Those who started watching Doctor Who with the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) probably enjoyed seeing this week’s short “The Night of the Doctor,” but they were also likely missing a few pieces of information about what exactly happened in those six minutes.
First, if you haven’t seen it, watch “The Night of the Doctor”. Then we’ll get you caught up.
Next, a little basic Who history about that particular Doctor. Paul McGann played the Eighth Doctor, until now seen only in a TV movie in 1996, which was the first fans had seen of the Doctor since 1989. It was meant to be a pilot to get Fox to do an American version of Doctor Who.
Most importantly unlike the transitions between Doctors you’re used to, we never saw Paul McGann regenerate–which we presumed was into Christopher Eccleston–until now. We also learned that regeneration can–at least with the help of the Sisterhood–result in a female Doctor. (And, assuming this means all of the Big Finish dramas are now canon–more on that in a minute–it’s already happened in an alternate timeline.)
That TV show never happened, but quite a few novels and a comic series did, as well as a series of audio dramas from Big Finish Productions. Whether or not any or all of these are canon has been up for debate. However, the extent to which they’ve now been cross-referenced suggested they were. “The Night of the Doctor” pretty much seals that by mentioning aspects of the Big Finish dramas on screen. Let’s look at some of the things mentioned in “The Night of the Doctor”:
The Eighth Doctor
Despite not having been on our TVs for very long, the Eighth Doctor has a long and complicated story thanks to all of those audio dramas we now can consider canon. (See more below about his companions.)
What may surprise newer fans is that the Eighth Doctor’s TV appearance describes him as half-human, with a Time Lord father and human mother. Fans have been arguing about this ever since–remember, the Doctor lies. This doesn’t appear to be important in any way to the War Doctor story line, but it is an amusing nerd fight topic.
The Time War
Even if you started with the Ninth Doctor, you’ve seen bits about the Last Great Time War. It’s the big Dalek vs. Time Lord, Davros vs. Rassilon throwdown for all of the universe. It all started when the Daleks created a virus that would kill off the Time Lords. Quite a bit of the escalation of the situation happened over earlier incarnations of the Doctor, but even if you’re a Ninth-and-later fan, you’ve learned bits of it in episodes like “The End of Time.” And having no more Time Lords means that time is now more susceptible to change, which is the underlying current for many of those newer episodes.
The Doctor generally attempts to avoid the Time War altogether and in “The Night of the Doctor” tells Cass that he never was a part of it at all. But just because you don’t want to be a part of it doesn’t mean you’re not. The Sisterhood of Karn brings him back so that he can end the Time War, but to do so, he says that he needs to be a warrior rather than a doctor, and that’s what this short leading to the creation of the War Doctor is about.
The War Doctor
Who knew counting was so hard? The credits at the end of “The Night of the Doctor” refer to John Hurt as the “War Doctor,” presumably in part because that sounds better than “the Eighth-and-a-half Doctor Who Doesn’t Want To Be Called A Doctor.” We’ve counted Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor all along because of that assumption about the regeneration that was never shown. Instead, the War Doctor is the true Ninth Doctor.
And here’s where you’re all caught up–all we know about him is exactly what you’ve seen so far. First when the Eleventh Doctor and Clara ran into him in “The Name of the Doctor,” and the Doctor explains to her that it’s him, but that guy doesn’t even go by the name “the Doctor.” And now this short.
We can also assume that the War Doctor spent a very long time in the Time War, or else that war ages you pretty fast. Maybe some of both. But it’s a young face at the end of “The Night of the Doctor” and a very aged one whom Clara and the Doctor meet.
Sisterhood of Karn
These ladies, however, we do know about already. They appeared in the Fourth Doctor’s story. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before–crazy scientist grabs some body parts he’s got lying around to carry around a brain he wants to talk to. But in this case, the brain belongs to an also-crazy Time Lord named Morbius. (He used to use this thing called a Time Scoop. It’s kind of like an ice cream scoop, except you get to move people through time. So not very much like an ice cream scoop, unless you have a way cooler kitchen than I do.)
When the Doctor and Sarah Jane show up to the situation, one of the Sisterhood is there to see it. The ladies are in dire straits thanks to the flame of utter boredom eternal life threatening to go out. It produces the Elixir of Life that makes them immortal. They decide that the Time Lords have shown up to get the last of their happy juice (which is also delicious when one is recovering from a nasty regeneration) and understandably are a bit annoyed. And what do a bunch of angry women in creepy robes with potions do when they’re mad at you? Burn you at the stake, of course.
But of course, the Doctor gets out of the conundrum and has a mad scientist to deal with. He even fixes the flame’s pilot light, so to speak, with a firecracker of all things, and everybody’s feeling friendly again.
They also appear in some of the novels and in the Big Finish dramas.
What’s that belt?
In “The Night of the Doctor,” Cass wears a bandolier, which the Doctor takes after his regeneration and puts on. If it’s been a while since you saw “The Day of the Doctor,” you may have forgotten that this is what the War Doctor was wearing when the Doctor and Clara ran into him.
“Charley, C’rizz, Lucie, Tamsin, Molly!”
Just before he quaffs the potion, the Doctor exclaims, “Charley, C’rizz, Lucie, Tamsin, Molly!” which is not a quirky British saying for, “Well, guess I’ll drink this and see what happens!” It’s a list of the Eighth Doctor’s companions.
In the audio dramas, Charlotte “Charley” Pollard disguised herself as a man and stowed away on an airship in 1930. The Doctor found her there, rescued her (like he does), and she became a companion. A lot happens, things get complicated, timelines go all wibbly wobbly (like they do). She was also a companion to the Sixth Doctor. The important fact is that when the Eighth Doctor saved her from dying, that was one of those fixed points in time that shouldn’t have been changed. Messy, to say the least, causing problems with the Web of Time.
C’rizz came along when that mess angered the Time Lords and sent Charley and the Doctor into the Divergent Universe. He joined the two of them in their travels including back to their original universe.
Lucie got forced on the Doctor by way of Time Lord witness protection, although she didn’t know what she had supposedly seen. It turned out that the Time Lords found out the Celestial Intervention Agency (clever acronym) was keeping tabs on someone who would become a European dictator. They thought it was Lucie, but it was actually someone else who had been to the same CIA job interview. She kept running into her “Aunt Pat” in circumstances and times that she shouldn’t have, eventually discovering she was an alien (a Zygon to be specific). When she learned the Doctor had kept that secret from her, Lucie didn’t want to continue as his companion.
Tamsin Drew answered a classified that I think any of us would have gone for:
Traveller in Time and Space seeks male or female companion with good sense of humour for adventures in the Fourth and Fifth Dimensions
No Experience Necessary.
No time wasters, no space wasters, please.
Even the Doctor needs OKCupid once in a while. Eventually, Tamsin meets Lucie, and, well, things always get a little weird when companions meet, don’t they? She ended up hanging out with The Monk for a while, a Time Lord gone a bit mad. (The Monk has appeared on TV twice during the First Doctor’s time as well.) She comes back to the Doctor, tells him she’s had enough of him just wanting to save his friends, not to mention all this Web of Time nonsense, and she was out. Eventually she comes around and tries to help fight the Daleks, but they kill her.
Molly O’Sullivan was a volunteer nurse in World War I. She’s the titular “Dark Eyes” of that four-part audio drama. If you haven’t listened to this series yet, she’ll remind you of Rose as a strong companion who has a mystery to solve who really grows along the way.