For many years, the 8th Doctor never had a regeneration scene. But all that changed in 2013, in the midst of Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary celebrations…
Doctor Who fans had been living through a period of uncertainty since 1996. When the TV movie failed to lead to a new series, many doubted that the show would ever return. At the same time, the series had been given a new lease of life through the new range of BBC books, as well as the audio adventures from Big Finish, and the comics. There was no shortage of excitement for the 8th Doctor, if you knew where to look.
Equally, there was a pervading sense that, if a 9th Doctor were ever cast, he would arrive without a regeneration scene. For many people, the inclusion of Sylvester McCoy in the TV movie was a misfire, and some felt that it was confusing for new viewers if a story opened with a regeneration scene.
Indeed, the many attempts to revive Doctor Who post-1996 all took this lesson to heart, throwing a question mark over the 8th Doctor’s fate. The first of these was the Comic Relief skit ‘The Curse of Fatal Death,’ which cast Rowan Atkinson in the role of Doctor number 9. Admittedly, this was a comedy episode and not strictly canon, although it was perhaps no less comedic than ‘Paradise Towers‘ or even ‘The Gunfighters.’
Similarly, when the BBC made its first serious attempt to bring Doctor Who back in 2003, it was in cartoon form. ‘Scream of the Shalka‘ had Richard E. Grant at the helm of the TARDIS and, again, there was no explanation as to what had become of the 8th Doctor. But the producers had already written a series bible, and they intended to gradually peel back the layers of the 9th Doctor’s character as the series progressed. Perhaps this would have led to some flashback moments where viewers would finally have been able to see the 8th Doctor’s demise?
Alas, we will never know. ‘Scream of the Shalka’ didn’t lead to a new series, but for the very exciting reason that the BBC had commissioned a brand new TV series of Doctor Who. Set to transmit in 2005, the show was to be run by Russell T Davies with Christopher Eccleston taking on the role of the 9th Doctor. This was great news for Doctor Who fans everywhere, even if it was somewhat disappointing for fans of the 8th Doctor.
Indeed, there was no mention of him in the 2005 series. In ‘Rose,’ there were vague hints that the 9th Doctor had only recently regenerated, given his surprise when he saw his own reflection in the mirror. Otherwise, it seemed as if the 8th Doctor’s regeneration would be lost to the mists of time.
However, at one point there were plans to feature the 8th Doctor’s regeneration in the Doctor Who comic ‘The Flood.’ Apparently, this was suggested by Russell T Davies himself, who was a big fan of the adventures.
But in the end this didn’t come to anything, partly because of the BBC’s insistence that the 9th Doctor should not be shown with any companion other than Rose. And whilst there was, at one time, a plan to have the 8th Doctor trapped in a mid-regeneration state with a flaming head, the idea was ultimately abandoned.
It wasn’t until 2013 that fans were finally given an answer as to how the 8th Doctor died. In a surprise move, showrunner Steven Moffat wrote a special mini episode starring the 8th Doctor himself. Titled ‘The Night of the Doctor,’ the story took place in the early days of the Time War and saw the 8th Doctor desperately trying to keep out of the fighting and maintain a more positive presence in the universe. To this end, he attempted to save a pilot named Cass, but her spaceship crashed before she would let him – with him on board.
The 8th Doctor was, however, momentarily brought back to life with the elixir from the Sisterhood of Karn, and was given an opportunity to choose a new body. Hardened by the death of Cass, the Doctor ordered the Sisterhood to make him a warrior, as he didn’t see the need for a doctor anymore.
And this is where things got a bit complicated. Because, in this moment, the 8th Doctor didn’t actually regenerate into the 9th (that is, Christopher Eccleston.) He instead regenerated into John Hurt, who – as ‘The Day of the Doctor’ later explained – was a forgotten incarnation known as the War Doctor, the version that fought in the Time War.
So by this point, viewers had learned how the 8th Doctor had died, but they still hadn’t seen how the 9th Doctor had come into being. That would have to wait for another day.
The return of Paul McGann in ‘The Night of the Doctor’ was a positive experience for all involved, though. In an interview on the BBC’s Doctor Who site, Moffat said: “It was always frustrating that we never got to see more of [the 8th Doctor]! The completist in me… the ‘box set man’ in me wants every box ticked and I wanted every regeneration scene! And we get to see the Paul McGann Doctor regenerate into the John Hurt Doctor! I love regeneration episodes – there’s nothing more exciting! And in the anniversary year we get to see two regenerations… That’s pretty cool!”
How do you feel about the regeneration of the 8th Doctor? Did you enjoy ‘The Night of the Doctor,’ or did you want his regeneration to be kept a mystery? Let me know in the comments below.
Read about the War Doctor’s regeneration here.
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