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Posts Tagged ‘Night of the Doctor’

Crikey, it’s like a second Christmas. Better than Christmas, really, as it doesn’t involve all the travelling and expense and Christmas proper only features an hour or so of actual Doctor Who content. Now, fair’s fair, being who I am there are frequent intervals in my life when I spend most of my time looking at or thinking about Doctor Who, but for once this is happening without me having to actively pick up a magazine or watch a DVD. This is great. We should have a 50th anniversary every year.

Anyway, I thought I would round up my thoughts on the first tranche of anniversary-related programming laid on by the BBC. I was initially rather dubious about the first intersection of someone named Brian Cox and the celebrations, as I’ve always thought that in terms of titles making sense, The Science of Doctor Who is up there with The Glamour of Railway Station Waiting Rooms or The Wit and Wisdom of David Cameron (i.e. there isn’t any worth mentioning). That said, the actual lecture – though somewhat low on genuine Doctor Who content – was sterling stuff, with one of the best explanations of how relativity operates that I can recall. I’ve been reading attempted explanations of time travel in terms of light-cones and gravity distortion for nearly thirty years – rather more, if you include the bafflegab about TARDISes functioning as ‘time cone inverters’ from Logopolis – but Coxy’s go was as close to intelligible as any of them. Nice one, Coxy.

BBC3’s Doctor Who: The Ultimate Guide looked quite grim on paper: a bog-standard C&C production (that’d be clips and, er, contributors), with various people with only a vague idea who Barry Letts is coming on and making rather too big a deal out of how big a fan of the programme they are. However, given this was a production made for a contemporary, mainstream audience, it was actually pretty respectable, and actually included a startling amount of material from the 20th century programme – even some in black and white.

Put together, the previous two offerings add up to about three hours of Doctor Who-related material, and Matt Smith popped up in inserts for them both (none of this was what you’d actually call canon, of course, even if it did feature Jenna Coleman looking even cuter than usual). Nevertheless none of it came close to the shockwave reverberating around  world fandom in the wake of the release of Night of the Doctor, less than seven minutes of actual Doctor Who, but still one of the greatest coups Steven Moffat has ever pulled off.

night

The actual story was very straightforward and confirmed a lot of what I, for one, already suspected: the final moments of the eighth Doctor and his metamorphosis into the War Doctor with whom we will shortly become much better acquainted. But never mind that: this was the final moments of the eighth Doctor. Or, as I nearly put it in a Facebook status update before I thought better of such obvious spoilers: PAUL MCGANN! PAUL MCGANN! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! IT’S PAUL MCGANN! PAUL MCGANN! Everyone, it seems, already has their own story as to where they were the first time they saw Night of the Doctor, and exactly what noises they emitted when McGann made his unexpected appearance. I had half-anticipated it, but still found myself letting out high-pitched squeaks and bouncing up and down in my seat. (Thank God I had gone into a disused classroom at work to use the PC there, rather than the one in the office.)

There’s something deeply satisfying about the way that this very small story finally starts to link together the 20th century series and the 21st century incarnation of the programme – now that I think of it, Peter Davison beat Paul McGann to the title of First Person to Play the Doctor on Telly in Two Different Centuries by a number of years, but even so. It’s also, of course, somewhat bittersweet – I know he’s done a huge number of audio stories as the Doctor, but the ease with which McGann slipped back into playing him on camera, and doing such a stunning job of it, was breathtaking. Never mind Colin Baker or Christopher Eccleston: it’s the brevity of McGann’s TV appearances as the Doctor which is the single greatest missed opportunity in the history of the programme.

The geeky stuff running through my head while watching Night of the Doctor:

  • The concept of the Doctor as some sort of refusenik from the Time War was a curious one and not at all what I would have expected. His arch-enemies are in a battle to the death with his own people – a war he himself may have had a hand in starting – and he chooses to stay on the sidelines? That’s surely a little uncharacteristic. The difference in the Doctor’s appearance from his debut also seems to suggest that rather a long time has elapsed, which is a mark against the theory that the Master’s execution on Skaro formed part of the build-up to the Time War itself.
  • Speaking of which – the War Doctor looks startlingly young in his brief appearance at the end of the episode. This begs the question of how long this incarnation actually persisted for, given he appears to age the equivalent of thirty years for a human. Let’s not forget that, going by what’s said on screen, the Doctor at one point ages 200 years between episodes and doesn’t actually appear any older. Then again Moffat has said in interviews that the Doctor’s clockspeed is a matter of personal choice, and it’s entirely possible that this question will be addressed in the special itself.
  • The Doctor’s salute to his past companions only includes the ones from the audio range – making the Big Finish range canonical, on some level at least. No doubt there will be grumbles from fans of Izzy, Destrii, Fitz, Stacy and the others – and if the tenth Doctor had time to go on an extensive galactic tour just prior to regenerating, it seems a little unfair that the eighth didn’t get the chance to make a properly comprehensive farewell address. But, c’est la guerre.

One thing that struck me about Night of the Doctor was just how eagerly it seemed to engage with the deeper mythology of the programme – references to the Time War, the Sisterhood of Karn, and so on. Even the reappearance of the eighth Doctor really qualifies as very old continuity. I would be surprised if we got quite this level of mythos from the actual special itself, but it would be a pleasant surprise nevertheless.

The sense I’m getting, and this is mostly speculative, is that in The Day of the Doctor the 21st century series is going to have not only its first bona fide Three Doctors moment – one of Patrick Troughton’s more memorable ad libs reappears yet again, of course – but also its War Games moment. I never honestly expected to see the Time War itself, or the actual destruction of Gallifrey, and I don’t think Russell T Davies ever planned on them being depicted. But then Verity Lambert was against the idea of ever revealing any information about the Doctor’s origins. The Time War, as a piece of back story, has underpinned much of what’s happened in the series since its return, and this could be the moment at which it moves on to something radically different and new.

That’s an exciting prospect, but I hope the current version of the series gets the valediction it has earned (and I realise as I type that that I am conveniently forgetting just how cold most of the last two seasons have left me). I know I have criticised Steven Moffat in the past for approaching the show of late with a fanboy mentality, but if ever there was a time to let your inner fanboy rip then it is surely now. Don’t disappoint, Moff.

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