‘Doctor Who’ 50th Anniversary Prequel Reveals ‘The War Doctor’; New Images Released

Published 1 year ago by

WARNING: The following post contains SPOILERS for the season 7 finale of Doctor Who. If you are not caught up on the show, proceed with caution.

It’s been nearly half a century since Doctor Who first aired on November 23, 1963 – with William Hartnell kicking-off the now iconic series as the first incarnation of The Doctor. Fifty years later and the BBC is preparing to celebrate the two-hearted time-traveling alien with the 50th Anniversary multi-doctor mash-up special “The Day of the Doctor” – featuring current leads Matt Smith and Jenna Louise-Coleman, the return of series favorites David Tennant and Billie Piper, along with John Hurt as a previously unidentified regeneration of The Doctor.

Mystery has surrounded Hurt’s position in the Doctor Who mythology ever since he was teased at the end of the season 7 finale, “The Name of the Doctor” – when his character was identified only as “The Doctor.” Now, thanks to a surprisingly forthcoming (and controversial) 50th Anniversary prequel minisode, we have a much clearer picture of where Hurt’s Doctor fits into the Time Lord’s story.

 ‘Doctor Who’ 50th Anniversary Prequel Reveals The War Doctor; New Images Released

A month back, show runner Steven Moffat asserted that, on the subject of The Doctor’s regenerations, fans should “go back to your DVDs and count correctly this time. There’s something you’ve all missed.” In our write-up we speculated that Moffat was teasing that, since viewers never saw the regeneration from the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) into the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston), it was possible at least one more iteration of The Doctor could have existed offscreen.

Thanks to the prequel minisode, we now know this speculation to be correct, as Moffat brought McGann back for another dose of Doctor duty, and to set the stage for Hurt’s redacted incarnation of the Gallifreyan. The minisode also attempts to explain the stakes that will ultimately lead to The Doctor’s darkest chapter, the one that can be summed up from Hurt’s statement in the season 7 finale: “What I did, I did without choice. In the name of peace and sanity.

In the minisode, we see the Eighth Doctor overcome with grief and frustration at the consequences of the Time War – as the ongoing Dalek/Time Lord conflict has grave ramifications throughout the universe. The situation had become so bleak, and the Time Lords so notorious, that Cass (Emma Campbell-Jones), a crew member trapped aboard a doomed spaceship, would rather die than be saved by The Doctor. Cass’ fate serves as the final straw for The Doctor and, upon her death, he accepts an invitation from the Sisterhood of Karn to choose the type of person he’ll be after his next regeneration. Overcome with anger, The Doctor chooses to become a warrior – ushering in his regeneration as “The War Doctor” (John Hurt).

Check out new images from the 50th Anniversary Special “The Day of the Doctor” below along with a few from “The Night of the Doctor” prequel (click to enlarge):

While the minisode does an excellent job of teasing what’s to come in the 50th Anniversary Special, as well revealing the endpoint for McGann’s Doctor, it also threw a few significant sticking points into long-running Doctor Who canon, especially for fans of the Eighth Doctor Big Finish audio dramas and with regard to the Flame of Eternal Life (previously seen in “The Brain Of Morbius”) – which, according to Moffat, could allow McGann to regenerate into a woman (paving the way for a female Doctor down the line).

However, one big question remains: will Christopher Eccleston (who previously stated he would not return) actually have a surprise cameo in the 50th Anniversary Special, assuming The War Doctor regenerates, closing the offscreen regeneration loop or will Moffat leave the gap open for other future story (and pre-Ninth Doctor) possibilities? To answer that question, fans will no doubt bring up the thirteen regeneration limit but, as we all know, Moffat will, or already has (depending on how you feel about a few key canon moments), provided room for many more regenerations to come – as the old series itself has done many times over with other Time Lords.

We’ll keep you up to date as we hear more, but in the meantime, check out our Doctor Who Viewing Guide: Tips, Suggestions & Complete Episode List.


Matt Smith will return as Doctor Who on November 23rd for the 50th Anniversary Special – followed by the 2013 Christmas Special on December 25th.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for further updates on Doctor Who as well as future movie, TV, and gaming news.

Follow Ben Kendrick on Twitter @benkendrick
TAGS: Doctor who
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  1. That webisode was awesome.

    • Couldn’t agree more with you !
      WOW..I was blown away ! This is Doctor Who and how it should be !
      What a great performance by McGann ! I was captured till the end,he was really great !
      Tone and atmosphere were miles better then what we currently have with Smith !
      Please more of this Darker Doctor !

      • I only wish it was longer. and have a few McGann episodes but i;m happy enough with this.

  2. Please stop calling it a prequel! It’s a prelude.

    • It’s a Prequel of the Series itself.

      • Well it’s a prequel to the pseudo-rebbot series.

        • A prelude is set before that which is about to be shown, a prequel is set before what has already been shown. Technically this is an interquel

          • its a webisode

  3. During the mini-sode, or whatever you want to call it. Paul McGann’s doctor name drops a bunch of companions that only featured in the Big Finish audio plays……. Which now means they are canon, or at least the Paul McGann voiced plays that he performed while the TV Doctor Who series was dark in the 90′s.

