REVIEWS: The Night of the Doctor

In a first for the site, as I feel it was a very special event, I've gathered reviewers from Blogtor Who (and some from elsewhere) to share their thoughts on the recent Doctor Who 50th Anniversary mini-episode, The Night of the Doctor. I've asked the regular contributors for their thoughts, but you'll also find the opinions from those who've worked on and written for Doctor Who too! Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. Many, many thanks to everyone who contributed.

Review by Edward Russell
(Doctor Who Brand Manager)
Having the Eighth Doctor name-checking his Big Finish companions has sparked a debate about what is canon and what is not. Ultimately, there are no rules and it's down to personal taste. Well, that's my opinion, anyway!

I have a friend who rates Time Crash as canon but not Dimensions in Time - simply on the basis that he doesn't much rate the latter. And that's fine. If a fan doesn't want to consider the Big Finish stories as canon, they can simply assume that McGann's Doctor coincidentally met people called Charlie, C'rizz etc. Although that does rely on fans agreeing that the mini episodes themselves are canon, themselves!

Oh what the heck. It's all brilliant! Even the Doctor's less memorable outings are better than every other TV show, audio play or webisode put together and multiplied by twelve!
Review by Richard Starkings
(DWM comic strip editor, 87-89; Elephantmen creator)

For those of us who wondered for years -- YEARS, mind -- if the Time War had CAUSED the Eighth Doctor to regenerate or had just taken up so much of the Ninth Doctor's attention that he really just had not had the opportunity to check himself out in the mirror, here at last, in THE NIGHT OF THE DOCTOR we have our answer:

None of the above.

Finally, a seven minute minisode of sexy NEW WHO that must have proven itself just too kinky and esoteric -- too dark, dirty and distressing, perhaps? -- for CHILDREN IN NEED. Wham, Bam, thank you, Karn.

In 1996, as an expat in Los Angeles, I had watched DOCTOR WHO: THE MOVIE alone in my living room while every other American was tuning in to the season finale of ROSEANNE... and quickly and deliberately forgotten about it. Had the story begun with the swashbuckling introduction of Paul McGann delivered to viewers last week... had he rattled off names of long lost companions in the manner Eccleston and Tennant teased us with details of the Time War, you can't help but wonder if we'd have been so impressed and intrigued that we'd have insisted -- nay, demanded -- to be treated to three healthy seasons of the Eighth Doctor back in the days of dotcom explosions, implosions and aol dialup.

But how would FOX have known there was such an appetite for New Adventures of the Eighth Doctor? Without Facebook, Twitter and the iPlayer to measure interest, perhaps McGann's fate would have been quickly sealed nevertheless... At least now, Russell T Davies' queerest folk quote -- "Paul McGann Doesn't Count" -- has been contradicted by the most courageous Doctor of all... the one who may not have been part of the Time War, but was always a part of DOCTOR WHO, the one who made the decision to save the day... because even in 1996, we did need a Doctor after all.
Review by Tommy Donbavand
(Author of Doctor Who:  Shroud of Sorrow)

Four minutes may be long enough for the majestically returned Eighth Doctor to become bored in The Night of the Doctor (please, won't somebody bring him some knitting!) - but six and a half minutes of McGann magnificence is nowhere near enough to satisfy either yours truly nor, I suspect, many a fellow fan.

The Night of the Doctor was just, well... right. The script, the costume, the battered TARDIS, Cass's reaction to the revelation that her potential saviour is a Time Lord, the Sisterhood of Karn, the regeneration options, the 'hurt' pun, the youthful reflection and - most importantly - the version of the Eighth Doctor we've come to know and love through several seasons of utterly brilliant Big Finish releases. This was Doctor Who at its finest, and it has left us with an appetite for more.

Of course, we're now left with more questions than answers - but that's exactly how it should be. Questions like how has the Eighth Doctor remained neutral in the Last Great Time War? What have his fellow Gallifreyans done to deserve the damnation of the universe at large?

And, the biggest question of all... can we have more please, Mr Moffat?
BLOGTOR RATING 8.8888888/10
Review by Niel Bushnell
(Author of Sorrowline, creator of The Timesmith Chronicles)
There's something awkward and exhilarating about unexpectedly bumping into an old friend who you haven't seen for years. There's that odd mix of emotions - surprise tempered with curiosity. Have they aged well? What are they wearing now? What will they say? How have I changed since we last met?

