Thursday, 14 November 2013

The Night of the Doctor

So, this is the actual review:

While mini-episodes have become a recognised part of the modern Doctor Who series, expanding the main run in all manner of directions, they have been, for the most part, flimsy, throwaway affairs. The Night of the Doctor is the first to change that. Originally intended to go out on the day of the fifteth anniversary, it had to be released early after the details were leaked. No matter; this is a prequel, and as such, belongs before the big day, an entre to whet the appetites of the fans.

And it really is for the fans. While this seven-minute adventure is strong enough and simple enough to enjoy on its own merits, its real purpose is to tie up loose ends and plug a gap, giving the series' devoted followers the thing they've waited eight years for. An actual, definitive ending to Paul McGann's eighth Doctor.

From the moment we see his face - or in my case, due to a sudden iPlayer glitch, heard his voice - The Night of the Doctor is a tremendously exciting burst of Doctor Who mythos. Seriously, I had to have a bit of a run round the flat, followed by a sit down and a cup of tea to get over it. In 2005, Doctor Who came back, with a new Doctor and a deliberate break with the past in the shape of the Time War. This finally gives us, in buildup to the revelations of The Day of the Doctor, a real glimpse of that War. In the process, it links the last pre-BBC Wales era of the show to the new, ongoing mythology of the Doctor's fight in the War and his recovery from it. Of course, it then has its cake, showing McGann regenerating not into Christopher Eccleston, but John Hurt, retroactively inserting another, unknown era between the two.

With the Doctor landing on Karn, making this a loose sequel to 1976's The Brain of Morbius, and with the Doctor eventually ringing off his companions from the Big Finish audio plays (now, inarguably, canonical), The Night of the Doctor is an exercise in fan service. Yet it works as a story in itself, giving the Doctor a plausible character development as he finally decides to become part of the War, bolstered by excellent performances from its small cast. Clare Higgins gives a strong, noble performance as Ohila of the Sisterhood of Karn, while Emma Campbell-Jones makes a powerful impression in her short role as the doomed gunner Cass.

It belongs to Paul McGann though, showing in a few minutes how excellent a Doctor he can be. In spite of their wide radio distribution, the Big Finish audios are never going to have the impact or penetration of live action episodes. This mini-episode gives the wider Doctor Who audience a chance to see what they've been missing from this almost-forgotten Doctor. While Steven Moffat doesn't write this Doctor any differently to the main incarnations of the new series - it's easy to imagine Tennant or Smith deliver these lines - McGann makes them his own. He embodies both the flippancy expected from the first of the modern Doctors with his more recent status as one of the 'classic' incarnations. Older, more weathered, in a cleverly redesigned costume, he is more the Doctor than ever.

The Night of the Doctor is an anniversary gift for the faithful, and it has been gratefully received.

No comments:

Post a Comment