On the eve of his most terrible battle, the Time Lord is faced with a choice that will change the course of his life. The darkest of days are about to begin. The Doctor has always been a man of secrets - and now they can be told...










could turn an otherwise ordinary Thursday into one of the most exciting days of the decade. Without any warning whatsoever, Steven Moffat’s seven-minute mini-episode, The Night of the Doctor, popped up on the BBC iPlayer, within seconds hurling thousands of eagle-eyed viewers back into the Last Great Time War for the first time since The End of Time. There they’d meet a Doctor – but not the one that they were probably expecting…



With Paul McGann’s eighth Doctor having faded from public memory long ago, The Night of the Doctor is an unabashed birthday present for the series’ die-hard fans, who have supported McGann and his Big Finish employers though over a decade’s worth of audio adventures. Whilst I’m sure that 23rd November’s Day of the Doctor will contain more than its fair share of fan service, its mainstream audience means that it couldn’t hope to match its pocket-sized counterpoint when it comes to scratching itches that have burned for as long as the series has been back on our television screens, if not longer still.



Ostensibly the most incredible thing about this minisode is that it finally provides the eighth Doctor’s ardent following with the regeneration scene that they’ve waited more than fifteen years to see. To put this in perspective, you have to consider the sheer enormity of the eighth Doctor’s multimedia empire – his long-lived incarnation shouldered more of the responsibility for keeping the franchise alive during its wilderness years than any other. He enjoyed one of the most successful comic strip runs of any Doctor within the pages of Doctor Who Magazine, while concurrently propping up a groundbreaking, seventy-book strong series of paperbacks. He has now appeared in the equivalent of at least ten seasons’ worth of television stories in full-cast audio dramas, alongside actresses as renowned as Sheridan Smith and Ruth Bradley, and as loved as India Fisher. For Eight more than any other Doctor, the extra-curricular stuff is what really matters, though for all the classic Doctors now, it’s no longer a question of where the audios and books fit in around the televised stories – these days, telly’s just the bits in between.



And it isn’t just any regeneration that we witness here. Far removed from the innocuous bang on the head that did for Old Sixy, or the ravages of old age that killed off the Doctor’s first incarnation, this is a little death that has been speculated about with great fervour ever since Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor alluded to his role in the Last Great Time War, and as such it would have had the impact of la petite mort even without the Sisters of the Flame’s iniquitous, fan-pleasing intervention or the veritable pipe bomb of the eighth Doctor not regenerating into the ninth. You see, he doesn’t actually regenerate into a Doctor at all.



The series’ lacklustre 2013 run really tested my faith in the hitherto-redoubtable Mr Moffat, but having the audaciousness to even conceive of, let alone implement, such a controversial and frankly thrilling concept as this one has put paid to my doubts as effectively as sledgehammer cracks an egg. Not only does this mesmerising move give us the performance of the mercurial John Hurt to look forward to, but it cuts right to the heart of a contradiction that’s blazed throughout the revived series, irritating everyone from the fans in the forums to those such as Davros sat on the other side of the fictional divide. Whether it was in the name of peace or sanity or both, the pacifist Doctor fought on the front line in the most destructive conflict in the history of creation. More than that, in circumstances that, from its trailer, I gather The Day of the Doctor will broach, he committed double near-genocide – and he did so himself. He didn’t manipulate an ally into doing the dirty work for him, nor did he set a planet-busting trap for a megalomaniac. He seized “the moment” and he ended the war.



Most people have darker sides to their personalities, and most do things that, with hindsight, seem so far removed from who they are now and what they believe in the present that it feels as if they were done by someone else. How many good men have gone to war? How many have done the unthinkable, have sacrificed their principles, for the sake of a greater good? The beauty of Moffat’s idea is that Doctor Who can take this abstract conceit and make it solid. The ghost of the Doctor’s past, of his most terrible day, can wear its own face, even take on its own temperament. The Doctor can try to divorce himself from his ‘Warrior’ self, lock his past self away in the recesses of his mind, strip him of his name and lay all the guilt at his door, but when it comes down to it, this ‘Warrior’ is the Doctor as much as the man in the fez who thinks that bow ties are cool. The incumbent Doctor might call his past self “…the one who broke the promise…” of his name, but The Night of the Doctor shows us that the truth is far more compelling than that. It was the Doctor, the eighth Doctor, who made a conscious choice to eschew the trappings of his carefully-chosen title and be reborn as a warrior capable of ending the destructive conflict. The duress might have been extreme, but nonetheless the “man who never would”, most definitively did.



And McGann is so bloody good here; so bloody intense. Having become so accustomed to hearing that RP-veiled velvet Scouse in isolation, it really took me aback to actually see him bounding out of the TARDIS, his daft wig and cowboy costume long-since lost in the trenches of Earth’s Great War in Dark Eyes. His presence is immediately persuasive, and as the story progresses it becomes powerful, eventually frightening. The Night of the Doctor really showcases how brutally short-changed he and we were when it comes to television, while at the same time embracing and celebrating the aural icon that he’s become, as he runs through the most notable of his Big Finish companions in a last-gasp salute. It’s an astonishingly generous and unprecedented gesture from Moffat (albeit one that reeks of contrivance in an otherwise tight script) as it effectively puts the canonicity of the Big Finish audio dramas beyond naysayers’ reproach, and will hopefully steer many fans of the revived series towards the Big Finish product.



Of course, such a bold move is likely to encounter some resistance, particularly as John Hurt’s incarnation of the Time Lord seems to have “wasted” one of the Doctor’s thirteen lives, but I think that it is this sense of sacrifice that makes the move so dramatically staggering. In his memoirs, former producer John Nathan-Turner spoke of how he insisted that the Doctor’s bitter “Valeyard” self seen in The Trial of a Time Lord could not be a concrete regeneration, and as a result the fudged, intra-incarnation spectre lacked any real sense of weight. Besides, it doesn’t automatically follow that Peter Capaldi’s thirteenth incarnation will be the last Doctor – as evidenced by the Sisterhood of Karn’s explained-in-a-line actions here, there are innumerable ways in which the Doctor’s regeneration cycle could be extended. Provided that the series is careful not to paint him as someone who wants to survive at all costs, á la the Master, then there’s no reason that the series can’t inflict immortality on the Doctor. He should be the lonely god that has to live forever – not because he wants to, but because we wouldn’t have it any other way.


Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2013


E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design

 and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.


Originally published on E.G. Wolverson's blog

as part of the Beyond History's End series


It is not clear how long has passed for the Doctor since the events of his final Big Finish audio adventure, but the Doctors failure to mention any companions beyond Molly in his salute suggests that this episode takes place not long after they part company. This is far from concrete, however, as Big Finish companions of less note, such as Mary and Samson, are not referred to here, nor are any companions from other media. This might suggest that Steven Moffat doesn’t consider the eighth Doctor’s adventures outside Big Finish canon; those who chose to believe otherwise can, as ever, blame it on the Time War.




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