That's how it felt when I saw The Night of the Doctor. Had it really been seventeen years? The Eighth Doctor hardly looked older! It was a joy to see this old friend again. But, having re-watched it many times now, I'm left with a tinge of sadness and remorse for the could-have-been-Doctor. There are seasons of potential television adventures drifting away from us forever - missing episodes without a hope of ever being discovered in some dusty foreign cupboard.

So while I rejoice at the return of Eight I feel like I'm waving goodbye to the best Doctor we never really had.
Review by Philip Rowntree
(Regular contributor and theatre producer)
The Doctor… but certainly not the one we were expecting!

It is a cliché amongst fans of the show, but everyone has "their" Doctor. Not their favourite Doctor or the best Doctor, but "their" Doctor.  The Doctor they grew up with, the one that put a stamp on the show – for better or for worse – and Paul McGann was MY doctor.

As a child I remember waiting with my father at midnight, adorned with the Tom Baker scarf my mother had knit for me, so excited to get my very own VHS featuring a Doctor of my time.

I was sat in my office at work when I saw the minisode, and blimey o’Reilly, what a treat.  The wit, the corrective side remarks, the underplayed genius, the old fashioned sonic, the desperation of a man weary of war and an insight into the last moments of the eighth Doctor.

Aside from sentimentality, the story itself is a wonderful precursor to next week’s 50th anniversary story. 

I was never comfortable that the Doctor fought in the Time War, it always seemed to go against what the Doctor stood for.  However, knowing that his involvement came from a realisation that the universe no longer needed him, that the citizens of time and space could no longer see him for what he was and that they were so unwilling to accept his help based on the side he came from begins to go some way to explaining his decision.

Superbly written by Moffat and wonderfully acted by all, it was also wonderful to see Emma Campbell-Jones as Cass, who you may remember as Dr Kent from The Wedding of River Song.

Bravo Paul McGann and goodbye Doctor… You were my Doctor.
Review by Andrea McGuire
(Regular Blogtor Who contributor)
We’ve always known Steven Moffat is a master of deception, but who would have seen this one coming? Not me, that’s for sure.

In the pre-titles sequence we heard the already legendary “I’m a doctor…but probably not the one you were expecting,” and I confess that this grown woman wept tears of joy at the sight of Paul McGann in all his Doctor Who glory.

It’s so absolutely fitting and such a thrill to see McGann reprise the role for the 50th anniversary, barely showing a single one of the 17 years that have passed since the TV movie (blimey). And no wig.

In Cass’s horrified reaction to meeting a Time Lord, we’re shown how far the once-great race has fallen and the monstrous task the Doctor faces in stopping them. All nicely leading to the introduction of an extremely young looking John Hurt as The War Doctor.

In The Night of the Doctor’s too-short running time we’re given a glimpse into what McGann’s Doctor could have become as well as finally seeing his regeneration into his next incarnation. It was also heart-warming that Moffat brought the eighth Doctor’s companions from his Big Finish adventures into the fold.

In seven minutes Moffat has given us a slice of brilliance. And let’s face it; if he can do this with a mini-episode, what on Earth has he got in store for the big one? I for one can’t wait. 
Review by Richard Unwin
I help organise a London based social group for gay Doctor Who fans called The Sisterhood of Karn. (We’re a fairly normal bunch. Honestly - we don’t "dress up as nuns", as one recent first-timer had clearly been led to believe.) So suddenly seeing the cabalistic coven back in the Doctor’s life added yet another layer to the Smorgasbord of joy that this minisode offered up over its scant seven minutes. (And their surprise return hasn’t done any harm to our membership numbers either – suddenly everyone’s googling the Sisterhood!)

But the triumphant return of our beloved namesakes was really just the icing on the unexpectedly early anniversary cake. I was one of the lucky ones – someone who managed to see Night of the Doctor without being spoiled. Actually, I’d just woken up when it went live. (Yes, I know…) I was vaguely aware that we were due for some sort of bonus scene, but was expecting the usual comedy minute. When the camera cut to the Eighth Doctor I genuinely had to check if I was actually awake, or still slumbering in the sweet embrace of the Dreamlord. And then the sight of the words "Paul McGann" tumbling through the time vortex induced immediate alertness with the sudden shock of an adrenaline shot delivered direct to the probic vent.

