Night of the Doctor, Day of Grudging Forgiveness

Okay, now I’m pissed off and crying.

I don’t want Moffat at the head of this. I don’t want to start enjoying Moffat’s work again, because suspension of disbelief is suspension of self-protection; inevitably, there will be a women-drivers crack or a snide eyeroll or a sprained ankle that will slap me in the face with the fundamental gender essentialism that is — believe me, I’m in the middle of a rewatch — as bad now under Moffatt as it was in the 60s, and occasionally worse. And it will hurt more if I lack detachment.

I need to stay detached from this anniversary party. I’m trying, to an extent, to pretend that it’s not happening, or that it’s no big deal. I’ve been handling it by keeping the old and new shows separate lately, seeing Nine on as inspired by the old show, but not the same.

I haven’t always done that. Under RTD, I was desperate to find the sly continuities that hinted at canonizing the interim years of comics, novels, audio plays, charity shorts. I wanted Davies to acknowledge how many people worked, and how strenuously, to keep the Doctor’s stories alive after cancellation. I screamed when I saw “Human Nature” as an episode title. I bellowed and flailed every time reference was made to the Doctor having a navel, having a grandchild, stealing a TARDIS. “There, you see? They’re bringing the new audience up to speed! They’re going to start incorporating the CMP! They’re going to finish telling about the Time War!”

Davies never delivered, and eventually I accepted that he was using all that as a backdrop to enrich the story for those in the know and give it texture and mystery for those who weren’t. Moffatt seemed uninterested in pursuing that line when he took over.

Then, too, I hate webisodes and minisodes and five-minute “specials” the way the prototypical desert-island survivor learns to hate coconuts. When something sustains you inadequately for years without ever approaching being fulfilling, you learn to resent the hunger it prompts more than you can enjoy the few minutes you spend consuming it. I prefer to collect them unwatched, and then see them all at once as an appetizer to the first show of a new season. But this is so talked-about that there’s no way I would make it another week-plus without spoilers; all I could realistically hope for was to spoil it for myself by watching it before anyone else could manage to give something away.

Spoilers, naturally, below.

“I’m a doctor. But probably not the one you were expecting.”

Oh, McGann. If ever a Doctor got it even worse than Colin Baker, it was you. One truly terrible movie, and then obscurity (in this role) to all but the most dedicated fans tracking down the starvation-diet material often brushed aside as “tie-in media”. Like Baker, the existing fans hated you at the start; unlike Baker, you never got a chance to redeem your portrayal to the majority of the fanbase. Like Baker, we never even got to see your farewell regeneration; you get the number 8, a “What was his name?”, and “It doesn’t matter if you skip that one.”

Other Doctors have reprised the role after moving on in their careers, but McGann’s first Big Finish monthly audio was released a short five years after his single appearance and he’s only stopped since to do a larger, featured, stand-alone audio series. If ever Harriet Jones recognized another back-bencher doing a tireless job in a quiet corner while others took the spotlight, she’d see a fellow in McGann.

McGann’s opening line hit me hard. Tears-at-the-ready hard. Right in the gut, that line.

McGann has been working his way into the role for two decades, filling in all the little empty corners of the Doctor’s skin where lurk the things that haven’t even decided to be questions yet. He is immediately, confidently, inarguably the Doctor, with the kind of maturation of the role that regeneration sickness is written in to substitute for. Gone is Eight’s foppish adolescence; gone too is any uncertainty in McGann’s portrayal. Nothing showy, no speeches about not knowing what kind of man he is are needed. He just IS, immediately, immaculately, the Doctor.

“Where are we going?”

“Back of the ship.”


“Because the front crashes first. Think it through.”

McGann’s delivery here is impeccable. No chiding, no condescension; this is calm instruction. He’s been here several times before. He has a new companion to train; thirty seconds were enough to determine that she’s both suitable and worthy, and now he’s taking her out of danger to start her adventure.

“Is it always like this?”

“If you’re lucky.”

Most of the best Doctor-companion relationships have started this way, as well as some of the most tragic never-weres. (Hi, Astrid!) The contrast to Eccleston’s churlish, repeated chasing-off of Rose is perfect, and raises the question: How did the Doctor get from here to there?

“Don’t worry, it’s bigger on the inside.”

“What did you say? …Is this a TARDIS?”

“Yes, but you’ll be perfectly safe.”


Oh, are we finally getting to that, now? After all the hints and teases about the Time War, after all the innuendos (and a few trout-slaps) about “Doctor” being another word for “warrior” in some parts of the universe, are we finally stitching together the tattered TV beginnings of the Cartmel Master Plan from the 1980s, the interregnum’s “tie-in media”, and RTD’s revelation that the Time Wars mentioned in both were ended by the dedicated protector committing multiple genocide?

About bloody time.

And then, just as Eight is shouting, “Cass! Cass!” and I’m wondering if Cass has been written in for Charley Pollard, we’re planetside and I swear I’m seeing the Sisterhood of Karn from “The Brain of Morbius“.

And I am. I really, truly am.

Which, y’know, is a very cool tie-in to the classic series on its own, and fitting since we’re celebrating “50 years of Doctor Who” as though there hadn’t been a Hiatus, a Cancellation, an Interregnum, a Terrible Mistake, and another 20 years of “tie-in media” obscurity. If I can say anything good about Moffatt as a showrunner rather than a scriptwriter, it’s that his decades of fandom have given him an encyclopedic knowledge of the show that sometimes shows up in the little things, and every now and then in the big ones. He’s putting that to good use trying to give the new fans a sense of the show’s history and the old-school fans a butterfly bandage to close the gaping wound between Then and Now. It’s a fitting exercise for a Golden Anniversary, and I like him better for it.

There’s more to this choice than bringing back Sontarans or Silurians, though.

The Sisterhood of Karn are the remnants of the Cult of Pythia.

The cult that cursed the Time Lords.

The curse that resulted in the Looms and Houses, and the Loom in House Lungbarrow that may or may not have — monkeys-and-typewriters-fashion — randomly recreated the genetic material of the third, shadowy figure in the Gallifreyan Trinity, right around the time the original’s biological granddaughter was finishing her time at the Academy.

Well-played, sir. Well-played. I salute. NOW KEEP THAT UP through to the end for once, will you?

“Will it hurt?”



(A nice nod to the upcoming introduction, that…)

“Charley, C’rizz, Lucy, Tamsin, Molly–”



(Tennant-face:) WHAT?
And that’s where the real crying started.

Cass isn’t a stand-in for Charley. She’s an usher. She’s leading in the whole CAST of the “tie-in media” McGann has done. She’s the surgeon’s thread, dipping into the show’s ragged past and tying it to the hidden leading edge of its present, catalysing the last Classic Doctor to take the actions the first New Doctor spent so much trying to atone for, and introducing to the new audience the work of all the actors and crews and efforts that have kept the story going through the decades.

Which, frankly, means that once again Moffatt has proved he can’t just write a female character as a person to save his life. But it also means this time I might forgive him.

Then McGann gets his farewell scene, and for all the cheesy melodrama that it is, it manages — after a six-minute buildup — to have just as much punch for me as “I don’t want to go.”

Damn it. Now I care again.


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