Monday, February 17, 2014

Night of the Doctor

"I'm a Doctor -- but probably not the one you were expecting."

Oh yeah, forgot this blog doesn't update if I don't actually write stuff.

Night of the Doctor started off the 50th Anniversary celebration of Who with a totally unexpected bang. There was no build-up, no advertising -- just a new 6-minute video, out of the blue. No hint of what it was except the title. Seemed like it would be another prequel, albeit a longer one than usual. But while it was a sort of precursor to Day of the Doctor, its biggest impact was the sheer shock of what it was: the return of Paul McGann's Eight Doctor.

But this is very different from the chaotic, upbeat character we saw brief glimpses of in the TV Movie. McGann's take has evolved over his years on Big Finish, now honed into an intense, whimsically sarcastic figure that's fascinating. In only his first line, he makes us wish he'd had an entire television era. Moffat's always-clever dialogue is given a special edge in McGann's delivery.

"Where are we going?"
"To the back of the ship."
"Because the front crashes first. Think it through."

And, honestly, for a six-minute video, that would have been satisfying -- an exciting glimpse into a lost era. But Moffat then tops it off with an even more shocking moment: the Doctor brings Cass, seeming companion-to-be, Night says everything you need to know about the time war. It's hard to believe something more could be added after Tennant's hints in Journey's End about the Nightmare Child and such, but this adds something else entirely. Through all of time and space, the Time Lords became known and feared for how they fought. The universe hates them despite being the sworn enemies of the Space Nazis.
to the TARDIS to save her... and she stops, horrified. We've seen people react in all manner of wonder and astonishment and confusion with the TARDIS, but usually only monsters react with fear. Yet Cass lives in the Time War, and the mere concept of a Time Lord saving her is more dreadful than death. In a few short lines,

"Yes, I'm a Time Lord, but I'm one of the nice ones."
"Get away from me."
"Look on the bright side, I'm not a Dalek!"
"Who can tell the difference anymore?"

So Cass chooses to die. And the Doctor chooses to die with her if he can't save her. It's a beautiful moment that perfectly depicts the Doctor's heroism. Yet he does it without fanfare -- Cass isn't moved for a moment by his resolution. "Then you're going to die here. Best news all day." The ship goes down, Cass killed instantly, the Doctor mortally wounded.

On the upside, you've gotta love that modern f/x budget.

It then turns out they crash-landed on Karn, because it's been 45 seconds since the last twist. And here we get the advantage of the Eighth Doctor not having a proper era as such: his regeneration doesn't have the weight of history and expectations hanging on it. He doesn't have to go down in an epic about saving the universe; he can die in a simple spacecraft crash, and his regeneration can be dragged out over several dark, brooding minutes for a one-of-a-kind vision of one of his regenerations. It's a satisfying understanding of who the Doctor is without having to live up to years of massive stories. He can die in an epilogue, and still be that great chaotic hero in a unique way.

He also chooses to abandon heroism to end the war -- "I don't suppose there's any need for a Doctor anymore. Make me a warrior now." He falls with a line both bitter and hopeful: "Physician, heal thyself." And we get a brief glimpse of young John Hurt with the credit "as the War Doctor", a nice touch that only increased anticipation of Day of the Doctor for its last 36 hours before release.

I suppose I could make some minor complaints, though they're almost all of style; this is a brilliant script, packing tremendous power and fun into a tiny space of time. (Bigger on the inside, indeed.) Director John Hayes creates such a thick atmosphere of brooding intensity that the underlying sadness gets a little lost. Although there was likely a rights issue, it would have felt more appropriate to hear John Debney's version of the Doctor Who theme. And there's a part of me that wished it was a little more '90s style. (though the regeneration effect itself looked a little 90s-ish)

But that's all quibbling. Night of the Doctor is absolutely fantastic -- probably the singular highlight of Who's golden celebration, and the best the show had to offer in 2013. McGann finally got what he always deserved -- a properly televised, magnificently crafted crown jewel of Who.


* * * *


  • "And introducing John Hurt..." That's funnier to me each time I watch this.
  • A couple other exchanges I particularly loved:
"Wanted to see the Universe. Is it always like this?"
"If you're lucky."

"You have a little under four minutes [to live]."
"Four minutes? That's ages! What if I get bored, need a television, a couple of books, anyone for chess? Bring me knitting?"

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