50th Anniversary Retrospective: The 8th Doctor

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John Hussey continues his monthly retrospective, this time looking at the 8th Doctor, Paul McGann.

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The Origins of the Eighth Doctor

Sylvester McCoy came to the end of his reign as the Doctor, as with Colin Baker, through no fault of his own. Like his previous incarnation he didn’t get a fair time onscreen and with the increasingly low budget and loss in ratings due to the extreme competition against popular soap-drama Coronation Street, Doctor Who sadly came to its abrupt end and was cancelled. Luckily McCoy got another appearance out of the Seventh Doctor during the 30th Anniversary Special ‘Dimensions in Time’ and was then further fortunate to receive an official ending to his incarnation during the TV Movie ‘Doctor Who’ were McCoy was brought back to perform a final few scenes before his tragic regeneration.

Paul McGann was the next actor in line to gain the reigns of the mad man with a box. McGann heard about the revival of the series through a television movie during filming of The Three Musketeers due to fellow actor Tim Curry being offered the role of the new incarnation of the Doctor. Curry in the end couldn’t take on the role due to other films clashing with the schedule of production of the Doctor Who film. McGann and Curry had already discussed with each other during production of The Three Musketeers how each other would play the role of the Eighth Doctor and McGann would eventually gain the role himself after Curry was unable to do it. McGann’s brother Mark also attempted to get the role but lost the part to his brother. At first McGann wasn’t entirely sure how to play the Doctor but eventually got into the swing of things and delivered a performance which reinvented the character of the Doctor for a new age and audience.

Era and Stories

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The Eighth Doctor era is probably the most complicated of them all. This is solely due to the fact that his only onscreen story was his first, the TV Movie ‘Doctor Who’. The rest of his era consists of off-screen adventures via prose, comic books and audio stories. This was all down to the cancellation of the show back in 1989 during the Seventh Doctor’s era which led to a joint operation between the FOX network and the BBC in an attempt to revamp the show for an American audience. This TV Movie brought about the beginning of the Eighth Doctor after the onscreen regeneration of the Seventh Doctor but ultimately became his last story due to the stories ratings in the USA being low and so no further stories were made. Paul McGann was left without continuing the development of his character nor was he ever given an official conclusion to his incarnation.

The TV Movie was an interesting experiment through what the creators tried adding to the show. It was certainly a well earned revamp of the show with the addition of many new and fresh ideas, tones and styles but above all it remained true to the original series. Rather than a full revamp, it served as a continuation of the Classic Series and brought it into a new decade and to a brand new audience. ‘Doctor Who’ was certainly made to be darker and grittier. For example, the Seventh Doctor has by far been given the most graphic and darkest regeneration scenario. Firstly he was gunned down by gang-members and then he was killed by a false operation which instead of saving him actually nearly destroyed his alien anatomy. Another thing that was added to the style was the story being more action centred and fast paced. Scenes that emphasised this were the scene on the motorway with the Eighth Doctor and Grace riding a motorcycle while being chased by the Master and Chang Lee in an ambulance and then the final fight between the Eighth Doctor and the Master in the TARDIS.

This style of action-packed storytelling certainly influenced the revived series from 2005 onwards with many of the stories developing a more modern approach to storytelling with the Doctor being made more of a fast-paced action hero rather than just a wondering alien in time and space. This style of character was a major call back to the Third Doctor’s era where he adopted a more James Bond-style persona and this idea of taking action through running and force was sown into his personality over the course of his future incarnations and gradually became more of a frontal characteristic as seen with the Eighth Doctor onwards. Death scenes in this story were certainly made more realistic, making the show become more Americanised in many ways by its tone of realism and gritty nature. This style however was dropped during the revived series and retained its family friendly storytelling, although death scenes would still like within the Classic Series (a long time trait that has been with the show since its very beginning with Doctor Who itself being well known for its long death count in stories). Another concept that was introduced within the TV Movie was the TARDIS Console Room being a vast and ancient space rather than being a small control room. It was given a more organic feature and this idea and concept would continue within the revived series.

Other new concepts were added like romance. The Doctor had never been a romantic until his Eighth incarnation where he first passionately kissed a companion (Grace Holloway). This added in new dynamics to the show and set in motion story traits that would go on to influence the future of the show during its revived years from 2005 onwards. Another interesting idea was put in place by establishing that the Doctor may be half human on his mother’s side. This however was never taken into any further affect than just a few throw away lines and was never used again in any future stories. Though it is deemed unnecessary, alien and non-canon to most fans, the idea itself was bold and would explain why the Doctor has so much humanity while other Time Lords are more cold and logical in their behaviour.

