Monday, November 18, 2013

Night Of The Doctor

We're fast approaching the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who! Can you believe it? It's been fifty years since the character debuted on November 23, 1963. The show hasn't been running continuously since then-- it's taken a couple of multi-year breaks-- but it's still got to be some kind of record. 

The BBC is airing a sure to be awesome 50th Anniversary Special later this month, but the biggest and most surprising news occurred last week with the premiere of a prequel mini episode called Night Of The Doctor.

Warning! There are spoilers ahead. Go watch the mini episode before reading any further. Here's a link to it, or you can use the Google to find it for yourself.

Are you back? Good. So WOW! Paul McGann returns as the Eighth Doctor!!! Holy. Crap. What a jaw dropping surprise! Especially considering the fact that earlier in the year McGann was asked point blank if he was in the special and he said no. I suppose technically he wasn't lying-- this prequel episode isn't actually part of the Anniversary Special. Sneaky! How the hell they managed to keep his appearance a secret before it came out-- especially in this day and age when people constantly post photos of their lunch online-- is beyond me. I'm glad they were able to do it though!

Coincidentally this mini-episode premiered on McGann's birthday!

McGann played the Doctor onscreen exactly one time in the 1996 Fox TV Movie that tried (and failed) to both resurrect the series and introduce the character to the American public. The TV movie is pretty hit or miss-- well, actually it's more miss than hit-- but McGann did a great job as everyone's favorite Time Lord. I can say with all honesty that I never thought I'd see his version of the Doctor on screen again.

After watching this mini episode I want to see more of this Doctor! A lot more! I know there's not a chance in hell of it happening, but I wish they'd do some kind of flashback series starring him.

Let's take a look at the episode, eh? 

It begins in some undetermined time period, with a spaceship in distress. It's about to crash into the planet Karn, which is a name that should be familiar to long time fans.

Inside the ship is a woman named Cass, who's doing everything in her power to keep from crashing.

As her doomed ship flies by, we see it's being followed by a familiar blue box!

I couldn't help but notice that the TARDIS seems to have the little round "St. John's Ambulance" label on the door (the blurry white dot next to the white square in the middle of the doors). That label was on the TARDIS in the early days of the show but disappeared for decades and only recently popped up again when the Eleventh Doctor took over. The Eighth Doctor's TARDIS never had it. Whoops!

The ship's computer keeps trying to assess Cass' health, and she angrily tells it she's trying to send a distress signal, she doesn't need a doctor. Suddenly a voice from behind says, "I'm a doctor. But probably not the one you expected."

You can say that again! I just squealed like a little girl.

To quote Obi-Wan, "Now there's a name I haven't heard in a long time. A long time."

Say what you will about Steven Moffat and his writing skills, but one thing I've noticed-- he seems to excel at writing these short episodes. The Space and Time mini episodes he wrote a couple of years ago are some of my all time favorite moments in the history of Doctor Who. Maybe Moffat ought to ditch the full length episodes and stick to writing seven minute scripts.

The Doctor introduces himself and assesses the situation.

His costume here looks a lot like the one he wore in the TV movie back in 1996. Not an exact match, but pretty darn close, what with the dark green jacket and the vest (or waistcoat if you're from England) and the fob watch. I'm betting that was intentional.

His hair's a lot shorter though, thank Rassilon. I was never a fan of his long curly locks.

The Doctor and Cass race toward the back of the ship, because as he says, "The front crashes first!"

Suddenly a bulkhead closes, barring their way. The Doctor uses his sonic to open it.

Note that his sonic looks like the one used by the Fourth Doctor. I did a quick search online and I believe he used this same model in the TV movie. I could be wrong though.

After finally getting the bulkhead to open they continue down the hall and see a familiar sight. Seeing Cass' puzzlement, the Doctor says, "Don't worry, it's bigger on the inside."

See? No St. John's label. Oh well. Nobody's perfect.

This causes Cass to stop in her tracks. "What did you say? Bigger on the inside, is that what you said?"

"Yes," says the Doctor. "Come on, you'll love it."

Cass' reaction is unexpected as she says, "Is this a TARDIS?"

