It’s very difficult as a fan brought up on the old series to remain objective about Night of the Doctor, simply because it delivered so much with such economy. To date, the Paul McGann iteration of the Doctor marks the longest-ever break in a televised role for the series’ lead character yet. Furthermore, the paucity of McGann’s in-character appearance outside the TV Movie lends it extra significance. For a publicity-shy, costume-dodging actor any reappearance would be a boon; a return to round out his own “mayfly” TV role is nothing short of a wonder – for me easily one of the three most exciting, unexpected and utterly brilliant revelations of Doctor Who‘s 50th year.
And it fits so well; that aforementioned economy tells us so much about the Eighth Doctor that props (a sonic screwdriver, novelty headgear) often don’t. His heroism, his doomed reluctance to take sides in an escalating Time War, the battered exterior of his TARDIS (though no interior shot – my only compliant!). When it arrived, his death, resurrection and regeneration were aptly Messianic, book ending with references with which the character was introduced. His final words are an echoing from the New Testament book of Luke, but for him no grand cruciform pose or Roman candle regeneration, but something more understated, something (dare I say it) redolent of the ‘classic’ series, bar all that lying down. “Is this death?”, his Fifth predecessor asked before his regeneration; for the Eighth Doctor it most definitely was, and it’s remarkable to observe now how the most marginal of previous Doctors has been planted at the heart of the new series’ world-building and of the Eleventh Doctor’s last days.
From this fan, then, to Steven Moffat heartfelt appreciation. The Eighth Doctor is now ended, in an act of self-sacrifice that in its non-epic, personal context immediately recalls the old series’ most celebrated regeneration story (Androzani), and in doing so hits the spot Moffat’s immediate predecessor himself vied for (the Doctor spending his last moments saving the life of one of “the little people”) but was unable to hit.
On his blog Al draws attention further to the Eight Doctor’s new costume, an approval I must echo. Past posts tell too well that I’m no fan of the WETA/Big Finish ensemble; Night‘s rendition – nodding to the Partisan, the brigand, the Romantic hero, retains the kernel of McGann’s US costume, while deftly pushing it along to something truly ‘lived in’. True to McGann’s naturalistic performance, you hardly notice the outfit at all – it’s a master stroke.
The rest is just wonderful fan service – Karn (the Eighth Doctor has a history here already thanks to Big Finish), audio companions name-checked, and some knowing Moffat lines pitched perfectly, that show that the current show runner has a good ear for the timbre of the McGann version, and I for one would welcome another appearance by this pair.
In all, Night was a magnificent surprise, and a brilliant gift for McGann fans as well as fans of the previous series. Rumour has it that higher heads at BBC Worldwide have taken note of the minisode’s success – we can only hope. Could the Eighth Doctor return again for another brief adventure yet? It’s a question I’d stopped asking a long time ago; how strange to be revisiting it now with such optimism!