I’m queuing my 12” 45rpm of The KLF’s “Doctorin’ the Tardis” as Adriana “Andy” Melendez, our resident Sci-Fi Senorita, returns with a piece on a particularly prodigal Timelord. Welcome back to Midgard Andy.
“We’ve always known in our bones that one day he would return here…”
It’s true, friends and fellow Whovians, I’ve been radio silent for some time, but you knew something this epic would force me out of hiding long enough to get this transmission through to all of you, and it is my sincere pleasure. With the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who just one week away, I wanted to celebrate our favorite Time Lord. Today, I will start here, with one of my favorites.
Here’s my tribute to the Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann.
November 14, 2013 – Doctor Who fans everywhere rejoiced over the Eighth Doctor’s triumphant return, live and in color, in the special mini-episode Night of the Doctor. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of witnessing Paul McGann’s portrayal (and believe Doctor Who started in 2005) check out Doctor Who: The Movie (1996). Yes, there are some groan-worthy moments, but McGann (Empire of the Sun, Queen of the Damned, Alien 3) shines through it all and comes to life as the eighth incarnation of our nearly-immortal, beloved Time Lord, in all his eccentric glory. Sadly, his time with us was cut short, when the Fox back door pilot failed to impress.
However, we never stopped hoping…one day… he would come back. Yes, he should come back! I could barely contain my excitement when I read the news (for once I was grateful for my Facebook feed), though I was truly skeptical. Doctor Who producer Steven Moffat kept denying there would be any Classic Doctors involved in the Anniversary Special. But once verified I almost shouted with glee at my computer screen, however, I managed to restrain myself. I might have drawn odd looks from my coworkers.
From day one McGann embodied the enigmatic alien, capturing the essence of our itinerant, time-traveling Madman in a Box, in his screen test for the Doctor Who movie.
Move Over Lord Byron, Make Way for the Lord of Time…
What is it about the Eighth Doctor that inspires so much love and loyalty after only one televised appearance? Is it his wit, charm, warmth, his Byronesque good looks, or his fondness for humanity? Had we explored his character further, we may have learned more about his origins and “human mother”. So many questions, not enough answers. The mysterious Doctor with No Name continued to intrigue us and left us wanting. We craved those answers. Certainly with the revival of the Sci-Fi cult classic TV series (which first ran from 1963-1989) in 2005, then show-runner Russell T. Davies’ (Queer as Folk, Torchwood) introduction of the Time War provided further food for thought, and left fans wondering what happened during those intervening years.
While other actors had to do more than suffer through a regeneration crisis to win over fans, once taking the reins from the previous actor, McGann’s Doctor endeared himself instantly. With a velvet frock coat, open smile, a lust for life, and childlike enthusiasm, he won our hearts. This was the same moment he won over Dr. Grace Holloway’s (Daphne Ashbrook) heart, just before he planted that historic, if somewhat shocking, kiss (never-before-seen in Doctor Who) on her waiting lips.
As current Doctor Who show-runner, Steven Moffat (Coupling, Sherlock), pointed out in a recent interview, McGann (then only 37 years old) was “was the first of the sexy, romantic Doctors”. This was one element from the 1996 American production that survived when Davies resurrected the Gallifreyan in 2005. The hero has to get the girl (something Davies capitalized on with both the Ninth and Tenth Doctors) and McGann most definitely does get the girl – albeit an initially-reluctant, and somewhat frightened, girl. However, it isn’t long before Grace is running hand-in-hand with the Doctor (of course), riding on the back of motorcycles with him (an homage to Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee).
A New Lease on Lives – Big Finish to the Rescue…
For the last 17 years loyal Whovians (myself included) have petitioned the BBC to get the Eighth Doctor back on our screens. We’ve begged, pleaded, nay, demanded, his return. We’ve consoled ourselves with the fact that the talented McGann reprised his role for the line of BBC-sanctioned Doctor Who audios from Big Finish.
Nicholas Briggs (voice of the Daleks and Big Finish Producer) came along in 2001 and gave the Eighth Doctor a new home and a new lease on life (as he did with the other Classic Doctors). New radio dramas allowed fans to spend more time with the Eighth Doctor, as he continued to evolve beyond the one TV adventure.
Big Finish also attempted to fill in the gaps between the 1996 movie and 2005 revival, foreshadowing The Time War and the fall of the mighty Time Lords in the Gallifrey series, starring Louise Jameson and Lalla Ward (reprising their roles from the Classic TV series), as well as the fall of the Eighth Doctor in Series One of the Dark Eyes (2012) audios (Series Two is due out February 2014).
Although the line of numerous Doctor Who novels attempted to keep the Doctor alive after the BBC cancelled the Classic TV series in 1989, there was always some debate about whether or not the continuing adventures were in fact canon. There was even some speculation as to how the audios fit into the current television timeline, and therefore, they were considered suspect as well – raising the question of McGann’s legitimacy. Was he the Eighth Doctor after all? Or was he merely a temporal anomaly? Was he part of the royal line or merely a pretender to the throne?
If there was any doubt as to whether the Eighth Doctor was legit, or “not-canon”, even after his on-screen regeneration from incumbent Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy (Radagast the Brown in The Hobbit), the line of Big Finish audio adventures makes it abundantly clear. Never more clear than in the recently released multi-Doctor Anniversary story, The Light at the End, starring all the living Classic Doctors – Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy.
