TV Review: DOCTOR WHO - THE NIGHT OF THE DOCTOR

PrintE-mail Written by Paul Mount

WARNING - MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD…

“I’m the Doctor… but probably not the one you were expecting.” You can say that again. The fiftieth anniversary celebrations (you may have heard about them) for Doctor Who went stratospheric today with the release of a brand new ‘minisode’ teaser (which you can watch by clicking here) prior to the worldwide simulcast screening of the 75-minute special ‘Day of the Doctor’, on 23rd November. Previous ‘minisodes’ -  a specialty of Moffat-era Doctor Who - have tended to be throwaway comic skits or bits of fluff intended to fill in bits of character background and story recent TV episodes themselves never got around to. Despite recent fan speculation that something special was in the works for this one, few not ‘in the know’ could realistically have expected the bombshell which exploded in the Doctor Who world today. Because for six and a bit glorious minutes, the eighth Doctor - Paul McGann - is back and ‘The Night of the Doctor’ is an absolute belter.

Older fans might remember McGann’s one-shot appearance as the Doctor in the 1996 American TV movie which was intended to kickstart the dormant series. The movie was a hit in the UK but sank like a stone in the US. However, most fans agreed that, if the film itself was really nothing special, its greatest strength was its casting of McGann as a flamboyant, romantic Byronesque figure who - shock - kisses his lady assistant not once, but twice. The lack of further McGann TV episodes remains one of Doctor Who’s greatest frustrations (although the actor has done sterling work in recreating and developing his interpretation across a long-running range of Big Finish full-cast audios). Seeing him back on screen now, seventeen years later and scarcely looking a day older than he did in 1996, is a spine-tingling joy. McGann steps effortlessly back into his role as a no-less striking version of the Doctor but what’s especially exciting about ‘The Night of the Doctor’ is that writer Steven Moffat has reigned in his usual comedic excesses and crafted a tight, portentous and continuity-packed episode which cleverly answers several long-standing fan questions and hints very heavily at what’s to come a week on Saturday. 

An incapacitated spaceship is hurtling across the void, its young female pilot Cass (Emma Campbell-Jones) desperate for assistance. The TARDIS has picked up its distress call and the eighth Doctor arrives. But there’s a war on and Cass recognises that the Doctor’s travelling machine is a TARDIS and that the Doctor is a Time Lord - one of the races responsible for a devastating intergalactic conflict which is tearing the Universe apart. Rather than escape aboard the TARDIS Cass locks herself in her flight cabin and the Doctor vows not to leave without her. Moments later the ship crashes into the forbidding surface of an alien planet… where some old ‘friends’ of the Doctor have been waiting to save him from ‘death’ and to create a new man to fight in a War he’s previously had nothing to do with…

‘The Night of the Doctor’ brings into sharp relief the fact that Doctor Who has been back on TV for nearly a decade now and that its viewers - fans (obviously) and, more importantly, casuals alike - can by now perhaps be trusted to be sufficiently familiar with the show and its history and that even fairly obscure elements of its past can, and should, be ripe for reintroduction into the brave new world of show in the 21st century. Seriously, who would have ever expected to see the Sisterhood of Karn (from 1976’s ‘Brain of Morbius’) in the series again? But Moffat - in a brilliant display of the sort of invention we don’t see enough of in his work in the series proper these days - has taken an arcane piece of old-series mythology and found a way to effortlessly weave it into the new series’ untold backstory. Viewers wondering since 2005 just how the Doctor got involved in the legendary Time War (until now just a handy plot device created by Russell T Davies to put the Doctor into a certain emotional mindset for the series reboot) and what exactly happened to the McGann incarnation have finally, brilliantly, got the answers they’ve been waiting for and probably never really expected to get. Killed in the spaceship crash the Sisterhood resuscitate the Doctor - but not Cass - long enough for him to declare that “I don’t suppose there’s any need for a Doctor any more” - before taking a regenerative potion previously prepared by the Sisterhood which turns the eighth Doctor into the previously-unsuspected ‘War Doctor’ - “Doctor no more”. Just before the credits roll we see the face of a young John Hurt reflected back at us and  suddenly a few more pieces of the anniversary episode puzzle begin to fall into place.

There’s plenty more to delight and amaze in ‘The Night of the Doctor’. This is a proper, full-blooded production and McGann is a powerful and commanding presence bringing genuine wit to a brief bit of Moffat comedy wordplay whilst carrying the necessary dramatic weight as the Doctor slowly realises that his pacifistic, peace-making nature is entirely at odds with a Universe at war. Just go and watch ‘The Night of the Doctor’ right now - and then again and again straight afterwards. I‘ve been openly critical of Moffat’s work on Doctor Who for some time now but credit where it’s due, this is his tightest, best piece of writing for Doctor Who for years and promises much for ‘The Day of the Doctor’. It provides a fitting, epic finale for an under-appreciated and largely forgotten incarnation of the Doctor even if you’ll be yearning to see more of him and his exploits in the years before it came to this. Bravo, Mr Moffat - you done good.


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Comments  

 
+1 #1 Gary Ruddock 2013-11-14 18:21
This is Moffat's best piece of Doctor Who writing for a LONG time.

No "timey-wimey cleverness", no plot holes, no 2-dimensional characterisatio n.

Even if the anniversary special turns out to be pants, we still have this to savour.
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