War Doctor

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This article is about the character in the British television series Doctor Who. For doctors in warfare, see Combat medic and Military medicine.
The Doctor
War Doctor.jpg
The War Doctor
Portrayed by John Hurt
First appearance "The Name of the Doctor"
Last appearance "The Day of the Doctor"
Appearances 3 stories (3 episodes)

The War Doctor[n 1] is an incarnation of the Doctor,[6] the protagonist of the BBC science fiction television programme Doctor Who. He is portrayed by English actor John Hurt.[6] Although he precedes Christopher Eccleston's Ninth Doctor in the show's fictional chronology,[6] his first onscreen appearance came eight years after Eccleston's; the War Doctor was retroactively created by showrunner Steven Moffat for productions celebrating the show's 50th anniversary, owing to Moffat's desire to tell the story of the last day of the Last Great Time War in the special after Eccleston declined to appear.[6]

Within the programme's narrative, the Doctor is a centuries-old alien, a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, who travels in time and space in his TARDIS, frequently with companions. When the Doctor is critically injured, he can regenerate his body, but in doing so, gains a new physical appearance and with it, a distinct new personality. This plot device has allowed a number of actors to portray different incarnations of the Doctor over the show's long run. The War Doctor, not so named within the episodes in which he appears, is introduced as the incarnation of the Doctor who fought in the Time War of the show's modern-day backstory. He was created as a result of a conscious decision of the Eighth Doctor, played by Paul McGann, to take up arms and become a warrior; in accepting this duty, the War Doctor disowned the title of "Doctor," and after the war's end is viewed with disdain by his subsequent incarnations, who reclaim the title that the character is known by. In the 50th anniversary special "The Day of the Doctor", however, the Eleventh Doctor played by Matt Smith revises his opinion of this incarnation after revisiting the final moments of the war.

In his original conception of the show's anniversary special, Moffat had written the Ninth Doctor as having ended the Time War. However, he was "pretty certain" that Christopher Eccleston would decline to return to the role, which he ultimately did. As he also had reservations about making Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor the incarnation who had ended the war, he created a never-before-seen past incarnation of the Doctor, which allowed him "a freer hand" in writing the story, acknowledging that the success of doing this would be predicated on being able to cast an actor with a significant enough profile.[7][8]


English actor John Hurt portrays the War Doctor

In "The Name of the Doctor", Hurt wears a distressed brown leather overcoat, similar to the Ninth Doctor's black leather overcoat over a dark brown waistcoat similar to ones worn by the Eighth Doctor. Costume designer Howard Burden said that Hurt's character is a "dark Doctor" existing between the Doctor's eighth and ninth incarnations.[9]

He is also seen to use a new sonic screwdriver with a red light, closely matching that of the prop used by the Third and Fourth Doctors.[2] He keeps it in a bandolier originally worn by Cass, played by Emma Campbell-Jones, a young pilot who dies after refusing the Doctor's help.


The War Doctor first appears at the conclusion of the series seven finale "The Name of the Doctor" when the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and companion Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman) are trapped in the Doctor's timeline. Clara believes she has seen all the Doctor's faces, but does not recognise one figure. The Doctor (Smith) tells her that he is yet another version of himself, albeit one who has lost the right to the name of the Doctor; when the figure declares that he did what he did "without choice [...] in the name of peace and sanity", the Doctor, before he and Clara return to the universe, states that the figure did not make his choice in the name of the Doctor.

The War Doctor's origins are given in the mini-episode "The Night of the Doctor", set during the Time War referred to in the series. After the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) is killed in a spaceship crash while trying to save an innocent woman, who rejected his efforts because she regards the Time Lords and the Daleks as equally monstrous for the collateral damage inflicted in the war, he is temporarily resurrected by the Sisterhood of Karn (The Brain of Morbius) and urged to take a stand and join the war. He is offered an elixir designed to trigger a life-saving regeneration into a form of his choice. Feeling the universe has no more need for a doctor, he requests to become a warrior. After regenerating into the War Doctor, he disowns the name of the Doctor, with his new incarnation's first words being "Doctor no more".

