A young woman called Cass flees alone in a spaceship, trying to keep it from plummeting into a nearby planet. A man calling himself the Doctor inexplicably appears, offering her a chance to escape her certain doom, and to Cass this seems like a perfectly acceptable offer but for one thing: the Doctor is revealed to be a Time Lord, a race of time travelers who are laying waste to reality in their Time War with the Daleks. The Doctor is clearly not to be trusted; Cass allows the ship to crash (and allows herself to be killed). Found in the wreckage of the ship, the dying Doctor awakens in the company of the Sisterhood of Karn, whose life-extending elixir could revive him by triggering his regeneration before he dies. But the Sisters put a price tag on this salvation: the Doctor can ignore the Time War no more.
written by Steven Moffat
directed by John Hayes
music by Murray Gold
Notes: This is Paul McGann’s first and only appearance as the Doctor since the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie, and would appear to mark the end of the eighth Doctor’s era. The eighth Doctor, like the fourth Doctor before him, has a checkered history with the Sisterhood of Karn, previously seen on TV in the Tom Baker story The Brain Of Morbius (1976) but encountered again by McGann’s Doctor in the 2008 audio stories Sisters Of The Flame and The Vengeance Of Morbius. Furthermore, the Doctor namechecks many of his companions before his regeneration, and all of the names he mentions hail from the Big Finish eighth Doctor audio adventures: Charley is Charlotte Pollard, who traveled with the eighth Doctor from Storm Warning (2001) through The Girl Who Never Was (2007) (with a reappearance in the 2013 50th anniversary audio The Light At The End); the Doctor and Charley were joined by the Eutermesan C’rizz from Creed Of The Kromon (2004) through Absolution (2007). Lucie Miller traveled with the Doctor from 2006’s Blood Of The Daleks through To The Death in 2011, and Molly O’Sullivan became the eighth Doctor’s companion in the Dark Eyes box set released in 2012, and will presumably continue in that role in some capacity in the three further Dark Eyes sets announced late in 2013, and all of this constitutes the first unquestionable on-screen confirmation of the Big Finish audio stories as official Doctor Who.
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: Possibly the single biggest fanservice moment of the entire 50th anniversary build-up, Night Of The Doctor is something for which we faithful have waited almost two decades: the long-overdue return to television of Paul McGann as the Doctor. You might just have to forgive a jaded old reviewer (who still proclaims his love of the eighth Doctor’s debut, warts and all) for allowing his objectivity to fail him. Of course, McGann has never really been “gone” from the TARDIS – Big Finish has kept him traveling through time for so many years that it’s easy to forget that there was a time when the makers of Doctor Who audio were afraid that they’d never lure him back into the time machine for another spin.
But the fanservice doesn’t just stop there. It would’ve been all too easy to bring the eighth Doctor back in a way that would’ve obliterated the years of built-up continuity that has grown around that incarnation of the Time Lord in audio form. Instead, in a rather rushed monologue, and for the first time on TV, the Doctor name-checks his audio companions (though curiously, not his comic strip or novel companions) and thus drags Big Finish continuity in from the cold, making it official. And it’s hard to claim that this only affects the eighth Doctor audio stories, when you have characters such as Charley spanning multiple incarnations of the Doctor. The shortest, simplest explanation here, the one that slips past Occam’s Razor with the fewest special pleadings, is that Big Finish is official Doctor Who – which is how I’ve felt since pre-ordering The Sirens Of Time sight-unseen (sound-unheard?) in the summer of 1999. It may rate a gigantic shrug and a “so what?” from the new fandom whose familiarity with the original series is limited, and it may elicit a fingers-stuck-in-ears “la-la-la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you!” from the “it’s not official if it’s not on the telly” crowd, but for those of us who stuck it out and remained huge fans of Doctor Who while it wasn’t something that existed on television anymore, this is validation. (And in the audio anthology The Company Of Friends, starring McGann, Big Finish uses characters from the novels and comics, so arguably, despite the conspicuous lack of a mention of these characters in Night Of The Doctor, everything is in the same universe – Charley and C’rizz, Fitz and Trix, Izzy Sinclair, Bernice Summerfield, Lucie bleedin’ Miller, you name it.)
But wait! There’s more fanservice! We’ll throw in the Sisterhood of Karn free of charge, along with their Elixir of Life and a tenuous acknowledgement of their past relationship with the Time Lords as chronicled in the New Adventures novels of the 1990s. Now how much would you pay? (McGann has also tangled with the Sisterhood before – on CD, naturally.)
But The Night Of The Doctor also runs the very real risk of deflating the entire point of casting John Hurt as a missing mystery Doctor. McGann here proves that he’s clearly up to the challenge of portraying a tortured, no-longer-at-east-with-himself Doctor. And ever since 2005’s Dalek, in which the Doctor admits to setting both Daleks and Time Lords ablaze en masse, the thought has occurred to me that there’s something deliciously, dramatically ironic that the eighth Doctor, one of the most peaceful and easy-going of the Time Lord’s incarnations, at some point becomes death, the destroyer of worlds. So the casting of Hurt and the introduction of a “hidden incarnation” now seems to be down to mere shock value – McGann clearly could’ve pulled this off. (…which anyone who’s been listening to him all these years in audio form would’ve been happy to tell you.) It’s a good thing that the mystery incarnation was to be played by an actor of John Hurt’s stature; anyone of lesser ability would’ve made it all too easy for everyone to be asking “Why not McGann?”
In an anniversary year packed with presents that any longtime fan couldn’t help but love – Big Finish firing on all cylinders, Patrick Troughton episodes returned from the netherworld (or northern Africa, whichever you prefer), the glorious An Adventure In Space And Time, and The Day Of The Doctor itself – Night Of The Doctor may just be the fan-pleasing peak of the franchise’s fictional output this year. Judging by the number of online petitions demanding McGann’s return to TV, it would seem to have ignited a long-standing feeling that the eighth Doctor’s short reign is an injustice requiring immediate correction, and it’s hard to argue with that based on McGann’s powerhourse performance. There’s clearly unfinished business – the notion of the Doctor fiddling while Rome (and the rest of the universe) burns on a cosmic scale is tantalizing, conjuring up all kinds of stories…
…and since Big Finish seems to know better than the BBC when they already have a perfectly good Doctor in the house, I trust them to get right on that.