(War) Doctor Who: Why Couldn’t McGann Be The War Doctor?

Author’s Note: I realize that this post is coming about three years too late, however, the reason I’m speaking about it now is because Big Finish’s release of the War Doctor’s adventures and plans to expand more on the Time War in the upcoming year. 

Ever since I watched a review of Doctor Who: The TV Movie, I was curious about Paul McGann’s Doctor. While the movie in itself was pretty terrible, featuring a hammy Master, a plot so full of holes Swish cheese would be envious, and, of course, the dreaded “I’m half human on my mother’s side” line, I had nothing negative to say about Paul McGann’s Doctor. In fact, he made the whole fiasco worth watching with his passion, charming naivety, and love of adventure.

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As such, I was thrilled when I learned that there was an audio company that had actually taken McGann’s Doctor and given him several seasons worth of adventures with a diverse cast of companions and stories that rivaled the TV series in quality. I immediately dove in and was not disappointed.

In December of 2015, Big Finish released the audio drama Only The Monstrous, the first installment in their War Doctor series and have announced they plan to increase the mythos around this incarnation of the Doctor created by show-runner Steven Moffat in the 50th Anniversary Special: The Day of The Doctor. An episode I love and hate in equal measure.

I’m excited that they will also be looking at the Time War through the 8th Doctor’s perspective before he became John Hurt. Nonetheless, I’m a bit disheartened that they are going further into the (Hurt) War Doctor’s story for the reasons I will soon divulge.

First off, I would just like to say I love John Hurt and think he’s a brilliant actor (I mean, he was knighted for crying out loud).

Second, I loved the War Doctor’s banter with his future incarnations and how he would routinely take the piss out of them for having younger faces and using their sonics too frequently.

And third, I love all the bad puns that spawned from his involvement in this episode.

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In short, I have nothing against John Hurt, nor do I think he played a “bad character” in this episode.

However, the 50th Anniversary had me asking the same question throughout the duration of the episode: Why did this character need to exist?

I would understand if Paul McGann wasn’t on board with taking part in the 50th, but based on the articles I’ve read and how involved he’s been both with the Whovian community and Doctor Who universe through Big Finish Audio over the years, neither availability nor lack of enthusiasm seemed to be an issue with him. So why couldn’t they just use McGann’s Doctor as the War Doctor?

While I have not been able to locate the source (so don’t quote me on this),  I heard through the grapevine Steven Moffat considered McGann’s Doctor incapable of committing genocide because he was “too nice” and that it made more sense to create the type of Doctor (or Warrior) that could carry out such a deed.

Well, that would make sense…were it not for the fact that the War Doctor didn’t seem any more happy about the prospect of wiping out the Time Lords or Daleks than any of the other Doctors would have been. Perhaps Big Finish will do a better job of fleshing out this character and giving him more of a warrior’s edge. Nonetheless, what the 50th showed us was a man that didn’t look angry or vengeful. He was just sick of all the wanton destruction. 

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Perhaps we’re meant to believe that the War Doctor was much more destructive and blood-thirsty in his youth and that, as this incarnation has gotten older, he’s grown tired of it (although nothing in Hurt’s performance seemed to indicate he was any more or less capable of killing than any other Doctor that had come before him).

If it is true that Moffat said McGann’s Doctor was an unrealistic War Doctor, it would seem he hasn’t invested too much time listening to the audio dramas. While he did reference many of the 8th Doctor’s companions in Night of The Doctor as well as the Sisters of Karn, he didn’t seem to understand the full potential of the 8th Doctor’s character. While 8 was romantic, polite, and adverse to violence, the 8th Doctor was just as capable of being cold and even cruel as any other Doctor as evidenced by Big Finish’s Scherzo, one of my favorite (and arguably one of the weirdest) 8th Doctor audio dramas.

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Obviously McGann’s Doctor wouldn’t become a warrior overnight, but after hundreds of years worth of watching planets blow up and thousands of species die out, it’s not difficult to see how his character could take a dark turn. And, as I said, 8 had the capacity for cruelty before the Time War started, and even had a well-known grudge against the Time Lords for the many times they had screwed him over in the past.

I, personally, believe it would have been more impactful to have McGann play the War Doctor and show how much that particular incarnation changed throughout his life-span, having gone from being a wide-eyed romantic with a habit of snogging his companions to the bitter and dreaded Dalek-killing Oncoming Storm. Normally Doctor monologues get on my nerves since they’ve become so frequent in recent years, but I would have given my left shoe to listen to the 8th Doctor speak of the horrors revolving around the Time War and his involvement. Someone needs to write that fanfiction right now. 

 Moffat made the argument that Doctor Who is “all about moving forward” and for the most part he is right. In order for a show to stay relevant it has to adjust to contemporary audiences. But this wasn’t just a normal episode. It was suppose to be an homage to 50 years worth of imaginative story-telling. I feel like the inclusion of 8 would have satisfied both of those needs seeing as McGann’s Doctor nicely embodies both Old and New Who as his adventures tend to incorporate elements from both eras in the show’s history. It’s bizarre and creative like Old Who while also being charming and heart-felt like New Who.

My final point is, even though many Nuvians haven’t listened to the audio dramas as I have, they would still have the opportunity to learn more about him through the material that already exists. The 8th Doctor has character development, unlike the War Doctor who has had very little due to the fact that he has only been featured in a single episode and is unlikely to show up in many others on screen. To me it seems superfluous to create a whole new character when you already have a perfectly viable one lined up and ready to go, especially one that exists as part of the original cannon.

I suppose I should be grateful that 8 was given, at the very least, a six minute short, but considering all the effort McGann’s put into the Doctor Who universe this seems like a pretty weak consolation.

If you’ve never listened to the 8th Doctor’s audio drama adventures, you need to give them a listen. Some of them are hit and miss, but when Big Finish gets it right, they really get it right.

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