This is our third entry to the Gallifrey Archive, but probably not the one you were expecting.
The Bringer of Darkness, the Oncoming Storm, the Doctor, the Warrior – A Time Lord! The 50th Anniversary features Matt Smith, David Tennant and a mysterious incarnation played by John Hurt. Only one appears in the mini episode, The Night of the Doctor. But which?
I know this won’t be the longest review ever in the Gallifrey Archive, as the episode itself is only six minutes long, but boy is it a good six minutes. The episode, or “minisode” as the BBC likes to call it, was part of the fiftieth anniversary celebrations for Doctor Who. I remember first getting a tweet from a dear friend in college in 2013 during a drama lesson telling me to look at the Doctor Who website as ‘The Night of the Doctor’ was published, from the synopsis I assumed that this episode would feature the mysterious John Hurt incarnation, known only as ‘The War Doctor’ to give the audience some more backstory. Never in a million regenerations did I expect there to be a revival of Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor, seventeen years after he had last played the part on TV.
For me, the pre-title sequence, as brief as it is at just over twenty seconds long, showcases the fact that even in a world full of spoilers on the internet, there are still surprises to be had. For me this is perfectly summed up in McGann’s opening line, “I’m a Doctor, but probably not the one you were expecting” Not expecting indeed, but it absolutely made for a great treat.
The character of Cass, in the role of the could-be-companion in this episode is great; the fact she’s more or less sacrificed herself to save the rest of the crew on her ship shows that she has little selfishness and that she is prepared to help other people out. So far so good to be on board as a companion to the Eighth Doctor. When the Doctor offers her salvation from the crashing ship, the look on her face shows just how much she wants to live, even though she risked her life to save the others, Cass is still hungry for adventure. It would appear that Cass and the Doctor were meant for each other, I can imaging the fanfic already. This being Doctor Who though, things can never end well; and, especially in a six minute episode, things have to turn sour pretty quickly. For me, Cass’ reaction to learning that the Doctor is a Time Lord is one that highlights just how monstrous the Time Lord’s have become during the Time War, especially when she says she can’t tell the difference between them and the Daleks. Cass again goes to show how far she’s willing to go in order to rid the universe of just one Time Lord, by ending her own life in the hope of ending his too.
One part of the episode that really interested me was the fact that writer Steven Moffat decided to return to Karn, a planet that the Time Lord’s used as a colony planet and was last featured in the Fourth Doctor story, The Brain of Morbius. The Sisterhood of Karn are the perfect people for the Eighth Doctor to meet in this episode, as he deals with the morality of what the Time Lord’s are doing to the rest of the universe during their Time War with the Dalek’s, but also the inner moral struggle it’s apparent he has as he feels as if he’s failed in his role as the Doctor. For me, the Eighth Doctor could easily be considered the most tortured of all the Doctor’s, especially in this minisode and in the latter Big Finish audio adventures (that I really recommend you try and listen to). He’s a Time Lord who’s sense of morality fails him often, and it takes the Sisterhood of Karn downright pressuring him into going against what be believes in for him to try and save the universe. In The Night of The Doctor, he’s a Time Lord who’s at the point of giving up.
As a somewhat aficionado of the Big Finish Doctor Who audios, I have to thank Moffat for making them canonical in this episode, something that fans of Big Finish have wanted for a long time. The inclusion of the Eighth Doctor’s audio only companions; Charlie, C’rizz, Lucie, Tamsin and Molly gave me great delight as a fanboy.
The Eighth Doctor’s regeneration, and the dawn of a very young looking John Hurt incarnation for me was not only the icing of the cake for this episode, but also closure for the Eighth Doctor; as the only televised Doctor who had to wait for their regeneration, long after they’d left the show, I thought it was only fitting that audiences should get to see his regeneration during the fiftieth anniversary year.
Overall, I really really liked The Night of The Doctor, and the fact I can pump nearly 1000 words into a review of a six minute story goes to show how much I enjoyed it. For me, this is some of Moffat’s best writing, some of the Eighth Doctor’s best moments, both on and off screen, and it just goes to show how great a Doctor Paul McGann could have been if he was able to have stuck around a bit longer. He’s lost the innocence and the romantic sense from the TV Movie, and has become a man stuck at the centre of a war that he want’s no part of, but is ultimately forced to fight. I love tragic characters, and for me, that is exactly what the Eighth Doctor is, and should be, especially in this great minisode.
The rating system on the Gallifrey Archive is achieved with on a scale of 1-10.
For The Night of The Doctor, I will give a rating of: