Friday, 15 November 2013

Review: Doctor Who - The Night of the Doctor (Minisode)

Unless you've been living in a cave on the planet Karn for the past day or so, you can't help but have been swept up in the hype over this very special minisode (hey, it's Matt Smith's term). If you haven't seen it yet, trust me, the hype is entirely justified as this is literally a seven minute chunk of Doctor Who history. If you don't trust me, see for yourself here:

A surprise appearance of a past Doctor! The Time War! A hitherto unseen regeneration! If these six minutes forty eight seconds contains all of that what in the name of Rassilon will the actual special contain? Well, that's a question for another day.

The best thing about this minisode is, of course, the fact that it stars Paul McGann, previously only seen onscreen for the 1996 TV Movie in which McGann gives a truly brilliant turn as a romantic, thoroughly hands-on (and lips-on, eh, know what I mean? Nudge nudge) version of the character who lives for the adventure. The Eighth Doctor is arguably the Doctor in his purest form, an alien with a love for humanity who can always be relied upon to save the day (no pun intended). So it is of course, fantastic to see him back but also incredibly sad to see perhaps the nicest, and most heroic incarnation of the Doctor forced to make the most difficult decision of his lives.

The switch around of the oh-so familiar set-up of Doctor Who - young brave woman swept off feet by the Doctor before being whisked off in the TARDIS - with Cass shunning the Doctor in disgust is simply heartbreaking, providing a fascinating insight into the effect the Time War had not just on the Doctor's race but the man himself. That he would refrain from partaking in the war for so long seems totally appropriate for his character, in particular, this incarnation. His ultimate decision to join the fight being due to the Sisterhood of Karn is also a nice touch, raising interesting questions and nodding back to fab Tom Baker story 'The Brain of Morbius'.

Another element of the episode worth a mention is the references to the Eighth Doctor's companions from the audio adventures produced by Big Finish, which finally creates a connection for at least one branch of Doctor Who spin-off media to the main series. My only gripe is that as Moffat had done that why couldn't he have had the Doctor mention, say, Fitz from the Eighth Doctor novels or Izzy from the glorious comics featuring this Doctor (she's still one of my favourite companions ever). It's a tiny nitpick but one small adjustment that would have truly brought all of Doctor Who together which would have added a little more icing on the cake. Although there is a hell of a lot of icing already. Maybe it would be one of those edible ball bearings on the cake instead. The Doctor does love ball bearings...

The scope and ambition of this short really shows that Steven Moffat is the perfect man to guide the show through its 50th year - he's the only writer with the sheer gall to liberally change massive parts of Doctor Who history. For one thing, does this affect the oft-argued '12 regeneration' rule? With the inclusion of the John Hurt 'War Doctor' (I personally prefer the term used by some fans prior to this episode - 'The Mayfly Doctor') it pushes Capaldi up to No.13 but does it also give the writers a legitimate excuse to continue on after him?
Whatever the answer to these questions, 'The Night of the Doctor' must be commended for being a seven-minute masterpiece of a web-only minisode that manages to significantly alter the course of Doctor Who. It certainly lays the groundwork for 'The Day of the Doctor', just a little over a week away. Now that we know who the John Hurt Doctor really is, we will surely find out what horrors he committed during the Last Great Time War. He is a Doctor, after all, but probably not the one we expected.


  1. It was a fantastic mini-episode (I will not use the word minisode) but I thought it would have been more powerful as the beginning of the 50th special itself. It was very disappointing to log on to Twitter to find official Dr Who sites talking about "The Return of Paul McGann" before I'd been aware that Paul McGann had even returned. I didn't even know there were any spoilers to avoid, and I do count that video as a spoiler as it has told us exactly where John Hurt fits into the story and the theme of the anniversary episode. Yes, it was what I had figured out, but to have it revealed in a web extra seemed anticlimactic after all the hype and secrecy. I seem to be alone in thinking that though - and certainly it was very well done, great to see McGann again (though it would have been better if I hadn't known it was coming!) a powerful and poignant mini-drama.

    Still a bit cross though.

  2. I completely understand what you mean about not knowing to avoid spoilers. I'm none the wiser as to why they decided to release it that day rather than today as was scheduled. It was Paul McGann's birthday - but seems a bit of a tenuous reason...
    I also see your point on how much it reveals about the special being a problem for you. Certainly it would have made a fantastic opening! To my mind, if this wealth of stuff is being pushed out into a web extra then the content of the actual episode must be very special indeed. I'm mostly just glad that McGann's return, the regeneration and everything else in this minisode (sorry, it just rolls of the tongue/fingers easier) exists, however I got to see it.
    It is SO sad that you found out before you got to see it, though. You have the right to still be cross.


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