What if… the 8th Doctor was the War Doctor?
Guest contributor Glenn Reuben examines what might have happened with Paul McGann in the role.
I’m going to say it, even though it’s probably an unpopular opinion: I didn’t really enjoy The Day of the Doctor. Some of it was good, but it did seem a bit of a run-of-the-mill story in parts, particularly the Zygon subplot. But the main reason for this was because of the creation of the War Doctor. Lovely and brilliant as John Hurt is, having suddenly inserted his character in-between the Eighth and Ninth Doctors seemed to cheat me a little of having an existing Doctor. The War Doctor was ravaged and damaged, certainly, but he was still the Doctor (and cuddlier than some might’ve thought), despite what Steven Moffat said. And then denied. Then confirmed again, 100%. Maybe.
I’ve read the reasons suggesting that Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor should’ve been in the War Doctor’s role in The Day of the Doctor (see Will Stanford’s article here). And yes, some of them seem valid enough. But surely Paul McGann appearing as the Eighth Doctor would’ve been the icing on the cake? And what’s more, it could’ve been achieved with the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Doctors appearing and still made a compelling and emotional 50th anniversary story. And here’s how it could’ve been done…
“Those are my ghosts, my past. Every good day, every bad day.”
Let’s start with the ending of The Name of the Doctor, an ending that relied on the surprise reveal of John Hurt. If we were in the Doctor’s time stream, we would’ve seen events from the Doctor’s past through all of his lives. As the Eleventh Doctor rescues Clara, he sees a figure who, instead of facing away, is standing in the shadows, his hand hovering over a big, red, threatening button:
Clara: Who’s that?
The Doctor: Never mind. Let’s get back.
Clara: Who is he?
The Doctor: He’s me. There’s only me here, that’s the point. Now let’s get back.
Clara: But which one of you is he? I saw all of you. Eleven faces. All of them you. You’re the Eleventh Doctor, so which Doctor is he?
The Doctor: I said he was me. I never said he was the Doctor.
Clara: But I don’t understand.
The Doctor: My name, my real name, that is not the point. The name I chose is the Doctor. The name you choose, it’s like, it’s like a promise you make. He’s the one who broke the promise. Clara? Clara! He is my secret.
The Eighth Doctor: What I did, I did without choice.
The Doctor: I know.
The Eighth Doctor: In the name of peace and sanity.
The Doctor: But not in the name of the Doctor.
At this point, you could show McGann’s face and have the closing credits end with “Paul McGann” but not as “The Doctor”, just Paul McGann.
The tagline of the episode, as demonstrated in a previous post, is “The Doctor has a secret he will take to the grave, and it is discovered”. Now it’s obviously no secret that he ended the Time War, and most people up until this episode had assumed it was either Eight or Nine that had done the deed, but the fact that an incarnation would no longer be considered the Doctor, and the fact that it could’ve been McGann, is something secretive and extremely un-Doctor-like in of itself. Obviously, it doesn’t come close to his name being revealed, but that was the assumption before the episode anyway. So a McGann reveal would still make logical sense and would’ve perhaps been an even bigger moment in fandom and for the general public.
“Who am I? Who am I? Who… Am… I?!”
In addition, let’s not forget the Eighth Doctor’s first words. This is a man who has been dealing with identity crisis since he first regenerated. So let’s pretend that The Night of the Doctor is still present, but actually serves as a pre-credits sequence to The Day of the Doctor. And let’s also pretend that he managed to teleport Cass away in the nick of time from her ship, but couldn’t escape from it himself before it crashed, yet he still survive (I mean, if Eleven can survive crash-landing to Earth in The Doctor, the Witch and the Wardrobe, he can survive Karn-age; sorry for the pun).
The Sisterhood would therefore discover him in a very battered and bruised state (physically from the crash, emotionally from being compared to a Dalek) and, instead of offering him the chance to regenerate, they ask what the point of him is any more. Through various novels and audio dramas, he is a traumatised soul, more so than ever now, and is telling himself “I don’t suppose there’s any need for a Doctor any more…”, which makes for a very dramatic idea for an anniversary story. Thus, the Sisterhood ask him to do what’s right and seek out the Moment:
The Eighth Doctor: She wanted to see the universe.
Ohila: She didn’t miss much, it’s very nearly over.
The Eighth Doctor: I offered her a chance to escape but she wouldn’t listen to me.
Ohila: Then 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. Seize the Moment and end it for us, for everyone.
The Eighth Doctor: I would rather die.
Ohila: Then how many more will you let join you? If she were here now, what would she say?
The Eighth Doctor: To me, nothing. I’m a Time Lord, everything she despised.
Ohila: She would beg your help, as we beg your help now. The universe stands on the brink. Will you let it fall?
[pause as the Eighth Doctor turns away, deep in thought]
The Eighth Doctor: (sarcastically) Doctor? Huh…Doctor Who?
And at that point, Eight disowns the title of the Doctor and decides to make the ultimate self-sacrifice.
“Four minutes? That’s ages!”
With this pre-credits sequence, The Day of the Doctor immediately gains 7 minutes and McGann truly gets a chance to shine for the rest of the episode. Granted, some of his lines would need to change, but the comparison with between the classic and new series Doctors would still remain, albeit slightly more toned down. Besides, we don’t really need a “Grandad” Doctor to re-enforce the idea that Ten and Eleven behave like children, and anyway, pretty much all the Doctors have behaved childishly at various points (including William Hartnell’s First Doctor). Additionally, I wouldn’t have the Moment tied down to be Rose, but have it morph into various companions. That just never made sense to me, even if she was a Bad Wolf personification.
And speaking of Bad Wolf – what of Christopher Eccleston, I don’t hear you ask? Well, instead of not having Nine at all, or having him as the War Doctor, why not do what they did for Ten and give him a new story? He doesn’t necessarily need to come from before Rose, when he is a new man. I actually think a more appropriate place to take him from is just before (coincidentally) Bad Wolf, specifically in Kyoto, 1336, where he, Rose and Jack had narrowly escaped from trouble. Nine could’ve created a distraction, away from Rose and Jack, and been given his own story (my idea involves going to Mondas, seeing every version of the Cybermen, and giving the Master his Harold Saxon alias, but that’s not for here) before going through a portal and ending up in England, 1562 and meeting Ten, and then Eleven. From then on, it’s pretty much business as usual, and you would get a real movie-length story (well, 90 minutes at least).
To cap things off, McGann would leave the gallery in 2013, and it’s then that we see how he is mortally wounded and forced to regenerate into Eccleston, who finds himself in London, 2005 (again, my idea is for elsewhere). That way, Eight, Nine, Ten and Eleven in this story are all taken just before the end of their lives. Hopefully, both McGann and Eccleston would’ve appreciated their characters receiving some extra background.
“Eleven’s hour is over now; the clock is striking twelve’s.”
And what’s more, none of this would damage the 12 regenerations/13 incarnations rule. The Time of the Doctor would become much more dedicated to Eleven, whereas The Day of the Doctor would remain about the Doctor. Moffat would instead let Eleven battle his foes at Trenzalore, be given some Time Lord essence through the crack to help him and generally have a story specific to his incarnation, as the poem says.
I know my idea is imperfect, and perhaps too fan-orientated, but part of me feels sorry for Paul McGann and Christopher Eccleston. But I’m sure they don’t care too much, so I will just carry on, just like the Doctor does. Besides, I wanted the Twelfth Doctor to be Ben Daniels, but you can’t have it all, can you?