Sunday, November 17, 2013

One Moment of Eightness

I quite literally gave out an audible squeal of joy earlier this week when the preview "minisode" for the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special first came out on the Internet.

Entitled "The Night of the Doctor" (itself a clever play on the title of the forthcoming special "The Day of the Doctor"), at just over six and a half minutes in length, the episode is a unique treat that nicely adds a bit of onscreen continuity and connectivity from classic Doctor Who into the revived series.

The moment I am referring to of course is the return of the Eighth Doctor to our television screens after a 17 year absence - has it really been *that* long?

He's back... and it's about time! (Do you see what I did with the TV movie tagline there?)
Paul McGann's brief onscreen tenure as the Eighth Doctor is divisive for some people because of the nature of the 1996 TV movie and its subsequent legacy.  I for one was there in 1996 -  a mere 21 year old spring chicken at the time of original broadcast.  Looking back at the movie with hindsight, I can see all its faults and failings and why it received mixed reviews at the time.  It also didn't help that in the US, the movie was broadcast in a graveyard slot that didn't endear it to the audience who were deemed necessary to bring the Doctor into a new revived series.

However there's one thing about the TV movie that was in my opinion absolutely perfect and beyond question; that was Paul McGann's interpretation of the Doctor.

Now when asked who my favourite Doctor is, I have *always* maintained that choosing between the Doctors is a bit like choosing your favourite uncle... you kind of shouldn't do it. I still believe that and I always will.

Yet in spite of this I will say is that of all the Doctors, McGann's is quite possibly the one I most relate to - as much for off screen reasons as onscreen ones. Onscreen because of his character and nature (not so much the well meaning kleptomania), off screen because of the troubled way he has been received and the struggle for him to gain at least some recognition in a pantheon of equals.

The Eighth Doctor as we first saw him (well... once he'd appropriated some clothes)
What I really loved about the way the episode was shot, is that it gives us a couple of insights. The first of these for me personally is the Doctor's wardrobe.  In the classic series, the Doctor was always renowned for carrying an Edwardian vibe about him. However when Christopher Eccleston appeared onscreen in 2005, this had seemingly disappeared. However this seems to have been gradually seeping back in with progressive regenerations. With The Night of the Doctor we can see a reason for this. The interference with the Doctor's character that was caused by the conditions of his regeneration on Karn, provides a suspension of his character... and the change of his wardrobe provides a visual signifier of this.  To my mind it seems very clear that the chalice the Doctor drank on Karn wounded or stained his personality and just as wounds and stains fade over time or  some scars gradually come away as dead cells are replaced, the visual signifiers of who the War Doctor was, gradually fade from The Doctors reclaimed outward appearance. I don't think this is necessarily something that Steven Moffat intended... but it's a nice little touch that I think is there if you want it there as an explanation.

What I do think is interesting though, is the fact that Moffat decided to host the events of the Eight Doctor's regeneration on Karn. Long time Doctor Who fans will know from The Brain of Morbius that the previous story written on this world is one of the hot points for debates as to how many regenerations the Doctor has left.  Off screen this seems to suggest a deliberateness behind Moffat's writing - a statement of intent if you like, that indicates he is absolutely aiming to take on the explanation of how to get round a Time Lord's 13 life limitation during his tenure (probably even in the 50th or Christmas special themselves).  Perhaps we aren't even done with Karn either. Some of the lines of dialogue in the episode seem to imply the Sisterhood of Karn's abilities may yet prove to be a part of the deal with regard to bypassing the dreaded number 13 issue.

So all in all a televisual treat to see McGann again... and now it has spawned calls from various quarters for him to have a mini series that will give him a bit more meat to flesh out the bare bones of his TV appearances. This is something I would approve of, especially as McGann seems so comfortable in the shoes of the Doctor.

One final random thought I've had. We now know all 13 faces of the Time Lord we know and love as the Doctor. Shouldn't someone be commissioned to do a spoof of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper... featuring the First Doctor in the central position and John Hurt's War Doctor in the place of Judas?

Would love to hear your thoughts on the mini episode and any hopes and fears you have for the forthcoming big Doctor Who stories.

Here is the episode in case you have not managed to catch it on Red Button or online as yet:

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