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Who at 50: Night of the Doctor

An Adventure in Space and Time broadcasts later this evening, and I may well want to write up some Thorts on that, so I'd better make sure I note down my reactions to the anniversary prequel, Night of the Doctor, first.

There's plenty to like in it. Obviously it is GREAT to see Paul McCann's Doctor getting some proper screen time beyond the 1996 movie, and he does his stuff really well. So does Clare Higgins as Ohila. In under seven minutes, the dramatic weight of the Doctor's situation is set out very effectively, so that his decision at the end makes emotional sense. And there are some good lines: "I'm a Doctor... but probably not the one you were expecting" for the meta, "Bring me knitting" for the funnies, and especially "Fat or thin? Young or old? Man or woman?" for reinforcing the suggestion (already made in The Doctor's Wife with respect to the Corsair) that Timelords can opt to change gender.

But somehow I don't seem to have had the "OMG SQUEE!" reaction to it that has dominated fandom. Perhaps I'm expecting too much from a seven-minute short which needs to make sense to people who may never have seen the Eighth Doctor or the Sisters of Karn before, but in some ways the script felt to me a bit work-a-day and pedestrian. Cass in particular felt very generic, and the way she died in order to prompt the Doctor into finally engaging with the reality of the Time War makes her a classic Disposable Woman.

But above all I think my sense of slight disappointment reflects how invested I've become over the years in my long-running assumption that it was Eight who took on the burden of ending the Time War, dying in the process and turning into Nine. I've always liked that image precisely because all we have seen of him (on screen - I do know about his audios) is a rather starry-eyed ingénue Doctor in a frock coat. The idea of Eight the romantic idealist gradually watching the Universe turn to chaos around him, changing himself in response as it does so and finding a steely core of determination and responsibility that made him step up to the mark to bring it all to an end - but at the cost of his life - is really powerful. I get that in a way we do see a much-changed Eight doing the beginnings of that in Night of the Doctor, but it isn't the full narrative trajectory I'd always imagined for him. The truth is I am very fond of the Eighth Doctor, and I wanted him to have that story in the shadowy territory which lurks between his movie and the start of the revived TV series

As for the wider character of the Doctor, I'm also just not that keen on the whole set-up which we got at the end of the last series of him having distanced himself from the actions of the Hurt Doctor (aka the Warrior Doctor). If, as looks so likely now, he basically renounced his normal persona in order to end the Time War, and then denied that it was ever anything to do with him afterwards, that just double-trashes my favoured image of Eight fully owning the decision and taking it, and its consequences, directly on the chin. There is a lot of weight in the idea of the Doctor being faced with two really appalling options, and making a wise choice between them in a way that is consistent with his morality both before and afterwards. Contracting all of that out to a temporary personality instead really feels like a cop-out to me.

Maybe I (and many others) have got the wrong end of the stick, and the story of the Hurt Doctor won't be as I am expecting it to be at all. Maybe part of what we'll see in the anniversary special is Ten and Eleven finally re-absorbing his actions into their personal timelines, and coming to terms with them as their responsibility after all. I hope so. Moffat is certainly good at toying with us and misdirecting our expectations. All I know for now is that the signals we've been given in this prequel aren't really pointing in a direction which I feel as enthusiastic about as I would like to for the 50th Anniversary Special of my favourite TV show of all time. Here's hoping the special itself changes that.

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( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 21st, 2013 10:04 pm (UTC)
my sense of slight disappointment reflects how invested I've become over the years in my long-running assumption that it was Eight who took on the burden of ending the Time War, dying in the process

I'm totally with you here. I'm very fond of McGann's Doctor, too, and this seems to leave him with...not an awful lot to do.

I was left pretty cold by it, too, but I thought that was just because everyone I know who liked it seemed to like that it "brought Big Finish into canon" and filled in some "continuity" and I just...don't care about those things (and am baffled by why the audios wouldn't have been "canonical" before, but then maybe that's just because I have no interest in whether anything is "canon", I just want a good story.
Nov. 21st, 2013 10:40 pm (UTC)
I'm not immune to the thrills of canon and continuity, but all the Big Finish stuff still gets to be canon in my version anyway. Eight just gets a bit longer and a bit more story, that's all. :-)
Nov. 21st, 2013 11:17 pm (UTC)
Oh I'm happy for those who like it to play with canon and continuity -- James described it today as wanting to make everything fit, and it sounded like a challenge, a puzzle, that I could see being fun for brains wired differently than mine -- it was just that there didn't seem to be much to Night of the Doctor other than "we'll fill in all the links from this thing and that thing." Which was fun for a lot of those people, clearly, but not for me. Which is okay. :) Many things are fun for other people and not for me.
Nov. 22nd, 2013 12:34 am (UTC)
Well I said as soon as the Hurt Doctor appeared that I sincerely hoped he was not meant to be 8.5 as I thought it would heapen the whole impact of two-plus seasons of survivors guilt and some serious moral concerns about making terrible choices to avoid worse ones - see http://surliminal.livejournal.com/684732.html . And everyone said no it wouldnt be like that. Bu it does indeed look that way. I s this Moffs revenge on RTD? With Tennnt in situ, I really hope not.
Nov. 22nd, 2013 09:28 am (UTC)
Yes, exactly. In fact, looking back at my review of The Name of the Doctor, it seems I said much the same there myself. So I'm just repeating myself, really... but yay for consistency!

I don't know about revenge on RTD, but it does look increasingly to me like the whole Hurt!Doctor thing is basically what they've come up with to get round the fact that Eccleston doesn't want to be involved in the 50th Anniversary programming. He's not so much 8.5, more 9 mark II.
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