The War Doctor is one of the Time Lord’s most mysterious incarnations. Who is he, and where did he come from?
Technically, the War Doctor is the Doctor’s ninth incarnation, although for many years nobody knew about him. He was the incarnation that the Doctor didn’t talk about – the one who fought in the Time War, during which time the Doctor refused to call himself the Doctor.
The War Doctor came into being after a ship that the Eighth Doctor was travelling on crash-landed on the planet Karn. The Doctor was revived momentarily by the planet’s Sisterhood, but his body couldn’t last long. He needed to drink from the Sisterhood’s elixir in order to survive, and they had provided a variety of potions for him to choose from. They did this because the Time War was raging and the universe was hanging by a thread, and the Sisterhood needed the Doctor to tell them what kind of body he needed if he was to enter into the fray.
With his life slipping away, the Doctor asked the Sisterhood to “make him a warrior,” admitting that he didn’t see the need for a doctor anymore. He drank the elixir and morphed into a new body, uttering the words: “Doctor no more.”
This regeneration took place during a special online mini episode called ‘The Night of the Doctor,’ which was released shortly before the programme’s 50th anniversary. But the War Doctor’s appearance was brief, and viewers would have to wait until ‘The Day of the Doctor’ to see this ‘forgotten’ incarnation in action.
That being said, they had already glimpsed the War Doctor at the end of Matt Smith’s third season, when he was briefly revealed in the final moments of ‘The Name of the Doctor.’ His companion Clara had found a way into his timestream, and discovered the War Doctor standing with his back to her, declaring that “what he did, he did without choice – in the name of peace and sanity.” He then turned to face the camera, and the caption came up: ‘Introducing John Hurt as the Doctor.’
It was only during the course of ‘The Day of the Doctor’ that viewers got a real taste for what the War Doctor was like. In the episode, the final days of the Time War have begun, and The War Doctor has stolen a forbidden weapon called the Moment from Gallifrey’s Omega Arsenal. He retreats to a barn in the Gallifreyan wilderness and threatens to use the Moment to wipe out both the Time Lords and the Daleks, saying that he has stayed his hand for too long – but no more.
The Moment, however, is a sentient weapon, and it takes the form of the Doctor’s ‘future’ companion Rose. She brings his Tenth and Eleventh incarnations into the fold to show the War Doctor who he will become if he destroys Gallifrey.
Ultimately, the War Doctor realises that he will save mores lives if he detonates the Moment, and returns to the barn. But Clara steps in at the last minute and persuades him to change course, and the Doctors quickly realise that they can save Gallifrey if they lock it in stasis and hide it in a parallel pocket universe. The Daleks, meanwhile, will wipe themselves out the minute Gallifrey vanishes, as they are shooting the planet constantly and will be caught in their own crossfire.
Of course, because the timelines are out of synch, the War Doctor can’t remember that he saved his home planet, and sets off in the TARDIS believing that he was responsible for its destruction. It’s at this moment that he discovers his ageing body is “wearing a bit thin,” and he starts to regenerate into his ninth incarnation (which is now technically the tenth, but don’t let that confuse you!)
Since his arrival, the War Doctor has continued to be popular with Doctor Who fans, and since 2013 a number of stories have been told about his adventures during the Time War. The first of these was the novel ‘Engines of War’ by George Mann, which saw the War Doctor and his friend Cinder venture into the Death Zone on Gallifrey, which originally appeared in the 20th anniversary special ‘The Five Doctors.’
But perhaps more exciting is John Hurt’s return to the role for Big Finish, where he recorded a number of episodes which take place during the Time War. The first of these came out in 2015 and co-starred Jacqueline Pearce (of Blake’s 7 fame) as the Time Lord Ollistra, as well as Nick Briggs as the dreaded Daleks.
And although some of the CDs are now out of print, all are still available as digital downloads. These are ‘Only the Monstrous,’ ‘Infernal Devices‘ ‘Agents of Chaos‘ and ‘Casualties of War.’ The latter saw the return of Louise Jameson as Leela – a character who had remained on Gallifrey after the events of the Fourth Doctor story ‘The Invasion of Time.’
Sadly, John Hurt’s return as the War Doctor was short-lived, as the actor passed away in January 2017. Similarly, his long-time friend and colleague Jacqueline Pearce was not far behind him, and sadly died in September 2018 at the age of 74.
But the interest in the War Doctor has not wavered, and in 2020 it was announced that Big Finish would be producing a series of prequel adventures starring Jonathon Carley. Titled ‘The War Doctor Begins,’ these box sets would pick up from the moment the Eighth Doctor regenerated, and follow the War Doctor through the earliest days of the Time War.
At the time of writing, a total of four box sets are planned, each comprising of three stories. The first of these – ‘Forged in Fire‘ – is already available, with ‘Warbringer‘ due to land in December 2021. The other two box sets are scheduled to arrive in 2022.
Which is your favourite of the War Doctor’s adventures? And how did you feel about the Doctor’s incarnations being re-numbered? Let me know in the comments below.
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