The Night of the Doctor
|The Night of the Doctor|
|Doctor Who special|
|Executive producer(s)||Steven Moffat|
|Incidental music composer||Murray Gold|
|Length||6 minutes 49 seconds|
|Originally broadcast||14 November 2013|
"The Night of the Doctor" is a mini-episode of the British science fiction television programme Doctor Who. It was made available on BBC iPlayer and YouTube on 14 November 2013, as part of the BBC One lead-up to the show's 50th anniversary special. Written by Steven Moffat, it starred Paul McGann as the Doctor.
The episode, set during the Time War, shows the previously unseen last moments of the Eighth Doctor (McGann), and his artificially controlled regeneration into the War Doctor (John Hurt). It is notable for featuring McGann's second onscreen appearance as the Doctor, following his debut in the TV movie seventeen years earlier in 1996. It is also, in the series' chronology, the first appearance of the War Doctor.
During the Time War, the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) attempts to rescue a pilot, Cass, whose spacecraft is crashing into the planet Karn. When Cass realises that the Doctor is a Time Lord, she refuses his aid, ignoring his claims that he has never taken part in the devastating Time War. The Doctor refuses to abandon Cass, and both are killed when the ship crashes.
On the planet, the Doctor is taken in by the Sisterhood of Karn, guardians of the Flame and Elixir of Eternal Life, who revive him temporarily; Cass, however, is beyond their help. The Sisterhood offer the Doctor a selection of potions which, if consumed before he expires, will trigger his regeneration into a new form. They convince the Doctor that he must take action to end the Time War, which "threatens all reality". The Doctor's initial rejection is met by the response that he is "dead already; how many more will you let join you?", and the Sisters beg him not to allow the universe to fall, as it presently "stands on the brink". The Doctor acknowledges there is not much need for a doctor any more, salutes the memory of his past companions, and asks for a potion that will turn him into "a warrior". He utters his last words ('Physician, heal thyself') and, after drinking it, regenerates into a hitherto unknown incarnation of the Doctor, (known as the War Doctor and played by John Hurt, appearing via digitally manipulated archive footage from his younger days), who takes Cass's bandolier and declares, "Doctor no more."
- The Eighth Doctor, before he regenerates, mentions Charley Pollard, C'rizz, Lucie Miller, Tamsin Drew, and Molly O'Sullivan. These are the Doctor's companions in various audio dramas for Big Finish Productions, marking the first time that the Big Finish audio series has been directly referenced in the television show, and follows a similar reference to Professor Arthur Candy from Steven Moffat-penned Virgin Decalog short story, "Continuity Errors" in the 2011 episode "Let's Kill Hitler" and the appearance of Kate [Lethbridge]-Stewart from the Reeltime Pictures direct-to-video feature films Downtime and Dæmos Rising, in the 2012 episode "The Power of Three".
- The Fourth Doctor previously visited Karn in The Brain of Morbius (1976), where the Sisterhood controlled a secret Elixir of Life. The Sisterhood also recurred in Eighth Doctor Big Finish stories.
The idea for "The Night of the Doctor" came following the creation of the previously unknown incarnation of the Doctor played by John Hurt in "The Name of the Doctor". Steven Moffat decided that he wanted to see how this Doctor came into being, with the best story idea being a direct regeneration from the Eighth Doctor, which would have the added benefit of showing the end of the Eighth Doctor, which Moffat had always wanted to see. Having contacted Paul McGann, who indicated his willingness to participate, Moffat then constructed the mini-episode to serve as an additional surprise for the fans, as well as serving as an introductory piece to "The Day of the Doctor".
The mini-episode was produced as part of the production schedule of "The Day of the Doctor", with filming taking place on the final two days of the shoot, the 4 and 5 May 2013; rather than a return to the costume from the TV movie, or using the new image that Big Finish had introduced, Moffat decided on a variation of the TV movie outfit designed by Howard Burden, which referenced that image, in retaining the long green coat and grey waistcoat, but making it appear more of an "adventurer's" rather than "gentleman's" outfit.
Broadcast and reception
The broadcast of the episode came as a surprise to viewers, as it was announced via Twitter less than an hour before its release. The appearance of Paul McGann was similarly unexpected. The mini-episode was intended to be released during the actual week of the anniversary, but was brought forward owing to the fact that its existence, as well as the surprise presence of McGann as the Eighth Doctor, were about to be leaked. The Atlantic listed "The Night of the Doctor" as one of the best television episodes of 2013.
The episode was made available on the BBC's YouTube site, its iPlayer service, and on the BBC Red Button service. "The Night of the Doctor" received over 2.5 million views within the week of its release. McGann's reprise performance was met with acclaim; fans of the episode campaigned for the BBC to grant the Eighth Doctor his own spin-off series, with one petition on Change.org accumulating over 15,000 signatures.
BBC America aired the episode on 25 December 2013 as part of an expanded broadcast of "The Day of the Doctor" including deleted scenes excluded from the normal US broadcast honoring the 50th Anniversary as well as Matt Smith's final episode which aired immediately following it and his farewell special.
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