Luckily, although some fans don’t consider off-screen work as canon to the actual show, the Eighth Doctor’s adventures didn’t end with the TV Movie. Through prose and comic books, the Eighth Doctor’s era continued to develop and forge a timeline for the Eighth incarnation. It began with a few stories in the Virgin New Adventure Novels, a series that had secured Doctor Who’s existence during the wilderness years, with the Eighth Doctor gaining a few stories dedicated to his incarnation. His story was further enhanced and given shape with his own series of novels within the Eighth Doctor Adventures series. This series ran from 1997 all the way up to 2005 containing a grand total of 73 stories featuring the Eighth Doctor and his off-screen companions. The Eighth Doctor’s storyline then took full swing after Big Finish decided to write audio episodes for the Eighth Doctor after getting permission to do so. From there the Eighth Doctor finally got to have episodes of a media description beyond paper and it also allowed Paul McGann to return to the role and actually develop his character in person. These stories still run to this very day, and like with prose the Eighth Doctor, received his own set of series for the Big Finish audio adventure and has so gained 3 full series and a miniseries entitled ‘Dark Eye’. As with the TV Movie, the Eighth Doctor’s adventures in the Big Finish stories really developed his character to be darker, while still retaining his romantic and innocent side portrayed in his first outing. It is also very much established within the Big Finish Adventures that his main enemy, as always, were the Daleks with them making many appearances within his stories and caused a lot of mayhem for his incarnation, with some scenarios creating harsh results for his way of life.

Although the Eighth Doctor has the shortest run within the Doctor Who universe onscreen, it’s fair to say he has the longest as his incarnation has yet to have a proper conclusion and his adventures are still running this very day. It’s just unfortunate that he has yet to see the time he deserves onscreen.

Character Traits, Personality and Catchphrases

The Eighth Doctor was very different to his previous incarnations due to his humanity. His incarnation was the first to really embrace the joys of the human condition and became a more human-based character while still maintaining his alien traits. The Eighth Doctor was certainly full of spirit and joy within life and showcased on multiple occasions his love for humanity, especially admiring that they saw dangers that weren’t actually there. Another thing that came about within the Eighth Doctor’s personality is his romantic nature, an emotional side that the Doctor rarely used in the past. This side of the Doctor really enhanced the Eighth Doctor’s human side and even allowed him to express loving feelings towards his companions with Grace Holloway being the first companion that he passionately kisses, although it is fair to say it was more of a thank gesture rather than full on love towards Grace. This trait would continue within future companions and become a part of the Doctor’s characteristics on a more frontal basis within future incarnations.

Like with previous incarnations, the Eighth Doctor’s beginning was abrupt and didn’t start off well. This time round he gained amnesia after his regeneration was postponed for hours after his death due to his dosage of anaesthetics during the operation. The Eighth Doctor was left confused and somewhat afraid due to having no information about himself; only vivid memory spurts that appeared every now and again. The person he sought refuge in was Grace Holloway, the only person that seemed to rest on his recent memory. After the Master opened the Eye of Harmony, all of his memories returned to him in an instant and was restored back to his old self (well, new self). I guess the interesting thing with the Eighth Doctor’s beginning was we got to know him without him knowing about himself. His few hours of being inside his new incarnation and getting into the swings of things were through the sight of amnesia.

Although the Eighth Doctor was a romantic and full of such spirit and humanity, he certainly did have a dark side within him especially when the forces of evil tried to unbalance laws of the universe. The Eighth Doctor’s rage was released to the full by the Master during the scenes where he was tied up and then after he killed Grace and Lee. He showed his distaste in the Master’s changed outfit and spoke poorly about his way of life to Lee in order to gain his trust to help him defeat the Master. Afterwards he charged at the Master with force, using his feet to kick down his evil nemesis. Then he was engaged in a hand-to-hand combat battle with him, which ended in the Master’s apparent demise. It is fair to say the Eighth Doctor did try to save him from this fate but his nemesis refused to be aided by his great enemy.

Some of the Eighth Doctor’s reoccurring traits are definite influences from his past. For example, his usage of the line ‘would you care for a jelly baby’ when dishing out his signature bag of sweets. Another fun trait of his was dishing out information about people’s futures, giving them sly hints as to what to expect or look out for.

