Recap: Doctor Who 50th Prequel "The Night of the Doctor"
"Physician, heal thyself."
The Night of the Doctor is a Doctor Who
mini-episode written by Steven Moffat
, which was put up by the BBC on 14 November 2013. It is a prequel to "The Day of the Doctor"
. And it gives viewers closure for a Doctor who was long overdue a swan song.
All seems lost for Cass, the sole occupant of a gunship crashing into the planet Karn, when a rescuer appears — the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann
). The Doctor offers to whisk Cass to safety and show her the universe, but upon realising the Doctor is a Time Lord, she refuses, horrified by how the Time Lords have ravaged the universe in their war with the Daleks. The ship crashes, and the Sisterhood of Karn
manage to temporarily revive the Doctor, long enough to offer him a gift: a chance to choose what kind of person he will be when he regenerates. The Doctor has been determined to stay out of the Time War, but now, finally convinced he needs to act, bids a final goodbye to Cass' corpse and to his companions Charley, C'rizz, Tamsin, Lucie and Molly
. He chooses "warrior", and with an agonising scream, regenerates into the War Doctor.
At last, the nagging question is answered. What spelled the end of Eighth Doctor? A woman. A very stubborn woman who put the cherry on top of his Break the Cutie
sundae. After losing hope, he begins this next life by snatching the bandolier from Cass as a reminder of what this next life must be dedicated to. He buckles it across his frame, glances into a reflection, and we see the fresh face of a stern, unflinching warrior. It's the CGI'd head of John Hurt
cleverly disguised from a still frame of one of his past movies. 73-year-old Hurt does his best impression of himself as a younger lad and speaks the words
that will set the War Doctor apart from the other incarnations.
"Doctor no more."
It can be viewed on YouTube
The War Doctor then goes off to fight in the Last Great Time War offscreen. Centuries pass. He gains a new outfit, then does a good job of getting it beaten up in battle. He's got a new sonic screwdriver, the first incarnation with a diode model common to all the post-movie Doctors, that now sits in his bandolier
. His hair turns gray, his skin wrinkles, and he grows a full Beard of Sorrow
unlike the clean-faced Doctors before him. We pick back up with his story onscreen much
later in his life, when he's at the end of his rope and had all he can bear of the Time War... so the War Doctor finally decides...
- AcCENT Upon the Wrong SylLABle: "Cass, I apoloGIZE."
- Achilles in His Tent / All-Powerful Bystander: Up until the death of Cass, the Doctor had refused to participate in the Time War — he has tried to "help where [he] can," but he refused to take sides. It takes her death, and the hatred she shows the Doctor because he is a Time Lord, that convinces him that the War must end NOW.
- Armor-Piercing Question: The Doctor, having been temporarily revived from death by the Sisterhood, bitterly resists their plea for him to enter the Time War until this exchange:
) I could have saved her. I could have got her off the ship, but she refused to listen. Ohila:
Then she was wiser than you. She understood that there is no escaping the Time War. You are a part of this, Doctor, whether you like it or not. The Doctor:
I would rather die
You're dead already. How many more will you let join you?
- Apocalypse How:
- The Atoner: Preemptively. The Eighth Doctor wants to be in pain as he transforms into the War Doctor, aware of what he's going to do as that incarnation.
- Back for the Dead: Paul McGann shows up as the Eighth Doctor... only to regenerate into John Hurt's Doctor six minutes later. Which is how this Doctor was born in the first place.
- Bait and Switch!
- The minisode begins like a typical Doctor Who romp, with the Doctor arriving to save the crashing ship and finding himself impressed by Cass' bravery in teleporting the rest of her crew away, with Cass mentioning she only joined the gunship crew because she wanted to see the universe... then Cass sees the TARDIS, identifies the Doctor as a Time Lord, and her mood sours considerably.
- Also, from the way the prequel begins, the viewers would be expecting to see the Eleventh Doctor since we get no indication of the episode's time period until later. This was helped by intentional subterfuge by the BBC in promoting the minisode, stating that it would feature one of the Doctors appearing in the anniversary special. Viewers assumed this meant Matt Smith, David Tennant or John Hurt. In truth, John Hurt does appear in the minisode, but only at the very end, leaving McGann to carry the story as a surprise to viewers.
