‘The Black Archive #49: The Night of the Doctor’

❉ The latest Black Archive is a thorough and fascinating look at the prequel to The Day of the Doctor .

“You would think that a seven-minute Doctor Who story would not offer much scope for analysis, but this is far from a slender entry in the Black Archive series. Cooray Smith applies the same meticulous approach to these seven minutes of Doctor Who as he has done to other adventures and pulls out many interesting theories and facts from this mini-adventure.”

The build-up to the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who was one of the most exciting times to be a fan of the show. A week of treats leading up to the broadcast and cinema release of The Day of the Doctor including documentaries, a docudrama on the early days of the show and sneaking in among them all, two prequels to the big anniversary story itself. The Last Day was an effective glimpse of the Dalek invasion of Gallifrey, but The Night of the Doctor was far more impressive, bringing the Doctor into The Time War, but not the one any of us were expecting.

The Night of the Doctor is the one that James Cooray Smith takes a look at in the latest release from The Black Archive series. You would think that a seven-minute Doctor Who story would not offer much scope for analysis, but this is far from a slender entry in the Black Archive series. Cooray Smith applies the same meticulous approach to these seven minutes of Doctor Who as he has done to other adventures and pulls out many interesting theories and facts from this mini-adventure.

Cooray Smith begins his look at this story with an interesting analysis of the role of the Doctor in this. Anniversary stories tend to bring back Doctors as past Doctors, guest stars in the current version of the show, but The Night of the Doctor interestingly places this story in the ‘present’ of the Eighth Doctor, disrupting the narrative present of Doctor Who. Right up to this point, production and narrative have been in sync but now Paul McGann has in some ways been the Doctor from 1996 until 2013, despite only making two appearances. Cooray Smith convincingly points to this as a new kind of Doctor Who story, disrupting the history of the show.

Cooray Smith bravely dips his toe into the age-old argument of what counts as Doctor Who canon. This discussion has probably been going on as long as there has been Doctor Who fandom and it’s an argument that will never really have a definitive answer. Cooray Smith begins his dip into this muddy pool with a look at whether the story is really a TV story, comparing its status to the 1985 mini-episode, A Fix With Sontarans, with which it shares some similarities, both being written by a current member of the Doctor Who staff for example.

He goes on to look at the status of other minisodes in comparison to The Night of the Doctor wondering why they are largely forgotten and discounted when this one isn’t, despite sharing many similarities in terms of form and presentation. It’s a very engaging argument and one that will run and run I feel sure.

This leads rather nicely into a discussion of the impact the story has on the fictional world of Doctor Who and the status and life of the War Doctor, as played by John Hurt. We see a glimpse of him as a young man in The Night of the Doctor and yet by The Day of the Doctor he’s an old man, who’s obviously been fighting the Time War for centuries. Cooray Smith wonders whether this was the original intention of both stories. Could it have been that the original intention was for the Doctor to steal The Moment and head to the barn to end the Time War without being involved in the fight itself? Cooray Smith ponders on what the story may have been if Eccleston had appeared and makes some fascinating connections from the little we know about this iteration of the story and how The Night of the Doctor feeds in to that.

The discussion of the War Doctor continues in the fourth chapter with a look at how this story creates his place in the unbroken line of Doctors we’ve seen so far (though this has been further broken since in the last series of the show, of course). Is he The War Doctor, The Warrior or The Renegade? He’s referred to by all of these names in various different parts of the Doctor Who fictional world, but we never find out how the Doctor himself refers to himself while in this incarnation. There are comparisons to the other ninth Doctors we’ve met over the years ‘Wise’ or ‘Angry’ Doctors played by Rowan Atkinson and Richard E. Grant, were they possibilities for the Doctor if he could choose his body at this time? Fascinating stuff!

A discussion of the metafictionality of the story follows, with a look at how The Time War reflects Doctor Who’s time off screen in the 1990s and how there was a Doctor off fighting over that period that we just didn’t see. I really liked this part of the book. It’s not a theory I’d thought about before and it was rather lovely I thought, especially its argument about McGann’s Doctor not being there all the time, but willing to help when he can. It feels kind of fitting in a decade that didn’t want or need the Doctor out in the real world and as Cooray Smith says, none of this was McGann’s fault.

There’s a good look at the Eighth Doctor’s final words, especially regarding the religious imagery used for them, as they are a direct quotation from the Gospel of St Luke. Cooray Smith unpicks this unusual use of religious imagery in the show, drawing on McGann’s own upbringing and the few overtly religious stories there had been in the show to this point, especially those of a Christian bearing. The TV Movie is one of the most obvious ones, with the Doctor’s regeneration being presented in Christ-like terms and imagery, making his final words doubly appropriate.

The final chapter looks as the Doctor as an idea in the Steven Moffat era of the show and the importance of the name Doctor. This is one of the questions Moffat wrestled with and why, perhaps the War Doctor doesn’t take on the title of The Doctor and its implications for the twelfth Doctor in the series. The implications from this and The Day of the Doctor resonate, even with the use of the phrase ‘No More’ which is also used by Dalek Caan. Very interesting stuff!

Unexpectedly perhaps, this is one of the most interesting entries in the Black Archive range. It’s not a slight look at a slight story, instead it is one of the most thorough and fascinating looks at seven minutes of Doctor Who there’s ever been. It’s an incredible entry in a range that continues to surprise and delight their readers. Highly recommended.


The Black Archive #49: The Night of the Doctor by James Cooray Smith can be bought direct in paperback and ebook formats from Obverse Books at https://obversebooks.co.uk/product/49-night-of-the-doctor/  RRP £3.99 – £8.49. ISBN 9781913456115

 Green-fingered librarian Simon Hart is a regular contributor to We Are Cult.

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