Reviews The Eighth Doctor regenerates in The Night of the Doctor

Published on November 17th, 2013 | by Christian Cawley

Reviewed: The Night of the Doctor

[pullquote align=right]These seven minutes not only cement the Eighth Doctor in the canon, they also tell us more about the Time War than Russell T Davies ever did.[/pullquote] Having spent three days wondering if the sight of Paul McGann as the Doctor, in moving pictures that weren’t recorded in early 1996 was real or the result of food poisoning, the time has come to review The Night of the Doctor.

The minisode – currently running on the BBC Red Button service and BBC iPlayer – is a mere 7 minutes long. McGann’s on-screen appearances as the Eighth Doctor are nothing if not short… oh, and loaded with quality.

McGann has long since been one of my favourite actors, since long before he was cast in Philip Segal’s brave-but-challenged attempt to get Doctor Who on air in the USA. His presence in that supposed failure (despite collecting  9.08 million viewers in the UK) single-handedly breathed new life into the show’s novels, Doctor Who Magazine‘s comic strip and features and later the Big Finish range.

The TV Movie may be widely dismissed as a failure, but it succeeded in billowing the embers of a sleeping television phenomenon long enough for Russell T Davies to take it by the scruff of the neck and bring it back in 2005.

In the intervening years the McGann Doctor became so much more than a Byron-esque wanderer, veering from paradox to destroyer of Gallifrey in the novels (long before Rose) a wily opponent avenging the death of Ace in the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip (one of the run’s greatest moments) and pitted against increasingly powerful Daleks time and again in the Big Finish audios – with eventually catastrophic consequences.

A return for the Sisterhood of Karn?All the time there has been this question, this nagging doubt, in the back of our minds: why didn’t Russell T Davies stick with Paul McGann? Couldn’t McGann return some day? Surely the BBC could create a Time War spin-off with McGann as the Doctor?

Well, the answer to the first question is obvious – RTD wanted his own Doctor, detached from the baggage that resulted in the show being left on the shelf for over five years before the BBC started looking at it again. The answers to the other questions are less clear – but at least the Eighth Doctor has finally, at last, stepped onto our screens in The Night of the Doctor.

Who know how long this Doctor has lived? We know from the dialogue that he is aware of the Time War but has so far avoided getting involved. It’s also apparent – thanks to a single line from Steven Moffat – that the Eighth Doctor presented here is the one who has had adventures in the Big Finish range. One simple dedication to his former companions validates the Eighth Doctor Adventures on audio (although it perhaps dismisses those of the BBC novels and DWM comic strips) and suddenly this man becomes so much more than a night in San Francisco.

Paul McGann is back – and it’s about time.

From the moment of his initial dialogue (“I’m a Doctor, but probably not the one you were expecting”) the minisode is a constant journey. We learn what people of the universe think of the Time War; we revisit Karn, and the Sisterhood, first seen in The Brain of Morbius in 1976; we get cutting sarcasm so perfectly delivered by Paul McGann… let’s be honest, we get one of the most significant episodes of Doctor Who since 1989. These seven minutes not only cement the Eighth Doctor in the canon (such as it is), they also tell us more about the Time War than Russell T Davies ever did (Rose and The Unquiet Dead aside).

Seven minutes is criminally short, of course. While the in-joke leading up to the Eighth Doctor’s regeneration (“Will it hurt?”) is wonderful, and the execution and subsequent revealing of the I, Claudius era John Hurt inspecting his War Doctor features memorable, the minisode perhaps fails in its main task in bringing the Eighth Doctor’s era to a close.

It’s left us all wanting more…

Doctor Who


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About the Author


A long-term Doctor Who fan, Christian grew up watching the show and has early memories of the Graham Williams era. His favourite stories are Inferno, The Seeds of Doom and Human Nature (although The Empty Child, Blink and Utopia all come close). When he’s not bossing around the news team, Christian is a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology and domestic computing, and enjoys classic rock, cooking and spending time in the countryside with his wife and young children. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

34 Responses to Reviewed: The Night of the Doctor

  1. avatar Geoff says:

    What comes across from this episode is just how breathtakingly good Paul McGann is as the Doctor. Of course we know he’s a very good actor but that doesn’t ness scarily equate to great Doctor. His delivery, that voice. The expressive face. Simply excellent and like Christian says, I just long to see more! Still at least we’ve had another 7 minutes of him and now know how he met his end. Once I thought that would never be addressed. At least he will never be accused of out staying his welcome.

  2. avatar lee moone says:

    I really didn’t twig about that ‘will it hurt’ comment. Very good. :)

    • avatar Stardizzy says:

      I still don’t. what does it reference?

