Thoughts on The Night of the Doctor

Today marked the broadcast of a short YouTube prequel to The Day of the Doctor. And social media went nuts. It’s at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-U3jrS-uhuo&feature=youtu.be if you missed it.

The big surprise of course is Paul McGann reprising his role as the Eighth Doctor. “I’m a doctor…but probably not the one you’re expecting,” he smirks to the audience as well as to his potential new companion. Many incorrectly believe he only starred in the 1996 TV movie, but actually he’s been “the Doctor” in much more: his actor starred in many Eighth Doctor audio dramas, and Eight had an extensive life in comics and novelizations, considering There was no television series from 1996-2006.
As such, this is a particularly special moment for long-time fans, shared by Moffat. “Well, we had our new ‘hidden mystery’ Doctor and I was thinking, what else can we do for our anniversary year… I thought… Why don’t we get Paul McGann in and regenerate him into John Hurt? I’d like to see that! I’d love to see that!” Moffat explains.

The Eighth Doctor was certainly a lover not a fighter, in fact, he was the first Doctor to share a kiss with someone, and he spends the movie amnesiac and needy, looked after by the gorgeous physician Grace. Moffat adds, “The Eighth Doctor is perhaps the first of the sexy, romantic Doctors. I don’t mean he’s the first sexy Doctor – he’s not. But he’s the first one who kisses a lady, for example. He’s obviously dashing, terribly handsome and quite romantic. I always found it hard to imagine him fighting in the Time War. I’d always imagined the ‘Time War Doctor’ would be more grizzled, somehow, you know?” (Moffat)
With the creation of a Doctor between 8 and 9, many are speculating about the limit of twelve regenerations, established in the 1976 “The Deadly Assassin.” John Hurt might not call himself the Doctor, but surely he counts as a biological life spent, if not literally a Doctor (if he can’t be called the Ninth or 8.5th Doctor because he’s not a Doctor, relieved fans won’t have to recount and rewrite all of continuity). The Metacrisis Doctor of “Journey’s End” is never inserted into the count after all (though he too seems to count as a spent life).
Since the science fiction adventures of the Gothic Tom Baker years offered the original series rule that Time Lords are stuck with only twelve regenerations, it’s fitting that the episode with all the controversy over this returns to that planet. Nonetheless, the list of the Doctors is well-established (after fifty years, no one wants to renumber them all!) and television has supported the official count. In “The Name of the Doctor,” for instance, Clara says, “I saw all of you. Eleven faces, all of them you! You’re the eleventh Doctor!” The numbers surely will stick around, and Moffat appears to have included this line as a promise that he won’t wreck things too badly.
The twelve regenerations rule doesn’t actually seem firm though. The Master and the Valeyard are bribed with extra lives and try to steal them from the Doctor. Is gifting them permissible? It certainly seems possible, as River gives hers in “Let’s Kill Hitler,” and the Eleventh Doctor in turn offers some of his to heal her wrist later on. Visiting The Sarah Jane Adventures, the Eleventh tells Clyde he can regenerate 507 times, but he’s most likely quipping. Some fans have noted one can add the digits and get twelve – he may be hiding his vulnerability in code. Tennant noted when he took the role, ‘Time Lords can only have 13 bodies, but I’m sure when they get to that they can find some storyline where he falls in a vat of replenishing cream or something” (Merritt, Kindle Locations 652-654). Neil Gaiman explains his take on it:

“It’s interesting, that rule. It was obviously bendable to begin with (the Time Lords gave the Master a whole new round of regenerations). So I’ve always thought that it was more a law like a speed limit is a law than like Gravity is a law. And if there are no longer any police to make you observe the speed limit, you can drive as fast as you like. Although it’s a lot more dangerous. And that’s my opinion. As to what Mr Moffat thinks, he may either have a plan, or he may figure it’s not his problem, but is one for eight or ten years down the line.” (Q & A: Neil Gaiman)

In The Brain of Morbius, the renegade Time Lord by that name visited there to steal the Elixer of Life. It’s fitting that another renegade has come there now, not to preserve his own life, but to preserve the entire galaxy. The old series story resembled Frankenstein, unnaturally preserving life at the cost of others, while the Eighth doctor lays down his life as the Doctor to become a warrior on behalf of others. As always, a companion spurs him to the adventure, though it’s a dead companion, silently remonstrating him for his people’s actions. The Brain of Morbius reveals what might be earlier faces of the Doctor (in a self-referential moment, they’re actually photos of directors Christopher Barry and Douglas Camfield and script editor Robert Holmes, among others). How fitting then that we see an unexpected old face there as well as the War Doctor’s new face.
On the hero’s journey, the Chosen One frequently retreats into nature and meets the female guardian there, like the oracles of Greek myth, Galadriel with her seeing pool or Harry Potter’s white doe by the lake. The Doctor meets the sisters with their eternal flame and potions, and they change his mind, reminding him of his responsibility to the galaxy. Doctors are traditionally noncombatants. But as the sister tells him, “You are a part of this Doctor whether you like it or not,” he accepts his fate. Calling himself the Doctor and “one of the nice ones” isn’t enough to set him apart. In the hero’s journey tradition, the Doctor dies but returns more powerfully as a warrior and strides into battle.
There’s another delightful insertion of fan service for the serious participators. As the Eighth Doctor regenerates, he salutes his past companions from the audio adventures McGann voiced, establishing them as canon: “Charley [Pollard], C’rizz, Lucie [Miller], Tamsin [Drew], Molly [O’Sullivan]” (“The Night of the Doctor”). “Of course, Paul is not only known for the telemovie but for all his wonderful audio adventures. I’m always telling the Doctors and companions, as they come through the show, that they’ll never be quite done with it – Big Finish is expecting them,” Moffat concludes.

This was certainly a delightful surprise for all the Who fans prepping for the 50th anniversary…and I’ve sure prepped—my book Doctor Who: The What Where and How came out today (sorry, couldn’t resist. ‘Tis the season. http://www.amazon.com/Doctor-Who-The-What-Where-ebook/dp/B00GMWKBUE/) and my Doctor Who and the Hero’s Journey: The Doctor and Companions as Chosen Ones should be out any day from Thought Catalog, who keep telling me how excited they are.)

It’s certain the War Doctor’s adventure the next “day” will be terribly exciting. Hoping all your fannish activities this week proceed happily. Here’s to another 50 years!

 

Citations

Belam, Martin, Ed. Who’s Who? The Resurrection of the Doctor (Guardian Shorts). UK: Guardian Books, 2011. Kindle Edition.
Gaiman, Neil. “Q & A: Neil Gaiman” The Guardian 16 May 2011. Belam.
Merritt, Stephanie. “Tennant’s Extra.” The Observer 11 Dec. 2005. Belam.

“Steven Moffat on The Night Of The Doctor” BBC 14 November 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/doctorwho/articles/Steven-Moffat-on-The-Night-Of-The-Doctor

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