Wow, that was a surprise! Most people the Doctor meets have never heard of a TARDIS and have no idea what it is. 

Cass recoils in disgust and says, "Don't touch me." The Doctor realizes why she's acting this way and tells her he's not part of the War.

He's referring of course to the Time War, the massive universal conflict between the Time Lords and the Daleks. We've been hearing about the Time War ever since the series started up again in 2005, but so far we've gotten precious little detail about it. 

Cass' reaction is interesting, but totally understandable. The Time Lords are their war are literally destroying the universe-- no wonder she's not happy to meet one.

"You're a Time Lord," hisses Cass.

"Yes," says the Doctor, "but I'm one of the nice ones!"

But Cass doesn't want the Doctor's help. In fact she doesn't want his help so much that she seals herself behind the bulkhead. The Doctor says, "Look on the bright side, at least I'm not a Dalek!" "Who can tell the difference anymore?" says Cass.

It's not quite clear what she means by this. Does she mean that she considers both sides to be equally dangerous? Or are the Daleks disguising themselves as Time Lords (we've seen human looking Daleks in the past)?

The Doctor pleads for her to let him help.

She tells him, "Go back to your battlefield! You haven't finished yet. Some of the universe is still standing!"

The Doctor tells Cass he's not leaving with out her. She says, "Then you're gonna die right here. Best news all day!"

We then see Cass' ship (with the TARDIS and Doctor inside) crash into the surface of Karn.

Luckily for the Doctor and the future of the series, the Sisterhood Of Karn is watching. Ohila, leader of the Sisterhood, says, "And here he is at last. The man to end it all. My Sisters, the Doctor has returned to Karn."

Note that in the credits the Sisterhood's leader is named "Ohila." In The Brain Of Morbius, the episode in which the Sisterhood is first introduced, there's a character called "Ohica." Close, but I guess they're not supposed to be the same person.

We see the Doctor among the rubble, looking not mostly dead, but all dead.

A short time later the Doctor wakes, and shouts Cass' name.

Ohila tells him that Cass is almost certainly dead, because no one could survive the crash. "I did," says the Doctor. "No," says Ohila.

She tells him that the Sisterhood dragged him from the wreckage and restored him to life, but it's a temporary measure and he has a little under four minutes to live before he dies again real good.

"Four minutes?" says the Doctor. "That's ages. What if I get bored or need a television, a couple of books? Anyone for chess? Bring me knitting!"

This is my favorite part of the episode. It's such a "Doctor" thing to say! You can just tell he's trying to find an out somehow.

Ohila tells him that their Elixir Of Life can trigger his regeneration, which will restore him to more permanent life again. 

"Time Lord science is elevated here," she says. "On Karn the change doesn't have to be random. Fat or thin. Young or old. Man or woman."

"Why would you do this for me?" asks the Doctor, who has a point. "You have helped us in the past." says Ohila. "You were never big on gratitude." says the Doctor.

Ohila gets to the point. "The War between the Daleks and the Time Lords threatens all reality. You are the only hope left." The Doctor refuses to get involved in the war, saying he's, well, the Doctor.

He sees that Cass is truly dead. Ohila reminds him he has only a few minutes left, and begs him to reconsider. To choose his regeneration and put an end to the Time War. "I'd rather die," says the Doctor. "You're dead already," says Ohila. "How many more will you let join you? The universe stands on the brink. Will you let it fall?"

The Doctor picks up Cass' gun belt and looks at it. He makes his choice. "Warrior," he says. "I don't suppose there's any need for a Doctor any more. Make me a warrior now."

Ohila says, "I took the liberty of preparing this one myself."

Wow, manipulate much, Ohila?

The Doctor takes the Elixir and orders everyone out. "Will it hurt?" he asks. "Yes," says Ohila as she leaves. "Good," says the Doctor.

Before taking a drink, the Doctor says, "Charlie, C'Rizz, Lucie, Tamsin, Molly-- friends and companions I've known I salute you."

These are the names of the Eighth Doctor's companions in his various audio dramas, which apparently means the BBC just made them all canon! Cool!

The Doctor drinks the Elixir. A familar yellow glow begins streaming from his hands.

