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Recap / Doctor Who 50th Prequel "The Night of the Doctor"

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"I'm a Doctor.... though probably not the one you're expecting."

The one that at long last resolved the mystery of a disappeared Doctor.

And the origin of a warrior who rejected the namesake, and who himself disappeared before we even knew him.

"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", the 50th anniversary special of the series. For viewers who hadn't seen Paul McGann since 1996, and for BBC Radio 4 and Big Finish listeners who'd followed him for years, it gave closure for a Doctor who was long overdue a swan song.

All seems lost for Cass, the sole occupant of a spaceship crashing into the planet Karn, when a rescuer appears — but probably not the one you were expecting. It's the Eighth Doctor! 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, despite the Doctor's insistence that he is "one of the good" Time Lords and that he is a conscientious objector to the war. Refusing to leave Cass behind, the Doctor stays on the ship until it crashes on the planet's surface.

The Sisterhood of Karn digs him out of the wreckage, and brings him to a nearby cave. The Doctor awakens, and the leader, Ohila, tells him that he actually died for good in the crash, but the sisters have prolonged his life by a few minutes so he has a chance to regenerate, as they know that the universe still needs him. Ohila also presents him with a special opportunity: The sisterhood have mixed a series of elixirs that will allow the Doctor to choose what kind of person he will become when he regenerates, and Ohila implores him to choose one that is capable of putting an the end to the Time War which threatens all of existence. The Doctor states that he has always been determined to stay out of the Time War, and would rather die than go against his conviction. Ohila retorts that he is, in fact, already dead, asking him how many more need to follow him into the grave. This finally causes the Doctor to succumb to Ohila's persuasion. Deciding that that he needs to act, he bids a final goodbye to Cass' corpse and to his former companions Charley, C'rizz, Tamsin, Lucie, and Molly. He chooses the elixir that will turn him into a "warrior", and with an agonising scream, regenerates into the War Doctor.

