Doctor Who The Night of the Doctor

A big online surprise prequel to the Anniversary Special

Without warning- though there had been rumours- a 7 minute prequel called `The Night of the Doctor` appeared on 14 November. It’s a double surprise because not only was it unexpected but it also seems to give away one of the major puzzles surrounding the anniversary special, now just a week away. You might not have seen it or want to see it yet so be aware the review that follows is totally spoilerific!

Warning- Spoilers after the break

Paul McGann: Back! BACK! BACK!!

“Not the Doctor you were expecting?” is the tag line for this clever little episode. Having offered a selection of almost every type of adventure from the series’ past last season this is where Moffat starts to tie together the actual history of the show. Whether this needs to be done, how much it might restrict future show runners and whether it’s less creative than inventing new things is a debate for somewhere else. Whatever we think of Moffat’s masterplan the return of Paul McGann, if only for a moment (not The Moment we assume?!) is something to savour.

The plot sees him come to the rescue of Cass ( Emma Campbell Jones)  yet she doesn’t want to be resuced once she realises the Doctor's race. She hates the Time Lords who are by now embroiled in the Time War. The ship crashes on, of all handy places, Karn where in a moment of pure fan delight the Sisterhood of the Flame re-appear. Despite the slight disappointment that they don’t perform their 1970s hit `Sacred Flame, Sacred Fire,` it is rather nice to find something other than the `big` monsters being resurrected. Steven Moffat adds more powder  to their keg by having them able to assist the mortally hurt Doctor select the type of regeneration he requires. Hold on a sec- `type` of regeneration?!

There’s been much debate over the whole regeneration malarkey in particular whether the Doctor is about to run out of his standard dozen. In a series like this it hardly matters; imagine the BBC saying; `sorry we can’t make any more episodes because the Doctor is at the end of his regeneration cycle`. Yet Moffat seems obsessed with it and uses it here to answer the question of where John Hurt’s Doctor comes from. The suggestion seems to be he is a different sort of Time Lord engineered by the Sisterhood as a `warrior`. Our first glimpse of him here is in a very well done shot of a young Hurt. Judging from now weathered appearance this is a Doctor who ages so does he even count as a proper regeneration? Does he age in response both to the unusual nature of his regeneration and also the previously alluded to bad deeds he undertakes “in the name of the Doctor.” It does seem odd to reveal where he comes from before the episode itself but is nonetheless an aspect that significantly raises the importance of this episode. No diverting entertainment like `Time Crash` this is as full on a part of the Doctor’s mythology as `The Deadly Assassin`. Appropriate too perhaps that it debuts online in what we’re being told is the future of broadcasting.

"That was a knackering seven minutes. Can I have a break for another seventeen years now?"

Paul McGann delivers a nuanced performance that makes you wish he had had more tv adventures. Moffat manages to make the Big Finish companions canonical in a sneaky line but to have seen McGann’s Doctor do a season or two of modern TV Doctor Who would have been rewarding. There is something interesting too in the idea of him running away from the Time War before his involvement in it; you can see the Doctor’s wariness of it in his eyes. Claire Higgins also delivers an impressive performance as the Sister’s leader who coaxes and cajoles the Doctor to take up arms. Emma Campbell Jones also displays companion potential sparking an immediate rapport with McGann. Like everything in the production it’s short lived but has you imagining a season of the two of them adventuring. The brevity of the episode means his conversion to decide to become involved is too swift (in a proper series this would be a season arc) but McGann looking both soulful, worried and finally resigned and he sells it brilliantly. We believe what he says.

Overall `The Night of the Doctor` is such a headlong rush and it’s amazing it has the content of half an ordinary episode. Bits of it look a little rushed, particularly the very CGI looking Karn effects shot but director John Hayes shoots it with style. This is a joy ride and a fantastic gift for fans who always wanted to see more of the Doctor who never really had a chance to shine. Such a shame we will see this "Doctor no more".

"I'd rather be resuced by David Tennant" "Shut up! You know my shoes fit perfectly?"

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