      • avatar Bob James says:

        John Hurt is the War Doctor.

        • avatar David F says:

          That’s not an in-joke. It’s just a coincidental use of a homonym.

          • avatar zer0 says:

            That seems highly unlikely given the nature of the writer.

  3. avatar Suzanne says:

    As someone who cannot afford all of the books, audio, magazines, etc. (RL needs real money, so, my addiction was the loser), it was SOOO exciting to see Paul again as 8 I screamed out loud, clapping throughout. What a great tie-in to Mr. Hurt, though, he should be The Warrior, NOT, the War Doctor (I believe that 11 said as much). If he is any form of “the Doctor” our count is off. What number Doctor doesn’t matter, really, since there are no Time Lords left to enforce Rassilon’s law… 6 Days!!!

  4. avatar TimeChaser says:

    I didn’t get the “Will it hurt?” reference til now either. Very clever.

    I think we’ll always be left wanting more of McGann on screen, but at least he’s finally been given a solid place in the continuity that his few detractors can no longer refute.

  5. avatar nwlhs says:

    I would love see him in his own series with Sheridan Smith as a companion.. we have had a Captain Jack and Sarah Jane spin-off so why not an 8th Doctor spin-off..let’s start a Kasterberous Kampaign..

    • I’d love to see this Sons of Gallifrey thing take off, instead!!!

      • avatar BOJAY says:

        Biker Time Lords? Ron Perlman as Omega reborn!

      • avatar zarbisupremo says:

        Ooft no ! Extremely cheesey dialogue, and a bad impersonation of Ecclestone put me right off that ! What’s the point of an origin story anyway, it’s called Doctor Who, what happened to preserving the mystery ?

        • avatar Geoff says:

          I feel the same. I thought it reeked of fan wank. even the name Sons of Galifrey. Sounds like a 6th form indie band from the 80s.

  6. avatar BOJAY says:

    I am so going to get torched for this. I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason, and that not only can you not change the past (none of us has a Tardis), but that if one could it would have negative, potentially destructive effects on the present and future. If Christopher Eccleston hadn’t left after one series (and yes, he left, under a cloud, he was not an intentional one series Doctor, whatever RTD tries to say), we may never have gotten the wonderful David Tennant. He may not have been available, his career might have taken him somewhere else, etc., and I cannot imagine Doctor Who without his contribution. It’s unthinkable. I can imagine however, increasingly so, Doctor Who without Christopher Eccleston. Eccleston was brilliant, but as he strives to erase his timeline in Doctor Who, and clearly has no love for it or it’s fans (anyone who believes his condescending, patronizing comments is naïve, to put it kindly), I begin to wonder whether RTD made a mistake in casting him. Whatever his profile did for the show’s gravitas upon its return (in the UK, as it wouldn’t have mattered to any other audience), I believe that Doctor Who could have been just as successful, if not more so, if it had been Paul McGann in the role. With this Anniversary I appreciate Eccleston’s contribution, and bid him, in my mind, so long and goodnight. And I can’t, pointless as it may be, stop myself from imagining what could have been had it been the Eighth Doctor who had taken Rose Tyler’s hand in that department store, and bid her “Run!”. We will never know, but I hope we see the Eighth Doctor again. Paul McGann has obvious love for the role and Doctor Who’s fans. He respects the show and its legacy. It’s obviously far more to him than just something he is “glad he did”. And I love our Doctors to love us and our show back. I love it when it matters to them too.

    • avatar docwhom says:

      I realise that it’s hard to get this through to a certain type of fan but it is entirely possible to express approval for A without bitching about B. It’s the mindset which, having just watched BLINK for the first time, thinks not “Moffat is a genius” but rather “Chibnall could never have written that.”

      I wish that you and people like you genuinely WOULD wish CE “so long and goodnight”? You know, a final “so long and goodnight” instead of the reality which is probably that, in a couple of weeks’ time, you’ll be posting yet again that you wish CE “so long and goodnight”. Incidentally, “so long and goodnight” is what you say when someone has overstayed their welcome, not when they’ve left early and you’ve spent 6 years pleading in vain for them to call you.

      You seem to expect that CE pander to you (which you somehow find less demeaning than having him patronise you) while giving nothing in return. Why should he even give you the time of day when you had no respect for his performance or his contribution to the return of the show? It’s meaningless to throw in a line like “he was brilliant” while arguing that it would have been much better if he’d never been cast.

      Maybe you wouldn’t get “condescending, patronising comments” from CE if you didn’t keep asking him what he thought of DW and forcing him to reply with something slightly more polite than the more appropriate restraining order. When what he’d clearly prefer to say is “would you sad obsessives please fuck off and leave me alone?”, anything else is always going to sound condescending.