In the 50th anniversary special "The Day of the Doctor", having fought in the Time War for many years, the greatly aged War Doctor steals the superweapon known as "the Moment" with the intent of wiping out all combatants in the war along with his home world of Gallifrey. However, the Moment is sentient, possessing a conscience that requires the user to morally justify his use of it, and interacts with him in the shape of his future companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper). Although acknowledging that she can do what the Doctor asks of her, she then sends the War Doctor into his future to meet the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors (David Tennant and Matt Smith respectively) to understand the sadness and regret they endured while continuing the good he failed to accomplish. Having witnessed his future selves prevent a Zygon conquest of Earth and the destruction of London, the War Doctor concludes that he must destroy Gallifrey, reflecting that he is lighting the fire so that better Doctors can be forged, only for the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors to travel back to activate the Moment with him, the later Doctors declaring that they now recognise the War Doctor as having been "the Doctor on the day it wasn't possible to get it right". However, aided by the Moment's interface which shows them a vision of the horror and destruction wrought in the Fall of Arcadia, the last battle the War Doctor fought in, and Clara's plea to remember the vow they made in taking their name, the Doctors ultimately conclude that the loss of life that would be caused by using the Moment is something they cannot accept. They instead pool their resources, and with the help of the Doctor's various incarnations, attempt to save Gallifrey by freezing it in a moment in time, creating the illusion of the planet's own destruction. The Daleks are effectively tricked into firing on each other, annihilating themselves. The War Doctor accepts that upon returning to his own timeframe, he will forget his own heroic actions and must live with the false knowledge that he killed his own people. Before leaving, he takes a moment to thank his future selves for helping him "become the Doctor" again. Once inside his TARDIS, he begins to regenerate, realising that his body is "wearing a bit thin," echoing the First Doctor's utterances in The Tenth Planet.

The War Doctor appears in archive footage in the 2014 episode "Listen". The episode reveals that the barn the War Doctor travelled to, to activate the Moment, was the Doctor's childhood home. Through similar footage he also appeared in "The Zygon Invasion", during which it is learned that the peace talks orchestrated by himself and his future incarnations resulted in 20 million Zygons taking up residence on Earth disguised as humans.

In other media[edit]

The War Doctor appears in the BBC Books novel Engines of War by George Mann. The novel details the events leading to the Doctor's decision to detonate the Moment, as seen in "The Day of the Doctor", including his decision to act against the resurrected Rassilon and the death of a temporary companion as he acts to stop a Dalek plot to develop a weapon that could erase Gallifrey from history. The War Doctor appears alongside the other incarnations of the Doctor in the 2014 collection The Shakespeare Notebooks. The War Doctor's segment is titled "A Prologue", and purports to be a fictionalised account of the Time War written by William Shakespeare. A further prose story titled "The Stranger" was released in 2015 as part of the Heroes and Monsters Collection.

In May 2015, it was announced by Titan Books that the War Doctor would be the fourth incarnation joining the Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors in their Four Doctors crossover mini-series.[10] This is the War Doctor's second appearance in comics, the incarnation having previously featured in a non-speaking cameo in IDW's Dead Man's Hand. The War Doctor appears in the first issue, in a flashback.

The War Doctor, along with the other twelve incarnations, appears in the 2015 video game Lego Dimensions, voiced using clips of John Hurt's dialogue from his episodes.

It was announced in October 2015 that a series of War Doctor audio plays starring John Hurt was in production by Big Finish Productions. The first box set, Only the Monstrous, was released December 2015. The second, Infernal Devices, was released February 2016. The third, titled Agents of Chaos, September 2016, and the fourth and final set, Casualties of War, February 2017. This set features the return of an old companion, Leela (Louise Jameson). [11]


  1. ^ In "The Name of the Doctor" and "The Day of the Doctor", he is billed simply as "The Doctor"; on official merchandising, he is referred to as the "Other Doctor";[1][2] however, in "The Night of the Doctor", he is referred to as the "War Doctor" on-screen, and this title is officially used by the BBC, Steven Moffat and the licensed audio series.[3][4][5]


  1. ^ Merchandise Guide (6 January 2014). "Doctor Who The Other Doctor 5" Action Figure". The Doctor Who Site. Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Merchandise Guide (6 January 2014). "The Other Doctor's Sonic Screwdriver Pre Order + Video". The Doctor Who Site. Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  3. ^ Swift, Simon (24 November 2013). "Doctor Who: Steven Moffat clears up the whole Doctor regeneration problem... sort of". Metro. Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  4. ^ "Doctor Who – Timeline Photos". Doctor Who. Facebook. 22 January 2014. Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  5. ^ "Doctor Who: The War Doctor". Big Finish Productions. 15 October 2015. Retrieved 28 June 2016. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Doctor Who: Steven Moffat clears up confusion around the number of John Hurt's Doctor". Radio Times. 15 November 2013. Retrieved 17 November 2013. 
  7. ^ "What if Eccleston Had Returned for 50th?". Doctor Who TV. 16 December 2013. Retrieved 16 December 2013. 
  8. ^ "Doctor Who 50th Anniversary: The Day of the Doctor". HI! Magazine. 26 November 2013. Retrieved 27 November 2013. 
  9. ^ "Doctor Who's new adversary – the Prince of Wales". The Daily Telegraph. 3 July 2013. Retrieved 15 November 2013. 
  10. ^ http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/comics/s7/doctor-who/news/a647451/john-hurts-war-doctor-is-back-for-titans-doctor-who-comics-event.html#~pcTuFDK1qZttmx
  11. ^ http://www.radiotimes.com/news/2015-10-05/john-hurt-to-return-as-the-war-doctor-in-new-doctor-who-audio-plays