Not the Doctor I was expecting
FAIR WARNING, this post is going to talk about the recent mini-sode THE NIGHT OF THE DOCTOR posted by the BBC (embedded at the end of this post). ***SPOILERS AHEAD ***
The mini-sode, written by DOCTOR WHO's current reigning king, Steven Moffat, is a prequel to the forthcoming 50th Anniversary special, THE DAY OF THE DOCTOR (clever, right, with the day and night title wordplay?). Moffat isn't new to creating mini-sodes to be devoured by Whovians --- but I'm gonna say right now, this one actually works. And I'm going to tell you why.
SPOILERS AHEAD. STARTING NOW.
(Of course, I assume that if you're a Doctor Who fan, you've already seen it. More than once.)
I heard about the prequel going up from one of my pals on Facebook and I admit, I didn't actually realize what he meant at first because the title threw me. I thought he was getting excited over the Matt Smith minisodes NIGHT AND THE DOCTOR (a five-part romp that did some lovely things for Amelia Pond and simultaneously didn't satisfy my need for continuity in the life and times of River Song----but then I don't think anything ever will). One thing I do love about Doctor Who these days is the embracing of the web to create and disseminate bonus material for the fans. These minisodes are fun, they're quick, and they give us something, like an appetizer or snack between meals (the meal being the Doctor... yeah, you're already ahead of the metaphor). So after I realized this friend would never get retroactively that excited, I read it again. And I saw the "of" instead of the "and" and I too became instantly gleeful. New stuff!
And then I watched it and that glee soared when Paul frikkin number eight McGann strolled into frame like he'd always been there. And he kinda has. Just, ya know, for a movie. Seventeen years ago. As he once said in an interview, he was only in the TARDIS for six weeks. I know he's been up to audio stuff and so not divorced from Doctor Who, but it was a total and happy shock that they worked him into the 50th with this little prequel. My mind reeled as it tried to reconcile the final moment of THE NAME OF THE DOCTOR ("The Name of", "The Night of", "The Day of" --- I'm half expecting the Christmas special to be "The Christmas of" or "The Life of" or some iteration). I'd just said goodbye to River Song. Matt Smith jumped into the Doctor's timestream. John Hurt showed up. And now here's Paul McGann. If you're kinda new to the series and only joined in with the reboot in 2005, Paul played number eight (i.e. the one before Eccleston). There's always been that question of how did Paul McGann become Christopher Eccleston. Seems the anniversary special might just explain that for us. At least that's what I was hoping when the season ended. I've been counting down with my Whovian pals to November 23rd to see what happens to the Doctor and his Impossible Girl.
Before next week, however, Moffat decided to blow our minds a bit with this little gem. First of all, it worked because it set everything up for next week. All in six minutes (man, Paul McGann, you're a good sport, sir---never getting much time in the TARDIS, if any, but owning your incarnation superbly). Six minutes to jump in to a crashing ship, meet a pilot name Cass, bring back the eighth Doctor, establish that the Time Lords and Daleks are destroying the universe and we're in the midst of the Time War that we're heard so much about since Nine started brooding over it; then there's still time to crash the ship and kill everyone on board. Yes, KILL, as in dead --- the Doctor (I'll get to that), and meet up with the Sisters of Karn. Okay --- confession, I didn't know what Karn was. While my wife started watching back when Tom Baker was running around with Sarah Jane Smith, I started with David Tennant (and side note, experienced Sarah Jane later in her journey first and only now have been going back to watch her original adventures) --- I'm like the Doctor, I watch Doctor Who in a wibbly wobbly timey wimey kind of way. So, back to the minisode: they crashed on Karn (and if you want to really get in on the backstory there, you're gonna want to track down The Brain of Morbius, from the Fourth Doctor's travels) and the sisters go and revive McGann and we get some wicked fast exposition about some off the charts Time Lord science on Karn and then like the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, there are all these cups and they tell our dying Doctor (short term revival) that he should drink from one and that he gets to CHOOSE what happens next. YES. He can choose the next result of his regeneration. At this point, we all know what he's gonna do --- he's going to pick the John Hurt cup. Why? Because we saw THE NAME OF THE DOCTOR and we've seen Moffat's earlier show, COUPLING, and thus know that Moffat has been waiting his entire life to have a John Hurt Moment in his own shows. I was pretty certain when John Hurt turned about at the end of the season that somewhere, Moffat either won a bet or wet his pants. Either way, he was happy about it.