- Book Ends:
- Much like in the TV movie, where Sylvester McCoy briefly reprises his role as Seven only to regenerate into Paul's incarnation, Paul himself has a brief appearance in this special prior to his regeneration into John Hurt's version.
- In the TV movie, the Doctor steals his Wild Bill Hickok costume, but specifically does not take the gunbelt. Here, before regenerating, he picks up the Badass Bandolier his next incarnation wears.
- The Seventh Doctor regenerated into the Eighth several hours after his supposed "death". Here, the Eighth Doctor dies in a spaceship crash and is briefly resurrected long enough to allow him to regenerate into the War Doctor.
- The very first thing the Doctor does in this episode is refer to himself as a Doctor. The very last thing he does is declare himself to be "Doctor no more".
- The Bus Came Back: The first televised appearance of the Eighth Doctor since his single television appearance in 1996, a gap of 17 years!
- Call Back:
- The Sisterhood from "The Brain of Morbius" makes a return appearance.
- The Doctor saying goodbye to his previous companions, namechecking Big Finish Doctor Who companions Charley, C'rizz, Lucie, Tamsin, and Molly, making the BFA Adventures canon to the television continuity!
- Canon Immigrant:
- The Eighth Doctor mentions his companions from Big Finish Doctor Who. Although the BBC has never come out and said what is and isn't considered canon beyond the TV series (novels, comics, audios), and there have been occasional off-the-cuff references on TV to events taking place in novels and audios, this marked the first time characters from the audio dramas were unambigiously acknowledged by the series.
- Although the Sisterhood of Karn originated in the TV episode "The Brain of Morbius", they were more fully developed through several Big Finish audios featuring the Eighth Doctor.
- Due to Big Finish's audio dramas often crossing characters over, and even incorporating characters from the novels and Doctor Who Magazine comic strips, it is possible to interpret the line of dialogue as indirectly canonizing the novels and the post-1979 comic strips.
- Casual Danger Dialogue: As per the norm, the Doctor isn't really that put out by the burning, crashing ship.
Where are we going? The Doctor:
Back of the ship. Cass:
Why? The Doctor:
Because the front crashes first, think it through
- Continuity Nod:
- The Doctor yells "Get out! GET OUT!" exactly like he did in Big Finish's "To the Death" and "Dark Eyes: The Great War".
- The Eighth Doctor started out as an amnesiac who asked who he was. He dies by choosing who he regenerates into.
- Ohila remarks that Eight considers himself a "good man". While Eight evades this at first, he does not deny it; a far cry from Eleven's reaction a few centuries later.
The Doctor: It's not my war. I will have no part of it.
Ohila: You can't ignore it forever.
The Doctor: I help where I can. I will not fight.
Ohila: Because you are The Good Man, as you call yourself.
The Doctor: I call myself The Doctor.
Ohila: It's the same thing in your mind.
The Doctor: I like to think so.
- The Doctor argues with a highly suspicious new female acquaintance through a locked door in a moment of crisis, just as he did with Grace during the TV Movie.
- The Seventh Doctor regenerated into the Eighth Doctor after a brief period of being dead (or as good as). The Eighth Doctor is revived from death in order that the Sisterhood can convince him to regenerate into the War Doctor.
- The Tenth Doctor once stated that his eighth self regenerated alone in the comic story The Forgotten, which is seen to be true here.
- In the Big Finish audio plays, the Eighth Doctor said he wished to die alone. He got to.
- Cass's furious comparison of the Doctor to the Daleks may explain why the 9th Doctor looked so horrified in "Dalek" when he is told how much of a "Good Dalek" he would be by the eponymous Dalek.
- The War Doctor's first words are "Doctor no more." It's said in the same tone and cadence as the Eight Doctor's final lines in the audio "Dark Eyes": "Dark eyes no more."
- The Doctor in "To the Death" wanted to save Lucie Miller from a crashing spaceship but was convinced not to. Here he tries to save a woman from a crashing spaceship but fails again.
- Crapsack World: Crapsack Universe — there's not much left of it at this point, due to the Time War, and what's left is implied to be getting torn apart in the crossfire.
- Crazy-Prepared: The Ohila gave the Doctor his regeneration potion a split second after he chose what he wanted. Meaning either they can make it in the blink of an instant, or she already knew beforehand, possibly even before he arrived what he would choose.
