Film

Everything You Need To Know About ‘The Night Of The Doctor’

"ERMAGHERD MCGANN!!!", and other appropriate responses.

You’re one of two people today: a Doctor Who fan who’s been jumping up and down at the short film, The Night Of The Doctor, released by the BBC overnight, or you’re someone who can’t figure out why your Facebook feed is clogged with people screaming “OMG! MCGANN!!!”

Allow me to explain the excitement.

Doctor Who – which objective, verified scientific experiments have shown to be The Greatest Television Show Of All Time – is turning 50 next weekend. There is a massive feature-length special that will air on its birthday; so massive, in fact, that it’s being played in cinemas around the world. For Doctor Who fans, the forthcoming The Day Of The Doctor is Christmas, Hanukkah and Woodstock rolled into one.

Adding to the fervour, the BBC last night released a six minute prequel. It featured – spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen it – the Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann. (Quick history lesson: whenever the Doctor is close to death, he “regenerates”, giving himself a whole new body and personality. It’s a tremendously convenient way of changing the actors and keeping the show fresh. To date, there have been eleven “official” Doctors in the canon.)

McGann was only seen once on screen, in the US-produced 1996 telemovie, and fans have been clamouring for a return. The telemovie is not particularly well-regarded, but McGann’s performance is universally beloved. Given that the Eighth Doctor only had about an hour of screen time, seeing him returned and acknowledged by the current show is a really big deal.

So here’s what else got fans so excited about that video:

    • “I’m a Doctor. Probably not the one you were expecting.” McGann’s moment of return is surprising, dashing, heroic, knowing and funny.
    • That famous Time War that the modern day Doctors all talk about having fought in? This Doctor refuses to take part in it. A very unexpected development in the show’s history.
    • The Sisterhood of Karn is back! Seen only once in the 1976 classic story The Brain of Morbius, they’ve apparently been awaiting the Doctor’s return for some time.
    • About to die, the Eighth Doctor toasts his companions: “Charley. C’Rizz. Lucie. Tamsin. Molly. Friends, companions I’ve known, I salute you.” These companions only existed in the officially-licensed audio adventures (which feature Paul McGann and other past Doctors) released by company Big Finish. Hearing them legitimised on-screen confirms them as canon, ensuring that McGann’s reign is officially epic!
    • We finally fill in the gaps in a regeneration, seeing McGann transform once and for all into Ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston. And— hang on, that’s not Eccleston. Is that… a young John Hurt? Wow. Okay. Looks like that’s a mystery that’s going to be solved next weekend, huh?
    • OMG MCGANN!!!!

The Day Of The Doctor screens at 6.50am on Sunday November 24 on ABC1; it will be repeated for lesser fans at 7.30pm that evening.

Lee Zachariah is a writer and journalist. He co-hosted the ABC2 film comedy series The Bazura Project, and is a co-presenter of film podcast Hell Is For Hyphenates. He tweets at @leezachariah