a the irrational husband crazy chaser trope wasn’t so much offensive as it was boring. What to do with the famous virgin queen who refused marriage so as not to weaken her seat of power? Make her chase marriage, obviously aren’t we clever ho ho ho. Not as clever as Blackadder II, certainly, where such a caricature is in its rightful place: in the midst of mad farce. All hail Queenie and Miranda Richardson.

Much of the lead up to “Day of the Doctor” propped up John Hurt’s Doctor as a fearsome warrior and murderer, and I was initially a little confused but ultimately not upset to see that he was really just more of the Doctor, in the worst position that the Doctor’s ever been in. I enjoyed “DoTD”s thematic focus on how the destruction of Gallifrey has affected the Doctor, presenting his personality changes throughout his New Who reincarnations as different reactions to overwhelming guilt. However, this focus on his progression had a big gaping hole in it: the Ninth Doctor.

Stop! Stop, if you are about to say that Christopher Eccleston parted with the show on bad terms and it’s ignorant or too much of me to expect him to appear for the 50th. That’s not what I’m asking. I know that he’s the unlikeliest of thirteen Doctors to appear in this special. But so do the folks who wrote this movie. They knew they wouldn’t be able to get him in here beyond brief CGI recreations and reused clips, so I wish they’d at least given us a throwaway line explaining either why the Moment doesn’t think it’s important for Hurt!Doctor to see that version of himself (easy enough to say that 9 was too similar to Hurt!Doctor, still angry at the Time Lords and the Daleks for making him choose rather than guilty for being the one who made the choice to be a good demonstration) or where he falls on the regrets/forgets progression. The writers shouldn’t rest on the probable fact that the majority of the folks who would notice the Ninth Doctor’s absence would also know that his actor had a falling out with the showrunners.

But in wrapping up this recap, lets focus on what comes next in the Whoniverse. The theme of “Day of the Doctor” was how the destruction of Gallifrey has framed the Doctor and his universe in New Who, and so it is fitting and exciting that the special also took Gallifrey and the Time Lord race off the high shelf and put them back in the box of toys that Doctor Who writers get to play with. The Doctor has not usually had an exploratory goal that has lasted longer than an episode in New Who, and his status as the Last Lonely Time Lord has been central. It will be interesting to see how long the search for Gallifrey is played out, how the Time Lords are eventually formally reintroduced, what they’ve been doing all this time, and what they think of the Doctor for dislocating their planet.

If you ask me, though, that’s probably going to be a job for Peter Capaldi’s doctor, much in the same way that 10 was introduced to River Song but their affair wouldn’t really begin until 11. Writers are going to have enough on their hands ushering Matt Smith out of the TARDIS with promises of Trenzalore and the Silence and Weeping Angels at Christmas to possibly touch on the return of the Time Lords.

Or at least, so I assume. Talk to me a month from now.

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Susana Polo
Susana Polo thought she'd get her Creative Writing degree from Oberlin, work a crap job, and fake it until she made it into comics. Instead she stumbled into a great job: founding and running this very website (she's Editor at Large now, very fancy). She's spoken at events like Geek Girl Con, New York Comic Con, and Comic Book City Con, wants to get a Batwoman tattoo and write a graphic novel, and one of her canine teeth is in backwards.