The Night of the Doctor
Doctor Who special
Sisterhood of Karn in the Night of the Doctor.jpg
The Sisterhood of Karn as they appear in the episode, headed by Ohila (Clare Higgins)
Directed byJohn Hayes
Written bySteven Moffat
Produced byDenise Paul
Executive producer(s)Steven Moffat
Music byMurray Gold
SeriesSpecials (2013)
Running time6 minutes 49 seconds
First broadcast14 November 2013 (2013-11-14)
← Preceded by
"The Name of the Doctor"
Followed by →
"The Last Day" (mini episode)
"The Day of the Doctor"

"The Night of the Doctor" is a mini-episode of the British science fiction television programme Doctor Who. It was made available on BBC iPlayer and YouTube on 14 November 2013, as part of the BBC One lead-up to the show's 50th anniversary special.[1][2] It was written by Steven Moffat and starred Paul McGann as the Doctor.[3]

The episode is set during the Time War and shows the previously unseen last moments of the Eighth Doctor (McGann) and his artificially controlled regeneration into the War Doctor (John Hurt). It is McGann's second onscreen appearance as the Doctor, following his debut in the 1996 TV movie.[4]


During the Time War, the Eighth Doctor attempts to rescue a pilot, Cass, whose spacecraft is crashing into the planet Karn. When Cass realises that the Doctor is a Time Lord, she refuses his aid, ignoring his claims that he has never taken part in the devastating Time War. The Doctor refuses to abandon Cass, and both are killed when the ship crashes.

On the planet, the Doctor is taken in by the Sisterhood of Karn, guardians of the Flame and Elixir of Eternal Life, who revive him temporarily; Cass, however, is beyond their help. The Sisterhood offer the Doctor a selection of potions which, if consumed before he expires, will not only trigger his regeneration into a new form, but allow him to choose which characteristics his next incarnation will have. They convince the Doctor that he must take action to end the Time War, which "threatens all reality". The Doctor initially refuses, but after seeing Cass's dead body, he agrees there is not much need for a doctor any more and asks for a potion that will turn him into "a warrior". Saluting the memory of his past companions, he drinks the potion and regenerates into a new incarnation, known as the War Doctor, who wears Cass's bandolier.


Before regenerating, the Doctor mentions Charley Pollard, C'rizz, Lucie Miller, Tamsin Drew, and Molly O'Sullivan, his companions in audio dramas produced by Big Finish Productions.[5] This marks the first time that original characters from the Big Finish audio series have been mentioned in the television show.[6] Karn and the Sisterhood also appeared in Eighth Doctor stories, but debuted in the television show in The Brain of Morbius, a 1976 Fourth Doctor story.[6]

The name of the priestess in this story, Ohila, is similar to Ohica, the name of the High Priestess of the Sisterhood in The Brain of Morbius, although no direct connection between the two characters is established.[7]


The Eighth Doctor's costume in this episode, on display at the Doctor Who Experience.
The Eighth Doctor's costume in this episode, on display at the Doctor Who Experience.

The idea for "The Night of the Doctor" came following the creation of the previously unknown incarnation of the Doctor played by John Hurt in "The Name of the Doctor". Steven Moffat decided that he wanted to see how this Doctor came into being, with the best story idea being a direct regeneration from the Eighth Doctor, which would have the added benefit of showing the end of the Eighth Doctor, which Moffat had always wanted to see. Having contacted Paul McGann, who indicated his willingness to participate, Moffat then constructed the mini-episode to serve as an additional surprise for the fans, as well as serving as an introductory piece to "The Day of the Doctor".[8]

"The Night of the Doctor" was recorded at Roath Lock on 7–8 May 2013; the first day of filming consisted of all scenes taking place on the planet Karn, while the second day consisted of scenes in Cass' spaceship.[9] Rather than a return to the costume from the TV movie or using the new image that Big Finish had introduced, Moffat decided on a variation of the TV movie outfit designed by Howard Burden. The new outfit referenced the previous one, retaining the long green coat and grey waistcoat, but making it appear more of an "adventurer's" rather than "gentleman's" outfit.[8] At the same time, pictures of McGann in costume were taken on the Eleventh Doctor's TARDIS console room set.[10]

An archival photograph of John Hurt as Rodion Raskolnikov in the 1979 BBC adaptation of Crime and Punishment was used to represent the reflection of the young War Doctor.[11][12]

Broadcast and reception

The broadcast of the episode came as a surprise to viewers, as it was announced via Twitter less than an hour before its release.[13] The appearance of Paul McGann was similarly unexpected. The mini-episode was intended to be released during the actual week of the anniversary, but was brought forward owing to the fact that its existence, as well as the surprise presence of McGann as the Eighth Doctor, were about to be leaked.[14] The Atlantic listed "The Night of the Doctor" as one of the best television episodes of 2013.[15]

The episode was made available on the BBC's YouTube site, its iPlayer service, and on the BBC Red Button service.[16] "The Night of the Doctor" received over 2.5 million views within the week of its release. McGann's reprise performance was met with acclaim; fans of the episode campaigned for the BBC to grant the Eighth Doctor his own spin-off series, with one petition on accumulating over 15,000 signatures.[17]

BBC America aired the episode on 25 December 2013 as part of an expanded broadcast of "The Day of the Doctor" including deleted scenes excluded from the normal US broadcast honouring the 50th Anniversary as well as Matt Smith's final episode which aired immediately following it and his farewell special.

