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Since the announcement last year that Doctor Who would be putting together a special 50th anniversary special, speculation has run rampant regarding which, if any, of the currently living former Doctors would appear. When news broke that only David Tennant (the Tenth Doctor) would be reprising his role, many fans were understandably upset. As it became clearer what the scope of the special would be, it became a bit more disheartening to think that not even Eight or Nine might pop back in. Well, it looks as if at least some fans will be placated with the release of “The Night of the Doctor,” a webisode prequel to the “Day of the Doctor” anniversary special that is set to air on November 23.
At the end of the last series of Who, the Doctor (who, for clarity’s sake, I’ll just call Eleven rather than the Doctor), came face-to-face with his lost incarnation (who I’ll call the War Doctor) who apparently took actions so horrific during the Time War that all subsequent incarnations of the Doctor have locked his existence deep within them. As for what this War Doctor did and how he came to be, we did not yet know.
The webisode answers one of those questions, showing us the creation of the War Doctor. As many fans guessed, the War Doctor came into being after the regeneration of Eight and before Nine. The webisode opens with a damsel in distress calling out for a doctor, which all fans know will prompt the arrival of the Doctor. Low and behold, he appears! But it’s not Eleven, it’s Eight! Welcome back Paul McGann! Charming and willing to help, Eight tries to convince the woman to abandon the doomed ship and take refuge on the Tardis.
But the woman wants nothing to do with a Time Lord, and she lashes out at Eight for the destruction that Time War has brought on the rest of the galaxy. We don’t get to see any of the War, but are told that it continues to rage on with little thought to how it is impacting the races and civilizations in its path. Unable to convince the woman to leave, both Eight and the woman are killed as the ship crashes.
As so often happens in the world of the Doctor, all hope is not lost, as the Sisterhood of Karn appears, bringing Eight back to life for four minutes and instructing him that he can save the universe if he uses his final moments to regenerate. Eight is presented with several drinks to choose from. The Sisterhood tells Eight that each drink will influence his regeneration, creating a Doctor with a particular skill set. It is his choice which kind of Doctor he becomes. Knowing the Time War is raging on with no end in sight, Eight makes his choice: the next Doctor will be a warrior, who will end the fighting for good. And so it is, that upon regenerating, the War Doctor is born.
The webisode packs a great deal into its seven minute length. I would have preferred to have more Paul McGann and less exposition awkwardly presented through the Sisterhood of Karn's speeches. But, I'm just happy we were given a solid foundation on which to build the mythos of the War Doctor (a storytelling device that has been sorely lacking in the Moffat era of Who - actually explaining something upfront rather than teasing us with so many clues that the story becomes uninteresting). While it shows us the origins of John Hurt’s War Doctor (and that he was significantly younger upon regeneration than he has appeared so far on the show), the webisode still leaves just enough major questions hanging to be answered (hopefully) in the upcoming special. The most pressing question is, of course, what horrible action did the War Doctor take that has so sullied his memory that three subsequent incarnations of the Doctor have refused to acknowledge his existence.
But other logistical questions are now raised as well. Is the War Doctor the ninth incarnation of the Doctor? If so, that would mean the upcoming regeneration of Eleven into Twelve would actually be Twelve into Thirteen. And, since a Doctor can only live through twelve regenerations, is Peter Capaldi’s Doctor going to be the final version of the Doctor (doubtful, considering how profitable the Who reboot has become for the BBC)? Will the War Doctor die and revert back into Eight, allowing the actually number of Doctors to remain as it is? Did the potion that caused the regeneration make the War Doctor an unofficial version of the Doctor? And, just for fun, how do Rose and Ten fit into the 50th anniversary special (the preview certainly makes it look as if Rose is simply Bad Wolf, rather than her plucky self).
So many questions left to be answered. The special is only a week away, so hopefully the answers will be quick in coming. And perhaps more Doctors will make surprise appearances? Either way, the celebration is off to a great start.