A young space pilot named Cass is attempting to stop her ship from crashing headlong into the planet Karn. She tries to send out a distress signal but the malfunctioning ship’s computer thinks she’s calling for medical aid. Cass may not need a Doctor, but one is about to show up…
After years of wondering and waiting, it finally happened. Fans the world over had long desired an on-screen return for Paul McGann, whose Eighth Doctor had become the most written about in novels and the most recorded in Big Finish audio adventures. Every year, at least 3 or 4 threads would spring up on Doctor Who forums declaring the rumour that McGann would be returning for a cameo in New Who but they always turned out to be false…until the show’s 50th anniversary rolled around and the rumours were finally proven to be true.
I am one of probably thousands of fans who let out the most triumphant yell at the exact moment the Eighth Doctor finally waltzed back on to our TV screens, 20 seconds into this mini episode. It was nothing short of a privilege to watch McGann do his thing and do it so well. His Doctor, more than any other, is a romantic and to witness him go through the painful decision to become the antithesis of that is a powerful moment, which McGann’s performance sells perfectly without betraying the basic character of the Eighth Doctor. With the stakes being what they are, it doesn’t feel out of character for him to make the choice he knows has to be made.
The story is pretty simple; The Doctor finds a girl named Cass who needs rescuing but once she discovers that he is a Time Lord – a race she despises because of their war with the Daleks that is ruining the entire universe – she refuses to be rescued. A self-sacrificing fool to the end, The Doctor stays on-board as the damaged spaceship crashes into the planet Karn, killing Cass and The Doctor. But the sisterhood of Karn are on hand to revive him for a few minutes (leading to the perfect Eighth Doctor line; “Bring me knitting!”), at which point they beg him to step up to the plate and get involved in the war he has been avoiding for so long.
In short, The Doctor has to make a terrible choice; die right there on Karn or abandon everything he represents and stands for, drink the regenerative potion concocted by the sisterhood and regenerate into a warrior suitable to fight the Time War. The Doctor gives an impassioned speech in which he salutes all of his companions from the Big Finish audio adventures (squee!) and then asks Cass’ lifeless corpse for forgiveness before drinking the potion and regenerating into…a young John Hurt! Yes, this is where The Doctor disappears and the War Doctor steps in, still in a young man’s body at this point. By the time we see him in “The Day Of The Doctor”, he’s been fighting the Time War for hundreds of years and his body is old and “wearing a bit thin”, but seeing this brief glimpse of the young War Doctor you can almost sense the fearsome warrior he will become before he eventually turns into the bitter, heartbroken old man with yet another terrible choice to make.
In the space of 6 minutes and 40 seconds, “The Night Of The Doctor” manages to bring back the Eighth Doctor, legitimise his Big Finish audio adventures and give Paul McGann the quality of writing that he always deserved and which was sadly lacking in “The TV Movie”. It will come as no surprise to any Whovian that this anniversary short led to a massive outpouring of fan love for the Eighth Doctor and hopes that he might one day return…again. Short but so sweet, “The Night Of The Doctor” is essential viewing and a perfect 10/10.
Written and edited by Richey Hackett