The Night of the Doctor was a mini-episode of Doctor Who to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the series.
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 54th 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, it shared the production block with The Day of the Doctor.
It marked Paul McGann's first on-screen, live-action appearance as the Eighth Doctor since the 1996 TV movie. It is the only BBC Wales production that stars the Doctor, but never shows the current incarnation. Instead it showed the origin of a retroactively introduced incarnation from the Doctor's past – the War Doctor, portrayed by John Hurt.
It saw the return of the Sisterhood of Karn, last seen in 1976's The Brain of Morbius. This was also the first appearance of Clare Higgins as Ohila, a woman in the Sisterhood who had a history with the Doctor.
The episode, along with having Paul McGann reprise his role as the Eighth Doctor on screen also shows the Eighth Doctor's regeneration into the War Doctor; uniquely making Paul McGann the only actor for the Doctor to have physically acted in the role only in stories involving the Doctor regenerating.
Still trying to skirt around the edges of the Last Great Time War, the Eighth Doctor is forced to fully join the conflict by the mysterious Sisterhood of Karn. Killed while trying to save a woman who hates him simply for being a Time Lord, the Doctor gets to choose what his next incarnation will be like. He arranges for a warrior... but makes the darkest sacrifice of his life in order to be reborn.
Cass Fermazzi 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 smiles and 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 and that he's one of the nice ones, but this fails to assuage Cass. When he points out that at least he's not a Dalek, she bitterly 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, and that him dying is the "best news all day". The Doctor helplessly pleads with her while pounding on the door in a desperate terror, until time runs out and the spacecraft smashes into a nearby world with a savage explosion, claiming both their lives.
The ship had crashed on the planet Karn, where the Sisterhood of Karn have been expecting the Doctor. An 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 that the Doctor would come back to this planet someday 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 Life after 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 realises that he is back on Karn, and recognises the women gathered around him to be the Sisterhood. He mockingly calls them "The Keepers of the Flame of Utter Boredom." Ohila corrects him with "Eternal Life" and 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 members of the Sisterhood step forward, holding different chalices filled with Elixir.
The Doctor asks why the Sisterhood would help him, recalling that the Sisterhood was never grateful of his past help. 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. Reminding him of why he calls himself "Doctor", Ohila orders him to attend to Cass. Cass's body is then brought forward, the Doctor scanning her with his sonic screwdriver, and Ohila states that she is beyond even the Sisterhood's help. The Doctor, saddened, comments that Cass wanted to explore the universe, and he could have saved her but she wouldn't listen to him, but Ohila answers that Cass was wiser than him; she understood that there could be no running from the Time War, as it will soon rip the entire universe apart if it doesn't end soon. 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?" She pleads to the Doctor whether he would let the Universe fall.
Succumbing to Ohila's persuasion, the Doctor concedes that the universe does not need a Doctor anymore. He removes a bandolier from Cass's 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, horribly conflicted about what he is about to do, bellows at the Sisterhood to get out of the room. As they leave, the Doctor asks if the regeneration will hurt. Ohila simply replies "Yes", to which the Doctor grimly says "Good." Now alone, the Doctor raises the chalice and pays tribute to some of his past companions. He then apologises to Cass. Despairingly, he utters his last words, quoted from the book of Luke in the Bible "Physician, heal thyself," and drinks the Elixir. He drops the empty chalice as the regenerative process begins, and eventually falls to the ground in agony, gasping out his last breaths. Afterwards, Ohila returns to see if the regeneration has been successful.
The new Doctor stands and sympathetically puts his hand to Cass's face. He then grabs Cass's bandolier and buckles it across his chest and stares adamantly ahead at the glistening surface of a rock wall, glancing at his new reflection as he declares himself, "Doctor no more."
- The War Doctor (non-face shots) - Paul McGann
- Costume Designer - Howard Burden
- Make-up Artist - Kathryn Newsome
- Visual Effects Designer - Tamsie Thomas
- The Eighth Doctor mocks his imminent death, stating he might get bored waiting for four minutes and need a television, books, chess, and knitting.
- The Doctor's last words are from Luke 4:23 of the Bible. Luke was a doctor.
- The opening credits give only the name of the episode, and the name of the actor playing the Doctor, and omit the series name.
- This was the debut performance for Clare Higgins as Ohila. Her first line in the role was: "And here he is at last. The man to end it all. My sisters, the Doctor has returned to Karn. We have always known in our bones that one day he would return here."
- The Eighth Doctor's costume here, designed by Howard Burden, is unique and is based on the Doctor's costume from the TV movie. Paul McGann has cited his costume from this story as his favourite of the Eighth Doctor costumes he has worn.
- The Doctor mentions his companions Charley, C'rizz, Lucie, Tamsin and Molly, all from Big Finish audio productions. This marks the first direct reference to the Big Finish audio dramas in the TV series.