  4. Suddenly Paul McGann! I did not see that coming. That was great though. I have really high hopes for this and my only wish is that Moffat doesn’t Moffat it up. I swear to god if they defeat the Zygons, Daleks, or the timelords with the power of love…

  5. I was pleasantly surprised to see McGann back. Even though the tv movie wasn’t the best, I always liked his performance and thought it a shame that he wasn’t given a full series of his own. I must say, that in 7 mins I am happier with Doctor Who than I have been with the past two seasons combined (McGann totally eclipses Matt Smith in the part. just my opinion).

    I like how they neatly side-stepped the regeneration issue, essentially giving him a freebie. I’ve been saying for a while that maybe The Doctor stopped using that name during the time war (maybe he uses his real name?) as a doctor is a healer and he had to fight during the time war. Glad to see I’m partially right. Am very super uber excited for the anniversary special now. Just wish we could have had a bit more of McGann

  6. Great to see McGann back, even if it’s only for these brief few minutes. I’m liking the WWI-era boots and belt, too. Appropriate for wartime and very possibly a nod to his role in the ’80s series The Monocled Mutineer.

  7. A very nice surprise.

    Very classy Mcgann. His Doctor was great and I have HUGE respect for him returning, even though they (and let’s face it, they did) screw him over in terms of the role (though the following Doctor’s are still excellent). Huge props to him on that front.

    Very well done to all involved with that mini-sode, a great concept for a 50th anniversary Prequel.

  8. I dont follow this show so why are there 3 doctors?

    • We’re not sure yet until the episode airs but it’s not unusual. A one-off episode aired for Children In Need years ago featuring all 5 living (at the time) Doctors meeting each other.

      • Well, technically three: Hartnell had already passed but the 1st Doctor role was portrayed excellently by Richard Hurndall and Tom Baker turned down an appearance so they came up with an in-story reason for his absence and used clips from the unfinished “Shada” episode for him.

        • Thanks for clarifying. Completely forgot they had the first Doctor in there, really don’t know why. It’s been a while, clearly.

    • Timey wimey time travel stuff.

      Not sure of a better explanation if you’ve never seen the show.

  9. I didn’t see this coming and I have to say well done, well done indeed.

  10. no words to describe…awesome!!!!

  11. I was wondering when and how Moffat was going to get around the 13 regeneration rule. Now he has done it.

    The sisterhood didn’t just give him a freebie, they made it possible for him to regenerate indefinitely and into what he chooses.

    Think about it.

    This “potion” was made to allow him to be a warrior, it was probably “flavoured” that way. But I have a sneaky suspicion that it also remains in him and will be the energy to continually regenerate him. Why would the sisterhood do that?

    Because in war lots of people die. And if the Doctor was to die in the middle of it and have no regens left all would be lost. I believe the sisterhood realized this and made it possible that this potion broke the rule of 13.

    I suppose it is also possible that he might have to go back to get more brew, but I think the sisterhood could most likely get beyond the one drink one regen limitation. After all if they can give him a particular designer regen then why not make sure the one drink is enough for it to last forever?

    • Why do you think this was a freebie regeneration? The Doctor was already dead … he was given a 4 minute reprieve in order to drink a potion that would direct his oncoming regeneration. He still used up one of his own regenerations.

      • I don’t know about freebie, but it does definitely set Night of the Doctor as the point at which the current, and more importantly consistent, regeneration sequence is the flashy yellow we’ve come to know since the show returned. This may be an important transition point in that there may have been more to that potion.

        The only conflicting evidence I can think of is that the Doctor seems to have not had any control over his 9 to 10 and 10 to 11 regenerations which could be explained away by him forgetting he had that amount of control, though this would be a somewhat convenient explanation.

        There’s also the small matter of Romana apparently being able to control her own regeneration without the use of potions, which has been a stickler for fans ever since leading to theories like as only females or certain Time Lords having this ability.

        Then again, this is all now complicated by them injecting morsels and ham-fisted references of Time Lords being able to switch genders the past couple of years.

    • Be like Torchwood but less campy. I like it.

  12. That was awesome and a great send off for McGann who i feel was cheated with his time as Doctor. anyways, I’d love to see more McGann adventures on the show.

  13. Just shows what a missed opportunity Paul McGann was in the role, would much rather watch him than matt smith

    • Same.

      Out of the five Doctors I’ve seen on TV in my lifetime (McCoy, McGann, Eccleston, Tennant, Smith), Smith was definitely the worst. I could only last his first two episodes and then tuned in for the final episode of season 7 and he was just as bad in that too.

      • You’ve watched 3 episodes of Matt Smith’s three seasons and apparently that’s enough for you to declare him ‘the worst’?

  14. I don’t know why they can’t do a set of spin-off specials…Dr. Who: The Untold Stories.

    They could do some Hartnell stories using the guy in the Adventures of Space and Time…some Tom Baker Stories, some McGann, etc…

  15. Didn’t they already solve the 13 regeneration issue thanks to River? When she saves his life in the episode “Let’s kill Hitler”, they said she gave him all her remaining regenerations, which by my count would be ten more.

    • They said she used all her remaining regeneration energy, which I would interpret very differently from passing along any remaining regens. Think back to when 10 was about to regenerate and siphoned off the energy into his hand. The question is, did he actually use up a regen at that point or not? Until that question is answered, we won’t know.


  17. Oh, and bow ties are cool. Of all the comments I’ve seen on this page, yours was definitely the worst. I could only read the first two words, and then I looked at the last one and it was just as bad. Raggedy man, I will remember you!