Companions

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Dr. Grace Holloway


Grace Holloway was a doctor in San Francisco who had everything going for her, but when the mysterious Doctor landed in her life, everything turned upside down. Firstly she caused his death and was left with a person who had two-hearts and was apparently stolen after his body was taken to the morgue. Then the so-called-man returned and then she began to understand the reality behind the Time Lord. Sceptical at first, she eventually rose to the occasion and aided the Doctor in battling the Master. In the process of helping the Doctor, who was nearly killed by the Master during his attempt of body transfer, Grace was killed by a vengeful Master, but was later brought back to life by the Doctor through time travel. At the end of ‘Doctor Who’ she decided to reject the Doctor’s offer of travelling with him and returned to her life on Earth in high spirits.

Chang Lee


The young gang-member was almost killed during a gang war but was saved by the arrival of the TARDIS. Chang Lee then witnessed the Seventh Doctor being gunned down and then did what he could to help him out. After hearing of his passing during a failed operation, Chang Lee decided to steal his possessions and later entered his TARDIS where he encountered the Master. The Master poisoned his mind against the Doctor and had him aid him in trying to hunt down and capture the Doctor. Eventually Chang Lee realised the Master was lying to him and tried to oppose his power but ultimately was killed by the insane Time Lord. Luckily through time travel, the Doctor was able to bring him back to life. Chang Lee learnt from his mistakes and befriended the Time Lord with the Doctor treating him to a couple of bags of gold dust and even giving him advice on his future.

Encountered Villains and Monsters

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The Master


The insane Time Lord was placed on trial on Skaro by the Daleks for his crimes against the universe and was ultimately sentenced to death and atomised. His last request was to have the Doctor take his remains back to Gallifrey. The Seventh Doctor followed his old nemesis’ request and began the transfer back to Gallifrey where the Master came back to life in the form of a ghostly serpent and hijacked the TARDIS, causing it to make an emergency landing on Earth. He later took over yet another body in order to survive, only this time it wasn’t a permanent transfer and required another means in order to remain alive. As part of his plan all along, he opened the Eye of Harmony onboard the Doctor’s TARDIS and used it to locate the Eighth Doctor and then attempted to capture him in order to steal his regenerations. Using the Eye of Harmony as a power source for his dark scheme, the Eighth Doctor was nearly consumed by the Master, with the Master nearly gaining a new life through the Doctor’s own life source. Grace Holloway managed to interfere with his plan and prevented him stealing the Doctor’s regenerations. The Master and the Doctor were then caught in a deadly battle to the death which resulted in the Master falling into the Eye of Harmony and being apparently destroyed.

The Daleks


The Daleks briefly appeared off-screen in the opening scene of ‘Doctor Who’ during the Doctor’s monologue and the short glimpse at the Master’s trial and execution. Their voices could be heard screaming out their deadly battle cry as they apparently destroyed the Master once and for all.

The Daleks would later become a major reoccurring enemy to the Eighth Doctor during his Big Finish Adventures, becoming a true threat to him and caused many challenges for the Eighth Doctor to face; both physically and mentally.

The Three Must See Episodes

Sadly the Eighth Doctor only has one onscreen adventure and that is his first story ‘Doctor Who’. I’m still hopeful that one day the BBC will return to his incarnation and finally give him a series to explain what happened during the gap between the TV Movie and Series One.

First Words

“Who am I? Who am I?!”

The Incarnation Speech

“You want dominion over the living, yet all you do is kill!”

Famous Last Words

“That sounds better. Now where shall we go?”

At the moment these are the final words of the Eighth Doctor because he doesn’t have a last word or sentence as his journeys in time and space are yet to see a conclusion onscreen.

The Regeneration

The Eighth Doctor is the only incarnation of the Doctor to not have a regeneration scene. It is left in mystery as to how his Eighth persona lost his life and the circumstances behind it which caused him to regenerate into the Ninth Doctor. It was thought for many years that the Eighth Doctor fought in the Last Great Time War against the Daleks and he died either during or at the conclusion of the war when he activated the Moment to destroy the Daleks and his own people the Time Lords. However, with the recent revelation within ‘The Name of the Doctor’ it could be implied that the Eighth Doctor didn’t fight in the Time War or simply perished during the early years and it was in fact the Forgotten Doctor who ended the Time War. Hopefully the mystery behind the Eighth Doctor’s regeneration is finally explained within the 50th Anniversary Special…

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