It's rare moments like this that make me rejoice in my fandom. What a warm and fuzzy and wonderful treat. And what a startling surprise! Hooray for it being kept (mostly) secret. (Like many, I’d heard rumours of McGann’s return, but had dismissed them as utter rot months ago. Along with whispers that The Web of Fear had been found – such nonsense! Ha!) And finally having the Eighth Doctor’s regeneration scene… That actually alters the metaphysical landscape of my brain! But now that he’s changed into John Hurt we’re going to need an awful lot of Tipex to update those teetering towers of reference books…

I don’t know where they’re going with the whole "War Doctor" thing. And I love not knowing. Night of the Doctor adds great chunks to the mythos whilst simultaneously weaving more magical mystery and intrigue. I’m more excited than ever about The Day of the Doctor now - this tasty entrée has me salivating for the main dish like an Androgum between courses at the Savoy.

But before the big day, I’ve got an awful lot of new Sisters to welcome to the coven, and these (fabulous) habits aren’t going to sew themselves. Sacred flame, sacred fire…
Review by Gem Kendrick
(Regular Blogtor Who contributor)
It’s been seventeen years since Paul McGann first stepped inside the TARDIS and cemented himself as part of the long history of Doctor Who, in a single movie appearance that left fans crying out for another glimpse of the man in the role. A glimpse that after so long they thought they’d never get.

But they were wrong.

And, seventeen years later? It was well worth the wait.

In a seven minute scene McGann returned shocking the world and taking it by storm. After such a long wait it would have been so easy for the moment to have been a let down, but it was anything but. Seeing his Doctor in action once again was a pure joy, nothing short of spectacular, and impossible not to drink up every moment of his screen time.

The episode itself is the perfect glance into the life of a Doctor who has been woefully short on screen time. Thrust quickly into the often talked about but rarely seen Time War, the viewers run the gamut of emotion, from his attempted rescue of a person in need to his eventual acceptance of what must come next, and the regeneration so many had been crying out to see. Each beat perfectly played out by McGann.

A week away from the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, and it couldn’t be a better time to be a fan. After this, what other surprises might we have in store?

Are you excited? I know I am. 
Review by Emrys Matthews
(Regular contributor and theatre director)
Where to start?

How great is it to see Paul McGann's Doctor back on our screens, whilst also sad to know that we probably won't see much of him again. It seems a shame to exile him to a prequel although. my oh my, does it handle it with style and panache. It's massive shock - one after another: the Eight Doctor is back. Boom! He crash lands on Karn and the Sisterhood of Karn are on hand too. Boom! And, finally, we get to see that regeneration! Boom!

It's a little frustrating that he's regenerating into John Hurt and not Christopher Eccleston. It's like the problem hasn't been solved but moved along. Although let's wait and see what happens in the 50th!

I think my favourite moment has to be when McGann name checks his Big Finish audio companions before he regenerates. "Charley, C'rizz, Lucie, Tamsin and Molly." This simultaneously legitimises and pays homage to McGann's brilliant audio adventures.

And, it also acts as a beautiful farewell.
Review by Jack Bowman
(Contributor and Audio drama director/producer)

Showrunner Steven Moffat takes the writing duties for this special in a pleasingly uncharacteristic, linear story that takes us through the final moments of the Eighth Doctor's life. Also thrown in were some beautiful touches for fans of Tom Baker's era with the return of the Sisterhood of Karn, and for the fans of the Paul McGann Big Finish audio series, not to mention his old-style Sonic Screwdriver last seen in 1996.

McGann is on witty, sparkling form, burning up the screen in style and this beautiful coda to was was his one-and-only performance as The Doctor reminds us how well-deserved and rewarding his on-screen come-back is. Hopefully, the genuine excitement to this surprise appearance will warrant a more substantial return in the future - we've had The Eighth Doctor's beginning, and now we've had his end; perhaps some more of the middle?

Everything about this minisode production exuded class - first-rate direction, casting, acting, FX work and scripting. The only small issue I could take is that the pacing of the Eighth Doctor's decision to effectively die to become "The War Doctor" feels incredibly fast - as if a few emotional beats were skipped over, rushing through moments that needed to get to the dramatic, game-changing climax.

The Night Of The Doctor was released on Paul McGann's birthday - and I can think of no better tribute to one of the most underused, charismatic and lovable Doctors in the TV series' history. Yet again, we're left where we were in 1996 - asking the BBC if can see more of McGann in the role on-screen, pretty please? In the mean time, my thanks to everyone at BBC Wales for this extra special anniversary treat.
Review by Gavin Dunbar
(Regular contributor & Camera Obscura bass player)
Much like everyone else, I have spent most of the last six months wondering who the John Hurt Doctor would turn out to be. Would he be the Doctor before he was the Doctor, pre-fleeing Gallifrey, would he be the brutal Time War Ender, or would he be somethng else, a Valeyard-esque dark side to the Doctor's persona.

