Doctor Who #916: The Night of the Doctor

"You have a little under four minutes." "Four minutes? That's ages. What if I get bored? I need a television. Couple of books. Anyone for chess?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: This mini-episode can be found on The Day of the Doctor DVD. First webcast Nov.14 2013.

IN THIS ONE... The 8th Doctor regenerates into the War Doctor.

REVIEW: Seeing the 8th Doctor again rocked the Internet back a little more than a week from the 50th Anniversary Special, and in less than 8 minutes, blew the TV Movie - Paul McGann's only other televisual appearance, out of the water. As an old-time fan, it does seem a little referential and fanwanky, but it didn't seem to matter to New Who fans who discovered a cool new Doctor in those few minutes. How did the Doctor get involved in the Time War? This is that tale.

Initially, the Doctor wants no part of it, but the universe is on the edge of the abyss, and the Time Lords' reputation is such that Cass, a natural companion type, would rather die than go aboard a TARDIS (and does). This was inferred through the RTD era, but it's still shocking to Classic and New Who fans alike. What happened between the Doctor's last chronicled adventures and the War's aftermath seems terrifying and epic, and it's all done in such an efficient way too. We then get to Karn (see The Brain of Morbius for more on the Sisters) and the Doctor is on the cusp of regeneration. They've got these potions that can influence a Time Lord's next incarnation and convince the Doctor to take the profile he'll need to end the Time War. His choice, "Warrior", is abhorrent to him. He wants it to hurt. He drinks to his Big Finish companions (squee! but too bad about Sam, Fitz, Compassion, Anji, etc.). He apologizes to dead Cass. And then he becomes John Hurt, or a younger John Hurt, which speaks to how long the War must've lasted after the Doctor get his hands dirty.

What's amazing is how we mourn the 8th Doctor. In those few minutes, he puts a spell on the audience. He's witty and irreverent, naive and tortured, reticent but ultimately incapable of resisting the need for self-sacrifice. He's everything we want the Doctor to be. Fans were soon demanding a web series of 8th Doctor adventures, which means Moffat managed something great - making us care that this long-past, and little-seen Doctor had to die.

REWATCHABILITY: High - An awesome mini-episode that puts Paul McGann's Doctor on the map the way the TV Movie never really managed to.


LiamKav said...

I'd manage to avoid all spoilers. I only knew what someone told me... go on iPlayer and watch the Doctor Who special that has just gone up. The description was carefully non spoilerific ("In the 50th anniversary special, Matt Smith and David Tennant meet a mysterious new version of the Doctor. But which one features in this mini-episode).

And then they use a wacking great picture of Paul McGann as the main image.

So close, BBC. So close.

CiB said...

It wasn't just the canonising of his Big Finish companions that I loved about this- it works so well when you consider the trajectory later (in terms of when they are set) the 8th Doctor is going this just works as part of that.

This is clearly where we all knew the Doctor we see in season 4 of the New Eight Doctor Adventures, and the doctor we then see in Dark Eyes is heading. So not only did this teach non-audio fans how awesome Paul McGann is as the Doctor, but also gave long term fans of that incarnation the Doctor we love.

A story that appeals to new, casual, old and hardcore Doctor Who fans. Just for managing that, this is among the new Series greatest moments.

Anonymous said...

In a lot of ways, Paul McGann was playing a "generic" Doctor -- we didn't see much in the way of his specific tics. But there wasn't time for a whole lot of detail, and McGann used those few minutes he had to show that he totally has the Doctor chops. Mission accomplished! Would definitely watch more. Would be pleased if Moffat did a "lost" season of McGann.

McGann also looks a lot better not dressed as Willy Wonka.

What learned from this that it pisses off potential companions if you don't let them make the observation about / inside / outside / size. Corporal Benton was a good sport about it, but he never had any TARDIS adventures to speak of anyway.

F. Douglas Wall said...

My feeling is that Moffat wrote Night of the Doctor like he was writing anything else for Doctor Who, so it felt a little odd hearing Matt Smith's lines coming from Paul McGann's mouth. Sort of like Death of the Doctor on SJA. Written by Davies, so it felt like it was written for David Tennant but Matt Smith filled in for him.

Still awesome to see Paul McGann back in action. I haven't kept up on the audios, but the TV movie was my first exposure to Doctor Who.

Siskoid said...

It's all in the performance, really.

What WOULD the 8th Doctor sound like at the end of his life? Futilely avoiding the Time War? I thought the bitterness he exhibited, in particular how he took down the Sisters, wasn't like anything Tennant or Smith had done. And if his invitation to the potential companion felt a little like Tennant/Smith, we might do well to remember McGann was the prototype for those "romantic" Doctors of the New era.

