Doctor Who: The Night of the Doctor Review
Reviewed by Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull.
I remember back in February, if memory serves me unerringly, a friend and I mused about how little the BBC had done to promote Doctor Who in its celebratory, golden year. He remarked that it barely felt like any milestone in the show’s history. Today we were both forced to sit at a table and shovel a barrowload of humble pie down our gullets. In short – Paul McGann returned to star as the fugitive Eighth Doctor, in all senses of the word – and the Internet turned into a bubbling cauldron of joy and sheer, undiluted elation. Fans were, well and truly, treated and allowed to behold the Eighth Doctor’s regeneration; into John Hurt’s incarnation: the War Doctor, no less. It was a thrilling moment and I had my heart in my mouth as McGann ploughed towards the camera after uttering a line that will go down with the ages.
There are many things to laud in The Night of the Doctor; McGann’s performance, of course but also Steven Moffat’s taut script. He had so much to do, so much to express in such a short time period but he did it masterfully. I knew so much about Cass from just the pre-titles sequence – absorbing her personality from just those few short lines. The Eighth Doctor and Cass’ dialogue felt like a whole companion introduction scene abridged into less than a minute, it zeroes in on how good a writer Steven Moffat really is, the way he can have you rooting for a character (the pair had chemistry almost the second they appeared in-shot together) before flipping it round (when Cass discovers the Eighth Doctor is a Time Lord). Emma Campbell-Jones – last seen as Doctor Kent in The Wedding of River Song – does an impeccable job as the late would-be companion, I think she and him would have been fantastic. When she died my heart flew out of my chest and went to her so Campbell-Jones must have chipped in a solid enough performance for me to really feel for her character. On another note Claire Higgins’ rendition of Ohila (possibly a descendant of Ohica from The Brain of Morbius, the last appearance of the Sisterhood of Karn) is positively bewitching considering she’s written as a run-of-the-mill mystic cave-dweller, admittedly one that has a bigger impact on the Doctor’s life than usual. Her ragged appearance, deep-set eyes and unkempt hair really add up to her character.
Paul McGann slipped into the role of the Eighth Doctor in seconds. Whilst some of the other actors behind other incarnations may not look like they did in their heyday, McGann still has the same look – only his hair is shorter, naturally – and I’m proud to say, feel. The TV Movie is a personal favourite of mine and I like to think I know the Eighth Doctor’s characterisation rather well. Steven Moffat had him down to the ground. Well done, Paul McGann – and bravo, Moffat – you’ve made the fiftieth anniversary a tenfold more special.
The Night of the Doctor is actually one of the most groundbreaking seven minutes of Doctor Who, I think, in it’s entire history. The Big Finish range is now canonical (references to the Eighth Doctor’s erstwhile companions: Charley Pollard, C’rizz, Lucie Miller, Tamsin Drew and Molly O’Sullivan, throw light on this much disputed issue) and I’m sure this’ll please many fans. It’s also a smart way to boost publicity for the series and I’m sure many will be going out of their ways to add some of the audio adventures to their Christmas lists.
A terrific return from a terrific Doctor, interesting supporting characters and an emotional, spine-chilling regeneration means The Night of the Doctor is one of my highlights of the year.