What a lovely surprise this was, and all the better for being a successfully kept secret. I was always a fan of the Eighth Doctor, and felt that McGann never had a fair chance. RTD’s choice not to continue the Eighth Doctor era in 2005 was a bit of a disappointment at the time, but completely the right choice. So it was wonderful so see another, albeit tiny outing for the Eighth Doctor, and the chance for McGann to revisit the role and bring it to a close. It was phenomenally popular at the time, and I am still baffled that it didn’t lead to more internet episodes with McGann. The “confusing for the viewers” excuse was not a sufficient reason not to do them. Anyway, let’s look at what this episode had to do:
(1) Reintroduce the Eighth Doctor
(2) Show us something of the horrors of the Time War
(3) Kill off the Eighth Doctor in a convincing way
(4) Show his choice to become the War Doctor and to some extent abandon his principles
…and all that had to be accomplished in under seven minutes. On the face of it, this looks like a task that would be horrendously difficult even for a full length episode, but for a mini-episode like this it is stunning that it was achieved so well. Added to that, the way (4) is achieved is by going through the familiar routine of the introduction of a new companion, but with a twist. The potential companion rejects the Doctor. We even have the time-worn “it’s bigger on the inside” introduction to the TARDIS, but this time around it is a cause for the companion-to-not-be to recoil in horror. This is such a clever way to show just how desperate things have become for the Doctor, that he has to tell people he is good. And they just won’t believe him.
Not only does the episode achieve all of the above so slickly, it also provides a bookend to the Movie that is such a perfect fit that it feels like the first and last pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. So in the Movie we have the Eighth Doctor struggling to discover his identity and become the Doctor, which he achieves by the end of the story. Here this is in reverse. He starts by announcing himself as the Doctor and by the end of the episode he is abandoning the persona to become something different. Even more poetic is the reversal of a scene in the Movie where the Doctor is choosing his costume and rejects the gun that goes with it. Here he takes up the ammo belt before he regenerates. All very neat and tidy.
So the writing is clearly magnificent, but what McGann does with it is even more impressive. He shows us the same character as he portrayed in the Movie, but with more than a hint of being worn down by what has happened to him. He has never forgotten how to play the Doctor, probably the result of his work with Big Finish. And the acknowledgment of that legacy with the roll call of companion names is a lovely touch for the fans.
I would love to see more of McGann’s Doctor on screen but sadly this is almost certainly a forelorn hope. At least we have this little slice of brilliance to close out his era, and his superb contribution to Doctor Who should never be overlooked. RP
The view from across the pond (on holiday):
From the Emerald Isle, still on the wrong side of the pond…
I can’t add much here, Roger. You’ve summed it up brilliantly. The roll call was what I loved; the acknowledgement that the Big Finish adventures were the real deal… that made a big impression on me. But I also love your analysis of the bookends about his identity. From his beginning, I thought McGann was wonderful. Honestly, I think it was his voice. A bit raspy, but a strength that was undeniable, McGann commanded the role from the start. Add to that, his extraordinary work on his Big Finish episodes (like The Chimes of Midnight: one of my all time favorites), McGann became the Doctor! (Like C. Baker, I had the opportunity to meet him twice, and he is an absolutely gentleman!)
In this 7 minute episode, they brink back the 8th Doctor in style. He captures the audience and keeps you watching, unblinking. The fact that his involvement was kept secret added to the excitement!
The one and only thing I find irksome is his “get out, GET OUT” line. It’s a minor pet peeve and does nothing against the episode, but I found it to be too over-the-top. He tells people to leave but doesn’t give them a chance to move before yelling again. Yes, he’s about to go through something traumatic, but like Colin’s “escalation of annoyance”, this is too fast and unnecessary. It feels forced. It’s the only moment I feel that way of McGann’s time!
One item of note though is in reflection….or a reflection to be more precise. When McGann becomes the War Doctor, we don’t see Hurt’s face, we see his reflection. And it’s YOUNG. This may be cinematically because they took the image from old footage of Hurt from another role, but it is what we see, which begs the question: how long was the War Doctor fighting the Time War? We know it had been going on for some time when we meet Cassie in this very story, but we have to assume it goes on for a very long time after this regeneration for the Time Lords to be considering The Final Sanction; destroying time itself. Knowing how slowly Time Lords age, it must be a long war indeed!
Of course, then one has to ask the question about the Doctor’s age, but then we get into area’s far more complicated than a review of an 8 minute episode warrants! Another time, perhaps…
At this point, McGann’s time as the Doctor may be over on screen, but he has joined the ranks of The Doctor forever and this is just another brilliant outing for McGann to shine and remind us that he is The Doctor! ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Day of the Doctor