- Darker and Edgier: Compared to the last time the Eighth Doctor appeared. On TV at least; his audio dramas are very dark as of late.
- Deadpan Snarker:
- Deconstruction: Cass' meeting with the Doctor plays out like a very typical introduction to a new companion, right up to the point she realises that he's a Time Lord. Then appropriately for the context, she treats him like a Monster of the Week. Worse. She treats him like a Dalek. Which makes that one episode ten times more depressing in hindsight....
- Despair Event Horizon: The Doctor reaches it when Cass rejects his help and chooses death instead, simply because he is a Time Lord.
- Double Meaning / Lampshade Hanging: The BBC synopsis mentioned Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt as being in "The Day of the Doctor", and that only one of the three would be featured in "Night of the Doctor". When the Eighth Doctor shows up at the start of the minisode:
8th Doctor: I'm a Doctor. Though, probably not the one you're expecting.
- Downer Ending: To the entire life of Eight really, as it is implied he has spent his final years doing what he can to save those caught in the crossfire of the Time War alone, but is still perceived as a monster simply by being a Time Lord no matter how much he tries to help. The episode ends with him giving into his despair and becoming something he despises to end it all and save what's left of the Universe. None of the Doctors besides maybe Eleven had happy or upbeat endings, with only Three, Four, Nine, managing a Bitter Sweet Ending, but this is easily the darkest one yet.
- The Dreaded: To Cass, any Time Lord automatically qualifies.
- Dying Alone: The Eighth Doctor shouts at the sisters of Karn to get out after he is given the chalice, reciting a final toast to his former companions alone in the Sisters' chambers, before drinking it back.
- Evil Versus Evil / He Who Fights Monsters: The Time War is long past this point with Daleks and Time Lords held in equal hatred and fear by the wider universe.
The Doctor: Well, look on the bright side; I'm not a Dalek!
Cass: Who can tell the difference anymore?
- Gallows Humor: The Doctor figures with four minutes left to live, he still has just enough time to get bored.
- Going Down with the Ship: Cass and the Doctor both demonstrate a remarkable degree of stubbornness.
- Internal Homage:
- This isn't the first time the Eighth Doctor apparently died on Karn but was saved by the Sisterhood.
- The Eighth Doctor dying but coming back as a "Monster" was done in Zagreus, precisely 10 years before.
- The Doctor's new costume is a mix of his TV movie outfit and his darker look from Big Finish's "Dark Eyes". His haircut and general appearance is also in keeping with more recent images of the actor used for Big Finish CD covers after years of them recycling publicity photos from the TV movie.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
- The Eighth Doctor telling Cass "I'm a Doctor. But probably not the one you were expecting." While literally leaning on a wall, as many viewers freaked out over his surprise appearance.
- The Doctor is told that he has four minutes left to live... with four minutes of the mini-sode left to go.
- Manipulative Bastard: The Sisterhood had all of those potions already prepared. They planned on using the Doctor to end the war, far before he crashed there. What does that means about the potion the Doctor took? And we never did find out what made Cass' ship crash. Odd it should happen so close to Karn...
- Meaningful Release Date: 14 November is Paul McGann's birthday. Though not intended, it was going to released exactly one week before the anniversary, but someone threatened to leak details.
- Mood Whiplash: It's a typical "pick-up the new companion that wants to see the universe" adventure with the Doctor... until Cass recognizes the TARDIS and realizes the Doctor is a Time Lord. It goes downhill from there.
- Neutral No Longer: The Eighth's decision to regenerate into a Warrior.
- Rule of Symbolism: Between the Doctor quoting Scripture (Luke 4:23) and holding a chalice before his imminent death, as well as the faith of the Sisterhood that he will save reality whatever it costs, of course he's still viewed as Messianic Archetype.
- Rummage Sale Reject: The Eighth Doctor's outfit is a more haggard, worn version of his TV Movie costume — still vaguely Edwardian but of darker hues and more frayed around the edges, taking some inspiration from the outfit he previously adopted in the Big Finish "Dark Eyes" stories. The more haggard nature of his suit matches the beat-up look of the TARDIS that we briefly see here.
- Sacrificial Lion: Cass has all the set up of becoming a companion of the Eighth Doctor, until she refuses the call when she sees the TARDIS and recognizes the Doctor as a Time Lord. It's then that we see exactly what the Time War has done to the universe.
