The Eighth Doctor is perhaps one of the least appreciated Doctors of them all, as in the entire tenure of this Doctor there has only been one major TV production, that is the TV Movie from 1996 that has a mixed reception in the fanbase to say the least. Nonetheless, The Eighth Doctor played by Paul McGann had a romantic charm and swashbuckling confidence that stole the hearts of many would-be fans of Doctor Who in the 90s, and he continues to amass a legion of loyal fans to this day with his impression collection of audio productions that Big Finish have been producing since 2004.
However, during the 50th Anniversary celebrations that took place in 2013, Steven Moffat graced the fandom with a one-off mini-episode released online that featured the Eighth Doctor in a live-action role for the first time since the TV Movie in 1996. Paul McGann returned to the role of the Eighth Doctor once again for this short webisode, entitled The Night of the Doctor, which depicts the final moments of the Eighth incarnation of the Doctor during the Time War.
This special proves that Paul McGann can slip easily into the role of the Doctor as if he never left, as he effortlessly plays the role after more than 15 years away from the role on-screen. Fans of the Eighth Doctor Big Finish audios will know that he has been playing the Eighth Doctor continuously since 2004, and as such has had more than enough practice in characterising the Doctor. The Eighth Doctor has had many different eras during his reign, but The Night of the Doctor ushered in a whole new universe of stories for the Eighth Doctor, as it established that he had been active in the Time War for a while now, and this led to Big Finish’s range of Eighth Doctor: The Time War audio stories with his new companion, Bliss.
The Night of the Doctor takes place at the very end of the Eighth Doctor’s life, however, long after his adventures with Bliss have concluded. Judging from the state of not only the TARDIS but the Doctor himself, who despite sporting a new outfit is looking considerably bedraggled, it is clear that the Time War has been continuing for some time. The story begins with a ship spiralling uncontrollably towards Karn, as the final remaining crewmember, Cass, is rescued from certain death by the Eighth Doctor who promises her a trip through Time and Space in a ship that is bigger on the inside. Cass, however, recognises the Doctor’s ship as a TARDIS, and immediately recoils in horror as she realises that the Doctor is a Time Lord.
This subversion of the classic revelation of the Doctor’s alien nature from throughout the show’s history makes The Night of the Doctor notable in itself, but Cass’s reaction to the Doctor’s Time Lord nature serves another purpose, as it shows just how far the Time Lords have fallen this far into the war. The Doctor’s attempts to reassure Cass that he isn’t a Dalek, and her rebuke that there is no way to tell the difference between a Time Lord and a Dalek anymore proves how the universe has come to view the Time Lords during their destructive conflict with the Daleks that has come to affect almost all of Time and Space.
The Eighth Doctor’s death is quite a small-scale affair, as he dies refusing to abandon Cass even as she practically condemns him to die with her. The ship crashes on Karn, and the Sisterhood of Karn from the Fourth Doctor story The Brain of Morbius recover the bodies of the Doctor and Cass and temporarily revive the Doctor to ensure his regeneration. This is where Paul McGann’s acting ability comes to the forefront, as in the Eighth Doctor’s last moments we are treated to some great dialogue, some really poignant moments and a great final line: “Physician, Heal Thyself”, as the Eighth Doctor finally accepts his death and embraces his role as a warrior in the Time War, regenerating into John Hurt, the War Doctor.
The Night of the Doctor serves as a prelude to the 50th Anniversary Special, The Day of the Doctor, as it shows how the War Doctor came to be and also illustrates just how terrible the Time Lords have become as the odds of the Time War turn against them. However, it also serves as a prelude to the Twelfth Doctor story The Magician’s Apprentice, the opening story to Series 9, as the Sisterhood of Karn is led by Ohila who returns in Series 9. This mysterious character seems to know more about the Doctor than most, and it is implied that she has a history with the Doctor that extends beyond her introduction in The Night of the Doctor.
Overall, this short ‘minisode’ proves just how much potential the Eighth Doctor has on-screen. Paul McGann is incredible in the role and there is still a lot of potential for an Eighth Doctor Time War TV Series later down the line. In the meantime, there are dozens of Eighth Doctor Big Finish audios to enjoy, which depict the adventures of the Eighth Doctor with his companions Charley Pollard, C’rizz, Lucie Miller, Molly O’Sullivan, Liv Chenka, Helen Sinclair and Bliss. The best part is, many of these companions that are exclusive to audio are actually named in the The Night of the Doctor by the Eighth Doctor before he regenerates, which solidify their status as true companions of the Doctor despite the fact that they only appear in audio dramas.
The Night of the Doctor is a wonderful treat for Eighth Doctor fans, and it makes great bookend for his era that completes the set of Doctor regenerations from incarnations 1-11, just in time for the 50th Anniversary. Not only is this short story a great addition to the Doctor Who universe, but it is also a great study for future Eighth Doctor TV stories, if the BBC is planning on making any expanded universe Doctor Who TV shows in a shared cinematic universe then the Eighth Doctor is a great place to start, as Paul McGann slips into the role easily and his there is a huge gap for potential storytelling in the Eighth Doctor’s life that Big Finish have already taken advantage of. If nothing else, The Night of the Doctor proves that there is still huge potential in the character of the Eighth Doctor.