In 1989, Doctor Who was unceremoniously cancelled after its 26 year-long run. The Doctor and his companion Ace walked off into the sunset talking of other adventures that awaited them in the time and space but those stories would be restricted to comic strips, a series of new novels and eventually audios. In 1996, Doctor Who returned with a new lead actor, Paul McGann. Dressed in a high colored shirt and velvet jacket, the Eighth Doctor was Byronic in appearance and romantic at heart(s), but he was still the daring and brilliant adventurer of time and space.
After only appearing in a single made for TV pilot in 1996, McGann was not seen again on the screen as the Doctor… until now.
… pinch me. Christmas came early.
Like the previous Doctor, McGann’s adventures continued in comic strips and a series of novels. But it was when the actor returned to the part through Big Finish Productions that the Eighth Doctor finally got a new lease on life and found a new following. The Eighth Doctor had many companions – whom he names before he regenerates, thus at least hinting that his audio adventures ‘count’ as canon… these kinds of things matter to fans. As soon as a story un-writes something viewers can get antsy about what ‘counts’ and what doesn’t anymore. So these little things mean a lot.
Previous to ‘Night of the Doctor,’ the story of how the Eighth Doctor’s life ended and his regeneration was never told. With this minisode, that gap can finally be closed. Now we know how the Eighth Doctor sacrificed his life during the Time War and became the man needed at the time, a character now called ‘The War Doctor’ played by John Hurt (CGi’d to look young in a reflection).
Sure, it has been said that bringing McGann back just for this 6 minute mini-story is a back handed compliment, but as it is likely all we are going to get I am prepared to accept it as the best thing to happen to Who since that first viewing of Rose in 2005. The annals of fandom just got a bit more robust and fans of the Eighth Doctor may have swelled a bit as McGann wins over still more followers.
Night of the Doctor sets the stage for the 50th anniversary adventure Day of the Doctor but it is a special gift to fans who have been following the program since its early days before Russell T Davies arrived and it also adds to the mythology of the new program. Not only do we have a story set during the Time War between the Daleks and Time Lords (something Moffat stated he was never interested in exploring), but we also can finally put to rest the conundrum of how the Eighth Doctor ‘died’ and answer some of the questions as to who the Doctor played by John Hurt is.
It also juggles the numbering up making Smith the 12th Doctor, not the 11th, until Moffat explains how the ‘War Doctor’ doesn’t count.
Unfamiliar with McGann? I recommend the following:
(More McGann here)
Question: How did The Night of the Doctor come about?
Steven Moffat: Well, we had our new ‘hidden mystery’ Doctor and I was thinking, what else can we do for our anniversary year… I thought… Why don’t we get Paul McGann in and regenerate him into John Hurt? I’d like to see that! I’d love to see that! And we had this possibility that we could do it as a surprise, so we got in touch with Paul who was dead keen and I’m delighted to say he was so happy to join in with the idea of keeping it secret. He was childishly excited about it!
Paul came along and shot it – it was the last two days of the shoot for the fiftieth, actually. He did a wonderful job. It was great! We designed a new costume for him based on his old one. Howard Burden did a fantastic job with that.
Q: It was a well-kept secret! How important was that for you, and what measures did you go to, to ensure this regeneration was kept under wraps?
SM: We were phenomenally secret with the making of it! And I’m sure some people are a bit cross that we were so secretive but the fact is, there is only one way to ensure you keep a secret, and that’s to keep it! So, we kept it very tight and we hope it all came as great surprise to everyone.
Q: For those that don’t know him, could you describe the Eighth Doctor?
SM: The Eighth Doctor is perhaps the first of the sexy, romantic Doctors. I don’t mean he’s the first sexy Doctor – he’s not. But he’s the first one who kisses a lady, for example. He’s obviously dashing, terribly handsome and quite romantic. I always found it hard to imagine him fighting in the Time War. I’d always imagined the ‘Time War Doctor’ would be more grizzled, somehow, you know?
Paul only played the Doctor onscreen once before, in the TV Movie. He gives a wonderful performance in it. It’s a terrifically exuberant performance and it anticipates the later performances, particularly of Matt and David. He’s a dashing, romantic, very funny and very affecting Doctor! Of course, Paul is not only known for the telemovie but for all his wonderful audio adventures. I’m always telling the Doctors and companions, as they come through the show, that they’ll never be quite done with it – Big Finish is expecting them.
Q: It’s an interesting spin on the Time War – the Time Lords becoming this hated race, as bad as the Daleks in some people’s eyes. Will we see that play out with John Hurt’s Doctor and so on?
SM: We will see some of that play out. We’ve already seen some of it play out on the show, in The End of Time, where the Doctor reveals the Time Lords got as bad as the Daleks towards the end, and he was as worried by them as anything else. And we know the Doctor wiped out his own people. He wouldn’t do so unless things had got pretty bad. Genocide is a big decision for anyone!
Q: People seemed delighted when they heard the Sisterhood of Karn was returning. Did that surprise you?
SM: A little bit! I was terribly excited about having the Sisterhood of Karn coming back which is why I did it! But I should probably learn to have a little more faith in the fact that what gets me excited as a sad, old fan will get other people excited as well! And okay, the Sisterhood are unknown to the kids, but I was a kid when I first saw the Sisterhood and I thought they were great! So I’m hoping other people will like them!
Q: And the character the Doctor encounters in the mini episode… Is that supposed to be Ohica, from The Brain of Morbius?
SM: No! If you look at the credits you’ll see I called her Ohila so it suggests she’s in some way connected to Ohica. Instead of having that confusion in having it the same person, I thought we’d just imply they were connected.
Q: Finally, running a show like Doctor Who is always going to be hard work… But how much fun was it? Bringing back the Eighth Doctor?
SM: Oh, it was a complete treat! It was always frustrating that we never got to see more of him! The completist in me… the ‘box set man’ in me wants every box ticked and I wanted every regeneration scene! And we get to see the Paul McGann Doctor regenerate into the John Hurt Doctor! I love regeneration episodes – there’s nothing more exciting! And in the anniversary year we get to see two regenerations… That’s pretty cool!