Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Night of the Doctor - WebReview

Article author: Alwyn Ash

"I'm a Doctor... but probably not the one you were expecting."

Had anyone seen this coming? There has been so much focus on the 50th anniversary that it is impossible to escape the madness of a mad man with a blue box, no matter what incarnation he appears or body he wears. The excitement of a landmark occasion such as this must overwhelm. And if anyone was in doubt as to whether there would be any involvement from classic Doctors, then now is the time to rejoice. To mark the approaching 50th anniversary story entitled "The Day of the Doctor", the BBC launched its prequel mini webcast episode "The Night of the Doctor", a tale that would not only introduce in chronological order the arrival of Hurt's mysterious character but also treat us to a glimpse of the last moments of the Eighth Doctor - a character so under-serviced by the show, having never featured in a season of his own. Yes, actor Paul McGann was back, and it most definitely is about time!

Battered and tired but still a man of hope, this version of the Doctor has witnessed the Time War escalate to a point where existence itself is threatened, as Time Lords and Daleks engage in the bloodiest of battles, a continuing campaign that has lasted since quite possibly "Genesis of the Daleks" (1975), when the Fourth Doctor was asked by the Time Lords to avert the creation of their Skaro-born enemy. Another example of this feud can be seen in "Resurrection of the Daleks" (1984) in which the Daleks attempt to clone the Fifth Doctor and his companions, and use the Doppelgängers to assassinate the High Council of Time Lords on Gallifrey. It is a theme that has run through many Big Finish audio plays also.

Though only about 6-7 minutes in length, "The Night of the Doctor" is a welcome part of Whovian mythology and a final glimpse into the last moments of the Eighth Doctor. It feels kind of ironic that, in 1996 we witnessed his birth after a gang shooting, only to now watch his final sacrifice. The serious tone of the piece is welcome, this is precisely how Doctor Who should be: powerful drama!

So what does the episode tell us about the Doctor, the Universe and the Time War? Much, quite frankly. We see that the Doctor is his usual self, even in the darkness of war he is looking to save lives. Cass a typical example, the solitary figure of a gunship whose fate has already been decided, having transported her crew to safety and with no means of escape for herself. The hero of time wants to rescue her, and together they race to the TARDIS at the back of the ship. However, upon discovering that her saviour is a Time Lord, Cass withdraws, locking herself In the front section of the vessel, separating herself from the Doctor and salvation. Her feelings for the Time Lords are clear: they are as destructive and ruthless as the Daleks in this chaotic war, and she would rather die than trust even one of them. The Doctor refuses to leave her, and the gunship crashes...

The planet Karn, once a Gallifrey colony. The Doctor has been here before, in the Fourth Doctor televised serial "The Brain of Morbius" (1976), and in Big Finish audio adventures "Sisters of the Flame" (2008) and "The Vengeance of Morbius" (2008). The Sisterhood of Karn has a long and interesting history regarding the Time Lords: in the days before Rassilon, old Gallifrey was ruled by the Pythia, matriarchal leaders who possessed psychic and precognition abilities. When the very last Pythia to rule Gallifrey was exposed for spying on Rassilon, she sent her followers to live on Karn and committed suicide. It is her followers who later became known as the Sisterhood of Karn.

And so the Doctor has returned, but he perished in the crash. Resurrecting him for four minutes, the Sisterhood offers him a lifeline - the ability to choose a regeneration, and bring an end to the Time War once and for all! At first the Time Lord refuses, knowing that he is the Doctor, a man of moral goodness. But seeing Cass's body forces him to make one of the darkest decisions of his lives... "I don't suppose there's any need for a doctor any more. Make me a warrior now."

Given a chalice, the Time Lord pays respect to old companions (for the first time in television history the show references characters from the Big Finish range of audiobooks) before saying, "Physician, heal thyself" and drinking from the cup, sparking a forced regeneration. The glow, and the Doctor, our Doctor, is no more. In his place, via a reflection, we see a young John Hurt as "The War Doctor". The very last words, "Doctor no more" do send a slight chill - for this is an enigma of a character, a man whose only purpose is to commit the most desperate of acts to bring an end to bloodshed.

One of the strangest of opinions concerning the Eighth Doctor is that... he is not canon at all, just a displaced character perhaps similar to that of Peter Cushing's Dr Who? Not my opinion, you understand, but the misguided belief from a small pocket of Whovians. This I find totally preposterous, for if this were true and Paul McGann's Doctor is so far from canon, then why did Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy reprise his role to guest star in the 1996 TV movie? And why link the two Doctors with a direct regeneration sequence if not to satisfy a continuation of the legendary show instead of a total reboot? One fan has even had the nerve to suggest that McGann's Doctor never appeared on "television", so how can he be a true Doctor? Well, what is a TV movie if not for television?

For such a long time there has been a strong desire for McGann to resurrect his role as the Eighth Doctor beyond his already popular audio outings for the Big Finish range. And whether or not a spin-off series is likely, the fans' wishes have been granted! He not only returned after a seventeen year television absence, but McGann performed such brilliance that his place in Doctor Who's legacy is unquestionable and assured.

For this review it is also important to highlight the wonderful work of both Clare Higgins (as Ohila, Sisterhood of Karn) and Emma Campbell-Jones (portraying the role of Cass). Higgins, an award-winning English actress, is known for her role as Julia Cotton in the horror feature "Hellraiser" (1987). Doctor Who fans will also remember Campbell-Jones for her performance on "The Wedding of River Song" (2011) in which she played Dr. Kent - you do feel that McGann and Campbell-Jones would have been good together if a spin-off series was to be commissioned; perhaps Big Finish should take note...

It is inspiring that showrunner Steven Moffat had the vision to reunite the Eighth Doctor with his fans, feeling that the "completist" in him needed to see the regeneration scene finally happen on screen. Talking about the idea in an interview, Moffat said, "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! And we had this possibility that we could do it as a surprise, so we got in touch with Paul who was dead keen and I’m delighted to say he was so happy to join in with the idea of keeping it secret. He was childishly excited about it!"

Of course, every fan has been "childishly excited" about it, too, since the surprise was first unveiled. We now have the bookends of a Time Lord, with Big Finish providing the filling as the audio adventures of McGann's Doctor continue. If you have never discovered the magic of these stories, then begin now. If you are a regular listener, perhaps revisit your favourites. For both, it is an absolute magical treat to experience "The Light At The End", a true celebration of Doctor Who's classic years. Be sure to watch an interview with Paul McGann over at Flicks And The City, where the actor talks "Night of the Doctor".

Purchase The Light At The End from the Store:
(Standard Edition)
CD Audio - Feature running time: 120 minutes