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Be still those beating hearts — it’s only bleedin’ Paul McGann, the short-lived (in televised Doctor Who, at least), but much loved Eighth Doctor. The fangasm (there really is no better word for it) that ensued at the sight of him, and his excellent nod-and-wink first line (“I’m the Doctor, but probably not the one you were expecting”) is simply too difficult to properly articulate.
Moffat has gone on record numerous times, stressing that “The Day of the Doctor” will be about looking forward as much as back, and that his primary aim with the anniversary episode wasn’t to satisfy the ravenous, nostalgic cravings of we Whovians.
But with “The Night of the Doctor” (undoubtedly the finest minisode we’ve ever had), we’ve finally been presented with the Eighth Doctor’s regeneration, which was previously a bit of a black spot in Doctor Who‘s continuity.
It’s something that the real fans have longed for ever since the show’s return opted for an entirely new Doctor, and also something that McGann himself has desired for quite some time. And it’s fitting that it should be fulfilled in the show’s 50th year (even if the actual transition from Eight to Nine? was absent — a sure sign that the budget was fully depleted for “The Day of the Doctor).
McGann himself slipped right back into the Doctor’s shoes as though he’d never been out of them. Sure, he’s been lending his vocals to Big Finish’s audio range ever since his one-time appearance in the Doctor Who TV Movie, but to portray the Time Lord on screen again, after all this time, and with such forte (one can’t help but be immensely saddened at how we were so cruelly denied the chance to see him as the Doctor, full-time), is no mean feat.
Full credit to Moffat here as well; it’s difficult enough to craft a satisfying regenerative story for any Doctor, let alone one that you’ve had no prior experience writing for. Although, Moffat did recently state that all incarnations are written in much the same fashion, and that it’s up to the actors to put their own spin on the character.
That’s fairly well evidenced with Eight’s dialogue in one instance mirroring the sort of tangent you’d expect of Eleven (“Four minutes? That’s ages. What if I get bored?”), but delivered brilliantly and distinctly by McGann.
It was so fantastically apt that one of the most characteristically heroic Doctors should go out on such an altruistic note; willingly sacrificing himself for the sake of someone he didn’t even know, just to prove that he wasn’t like all the other, warring Time Lords out there, only for his actions to inadvertently precipitate his transformation into the War Doctor.
In conclusion, “The Night of the Doctor” was one the best Doctor Who experiences I’ve had in a long time. It was 7 minutes (nearly) of complete brilliance. Thank you, Moffat. And Happy Birthday, Paul McGann.