The Night of the Doctor
The Night of the Doctor was a mini-episode released just prior to the 50th anniversary special. It starred Paul McGann as theEighth Doctor, in his first on-screen appearance since the 1996 TV movie. It also featured his regeneration — meaning that McGann has uniquely appeared on television only in regeneration stories. As of 2014, it is the only BBC Walesproduction that stars the Doctor, but never shows even a glimpse of the current incarnation. It instead showed the origin of a retroactively introduced incarnation from the Doctor’s past – the War Doctor, portrayed by John Hurt.
Initially made available on the BBC iPlayer and YouTube channel on 14 November 2013, The Night of the Doctor was subsequently made available to UK viewers on the BBC Red Button, from Saturday 16 November. It was meant to be released days later, but was released early to avoid an impending leak. Incidentally, this meant that the mini-episode premiered on Paul McGann’s own birthday, resulting in another anniversary celebration of sorts, in the wake of one for Doctor Who itself. Since it was recorded alongside the last two days of production on the anniversary special, it shared the production block with The Day of the Doctor.
Cass is piloting a damaged spaceship on the verge of crashing. The ship’s computer offers to call for a “doctor” upon being asked for support, to which Cass responds that she doesn’t need one because she’s not injured. Meanwhile, the Doctor’s TARDIS is seen catching up to her ship. Inside, Cass continues to tell the ship that she is trying to send a distress call, and doesn’t need a doctor. The Eighth Doctor suddenly appears behind her, stating “I’m a doctor, but probably not the one you were expecting.”
When the Doctor notices that the ship’s crew is missing and wonders why Cass is still aboard, she explains that she teleported the crew off the ship and stayed behind. The Doctor then welcomes her aboard, and takes her hand as he leads her to the TARDIS. As he is trying to open the doors to the room where the TARDIS is parked, Cass says she joined the crew to see the universe, and wonders if it is always like this. He jokes that it is if she’s lucky. He finally opens the doors with his sonic screwdriver, revealing the TARDIS, and reassuring Cass that it’s bigger on the inside. Cass is horrified, correctly identifying the police box to be a TARDIS. With contempt and hurt laced in her voice, Cass recoils from the Doctor and orders him not to touch her. She realises that the Doctor is a Time Lord, a species taking part in the Time War. The Doctor counters that he hasn’t participated in the conflict, but this fails to assuage Cass. When he points out that at least he’s not aDalek, she replies that one can hardly tell the difference anymore, and promptly locks herself on the other side of the door. Although the Doctor states that he won’t leave the ship without her, Cass replies that she doesn’t mind; she would rather die than travel with a Time Lord. The Doctor helplessly pleads with her while pounding on the door in a desperate terror, until time runs out and the spacecraft plows into a nearby world with a savage explosion, claiming both their lives.
The ship crashes on the planet Karn, where the Sisterhood of Karn have been expecting the Doctor. A elderly woman comments that the man who is destined to save them has at last arrived. She remarks that the Sisterhood always knew in their bones the Doctor would come back to this planet some day, but pities the nature of his arrival – slain before his time.
Inside a cave, the Doctor rests against an altar, before he suddenly awakens with a jolt and calls out for Cass. The woman, named Ohila, explains that the sisters are still trying to extract who she believes to be his companion from the wreckage. The Doctor corrects her, explaining that Cass wasn’t his companion. Regardless, Ohila predicts Cass in all likelihood to be dead. The Doctor questions this, as he points out that he survived. Ohila then explains that the Doctor did, in fact, die in the crash. The Sisterhood restored him to life temporarily with the Elixir of Lifeafter they recovered his body, giving him only four minutes to live. The Doctor sarcastically comments that four minutes is “ages”, stating that he might get bored. Remaining stern, Ohila replies that he should spend the little breath he has left more wisely. The Doctor suddenly realizes that he is back on Karn, and recognizes the women gathered around him to be the Sisterhood. He mockingly calls them “The Keepers of the Flame of Utter Boredom.” Ohila dryly replies that he can mock them if he likes, before explaining that their Elixir can trigger his regeneration and help him fully return from the dead. She also explains that using an Elixir to trigger the regenerative process would allow the Doctor to choose which traits his next incarnation will possess, rather than have it be a random change. Several member of the Sisterhood step then forward, holding different chalices filled with Elixir.
The Doctor asks why the Sisterhood would help him, and, after he brushes aside her attempt to use her gratitude for the Doctor’s past help of the Sisterhood, Ohila explains that the Time War threatens all reality, and that the Doctor is the only hope left. The Doctor resists the idea of taking any part in the war, claiming that he is comfortable with just trying to help out where he can. Cass’ body is then brought forward, and the Doctor comments that she wanted to see the universe. Ohila counteracts this, stating that the universe will be destroyed if the Doctor doesn’t put an end to the Time War. The Doctor bitterly states he would rather die than take part in the war, prompting Ohila to remind him that “you’re dead already; how many more will you let join you?”
Succumbing to Ohila’s persuasion, the Doctor declares that the universe doesn’t need a Doctor anymore. He removes a bandoleer from Cass’ body, and tells Ohila to make him a warrior. Ohila offers one of the chalices of Elixir, which she claims to have developed herself. The Doctor takes the chalice, and tells the Sisterhood to get out, horribly conflicted about what he is about to do. As they leave, the Doctor asks if the regeneration will hurt. Ohila simply replies “Yes”, to which the Doctor says “Good.” Now alone, the Doctor raises the chalice and pays tribute to some of his past companions. He then apologizes to Cass. Despairingly, he utters his last words “Physician, heal thyself,” and drinks the Elixir. He drops the empty chalice as the regenerative process begins, and eventually falls to the ground in pain, gasping out his last breaths. Afterwards, Ohila returns to see if the regeneration has been successful.
The Doctor stands, and sympathetically puts his hand to Cass’s face. He grabs Cass’s bandoleer and buckles it across his chest, then stares adamantly ahead at the glistening surface of a rock wall, glancing at his new reflection as he states, “Doctor no more.”