It soon spreads to the rest of his body.

He doubles over in pain as a familiar (to us) blinding flash envelops him.

Ohila stands by, waiting. Hey, I thought she was supposed to be in the other room while he regenerated?

She bends down and asks, "Is it done?"

The newly regenerated Doctor takes Cass' gun belt and straps it on. He looks into a mirror and surprise! He's turned into young John Hurt. "Doctor no more," he says. He's now the War Doctor. Kind of a clunky name, but what are you gonna do?

Pretty awesome, huh? So now we know how the Eighth Doctor regenerated into the War Doctor. Based on his relatively youthful appearance here and his haggard look at the end of last season, he must have been the War Doctor for a really long time. 

This mini episode also clarifies the numbering of the Doctors. At the end of last season when John Hurt was introduced as some sort of forgotten Doctor, everyone wondered if that meant the Ninth Doctor was really the Tenth, the Tenth the Eleventh and so on. I guess since he's not considered a real Doctor but a "War Doctor," the original numbering is still correct.

Most fans (including me) are assuming that the War Doctor is the one who ended the Time War by destroying both sides-- the Time Lords as well as the Daleks. I guess we'll find out for sure in a week.

By the way, the Sisterhood of Karn has appeared on the show before. They were in the 1976 episode The Brain Of Morbius. They're a female society dedicated to protecting the Sacred Flame, which they use to make the Elixir of Life.

Lastly, if the writers are smart, they'll use this episode as a way to get around the ridiculous "Twelve Regenerations Limit" that most fans just can't seem to let go of. Wayyyy back in the 1976 episode The Deadly Assassin there was a throwaway line about Time Lords only being able to regenerate twelve times. For some reason most fans insist on clinging to this little tidbit of info like grim death-- never mind that they gleefully ignore all kinds of other rules and laws the show's set forth over the years (like a person not being able to revisit their past). 

I honestly don't get it. If they abide by this rule then the show's gonna have to end after upcoming Doctor Peter Capaldi turns in his TARDIS keys. Is that what they want?

This mini episode is a way out of that trap. The Doctor was officially dead here and the Sisterhood brought him back to life and then offered him a special Elixir that would allow him to choose the form of his regeneration. The yellow regeneration glow effect had never appeared in the old series-- we never saw it until the Ninth Doctor regenerated into the Tenth. So they could say that the Sisterhood's elixir reset his regeneration clock and now he's got another twelve to go, or better yet, and unlimited supply. I hope they go with this explanation so we can set this silly idea to rest once and for all. 


  1. Like you, I was very excited about this webisode and am eagerly awaiting the anniversary special. One quick correction (in a non-troll way) is that the McGann movie was in 1996, not 1986. Allons-y!

  2. Gah, you're right! I meant 96, but my fingers are too big for laptop keyboards!

  3. Also worth a review> Another mini-ep.

  4. I saw that other mini episode, but just haven't had time to comment on it. Not enough hours in the day!

  5. The twelve regeneration limit wasn't just in the Deadly Assassin, and it wasn't a throwaway line either. The entire plot motivation of Deadly Assassin and Keeper Of Traken was the Master, dying and having used all his regenerations, desperately trying to find some other way of extending his life. And in the Five Doctors, the bribe the Time Lord High Council offered the Master to get him to help the Doctor was a new regeneration cycle (i.e. a fresh set of twelve regenerations). The twelve regeneration natural limit is firmly established, not just a minor one off mention. But ways around it were also mentioned: the Karn Sisterhood's Elixir (which will regenerate anyone, not just Time Lords), and the clear ability of Time Lord technology to enable new regeneration cyces, as promised to the Master, to name but two,

  6. I just think it's odd that there've been a lot of other rules or facts laid down by the show-- like the Doctor building the TARDIS or not being able to cross into your own timeline-- that the show and fans alike have later gleefully ignored. I don't get why everyone keeps clinging to the regeneration limit. Why have other things been ignored but this hasn't?