Madeley said...

Night of the Doctor was absolutely brilliant. In one way, it's weird to think how perfectly McGann fit right back into the character after such a long time, but of course on the other hand he hasn't really ever stopped playing Eight, has he?

Here's the measure of how good this episode was: I was on holiday when I found out McGann was back, in the middle of nowhere, no Wifi, hardly any mobile signal. I had to watch it on my phone, with a sleeping baby strapped to me, after hiking up a hill to the middle of a damp field in the only spot there was 3G reception. And Mrs M and I were completely engrossed. Absolutely fantastic.

LiamKav said...

RTD said that when he started writing season 2, he wrote the Doctor exactly the same and trusted the actor to bring out the differences.

(I don't actually believe that. RTD is sometimes strangely reticent to take credit for his good writing. I don't believe that the arc of the Ninth Doctor over the first series was an accident, and I don't believe the Tenth Doctor becoming a wizard rather than a moper was all due to the difference between Tennant and Eccleston. Still, there is is.)

Moffat's always been pretty firm at shooting down the spin-off ideas, though, and with good reason I think. He says you can just about get away with multiple Doctor's during the anniversary year, because Smith's pretty settled in the role and the whole thing is playing up the legacy of the show, but for the rest of the time having multiple "active" Doctor's would mean the show is competing with itself. YOu're supposed to enjoy the current guy when he's on, and you're also supposed to give the new guy a chance. People would be less likely to do that if a classic Doctor is also running around having adventures on TV.

Siskoid said...

I could believe any Doctor's first episode could be written as if he were his predecessor, give or take, but letting the actor add to it so future scripts can be amended as the writers learn who this Doctor his through his performances.

LiamKav said...

Yeah, Moffat said that any Doctor's first lines are easy. You're basically writing for the old guy. (He also said that Smith being more Tenth-Doctory in "The Eleventh Hour" was completely intentional.)

I meant to mention this when you did Spearhead from Space, but watch the scene where the Doctor looks at himself in the mirror. His initial reaction ("That doesn't look like me at all!") is delivered in a very Second Doctor sort of way, grumpy voice and a bit too loud. And then as he continues looking, you can see the Third Doctor being born before our eyes as he decides he looks "striking".)

Siskoid said...

Great observation.

And yes, in The Eleventh Hour, it's definitely done on purpose (cowboys up in here etc.), though I wonder if Matt's Doctor is less himself in The Time of Angels, the first episode shot.

Bill Doughty said...

Went into this completely unspoiled and watched this on my break at work the day it was released. When McGann stepped on screen I nearly shouted out loud. I was able to hold it back (lucky, as I'm a librarian!), but it was difficult.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

I was (unpopular opinion, but hey, I don't like Rose or Vastra and love the 6th Doc, so I'm used to that) singularly unimpressed by Day of the Doctor AND Time of the Doctor, which fell largely flat for me. So, to me, this WAS my 50th anniversarry celebration. His first appearence (I managed to go unspoiled) was a cheer-out-loud moment (literally), his banter was great, Karn and the Sisterhood was a great reference... and the Big Finish roll-call (8/Charley are a favorite of mine) was the ultimate fan fullfillment moment. This, and Hartnell from Name of the Doctor, were my celebration. I didn't care for the rest... but after these, I didn't *need* the rest, either. :-)

My only complaint, for this and Day of (one of many there ;-) ), is that the Time War envisioned conflicts with the RTD-era descriptions. There, 'the lower species were unaware of it, but it devestated the higher races', or words to that effect. That was a temporal conflict, a war of Nightmare Children and Could-Have-Been-Kings (one of RTD's best throwaway concepts; I love that bit). One fought through time (and, I imagined, possibly even like in Genesis of the Daleks- going back to attack key moments). The fall of Arcadia, as Tennant described and acted it, was something epic and increidble and far beyond a supposedly-secure Time Lord city falling. The way it fell was far more than a Dalek attack. The subtext is there.

The time war was huge and full of the unusual and fought unlike any kind of war we've ever known.

Except here, where's it's a land war between Daleks and Time Lords with guns. How... conventional.

I've heard it excused as 'the alst days of the war, and its boiled down to that'- but even here, with Cass' description, it shows how different- smaller, more traditional, more evident to the galaxy- this Time War was than the one RTD created. I'd rather they never try to show it (or explore it at length during a McGann season; I still want that), because I don't think they do it justice... or even pay attention to what's established about it here.


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