The Night of the Doctor clears up this issue thats had us all theorising and wondering. It also managed to do something that in modern television terms is almost impossible, it came as a massive surprise. Paul McGann, returned to our screens in the role that by his own admission, to him existed far more in the audio dramas of Big Finish, where he got to really get to grips with the character and develop his Eighth Doctor.

It shows that with the Time War, everything is turned on its head. Our hero bundles in to save the day, but the day isn't to be saved. Time Lords striking as much fear into people as the Daleks do. The Doctor, a man of peace, is left facing the fact that the only way peace can be achieved now, is by taking arms and joining the war to finish it.

So we finally get to see the Eighth Doctor regenerate, we get to re-visit Karn, and see the sisterhood, and we get some blinding writing from Moffat, and a full on performance from McGann. This minisode ticks all the boxes, right down to a young Hurt going to war at the close. Its a massive nod to the history of the show in its 50th year, and an important prelude to the Day Of The Doctor signifying whats coming in the future. 
Review by Nick Fraser
(Regular Blogtor Who contributor)
FINALLY.  All those years waiting for the Eighth Doctor to show up, and he crashes the party at the last minute. 

Only it’s clear he’s been travelling in a very different universe to the one we last saw him in.  Where Time Lords are now feared as much Daleks, and the sight of TARDIS causes would-be companion Cass, facing certain death, to choose…certain death.  Post-crash, The Doctor finds himself at the tender mercies of Ohila, Priestess of the Sisterhood of Karn, with the same choice.  He chooses life, but at huge personal cost.

It’s a small story, hinting at a vast backdrop.  Given a four minute warning, the Doctor characteristically lists the activities with which he could fill the time.  Surprising then, he uses very little time and thought for such a massive change of heart(s).

It’s lovely to have the Doctor’s Big Finish adventures endorsed, as the Doctor salutes companions we’ve only ever heard but not seen.  And at last we get to see his regeneration, though clearly a particularly agonising process, divesting himself of his Doctorishness.

Clare Higgins (Ohila) conveys a thrilling sense of urgency during The Doctor’s last minutes.  Her splendid efforts are slightly undermined though, by the “haunting” incidental music, which leached some of the pace from this desperate situation.  Also, the concept of a miscellany of “character trait” elixirs of life put me in mind of an array of Sodastream flavours. 

But step forward once more for one final Doctorial flourish, Paul McGann. Better late than never! 
Review by Sarah Talbot
(Doctor Who fan)
“I’m The Doctor. But probably not the one you were expecting.” - How right he was!

On 14/11/13 Paul McGann was back as the Eighth Doctor; and it was worth waiting for! The Night of the Doctor was tightly written with Moffat excelling at what he’s best at, quick dialogue and even quicker characterization.

Beginning as seemingly normal Doctor Who adventure, with The Doctor arriving on a plummeting ship to save the brave pilot Cass from certain death, the next seven minutes would prove anything but.

When The Doctor told Cass: “It’s bigger on the inside,” it was shocking to see this normal enticement cause terror as Cass realised exactly who The Doctor was. We see how destructive The Time War had truly become when Cass claims The Time Lords are no better than the Daleks. Cass showed such character; I was actually saddened when she died, when she and The Doctor crashed on Karn. Here he met The Sisterhood of Karn who knew the fate of the universe relied on The Doctor; by temporarily giving him life and a chance to regenerate. It could have so easily seemed like a ‘hand wave’ but it didn’t. Moffat used old school logic to his advantage.

It was at this point where McGann give his best performance, with Eight realising that this world no longer had a place for him. This was the end of his story, and it was a gallant goodbye, giving fans something they had wanted for years. In saying farewell to his companions Eight ensured Big Finish became cannon. And as the longest serving Doctor, seeing it through the wilderness years, I was pleased to see Paul McGann get the recognition he so rightly deserved.

We were given a brief bittersweet glimpse of the Doctor he always was…a good man.
Thanks again to all my wonderful contributors and special guests who gave up their time to feel the love for Paul McGann and share their brilliant thoughts - very much appreciated by old Blogtor. And I hope everyone reading this got a kick out of it. I have nothing to add to these lovely reviews except to further the adoration for Paul in this remarkable performance from him. An absolute star and a such a good Doctor Who.

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