He begins this next life by snatching the bandolier from Cass as a reminder of what his new existence 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 (supposedly) 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. He suffers through 400 years of combat and has an especially upsetting adventure that pushes him over the edge. 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 apologise."
  • Achilles in His Tent: 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.
  • Agri World: The novelization says that Cass grew up on one of the farm planets in the Gazrond Belt.
  • All There in the Manual: In the novelisation of this story grouped into The Day of the Doctor novel, Cass's full name is revealed to be Cass Fermazzi, and it confirms that her ship was shot down by Time Lords, further justifying her anger towards the Doctor.
    • The Doctor's attempt to save Cass is made further heartbreaking by a profile in the Eighth Doctor Sourcebook for the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space RPG, suggesting that this was the moment when they would begin a long series of adventures together, but the Time War has continued resetting their first meeting with Cass becoming increasingly jaded and bitter towards Time Lords, leading to her ultimate rejection. And if that's not enough, Big Finish's Eighth Doctor: Time War series went on to confirm that in different circumstances earlier in the War, Cass had already met and traveled with him...
  • Armour-Piercing Question:
    • In response to the Doctor telling Cass to "look on the bright side" as he's "not a Dalek":
    • 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:
      The Doctor: [about Cass] 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.
      Ohila: You're dead already. How many more will you let join you?
  • Apocalypse How:
    • It's strongly implied that the Time War is beginning to tear the universe itself apart.
      The Doctor: [Cass] wanted to see the universe.
      Ohila: She didn't miss much. It's very nearly over.
    • Cass is very aware of what the war will ultimately bring, considering both sides' actions in it.
  • 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's shown 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.
  • Back from the Dead: The Eighth Doctor is fatally wounded in the spaceship crash, in a manner that precludes him from regenerating. The Sisterhood of Karn manage to resurrect him, but make it clear that they can only do so for a couple of minutes at most, and a regeneration is necessary to fully revive the Doctor.
  • Badass Bandolier: Cass wears one, only for the Doctor to claim it for himself to remember her death as he goes to war.
  • Bait-and-Switch:
    • The Eighth Doctor! The fact that it's an Eighth Doctor episode was kept completely under wraps. This was helped by intentional subterfuge by the BBC in promoting the mini-episode, stating that it would feature one of the Doctors appearing in the anniversary special. Viewers assumed this meant Matt Smith or maybe David Tennant, but it actually refers to John Hurt's split-second "appearance" at the end.
    • The mini-episode begins like a typical Doctor Who romp, with the Doctor arriving to save the crashing ship and finding himself impressed by Cass's bravery in teleporting the rest of her crew away, with Cass mentioning that she only joined the spaceship crew because she wanted to see the universe. The Doctor is clearly thinking that he can show her the universe in a way she never dreamed... then Cass sees the TARDIS, identifies the Doctor as a Time Lord, and her mood instantly sours.
  • Batman Grabs a Gun: The Doctor realizes that he can't remain neutral in the war any longer and decides to regenerate into a warrior.
  • Bigger on the Inside: The Eighth Doctor telling Cass that the police box is bigger on the inside is what clues her in that her rescuer is a Time Lord; they're the only ones with that sort of technology.
  • Book Ends:
    • Much like in the TV movie, where Sylvester McCoy briefly reprises his role as Seven only to regenerate into Eight, Paul McGann himself has a brief appearance in this special prior to his regeneration into War.
    • The execution of the actors' roles has been flipped. McCoy made a brief appearance with little involvement in his regeneration story, with narrative hints indicating that he had already been through a significant ordeal not too long ago off-screen, while his immediate successor had huge involvement with the plot. Here, McGann made a brief appearance with a huge involvement in the plot of his regeneration story, while his immediate successor had little involvement with the plot, but was preparing to enter a significant ordeal off-screen.
    • 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 that 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".
    • In The Eight Doctors, which takes place moments after the TV movie, the Eighth Doctor says: "Let's just say that I'm a Doctor. There's more than one, you know. Clearly, I'm not the one you were expecting." The lines are repeated almost word-for-word by this Doctor in his final appearance.
    • The Eighth Doctor started out as an amnesiac who asked who he was. He dies by choosing who he regenerates into.
  • 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 of Karn from "The Brain of Morbius" and "Sisters of the Flame"/"Vengeance of Morbius" makes a return appearance.
    • The Doctor says goodbye to his previous companions, name-checking Big Finish Doctor Who companions Charley, C'rizz, Lucie, Tamsin, and Molly. In the novelisation of The Day of the Doctor (where The Night of the Doctor is included as a prologue), he also name-checks Fitz from the BBC Eighth Doctor Adventures.
  • Came Back Strong: The Eighth Doctor regenerates into a warrior.
  • Canon Immigrant:
    • The Eighth Doctor mentions all his companions from Big Finish Doctor Who (up to 2013, at least). Although the BBC or the new series' showrunners have never had any interest in defining what is and isn't considered canon beyond the TV series, 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 directly and unambiguously 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.
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: As per the norm, the Doctor isn't really that put out by the burning, crashing ship.
    Cass: 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 "The Great War".
    • 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 as good as dead. The Eighth Doctor is revived from permanent 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 Doctor Who: 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 his wish, although he was resurrected by the Sisterhood.
    • Cass's furious comparison of the Doctor to the Daleks may explain why the Ninth 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."
    • In "Max Warp", the Eighth Doctor seemingly dies in a spaceship crash, but it turns out to be a flight program. Here he actually does permanently die in a spaceship crash.
    • 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.
    • The Doctor is once again proper dead and a special bit of supernatural force resurrects him. Anti-time incarnate there, the Sisterhood's powers here. It was also in an anniversary episode too!
    • Like before, the Doctor was given a choice of his next regeneration's appearance. This time, he chooses to take it rather than it being forced on him.
  • Conveniently Close Planet: If The Doctor has to be on a crashing spaceship, it's lucky it's flying into a planet inhabited by people who specialise in healing Time Lords.
  • 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: Ohila gave the Doctor his pick of any kind of regeneration potion. The one he chose was presented to him a split second after he chose what he wanted. She said that she took the liberty of preparing it herself.
  • Darker and Edgier: If the last time you saw the Eighth Doctor was 1996. Though if you'd been following the New Eighth Doctor Adventures on BBC Radio 4, you'll understand why.
