I’ll never forget the sheer joy when this appeared out of nowhere one nondescript weekday lunchtime. We didn’t even know a minisode was coming, let alone who was in it. I received an email with a link and the words “HOLY FUCK”, so I sat and watched at my desk. I let out an audible high-pitched yelp when McGann appeared. “Probably not the one you were expecting”. Damn right.
It’s amazing how far things developed in the eight years between the show coming back and the 50th. From a complete fresh start with no more than fleeting references to the past, to putting together a short film starring a one-off Doctor from seventeen years ago, in a sort-of-sequel to a serial from the seventies. As if that wasn’t enough, they also reel off a list of Big Finish companions, seemingly for the sole purpose of instigating tedious arguments about canon. It’s pure fanwank, but what better time to indulge?
The aim is to fill in all the blanks ahead of the main special, but it does so much more than that, managing to fit in a surprising amount of story and character into a short running time. There’s a great economy to the storytelling. Just from subverting the normal reaction to the TARDIS, we’re told everything we need to know about the impact of the Time War. I had no idea who the Sisterhood of Karn were at the time, but the concept is easy to grasp – they’ve got magic potions that influence a regeneration, and that works even if you don’t know there’s a back-reference there.
Paul McGann is brilliant. Again, he gets a lot to do in a short space of time, with his comedy stuff about getting bored and needing knitting being the highlight. It remains a great shame that his Doctor was so short-lived, but what a wonderful thing it is for him to have had one last chance to shine, right in the heart of the fiftieth anniversary celebrations, and for us to finally see his regeneration.
The glimpse of a reflected Hurt is very well done, and it struck me at the time that they used a photo of him as a much younger man. Given how he looked by the end of the Time War, and how Matt Smith’s Doctor titted about for two hundred years without ever looking a day older, how long must the Time War have been for the War Doctor? Poor sod.