      Maybe he’d be happier to associate himself with the show which he (and not a single one of us) had helped to bring back if certain elements of fandom hadn’t treated him like dirt when they heard that he was only doing one season, poisoning his one year with us. Which side were you on in 2005? The side calling for a bit of sanity or the side throwing its toys out of the pram?

      Personally, I suspect that CE would be happy to be associated with DW were it not for the fact that that would necessitate his coming into contact with us, its god-awful fans.

      • avatar Bob James says:

        The context of my comments was a response to McGann’s return, and the sense left of my wondering how Doctor Who would have been different if he had been cast instead of Eccleston. As I clearly stated, pointless, but thought of nonetheless. I agree that Eccleston should be left alone and never asked about Doctor Who, why he did it, why he left, etc., ever again. That will never happen, but I do wish for his sake that it would. I no longer care. I only brought him up because of the contrast I see between him and McGann, as a reference point. It wasn’t haul out the whipping boy again, he was just incidental. You obviously missed my point. As I said, the context of my statement made, I have bid him “SO LONG AND GOODNIGHT”. He’s gone. Might have been nice if he’d stayed a bit longer; might have been nice, and I might add, much more in aid of his putting Doctor Who behind him, and him behind us if he had participated in the Special. Didn’t matter to him. Didn’t happen, not to be. I was on no “side” in 2005. Wanting answers, perhaps, answers that will never be gotten, as neither RTD nor Eccleston found it necessary or was willing to give them. Their very evident contradiction of one another in any attempt to explain says volumes. Something went bad. Casting him could never have ended well. RTD clearly cast someone who had no idea what he was getting involved with. Whether the fans, or myself, are right or wrong in any expectations is not the point. There is territory that comes with Doctor Who. As Richard Franklin so aptly put it, it’s a “Heritage Role”. That’s not going to change. That is simply how it is. This is a moment for McGann and the fans of Doctor Who, neither of which have anything to do with Eccleston. And as Eccleston clearly desires it, he has nothing to do with Doctor Who. And take heart docwhom, even you are not a “god-awful” fan. Annoying, perhaps, and certainly more than I, but not “god-awful”.

        • avatar David F says:

          I’d like to say, as one of those “fans of Doctor Who”, that Eccleston is every bit as cherished and welcome as any other actor, any time he wants to be involved.

          No single fan gets to decide who isn’t accepted in this club, because actually, there isn’t a club. Watch or don’t watch, but don’t presume to lay down rules. We have no greater entitlement than the casual viewer who’s seen only one episode, and nor should we.

          I dearly hope the announcement about Eccleston’s non-participation was more of the misdirection we’ve become used to, and that he’ll have a cameo in a regeneration extra to bookend the War Doctor’s story. And one of the main reasons is that I’m curious about the effect it would have on Bob James.

          • avatar Bob James says:

            I have said that I would love to be proven wrong, and would be completely contrite if some sort of appearance or participation is on the cards. I’d eat crow, and accept the “Overreactor Of The Year ” Award. I didn’t want him to pass on being a part of it. I didn’t want to exclude him from anything, but he has made his choice, excluding himself. I don’t believe a participatory appearance is going to happen. His appearance now would not have been merely “keeping a secret”, but too much along the lines of a cruel deception, not a misdirection. What we will get, I suspect, if anything, is the kind of CGI work that allowed us to see a young War Doctor after Eight’s regeneration. Hurt’s Doctor may regenerate, and we may be left with some image of Eccleston rising up in passing to set the stage, so to speak. I’m going to completely enjoy the Special without him. There is so much more to embrace and celebrate. I’ve been disappointed, and upset, but I’ve also never been glad that Christopher had abstained from the party. I think most Who fans wanted him there. He just didn’t want to be there, and docwhom is correct that moving on is long past due.

  7. avatar rickjlundeen says:

    I loved The Night of The Doctor as much as anyone and have watched it several times now. I don’t need or want to see a whole new series featuring him. He left us wanting more and that’s the way it should be. We fans tend to want to wring every last drop of life out of everything when sometimes, we should leave well enough alone. This mini episode was more universally beloved than anything by any fan ever.

    Seriously, I know a guy who literally *searched* for someone who didn’t like the thing and he managed, after a lot of digging–to come up with one person. I’m sure there are probably more out there but this was a huge success AND a huge moment in the history of the show. I’m more than content to let McGann’s Doctor ride off into the sunset, having blown everybody away, giving us all a fantastic gift. Go out on top.

    If they ever want to do another one off where he meets Capaldi though, I’m in. :) that would be *another* nice surprise.

    • avatar BOJAY says:

      You had to go and suggest a Capaldi/McGann story would be nice, didn’t you? More crazy hopes and dreams, but, hey, we just don’t know now, do we?