  • Dark Messiah: The Doctor comes back to life but reluctantly, as a Warrior, because only a warrior can save what's left of the universe.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Upon learning that he has four minutes of life left:
      The Doctor: Four minutes? That's ages! What if I get bored and I need a television or a couple of books? Anyone for chess? Bring me knitting.
    • Ohila has shades of it as well.
      The Doctor: She wanted to see the universe...
      Ohila: She didn't miss much, it's very nearly over.
  • Deconstruction: Cass' meeting with the Doctor plays out like a very typical introduction to a new companion, right up to the point she realizes 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.
    The Doctor: Look on the bright side, I'm not a Dalek!
    Cass: Who can tell the difference any more?
  • Despair Event Horizon: The Doctor reaches it when Cass rejects his help and chooses death instead, simply because he is a Time Lord.
  • Downer Ending: To the Doctor's eighth incarnation, 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 and the War Doctor had happy or upbeat regenerations, with only the Third, Fourth, and Ninth managed a Bittersweet Ending, while the First's seemed quite natural, but this is easily the darkest one yet.
  • The Dreaded: To Cass, any Time Lord automatically qualifies as a horrific monster on the same level as a Dalek.
  • Driven to Suicide: The Eighth Doctor, upset at Cass refusing his help due to what the Time Lords have become, remains on the ship as it crashes.
  • Dying Alone: Or regenerating 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: 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?
  • Fake Shemp: Following the Eighth Doctor's regeneration, Paul McGann served as the body double for the War Doctor, with Stock Footage being used for the War Doctor's face.
  • Freudian Excuse: In the novel adaptation of these events, we find out why Cass was so determined to reject a Time Lord's help: another group of Time Lords ruthlessly attacked her gunship and were responsible for it crashing in the first place.
  • Get Out!: The Doctor demands a minute alone before his regeneration.
    "Get out, GET OUT! All of you."
  • Gallows Humour: 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.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Cass attempted this by staying on the ship so she could teleport the others off. This is one reason why the Doctor considers making her his companion.
  • 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 McGann's own look, 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.note 
    • The Doctor is told that he has four minutes left to live... with four minutes of the mini-episode left to go.
  • Magic Feather: The novelization to The Day of The Doctor says the potion Ohila gave the Doctor was just lemonade, with her "moment of theater" serving as a placebo to get the Doctor to embrace his inner warrior.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Nerves of Steel: Cass keeps reasonably calm in a crashing spaceship, unlike her crewmates, who were all screaming before she teleported them away.
  • Neutral No Longer: The Eighth Doctor's decision to regenerate into the War Doctor is "Doctor no more". He can't avoid taking a side any longer.
  • Novelization: This short is novelized as the first chapter of The Day of the Doctor adaptation.
  • Pacifism Breaking Point: The Eighth Doctor is killed when trying to save a pilot caught in the crossfire of the Time War. Said pilot, upon learning that the Doctor is a Time Lord, intentionally crashes her ship on the surface of Karn so that both of them die, viewing the rest of the Time Lords as no different than the Daleks. When the Sisterhood of Karn revive the Doctor, he realizes that the Time War has progressed to a point where neither side's victory would restore peace to the universe, and thus decides to regenerate into a warrior when given the option. The resulting War Doctor incarnation then sheds the mantle of "the Doctor" and decides to take the Time War into his own hands.
  • Placebo Effect: According to the novelization of The Day of the Doctor, the "Elixir of Life" that Ohila gave the Doctor was actually dry ice and lemonade, thus implying that the Doctor's potential to be a warrior was completely his own.
  • 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's 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. This leads to both of their deaths.
  • 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".
  • Stealth Pun: "Will it hurt?"
  • Stock Footage: The reflection at the end is an image of a much younger John Hurt.
  • Stop, or I Shoot Myself!: 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, him permanently. The presence of this trope is a subtle bookend as it was invoked in McGann's TV movie as well.
  • That Man Is Dead: A more literal example that most, as not only does this episode mark the actual death of the Eighth Doctor, it also shows that the War Doctor himself disowned the title of "the Doctor" and refused to use it throughout his lifetime, owing to the Eighth Doctor's desire to regenerate into a warrior.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: Notably averted, as a real publicity headshot of John Hurt as a young man was used to create a reflected image of the newly regenerated War Doctor.
  • 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.
  • Troperiffic: Just look at how many entries there are for a minisode roughly six minutes long.
  • Ungrateful Bastard:
    • Cass is more than happy to accept the Doctor's help for her very survival... until 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 as "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. Then again, considering his prior experiences with the Sisterhood, this isn't exactly unjustified.
  • 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. 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. Knowing about Daleks and what has become of the Time Lords, they were absolutely right, at least about bringing the Doctor into the war.
    • 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. On another level, it summarily nixed the assumption that the Eighth Doctor regenerated straight to the Ninth Doctor, which meant the unused ending that tried to do just that for the final Eighth Doctor comic in Doctor Who Magazine, "The Flood", was officially null and void. 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, at least in a Broad Strokes sense.
  • Wham Line:
    • One of the first lines of the mini-episode, though more because of who said it: "I'm a Doctor. Though probably not the one you were expecting."
    • "Charley... C'rizz, Lucie, Tamsin, Molly... Friends, companions I have known, I salute you." And with one sentence, the Eighth Doctor's adventures, and through him all of the Big Finish Doctor Who range, became part of the TV canon. (At least, as above, in a Broad Strokes sense. Characters are mentioned, so perhaps their storylines from Big Finish unfolded in TV canon exactly as depicted in the audios.)
    • "Doctor No More." These are the first words after the Eighth Doctor regenerates, indicating the new incarnation will be different and no longer the Doctor.
  • 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.
    Ohila: Eternal Life!
    The Doctor: That's the one.
  • You Are a Credit to Your Race: The Doctor tries to invoke this, saying he's one of the nice Time Lords, but Cass is having none of it.
  • You Monster!: Cass is not happy when she finds out her potential savior is a Time Lord, due to the current shit situation their war with the Daleks has left the universe in.
    Doctor: Well, look on the bright side; I'm not a Dalek!
    Cass: Who can tell the difference anymore?
  • You Won't Feel a Thing!: Averted. Intentionally. Yes, Doctor, the regeneration potion will definitely hurt.
    The Doctor: Good.

"Physician, heal thyself."

Alternative Title(s): The Night Of The Doctor