Fan reaction

After the release of the mini-episode, fans of Doctor Who demanded a Doctor Who spin-off featuring McGann, multi-Doctor stories between McGann and Peter Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor, or further specials or mini-episodes with McGann.[18] A petition for a spin-off passed the goal of 15,000 signatures in November 2013, but extended the goal to 25,000 and has since then surpassed 20,000 signatures.[19] Paul McGann indicated his willingness to return and noted that he had signed the petition himself.[20] Emma Campbell-Jones, who played Cass, indicated a willingness to return also, noting that it isn't explicit that Cass died and that the character "needs to see that he is the good Doctor."[21]

However, Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat indicated that a McGann spin-off would not happen as, with the exception of the anniversary, there should be "one Doctor at a time."[22] He also indicated that McGann's appearance was less important than the fact that his appearance was a surprise and stated that further mini-episodes with high production values would be produced and would be surprising for viewers and even the BBC.[23]

Home media

The episode was included as an extra on the Blu-ray and DVD release of '"The Day of the Doctor'".[24] The special was re-released on DVD and Blu-ray on 8 September 2014 as part of a "50th Anniversary Collectors Edition" boxset alongside "The Name of the Doctor", An Adventure in Space and Time, "The Day of the Doctor", "The Time of the Doctor" and The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot.[25] The episode was also released again as an extra feature on the Blu Ray release of Doctor Who: The Movie on 19 September 2016.

In print

The storyline from this episode was included in the novelisation of "The Day of the Doctor". It was stated in the novelisation (which, like this episode, was written by Steven Moffat) that the potion the Doctor drank to become a warrior was a fake, intended by Ohila to convince him to fight in the Time War.


  1. ^ Wilson, Dan (15 November 2013). "The Night of the Doctor rewrites Doctor Who history for the better". Metro. Retrieved 17 November 2013.
  2. ^ Hayes, John (Director) (2013). The Night of the Doctor. YouTube: BBC. Retrieved 14 November 2013.
  3. ^ "Steven Moffat on The Night of the Doctor". BBC. 14 November 2013. Retrieved 17 November 2013.
  4. ^ Jeffery, Morgan (14 November 2013). "Paul McGann returns to 'Doctor Who' in new 50th anniversary mini-episode". Digital Spy. Retrieved 17 November 2013.
  5. ^ Blair, Andrew (15 November 2013). "A guide to the Eighth Doctor Audio Adventures". Den of Geek. Retrieved 17 November 2013.
  6. ^ a b Patrick, Seb (14 November 2013). "'Doctor Who': Making Sense of 'The Night of the Doctor'". BBC America. Retrieved 17 November 2013.
  7. ^ Dillon-Trenchard, Pete (19 September 2015). "Doctor Who: geeky spots in The Magician's Apprentice". Den of Geek. Retrieved 22 September 2015.
  8. ^ a b "Steven Moffat on The Night of the Doctor". BBC. 14 November 2013. Retrieved 19 November 2013.
  9. ^ Pixley, Andrew (August 2014). "The Night of the Doctor". Doctor Who Magazine. Vol. The Year of the Doctor: The Official Guide to Doctor Who's 50th Anniversary, no. Special Edition 28. Royal Tunbridge Wells: Panini Comics. pp. 6–9.
  10. ^ "Paul McGann's eighth Doctor takes over the 11th Doctor's Tardis". Radio Times. 11 March 2014. Retrieved 14 August 2014.
  11. ^ Martin, Andrew (31 January 2016). "The Sunday Post: Classically Russian". BBC. BBC. Retrieved 2 May 2020.
  12. ^ Jacob, Jon (30 January 2017). "John Hurt (1940 - 2017)". BBC. BBC. Retrieved 2 May 2020.
  13. ^ "Twitter / bbcdoctorwho: Surprise! The 50th starts NOW!". Retrieved 14 November 2013.
  14. ^ Kelly, Stephen (18 November 2013). "Paul McGann: we were forced to release The Night of the Doctor early". Retrieved 19 November 2013.
  15. ^ "The Best Television Episodes of 2013". 11 December 2013. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
  16. ^ "See Night of the Doctor on BBC Red Button". Doctor Who website. BBC. 16 November 2013. Retrieved 3 December 2013.
  17. ^ LaMonica, Bridget (23 November 2013). "Doctor Who: Petition For Paul McGann Spinoff Passes 15,000 Signatures!". Den of Geek. Retrieved 23 November 2013.
  18. ^ "Where is Paul McGann's Doctor Who Spin-Off? -". 14 November 2013.
  19. ^ "Onswipe". Archived from the original on 14 October 2013.
  20. ^ "McGann Signed Petition for 8th Doctor Spin-off". 6 June 2014.
  21. ^ "Campbell-Jones Wants McGann Spin-Off". 26 May 2014.
  22. ^ "Doctor Who Paul McGann spin-off won't happen says Moffat". 27 November 2013.
  23. ^ "Moffat on McGann Spin-off & Future Minisodes". 30 November 2013.
  24. ^ "The Day of the Doctor DVD Extras". Doctor Who TV. 18 November 2013. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
  25. ^ "Doctor Who: 50th Anniversary DVD Collection". Doctor Who TV. Retrieved 23 July 2014.