And this is where I have all these questions. Is John Hurt's War Doctor (there is a clear distinction now in the credit sequence applying the aggressive adjective to Hurt), is he one of the official regenerations? Is he Nine? Does it bump them all back? Part of me says no because he didn't go all human torch in what is now the acceptable kind of regeneration --- unless they're actually going to say the visual of regenerating has nothing to do TV budgets and technology and everything to do with actual plot and character age / development in the series (they could). My money is on the theory that he is NOT a Doctor --- he says he wants a "warrior" and he says there's no time for Doctors... so.... that tells me that he's a pause in the chain. He's there, but he's not. When he cedes to Eccleston, the chain resumes. And honestly, I wouldn't care so much if the ENTIRE SECOND HALF OF THE LAST SEASON hadn't been about the "Fall of the 11th" and this whole business of Matt's Doctor possibly dying. Matt's the 11th. He just is. Though there are plenty of iffy bits in the finale and the whole TARDIS tomb and why it looked like Matt's TARDIS inside if there's gonna be a Peter Capaldi Doctor... so yeah.
On that note... I'll say it now. Matt Smith's Doctor will regenerate into Capaldi for the 50th. I hope I'm wrong. I don't think he gets a Christmas special... or if he does, it's not a long one. I think they had Peter WAY TOO SOON and ready to go. They wrapped up River and Matt out of nowhere (that "Goodbye, Sweetie" breaks my heart). He could still get to Christmas ---- but it's the 50th. It would be an epic exit. EP. IC. Yeah, they've leaked photos of Matt and Jenna filming the Christmas special.... but were they really? I mean, really?
Moving on! What I loved about this minisode is how much it crammed in and how many questions it raised. John Hurts reflection looked young when we see it at the end ---- but he's all older in the flesh, so how long was he fighting in that war? Does the War Doctor count in the line-up of the regenerations? Was he more of a transformation, not a full on change? Can the sisters redefine it anyway because of all the awesome TimeLord science floating around that place?
Let's all just admit right now that Moffat is really brilliant at setting up all the pretty dominoes; except sometimes, right near the end, one just falls over and misses the rest. And then Moffat jumps in like we didn't see the crashing stop and he just nudges another domino with his finger like "What? They were completely in line" and the rest fall. But we know that somewhere between set-up and the final domino, something is off.
So while this minisode works in the tradition that it's exciting, fun, intriguing, and sets up next week's 50th anniversary special like nobody's business... it's still possibly just a huge brilliant set-up that could crash and burn. I think back to River's statement in A GOOD MAN GOES TO WAR. "He'll rise higher than ever before and then fall so much further." I worry for the 50th that this will be true of Moffat. I like this six minute jammed packed minisode. It raises questions. It's got me thinking. It's on the way up. I'm hoping that we don't fall, that it keeps its trajectory, and that the episode on the 23rd is just fantastic.
There's hope. Most of the minisodes to date, while fun, are just that --- they are fun. They are snippets, snapshots, moments in the Doctor Who-niverse (yeah, went there) that don't connect or build or even feel cohesive. They feel like after thoughts. This one, however, felt very much a thought. And that's why it works so well. It's actually telling a story, and setting up a bigger one. This mini-sode essentially exists to brace us for impact for the 50th and to pass the reigns from McGann to his successors, something we lost along the way.
It's exciting to see where the 50th is taking us. Both forward and back. Very wibbly wobbly. As it should be.
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Thoughts. From my brain. Anything to do with how we tell stories and the stories we tell each other. Literally and figuratively.
Writer. Husband. Father. Effulgent dreamer. A Fightin' Irishman (@NDdotEDU '01). A playwriting Bobcat (MFA in Playwriting, @OhioU '13). I write plays. I'm a geek. I wanted to be an astronaut. I go places in my head.