What If… the 8th Doctor Had Had a Full TV Run?
Guest contributor Richard Forbes imagines the series, but also incorporating the Time War.
After “The Night of the Doctor” there was a flurry of pleas for a Paul McGann-led Doctor Who mini-series. Fans were presented with the Eighth Doctor on his last legs: worn and tested, but still optimistic and still courageous with a twinkle in his eye despite a galactic war sprawling out across the galaxies, threatening all of creation. Ultimately, much of the Eighth Doctor’s time has been chronicled, but instead of playing out on television, it was developed through paperback and audiobooks (e.g., Big Finish Productions and BBC Eighth Doctor Adventures).
While McGann’s Doctor would have run on television during the Nineties, the Time War has since been recognized as a major plot development during the Eighth Doctor’s era. Therefore the following piece is taking a lot of liberties – not only do I want to ask what could have been if McGann’s Doctor had had a full run depicted in television, but I also want to imagine what could have been, given what has been established in later years, regarding the Time War by showrunners, Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat.
I think you will find that the Eighth Doctor’s era had the potential to be one of the strongest in terms of captivating story-telling and plot development, especially because of the overarching themes and the role they would play in testing the Doctor’s values and moral character.
“I’m not part of the war. I swear to you, I never was” – The Eighth Doctor.
Some fans believe that with a full run with the Eighth Doctor, they would see more of the Time War – while this may true, I believe viewers would be treated with an outsider’s view of the war, as opposed to a view of the frontlines because the Eighth Doctor is desperately trying to avoid getting involved in the conflict.
The Eighth Doctor that we are presented with in The Night of the Doctor has admitted to acting as a “neutral” face in the Time War. He is a “medic” who helps those who he can, both on the sidelines and in the direct conflict – a person that can be trusted by all in a troubled world that no longer trusts anyone. the Doctor would later recount how he had even tried to save Davros from the jaws of the Nightmare Child. It’s hard to tell if the Doctor at this stage in his life is running towards the war or running away from it – electing instead to stay on the fringe of the conflict and help those affected elsewhere than the frontlines. This is not the Doctor being a “warrior”, just the Doctor being … well, a Doctor!
There are many reasons why this periphery view of the Time War would make the Doctor’s era stronger, some of those reasons are story-driven and some of those are purely technical: budget-wise, it would be difficult to portray the frontlines of Time War for every episode, likewise, it cheapens the value and impact that a briefer glance into the Time War can have on viewers – like overusing a good monster, a story on the frontlines of the Time War is best saved for a series finale.
On the outskirts of war there would be so many topics for Doctor Who to cover that another show might overlook. The effects of war can be vast. Places involved in such a galactic war can suffer from resource depletion, famine, disease, over-industrialization, environmental degradation, forced migration, residual violence, breakdowns of gender relations and a multiple of civil disputes. I would trust Doctor Who not only to tell the story of the violence of the Time War, but the bigger picture: how it affects people around the universe.
“She was wiser than you. She understood there was no escaping in the Time War. You are a part of this, Doctor, whether you like it or not”. – Ohila.
The Last Great Time War was a world falling to pieces and it has such potential and grand scope for storytelling because of our protagonist, the Doctor and how he would react to this deteriorating situation. This would be a great opportunity for character development – in times of war there is even more of a pressing need for help and less public resources and assistance available. This would serve as a great test for our hero. Would he run away from it all? Would he carry on and live his promise in what ways he thinks he can ethically? I don’t expect every story during such a series to be defined by the Time War, but it would always be a backdrop to whatever adventure he took. Viewers would be left wondering if his trips to magical places far in the future were more or less escapist than anything else or do they serve a greater purpose: to remind him that eventually the war will be over?
What makes this proposal so exciting is not because it would be a “gritty” take on the Doctor and Doctor Who, but for the exact opposite reason – it would have, arguably, the most romantic of the Doctor’s incarnations thrust into the most unromantic of situations.
We’ve seen a grizzled John Hurt play the Doctor in the final days of the war, but what I want to see is the Doctor out of place and out of time. Steven Moffat said that he could never see Paul McGann’s Doctor fitting in with those events and the gloom of the Time War and I think he’s right. That is exactly why this would be a story worth telling – we know how the “warrior” responds to war, but how does the “poet”?
However, the war would not only challenge the Doctor himself but his relationship with others too.
In The Night of the Doctor we find war has corrupted people’s sense of trust in the goodness of others – the fairy tale of the Doctor running off with his new companion is interrupted with Cass choosing death over faith in him. the Doctor is left to die by her side, but what a series run could elaborate on is the mistrust that led Cass to fear the TARDIS and the Doctor. I suspect that the mistrust that Cass exhibited was not something that was an individual occurrence but something endemic to that era.
As the world falls to pieces around them, every companion’s faith in the Doctor would be tested, while the Doctor himself would be tested in his faith in him to keep them safe and away from harm’s way.
The Last Great Time War would paint a large scope for storytelling, character development and dynamics. Now that you’ve heard the pitch though, you may wonder how likely this is to ever come to fruition. Paul McGann told Doctor Who Magazine that he would be “super enthusiastic” if he were ever asked to return to Doctor Who, but also added that it remains very unlikely for foreseeable future.
“You know what? I don’t expect to ever to be involved again. But I expect I’ll be surprised one day by something. That’s what Doctor Who’s about. I expect to be surprised…” – Paul McGann
At the very least, however, The Night of the Doctor serves as our little window in what would have otherwise been a fantastic era of storytelling. I couldn’t think of a better present that Moffat could have given us to celebrate the show’s fiftieth last year.