  7. It's been consistently mentioned from Deadly Assassin through to the end of Classic Who. (Oh, and the entire plot motivation of the Five Doctors was now-Lord President Borusa thinking his work would never end, and even the ability to gain extra regeneration cycles had limits so he would eventually die, his work unfinished; so he turned evil in his quest for Rassilon's supposed secret of perpetual regeneration so he could live eternally, and hence the whole scheme which is the plot of the show. And it was a major plot point in Trial Of A Time Lord.) It was also consistently mentioned throughout the time Doctor Who was off the air in the Virgin books, the BBC books after they took over the license again, and the audio series.

    I think the thing is that people like to have a little shape to the fictional universes they invest in; a few facts to define it. Doctor Who doesn't have that many; in a lot of respects anything goes. But those few things - about the Doctor, about the Tardis, about the Time Lords - that, once established, were repeatedly mentioned, referenced, respected and even acted as the main drivers of several plots, on screen, in the (licensed) books and in the audio dramas, become important. Their consistency adds a veneer of reality; make it science fiction, not a fantasy acid trip. And hard facts (within the fiction) provide limits - and limits provide the appearance of peril, as well as powerful motives for some plots.

  8. It's also worth emphasising that at a time when the limit in natural regenerations was very frequently mentioned, the Master successively found five ways round it. So it's not actually a problem; just a challenge for the writers' ingenuity, when the time comes with the Doctor - an opportunity for them to come up with a way of addressing it that has the fans going 'wow, cool - I didn't think of that one'. (or falling flat on their faces with something lame).

  9. Oh - by the way, in case you haven't seen this info ....

    We aren't going to have to wait long to find out how the show is going to handle the 12 regeneration limit. Only until Christmas!

    Steven Moffat, current showrunner, gave an interview last Saturday to one of our TV listing magazines, with the interviewer putting out part of it yesterday. In it Moffat addresses the twelve regeneration limit; not WHAT he's going to do about it ... but that we've already reached it! While people had been assuming that the Tennant-Smith regeneration was his tenth, so he still had two in hand, according to Moffat the Tennant-Smith one was actually the twelfth.

    Most people (who bothered to count), before Night... and Day of the Doctor presumed it went regeneration 1 Hartnell-Troughton, 2 Troughton-Pertwee, 3 Pertwee-Baker, 4 Baker-Davison, 5 Davison-Baker, 6 Baker-McCoy, 7 McCoy-McGann, 8 McGann-Eccleston, 9 Eccleston-Tennant, 10 Tennant-Smith, all having been seen except the presumed eighth one. However, we have now seen that regeneration 8 was actually McGann-Hurt, and regeneration 9 Hurt-Eccleston, making Eccleston-Tennant regeneration 10, not 9.

    Then, which most people had been ignoring/forgetting, Tennant's Doctor used up a regeneration in Journey's End, healing himself from a Dalek attack, but aborting the regeneration into the old hand of his Harkness had been carrying around, creating the Half-human meta-crisis Doctor that went off with Rose. Moffat confirmed in the interview that he considers that a use of a regeneration, so it was regeneration 11. And then there was the actual 'normal' regeneration from Tennant to Smith, which was therefore the TWELFTH, not the tenth.

    So, the Doctor has already used up his twelve natural regenerations, as explicitly conformed by the showrunner. Which he may have had in mind for awhile - explaining the Doctor's gloom, and the repeated emphasis on the place of his death and tomb. As far as the Doctor's character is concerned, his next death will be final.

    Now, we know there is going to be another regeneration. And I wouldn't entirely put it past Moffat to actually draw attention to the twelve regeneration limit in an interview and then just ignore the whole issue in the Christmas special (or dismiss it with a handwave), just to wind up the long time fans of the series who have been critical of his scripts and showrunner decisions.

    But anyway, by the end of the Christmas special, and the Smith-Capaldi change, we'll know for certain how the issue is being dealt with.

  10. Ah - when I wrote 'As far as the Doctor's character is concerned, his next death will be final.', what I meant was that in the Doctor's mind these last few episodes, he has been thinking and believing his next death will be final. I wasn't stating that his death actually WILL be.

    Quote from Moffat: 'The 12 regenerations limit is a central part of Doctor Who mythology - science fiction is all about rules, you can't just casually break them.'

    So presumably he will break the rule very non-casually by some means.


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