Who History: The Eighth Doctor

November 2013 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who.  In the months leading up to the official anniversary, I’ll be talking about various aspects of Who that I think (or hope) might be relevant to the Anniversary Special.  Even if it’s ultimately just extra information, hopefully it will still add depth of knowledge and general appreciation to fifty years of sci-fi fun.

This installment is all about the most controversial Doctor of the lot: the Eighth Doctor, played by Paul McGann.  The Eighth Doctor is controversial for one simple reason: he was never a part of the BBC Classic Who TV show; that ended in 1989 with the Seventh Doctor.  Instead, he was the Doctor in a 1996 made-for-TV-movie that was co-produced by Universal, BBC and Fox.  It was intended to be a potential pilot for an American version of Doctor Who, but never got off the ground, much to the relief of many.

Canon or not?

For many years, the subject of whether or not the Eighth Doctor really fit in the Whoniverse was hotly debated (and chances are, long-time fans still feel strongly one way or the other).  The problem is, the TV-movie wasn’t really a cut-and-dry American version like, say, The Office or Being Human.  Remember, it was a joint British-American-Canadian production, and it did in fact air in those countries as well.

A case for canon

Some undeniable continuity was established early on: Sylvester McCoy, the Seventh Doctor, steps out of the TARDIS before he is shot in some random gang violence (yeah, the 90s, I know) and regenerates into the Eighth Doctor.  The Master is the main adversary.  The opening scene is set on Gallifrey.  There are repeated nods to earlier Doctors throughout the movie.   Seems like a relatively cut-and-dry continuation at first glance.

Half what?

Then the movie casually tosses out a plot point that has probably been responsible for more than one flipped table: we learn that the Doctor is half-human.  On his mother’s side.  Yep, that’s not a joke; that’s what the movie said.  The Doctor’s temporary companion, Dr. Grace Holloway, is also something of a romantic interest, and the pair share more than one kiss.  Such a move might not seem terribly unusual now that we’ve been exposed to the Rose Love Story and the River Song Saga, but to viewers of the classic series, this was unheard of.  The Doctor was alien, and he would never lech after one of his young companions unless they were also Time Lords!  Blasphemy!  So consider it from the perspective of fans at the time: are you going to listen to thirty years’ worth of TV plot, or one “half-American” TV movie?

Deciding Vote

For years the story of the Eighth Doctor continued in audio dramas, novels, and comics, but since fans also argue whether those formats should be considered canon as well, it was hardly a strong case in his favor.  Ultimately, though, the question was settled, many times over – by the new series.

No, we didn’t specifically see the Eighth Doctor regenerate into the Ninth, but they’re clearly running with much of what was established in the TV movie.  They started off with the Doctor’s age at around 900 (also in the TV movie).  Companions have been included as viable love interests (no matter how much I may personally disagree about Rose).  No, they haven’t gone along with the half-human plot, thankfully, but the new series also eradicated Gallifrey and the Time Lords, so they’re straying from the original plot about as much.

Those were likely decisions made by Russell T Davies, but current showrunner Steven Moffat has further legitimized the Eighth Doctor: in a visual montage of the many faces of the Doctor in the episode “The Eleventh Hour,” the Eighth Doctor is included.  Subsequently, toys have been released in the UK including a set of figures of all the Doctors.  The Eighth is included there, as well.  Looks like the BBC intends to claim him, regardless of fan opinion.

The TV movie isn’t exactly a favorite of the fanbase, but it’s worth watching – both for completion’s sake and to see the rather cool TARDIS interior (and it’s available on DVD).  But there’s another reason to be aware of the Eighth Doctor: in addition to the actors from the New Series, Paul McGann is another recent Doctor who hasn’t aged quite as obviously (since his tenure is almost a decade more recent than the rest).  Thus, could there be an appearance from the Eighth Doctor in an Anniversary Special?  We know he’s already involved in an Anniversary Audio Drama, along with the rest of the surviving Classic Doctors (and possibly the new ones as well).  As for a TV appearance, only time will tell.

What about you?  Have you seen the Doctor Who TV movie?  What are your thoughts on the Eighth Doctor and his half-human status?  Would you like to see him appear in the Anniversary Special? 

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