Sunday, November 17, 2013

Doctor Who Week 2013: The Eighth Doctor - Probably Not the One You Expected

It doesn’t take much reading here at MTVP to discover that both Sarah and I are massive “Doctor Who” fans. In fact, I was even the “Oswin/Soufflé Girl” version of Clara for Halloween this year, and it was kind of epic. Let’s just say I won a game of Cards Against Humanity and second place in the costume contest. Best. Halloween. Ever! Yes, I am indeed 30 years old – I swear! Anyway, because we love “Doctor Who” so much, and this is a massively big week in the fandom (the 50th Anniversary is this Saturday, November 23), we decided to do an official Doctor Who Week. Every day, we’re going to be bringing you Doctor Who content, either a profile of a Doctor or a recap of an episode that has some connection to what we think will be happening in the big anniversary special this Saturday. So without further ado, through time – and space!


"These shoes! They fit perfectly!"
-The Doctor

Let’s kick off Doctor Who week with what may be the most underrated/underused incarnation of the Doctor that there is. Let’s talk about the Eighth Doctor. I’ve got Eight on the brain since the BBC released an absolutely amazing prequel webisode to Saturday’s anniversary special. Spoiler alert, it includes the first on-screen appearance by Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor since 1996, and it is rather spectacular. Eight is also relevant to the upcoming anniversary special, because it’s clear that there are at least some plot elements of the special that will involve the Time War, and Eight lived out his later years during the Time War. But for now, back to the beginning…

A Time Lord in San Francisco

McGann’s first, and until last week only, on-screen appearance as the Eighth Doctor was in a 1996 television movie, aptly titled “Doctor Who.” The TV movie was a BBC/FOX/Universal co-production, so it went a bit heavier on the American sensibilities than is usually wise for “Doctor Who.” The movie finds the Doctor in San Francisco, trying to save the world on New Year’s Eve, 1999. Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor TARDIS whoops his way right into the middle of a San Francisco gang fight, and he gets caught in the cross fire. He is taken to a nearby hospital, where renowned cardiologist Dr. Grace Holloway tries to save his life. Unfortunately for both of them, she wasn’t counting on operating on somebody with two hearts, and her efforts to save him backfire. Eight has the distinction of beginning his existence in the hospital morgue.

The movie itself is cheesy as all get out. Eric Roberts plays a version of the Master that is more Arnold Schwarzenegger than Roger Delgado or John Simm. McGann’s performance, however, is what makes the movie somewhat more than watchable. McGann brings great energy to the role, which I have to believe served as a model for both David Tennant and Matt Smith a decade later. He’s the most romantic and classically heroic of the Doctors. The Eighth Doctor has the distinction of being the first Doctor to kiss a companion on screen. This kiss happens outside, when Eight has been running around a field, jubilant at finally remembering who he is (the anesthesia from the failed heart surgery messed with his regeneration a bit and gave him temporary amnesia). It’s a sweet scene, really, and it’s the first of several kisses that Eight and Grace will share throughout the movie.

The Longest Serving Doctor – Technically

The TV movie was an attempt at a backdoor pilot which, unfortunately, failed. Therefore, a television show featuring Eight and his adventures never materialized. “Doctor Who” on television was, for all intents and purposes, dead, again forever. This means that Paul McGann remained the “official” most current doctor up until the premiere of the Russell T. Davies modern era “Doctor Who” BBC series in 2005. Thanks to this status, McGann’s likeness featured in a number of Eighth Doctor novels and comics, and he lent his voice to countless audio dramas produced by Big Finish Productions. McGann is still, to this day in fact, working on audio dramas with Big Finish.

I haven’t listened to any of the audio dramas, but you can bet I am seriously considering checking them out now! From what I gather, it appears that none of the supporting characters from the movie make their way to Big Finish. The first drama, “Storm Front,” was released in 2001. For the first few years, Eight’s companion was Charlotte “Charley” Pollard, and the pair is eventually joined by C’Rizz. There’s even a brief time in 2011 where his companion is none other than Mary Shelley. In recent years, the Eighth Doctor stories got so popular that Big Finish decided to devote a series just to him. In this series, his companions are Lucie Miller, Tasmin Drew, and Molly O’Sullivan. Episodes of the long running Eight and Molly serial “Dark Eyes” are still being released today. We can pretty safely say that the audio dramas are now Whoinverse cannon, and more about that in a minute.

Physician, Heal Thyself

This past Wednesday, the fandom got one heck of a surprise, and Paul McGann got one heck of a birthday present (yep, it was his birthday). The BBC released the webisode 50th Anniversary prequel, called “The Night of the Doctor.” The webisode features the Eighth Doctor coming to terms with how hated the Time Lords have become and the toll the Time War has taken on the universe. After crashing in a ship with a woman who despises him simply for being a Time Lord, Eight is asked to make a choice. He has been revived for four minutes, and he must choose the attributes he wants in his next regeneration in order to be the person who ends the Time War once and for all. Eight had been very strictly pacifist up until this point, helping where he could, but refusing to fight in the war. This sequence of events, however, shows him that he needs to give up the “good man” Doctor persona for at least a little while to prevent the fabric of reality from being irrevocably torn apart.

Eight sadly but resolutely drinks a potion that will turn him into a “warrior.” As he raises the glass to his lips, he salutes his companions from the Big Finish audio dramas, effectively bringing the audio dramas into cannon. He apologizes to Cass, the woman in the ship that crashed, and then with a sad delivery of “Physician, heal thyself,” Eight drinks the potion and regenerates into the “War Doctor,” who will be played by John Hurt in Saturday’s special. The webisode is impressive in the range of emotion it invokes in a little under seven minutes. In the beginning, as Eight tries to save Cass, we see that energy that we first saw in the television movie. As Eight becomes resigned to his fate, however, we see the pain that will be etched on each of the subsequent Doctors. It’s really a wonderful performance, and it would be equally wonderful to see Paul McGann in the Whoinverse again. A web series about him trying to help people out in the early days of the Time War, perhaps?


There’s tons of great online resources about the Eighth Doctor available right now.

Here’s a link to Big Finish Productions. There are Eighth Doctor stories in the “Doctor Who Main Range,” and a range devoted just to Eight.

Here is a link to “The Night of the Doctor” if you haven’t watched it multiple times already!

Here’s a link to BBC America’s Eighth Doctor page.

And finally, here’s a link to a cool interview headwriter Steven Moffat gave about the creation of “The Night of the Doctor” and bringing Paul McGann back into the Who fold.

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