      • avatar BOJAY says:

        Thumbs down, here, on that statement? Guess I have some prejudiced critics. Give me a moment to cry. There. Moment over. Must be difficult for sheep to type or click on a computer though. Kudos.

  8. avatar Lozzer says:

    I’m just happy that Paul got the recognition he deserved, and he’s not going anywhere, the new Dark Eyes series isn’t far away, and if it’s as good as the last one we’re in for a real treat. I think we need to focus our attention on the next Doctor though, number 12, the chimes of midnight, the twelfth night… To quote a previous Doctor – “It feels different this time….”

  9. avatar rickjlundeen says:

    It would have been great if McGann was the Doctor that RTD brought the show back with but remember that there were a ton of fans bitching about everything else in the ’96 movie so Russell needed a fresh start to distance the new series from the movie and strategically it was a brilliant move. I do predict though that if McGann did start off the new series, he probably would have stayed for four years and then Tennant, who still did Casanova with RTD would have followed him because Tennant was rabid to do DW. And after that, who knows, in this alternate earth?

    • avatar BOJAY says:

      RTD’s intent and concept in his casting choice was brilliant. Fresh start, a daring restart.The particular choice involved managed to deliver brilliantly in the role, while doing a crash and burn in the final stretch, though. Any actor who takes on Who needs to look before he leaps, especially now. The actor need not be a fan, but needs to be willing to learn the territory. Association with the role, positive or negative, will never end. There just simply isn’t any walking away without it following you. A simple straightforward, there and done and gone would have saved Eccleston a lot of harassment. His own flip flop over the years, especially this year, gave fans false hope. If he was done (as he is), don’t flirt with the press, make statements about how he could have done more with the role, and take meetings with Steven Moffat. Just be done.

      • avatar francis cave says:

        There’s been no “flip flop” as you call it.

        CE has responded politely and briefly to any DW question raised and on the press junket for Thor it was actually a stipulation that interviewers didn’t mention Who, presumably because CE feels he has said all that he has to.

        Re meetings with Moffat think you will find that Moffat contacted him and not vice versa. It doesn’t appear that they even met, just had a few polite conversations. Eccleston didn’t even mention this, all references to them having discussions came from the BBC and Moffat himself.

        What you want to happen, every time Who is mentioned, which inevitably it is, for CE just to say “fxxk off I don’t want to talk about it” and then get even more stick for it?

        Damned if you do, damned if you don’t basically….

  10. avatar McCoy says:

    McGann as Eighty was always cannon, who are these foolish sorts who tried to claim otherwise? On what basis?? Anyway, this short was outstanding, and McGann brilliant. And now, for those that have so far not dipped into his audio work, Eights Big Finish seasons are officially cannon. Those ongoing audio’s are the Eighth Doctors cannon adventures, sandwiched between two visual adventures. So go have a listen!

    It would be nice to have more Eight to watch, and I will not be surprised, after this reaction, if he turns up in a Capaldi multi-Doc ep, or even in Capaldi’s Doctor-lite episode, but if not, we have lots of new cannon to get our teeth into, and we know how his story ends at last.

  11. avatar dr jon says:

    The minisode with paul McGann has bridged a gap in dr who history, a few of the questions has been answerd about the time war and i think a few more will be answerd by theend of the 50th.The 8th doctor still has a lot to give fans and i hope in future episodes he will turn up with the 12th doctor asking for his help.As i an many others who watch the show would like to see McGann using his full potentional in a longer story.

  12. avatar Mark P says:

    It’s all in the name. As we have ‘The Doctor’ and ‘The War Doctor’ are there are non-war versions of Philip Madoc’s ‘War Lord’ and Edward Brayshaw’s ‘War Chief’? :O)

    • avatar Boffin says:

      Good one!!! Might be a way of explaining this whole “You only get Thirteen lives but sometimes you can have in between ones like your War self or the Valeyard”

  13. avatar The Captain says:

    Do some people think Christopher Eccleston really is the Doctor…? He’s an actor who didn’t really get off on the job he had. Would anyone else go back to a job they didn’t enjoy…? He owes you nothing, get over it. I don’t really comment on sites but reading some cazy nut job comments compelled me to. P S Paul Mcgann was ace, nice review.

  14. avatar Jeff Jefferson says:

    Usually what you write is a bore but you did well here

  15. avatar Jay Schufman says:

    I just want to purchase a copy of The Night of The Doctor from iTunes!

    • Why? It’s free on YouTube!

  16. avatar drewboynton says:

    When I first put on NIGHT, I had this overwhelming sense of “is this for real?” and “Am I really seeing this?!” Just so awesome.

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