Now with his return in Night of the Doctor, Number 8 is vindicated for all time. Moffat himself has canonized the Doctor Who Big Finish adventures, including honorable mentions for audio companions Charley, C’rizz, Lucie, Tamsin and Molly (portrayed by India Fisher, Conrad Westmass, Sheridan Smith, Niky Wardley and Ruth Bradley, respectively).
You’ve Got the Look…
Clothes make the man and never more so than when a new Doctor takes the mantle from his predecessor. He must struggle through a painful regeneration crisis, losing bits of his old self along the way, and in stripping away his old persona (and clothing), a new man is born. This includes his own signature wardrobe. His look is an expression of his burgeoning new personality, and each Doctor chooses a costume to complete his transformation.
The Doctor discovers his new identity, likes and dislikes (his 11th incarnation’s love of fish custard, for example), while still retaining the chief characteristics and common threads that bind all the Doctors together – eccentricity, intelligence, humour, child-like wonder, a larger than life persona, and something else… something dark and wounded at his core. This includes the wisdom and madness that comes with living for centuries, possibly millennia. I’m sure The Doctor is much older than he tells people.
When McGann first appeared, he was the romantic, dashing, Byronesque hero that made girls swoon. However, by Night of the Doctor, he has lived too many lifetimes and it shows.
The Shape and Shade of Things to Come…
We saw what remained of our war-torn Time Lord – dark and brooding, all battered and weathered leather – when the Ninth Doctor (played by Christopher Eccleston – Malekith in Thor: The Dark World) burst onto our screens in 2005. He is worn and frayed around the edges by the time Rose Tyler (Billie Piper – Diary of a Call Girl) meets him, and more than just a little lonely. Hence his uncharacteristic request to have her join him. Unlike the Fourth Doctor’s (Tom Baker) assertion that he has never chosen his own company (reluctantly allowing stowaways, orphans and even would-be assassins on board), here the Doctor works hard to win Rose over. Of course, she accepts, and the rest is history…
When we join our hero in the prequel to the 2005 series, Night of the Doctor, he’s a changed man, foreshadowing Eccelston’s era and beyond. He has become the Lonely Angel. His look has evolved – the soft, velvet jacket is gone, replaced by a harder look – more leather, no lace. This costume closely resembles the one we see John Hurt (Alien) wearing in the publicity stills for the upcoming Anniversary Special. No longer Time’s Champion (as he is depicted in some of the Seventh Doctor novels) – he’s become a Time Warrior (not to be confused with the 1973 episode of the same name). He’s evolving – becoming someone else entirely, someone to be feared – The War Doctor.
Though to many he will be known as The Oncoming Storm…
Everything Changes When a Good Man Goes to War…
Once introduced to Chris Eccleston’s traumatized Ninth Doctor, we all knew it had to end badly for our beloved Eight. But then, does it ever end well for our hero? It was inevitable somehow that his death would be especially poignant and tragic, after all, he’s the last casualty of The Great Time War between the Daleks and The Time Lords. Yet, it is still heartbreaking to witness his demise – especially after having him back for such a short time. I admit I haven’t allowed myself time to mourn.
When he crash lands on the planet of Karn and is awoken by the Sisterhood, (whom we have not seen on our screens since 1976) his body is already broken beyond repair. The Sisterhood deserve a special place in the Anniversary Special, as they possibly pre-date the Gallifreyans. Ohila’s (played by veteran actress Claire Higgins – Hellraiser, Downton Abbey, Casualty) assertion that “Time Lord science is elevated here on Karn” certainly provokes more questions. They deserve an extended treatment of their own… but I digress… as I often do.
As the Eighth Doctor lies before the High Priestess dying, he still retains his trademark sarcasm and humor, giving us a glimpse of the man he was. Quips roll easily off his tongue – if he only has four minutes left to live, he might as well get a few good ones in.
But our handsome, once-exuberant, romantic leading man, is now broken, bereft and utterly defeated… and he welcomes death… though not before the Sisterhood of Karn make him an offer he can’t refuse…
“Physician heal thyself…”
Once dubbed the George Lazenby of the Doctor Who universe, Paul McGann has earned his rightful place in the pantheon and I hope and pray, nay, demand, to see more of him as the Eighth Doctor.
Though Night of the Doctor appears to be meant as a one-off (and I hope I’m wrong), as we are likely to get a big dose of the Time War in the upcoming Day of the Doctor, I can only hope the Eighth Doctor gets more on-screen time, whether in flashbacks, or if the BBC ever decides to do a complete treatment of The Time War as a movie.
Certainly McGann is still charming and roguish as ever, and I’m sure I speak for many when I say I would be happy to have him back in the role for a bit longer. Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But then, as my friends all know, this wish did come true…
Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties…
For those of you who missed it, though I can’t imagine how, here’s a look at Paul McGann’s epic return as the Eighth Doctor.
Resources and Links
For more on the Sisterhood of Karn check out The Brain of Morbius, Sisters of the Flame and Vengeance of Morbius.
The Brain of Morbius (BBC Video, 1976)
Sisters of the Flame (Big Finish, 2008)
Vengeance of Morbius (Big Finish, 2008)
Doctor Who: The Movie (BBC Video, 1996)
The Dark Eyes Series (Big Finish, 2012)
The Light at the End (Big Finish, 2013)