- Senseless Sacrifice: Invoked by the Doctor. He refuses to leave Cass' crashing ship without her, while she refuses to accompany a Time Lord. The Doctor, true to his character, doesn't budge.
- Small Role, Big Impact: Cass only encountered the Doctor for a brief moment, however, due to her fear and hatred of him as a result of what the Time Lords have done to the universe in the Time War, the experience is enough to push him to the Despair Event Horizon and become the War Doctor.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: The ending music, as we get the reveal of The War Doctor, is triumphant and upbeat — but the audience already knows that this incarnation is viewed as something far less than triumphant by his other incarnations.
- Start of Darkness: We get to see what happened to make the Doctor betray his self-given name and "break the promise".
- Stock Footage: The reflection at the end is an image of a much younger John Hurt.
- Stop, or I Shoot Myself!: In essentially a version of this, the Doctor refuses to go in the TARDIS without Cass, even though she considers his refusal to save himself to be the "best news all day." The general idea isn't a new tactic for him, although this time it ends badly and they both die in the crash.
- Take That, Audience!: A nice one aimed at the disturbingly large number of fans who absolutely flipped out over the notion of a woman being cast as the next Doctor, as Eight is explicitly asked whether he wants to be fat or thin, fast or strong, man or woman. At the same time, however, it also opens the possibility of the Doctor someday changing gender by artificial, plot-related means, which may be considered more palatable to viewers than the notion that he (and, by extension, male fan-favorite character Romana) might randomly change gender down the line.
- To Absent Friends: The Doctor says his farewells to his Big Finish companions as he drinks the potion, a final toast before he regenerates (and figuratively "dies" as the Eighth).
- Tragic Keepsake: The Doctor takes Cass' Badass Bandolier after regenerating into the War Doctor.
- Trailers Always Spoil: When the video was made available on the official BBC site, the screenshot used for it was an image of Paul McGann — so for those viewers who saw it that way rather than on YouTube, he was the Doctor they were expecting.
- Unexpected Character: The Eighth Doctor returns.
- Ungrateful Bastard:
- Cass is more than happy to accept the Doctor's help for her very survival... Then she finds out her rescuer is a Time Lord and takes full advantage of his willingness to stay and talk her out of it in hopes that he'll die with her. Considering the reputation of the Time Lords however (who could tell the difference between them and the Daleks), this may not be as petty as initially thought.
- The Doctor comes off a bit like this. The Sisterhood saves his life, and some of the first words out of his mouth insults their faith.
- Unwanted Rescue: Cass would rather die in a crash than accept a ride from a Time Lord.
- War Is Hell: This episode takes place well within the Time War between Daleks and Time Lords. And whatever is happening, the whole universe is suffering for it to the point where Cass refuses to save her own life if it means getting into a TARDIS with a Time Lord....
- Well-Intentioned Extremist:
- The Sisterhood of Karn manipulate the Doctor into becoming something anathema to his nature using the death of Cass to push him past the Despair Event Horizon, but are doing so only out of sheer desperation to end the carnage of the Time War and save the universe from both the Daleks and the Time Lords. Since the audience never finds out why Cass' ship ran into trouble so close to Karn, one interpretation is that the Sisterhood intentionally caused the crash in the first place, as a means to lure the Doctor to them.
- The fact the Doctor agrees to the Sisterhood's request, rather than choosing death, puts him in this category too.
- Wham Episode: For a mini-episode, this one packs one hell of a wallop in terms of revealing the final fate of the Eighth Doctor and the birth of the War Doctor, while also throwing out years worth of "fanon" that assumed the Eighth Doctor was the one who ended the Time War and destroyed Gallifrey. To a lesser degree, it also brings the Big Finish adventures (and, by extension, potentially all the novels and the post-1979 comic strips too, thanks to Big Finish's six degrees of separation) into the canon of the televised series.
- Wham Line:
- Who Wants to Live Forever?:
The Doctor: It's you, isn't it? You're The Sisterhood of Karn, Keepers of the Flame of Utter Boredom.
Ohilia: Eternal Life!
The Doctor: That's the one.
- Ironically, Time Lords have more-or-less indefinite lifespans, taking centuries to age each regeneration into a natural death.
- You Look Familiar: Emma Campbell-Jones was Dr. Kent in "The Wedding of River Song".
- You Won't Feel a Thing: Averted. Intentionally.