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Friday, November 22, 2013

Doctor Who: "The Night of the Doctor" Mini-Episode [Review]




On November 14, the BBC released a mini episode to the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary episdoe "The Day of the Doctor." The prequel titled “The Night of the Doctor,” starred, much to the surprise of fans and critics, the eighth Doctor played by Paul McGann. McGann's Doctor was last seen in the Doctor Who TV movie, which was released in 1996 as a failed pilot to revive the series in an American setting.

The episode was critically acclaimed and applauded by fans and critics alike. At only seven minutes in length, the mini episode has the potential to be one of the most significant episodes to date both for the show's production history and for the Doctor Who lore.

As the mini episode opens, a ship is crashing onto the planet Karn, its pilot desperately seeking help. "I'm a Doctor," a voice says off screen. The camera pans and there stands the Doctor. "But probably not the one you were expecting," he says. True to his ironic words, this Doctor was not the Doctor we, the audience, expected. This was a great misdirection on the part of the BBC would originally teased the prequel this way:
The 50th Anniversary features Matt Smith, David Tennant and a mysterious incarnation played by John Hurt. Only one appears in the mini episode, The Night Of The Doctor. But which?
Later, unable to prevent the crash, the Doctor is dying from wounds. He encounters the Sisters of Karn, an exiled cult of Time Lords who provides him with a concoction to force a regeneration, the process by which Time Lords are able to stave of death by regenerating their body into a new form. This regeneration would be specific, the Sisters tell him. He can pick the from a selection of forms but whichever he chooses, he must take that form into battle to end the Last Great Time War, a war the Doctor has been able to avoid thus far.

He choose his form and becomes the "War Doctor." A look in the mirror reveals the face of John Hurt which has been digital edited to look younger than he is now. He is "Doctor no more."

In the span of seven minutes, "The Night of the Doctor" not only created the bookends to the eighth Doctor's life that began with the TV movie but also established Hurt's position in the Doctor's timeline. It was no longer a mystery where the War Doctor fit.

In those seven minutes we learned that the eighth Doctor ran away from the Time War, whereas until this point fans only speculated that he actually fought in the War before regenerating into Christopher Eccleston's ninth Doctor. We now know that he was conscripted and that the numbering sequence is actually off (although, since the Doctor refuses to acknowledge him as a Doctor, therefore thanks to semantics, we don't need to adjust our numbering.) It is also implied by the War Doctor's youth after regeneration, that this incarnation would fight the Time War for a long time to come, possibly culminating into "The Day of the Doctor," and could possibly hint at another regeneration sequence.

What really makes these seven minutes so special and so significant is that shortly before regenerating, the eight Doctor invoked and saluted the names of several companions from the Big Finish audio-plays. Up until this point the audio plays, like many of the Doctor's other spin-off media adventures in comics and novels, were considered apocrypha at best, in that although they were licensed by the BBC, the powers that be refused to acknowledge their canonicity. When the movie pilot did not take off, fans soon turned to these source to provide them with the eighth Doctor adventures the craved. But now, in a brief sentence, "The Night of the Doctor," canonized at least the audio-plays that featured these characters.



More importantly, since these very audio-plays sometimes mention or feature characters and events from the novels and comic books, the mini episode indirectly canonized those characters and stories as well. This is especially profound as those references are not limited the eighth Doctor. For example, one of the companions mentioned was Charlie Pollard who also crossed over to the sixth Doctor's audio adventure therefore the entire range the sixth Doctor's audio plays are canonizing since they are sequentially linked. The connections doesn't stop there, the sixth Doctor joins other Doctors occasionally and those audio plays are then connected to respective Doctors' own ranges.

The links are not limited to one medium of the one spin-off. The character of Frobisher, who appeared as a companion for the sixth and seventh Doctors in Doctor Who Magazine's (DWM) comic strips in the Eighties also makes appearance in the audio plays, so it can be inferred that those comic strip adventures are also eligible for canonization. The eighth Doctor audio play Companion Stories released in 2011 featured stories with companions from eighth Doctor novels and comic strips as well as the seventh Doctor novels.

What does this all mean? It means two things, mainly.

First, the eighth Doctor now has a proper life, full of adventures and friends. I already started to purchase copies of the audio plays starring the eighth Doctor. I will say, McGann gives stellar performances in the two adventures I've listen to so far. The novels are hard to find and are very expensive. Also, there are about seventy of them. I am trying to locate copies of the DWM graphic novels. (DrWhoGuide.com has a great chronology reference that tries to use clues in the spin-off media to place those adventures in some sort of order.)

Secondly, if you add all the other Doctors' spin-off adventures, the Doctor Who lore expands into new depths and has the potential to change how we know the Doctor. You could spend a life time and a lot of money trying to experience these stories.