What would you do if confronted with an unsolveable problem, a universe being ripped apart by two great civilisations at war with one-another?
The Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann was confronted with this question in the recent short “The Night of the Doctor” and decided he needed to be a Warrior, and thus was born the War Doctor, a young man with the face of John Hurt.
The War Doctor was first revealed at the end of the last season of Doctor Who in “The Name of The Doctor”, found by Clara who had jumped into the Doctor’s own time-stream to save him from the nefarious intentions of The Great Intelligence, played by ex-Doctor (from “Scream of the Shalka”), Richard E. Grant. The Great Intelligence had been defeated once too often by The Doctor and felt like exacting some revenge on its nemesis. With only a few seconds of screen time, the mystery Doctor hinted at what was to come with his dialogue, that he had acted for peace and sanity, in a world gone mad.
We meet him in “The Day of the Doctor” on Gallifrey at the height of the Time War, the often mentioned but never seen confrontation between The Daleks of Skaro, and The Time Lords of Gallifrey. Arguably the first shot of the war was fired in the fourth Doctor adventure, Genesis of the Daleks, where Tom Baker’s Doctor (and companions Sarah Jane and Harry) were sent back to meet the first Dalek prototype and its creator, the scientist Davros. The Daleks were left imprisoned in their own city, the result of a couple of wires being run-over, and vowed to return.
On the last day of The Time War, at the fall of Arkadia the second city of the Time Lords, the War Doctor takes a gun from a Gallifreyan soldier and shoots a message into a wall – “Never Again” before stealing an ultimate weapon from the Time Lords own vaults. This he takes to what appears to be a desolate part of Earth to use to end the war, and himself. Instead he meets the soul of the machine, in the form of Bad Wolf (Billie Piper) who gives him punishment for what he is about to do: rather than dying in what would become the end of the Daleks and Time Lords, he will be allowed to survive, to live to see the result of his actions. Not only that, she will give him insight into what will happen afterwards by connecting him to his tenth and eleventh incarnations.
In fifteen minutes, writer Steven Moffat has summed-up the Time War, reintroduced a character whose potential was not realised in the new series and given The War Doctor his challenge: knowing he is about to massacre his own people to stop a war, can he face what will come afterwards?
As with everything Steven Moffat writes, there is complexity and unexpected twists and turns. Things appear one way and then another later on. However, for watchers of the show to date, there are unexplained questions I thought would be involved in this story, namely how did The Doctor and Clara survive the events of The Name of The Doctor? Both were in his time-stream, both torn to shreds, shadows of themselves. This is a personal irritation of Steven Moffat’s run: who blew up the Tardis in season 5 leading to the crack in time and space and the rebooting of the universe? Why was The Silence after The Doctor? Perhaps these are questions yet to be answered, but it is slightly jarring to jump from one storyline to another without explanation, rather like reading a series of novels where one is missing.
But this is a minor quibble, for the story awaits!
Ignoring for a moment that somehow Clara and The Doctor survive, there is also the Tenth Doctor who is chasing Zygons around Elizabethan England where much hilarity ensues with first a horse and second a rabbit. Tricky buggers The Zygons! The Tenth and Eleventh meet thanks to Bad Wolf, who assembles them all to help save Earth from being turned into the next Zygon home planet, the original being lost in the first days of the Time War. Everyone, it seems, has an axe to grind as a result of the war. Why things end up on Earth is perhaps another of the unanswered questions of Doctor Who. Billions of planets in the cosmos, and we kept being brought back to Earth! I expect the budgetary reasons of our Lords and Masters, the controllers of the BBC could have something to do with that. However, that The Doctor has such a soft-spot for the planet, and that it was dragged away by the Time Lords back in Colin Baker’s run may yet be something that becomes an interesting long-term story twist.
We have three Doctors now, imprisoned in the Tower of London in the 16th century; but there is a way out: carve a message into a wall and hope that it will be found by UNIT, under the stewardship of Kate Stewart, daughter of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart who has set-up headquarters in the place, albeit several hundred years later. The message is found but falls into the wrong hands: The Zygons have taken-over.
At this point, thinking back over the story and the structure, it seems it had a whole lot stuffed into a small space. The story is like the Tardis: bigger on the inside. That the movie took less than an hour and a half to tell is testament to a lot of running around and things being perfectly-placed: The Eleventh Doctor on the Earth just as the Zygons escape, Captain Jack’s vortex manipulator in the hands of UNIT and The Tenth Doctor romancing Queen Elizabeth the first while also chasing Zygons. At worst the story is a romp through time and space, but not without cost and emotion. The War Doctor is totally alone, at the end of his tether having seen his race turn from observers of the universe, sworn not to interfere to no better than the Daleks themselves. He is the person the Ninth Doctor would become, scarred by the war and unable to save the Earth from a rebuilt Dalek fleet in “Bad Wolf” and “The Parting of the Ways”. While watching the Zygons in human form and humans themselves work together to solve their differences, The War Doctor realises he now has the courage to end the Time War with the destruction of both races.
And yet Bad Wolf has one last trick up her sleeve: she creates hope; the sound of the Tardis materialising bringing three Doctors together. The War Doctor is given the strength of his future incarnations who are also ready to forgive their younger self his act of genocide.
“What I did, I did without choice, in the name of peace and sanity”
Steven Moffat’s way with Doctor Who stories has been to take the ordinary and twist it slightly: scary statues, children in gas masks, memory. In this story, he twists the Doctor’s own story, with the help of the events of the movie, and the War Doctor gets the hope he was looking for, the alternative to the destruction of his own people.
Whether this is a get-out-of-jail-free card or not, it was certainly exciting and, as David Tennant’s doctor puts it “very clever”. Not only that it brings together all his incarnations, including — tellingly — his final, in the form of Peter Capaldi’s twelfth Doctor, to save Gallifrey and end the Time War unexpectedly.
Gallifrey is lost. Now the Doctor has a new goal: to find it again.
I for one am looking forward to the journey!