- The BBC initially promoted this episode with the teaser that it would feature either the Tenth Doctor, Eleventh Doctor, or the War Doctor. While it did feature the War Doctor briefly, it was mainly used as a red herring to hide the surprise return of Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor.
- Unusually, the credits use the form "Introducing John Hurt as..." even though the same style of credit was used for him in TV: The Name of the Doctor. Such credits are usually used only once. This is, however, the first time Hurt's character is referred to as the War Doctor.
- This story introduces the idea that the Time Lords had become collectively hated during the Time War by the individuals who had suffered from their actions. The Doctor's conflict with his own people over the issue is also made apparent.
- The phrase "no more" appeared in the 50th-anniversary #SaveTheDay trailer, scrawled onto a girder. The meaning of the phrase was obscure prior to the release of this short, which gave some context for the words in its closing seconds. However, the true meaning of the words was explained in the 50th anniversary special itself.
- Paul McGann's reprisal of the role of the Eighth Doctor, seventeen years after his debut, parallels a visibly older Sylvester McCoy's exit from the series as the Seventh Doctor to hand over the role to McGann himself. McCoy reappeared for one final outing as the Seventh Doctor in the 1996 TV movie, after his last on-screen adventure in 1989.
- By depicting the regeneration of the Eighth Doctor into the War Doctor, The Night of the Doctor abolishes the long-speculated idea that the Eighth Doctor eventually fought in the Time War and would regenerate into the Ninth Doctor portrayed by Christopher Eccleston. Years earlier, conditions imposed by Russell T Davies and the BBC on how it could be done (namely over having the Ninth Doctor with any other companion but Rose) led to the abandonment of Doctor Who Magazine's plan to depict the regeneration from the Eighth Doctor to the Ninth Doctor at the conclusion of The Flood.
- According to Emma Campbell-Jones, Paul McGann played the War Doctor in the scene where he takes Cass's bandolier after the regeneration. This technically makes McGann the second actor to play two incarnations of the Doctor, since Sylvester McCoy played the Sixth Doctor for the regeneration sequence in Time and the Rani.
- This is the second televised regeneration story not to feature any scenes inside the TARDIS, following TV: Planet of the Spiders.
- When the episode was first released, there was speculation among fans that the Eighth Doctor had not actually regenerated into the War Doctor and had instead regenerated into the Ninth Doctor off-screen, leaving the identity of the War Doctor still ambiguous. This was ultimately proven false by the events of The Day of the Doctor.
- As with The Name of the Doctor, there was continued speculation that the War Doctor was an incarnation existing prior to that of the First Doctor. This would also be rendered inaccurate by The Day of the Doctor. However, the existence of previous incarnations existing prior to the First Doctor would go on to become a plot point of Fugitive of the Judoon and The Timeless Children.
- The St John's Ambulance logo is visible on the SFX shot of the TARDIS as it chases after Cass' ship, but isn't there when the practical TARDIS prop is seen. The SFX TARDIS appears to be the one used for the Matt Smith era onward, but the actual prop for the Eighth Doctor's TARDIS is the heavily battle-damaged TARDIS used by the War Doctor in The Day of the Doctor.
- The Sisterhood of Karn also used the Elixir of Life to heal the Fourth Doctor and were also at that time in the habit of causing ships too close to Karn to crash. (TV: The Brain of Morbius)
- Shortly after his regeneration, the Eighth Doctor took a Wild Bill Hickok costume for a New Year's Day party from a staff locker in Walker General Hospital. As he began to dress himself, he explicitly left the gun belt in the locker because he did not like to carry firearms. Here, he does the exact opposite when he claims Cass's bandolier as part of his outfit following his regeneration into the War Doctor. (TV: Doctor Who)
- The Second Doctor was also presented with potential options for his new incarnation prior to his forced regeneration. Like the Eighth Doctor, he rejected the options presented to him. (TV: The War Games)
- Ohila reiterates that the outcome of regeneration is usually random. (TV: Time and the Rani, The Parting of the Ways)
- In a different account, the Eighth Doctor continued to fight in the Last Great Time War, and ultimately regenerated into the Ninth Doctor after activating the Moment to destroy the Daleks and the Time Lords. (PROSE: Doctor Who and the Time War)
- The Night of the Doctor was included on both the DVD and Blu-ray releases of The Day of the Doctor, and on the DVD and Blu-ray releases of The Name of the Doctor in the 50th Anniversary Collector's Edition.
- The short was also included on the Blu-ray version of the TV movie, released on 19 September 2016 in the UK. It is the only HD content on the disc presented in true high-definition - all other content, including the film itself, is upscaled from standard definition.
- Paul McGann: we were forced to release The Night of the Doctor early. Radio Times. Radio Times (18 November 2013). Retrieved on 5 November 2013.
- However, McGann did voice the Eighth Doctor in the animated version of Shada released in 2003 and numerous audio dramas.
- DWMSE 38
- Stephen Moffat on The Night of the Doctor. BBC Doctor Who website (14 November 2013). Retrieved on 15 November 2013.