We finally got two official trailers - one short, one longer - for "The Day of the Doctor," along with another BBC preview clip released last Friday for the annual Children in Need telethon. Also last week, the Beeb put out "The Night of the Doctor," the first mini-episode prequel to the 50th-anniversary Doctor Who special. The trailers sparked excited speculation about what this landmark episode has in store, but the minisode gave us a really awesome surprise: Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor (finally sporting some decent footwear) in a nearly seven-minute story that wove some of his peripheral-media adventures more tightly into TV Who, waved to the Classic Series by reintroducing the Sisterhood of Karn (last seen in the 1976 Fourth Doctor serial "The Brain of Morbius") and showed us more background on John Hurt's mysterious incarnation of the Doctor (now dubbed the War Doctor).
In the trailers, we see Matt Smith's 11th Doctor meet David Tennant's 10th (and share cute moments of mutual admiration and disdain), and witness the return of companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper). Not to mention, Daleks! Zygons (Zygons?)! Fez play! Ten on a horse! And Eleven dangling from the airborne TARDIS!
I'm guessing that the 75-minute special - which will be simulcast across the globe on Saturday, November 23, and even get special 3D screenings in movie theaters - has more surprises up its sleeve. But the existence of the minisode makes it pretty clear that, despite the hopes of many fans, we really won't be getting a deluxe episode packed with former Doctors and their companions. (Although you never know. One thing we've learned about showrunner Steven Moffat is - as he's so fond of saying about the Doctor - Moffat lies.) Here's why that's good - and bad.
1. Well, Obviously...
It's disappointing that (if?) the 50th-anniversary special won't be including all 11 of the Doctor's known incarnations - although rumors persist that all of them will appear, if only in voice form. But I doubt it, because Moffat has repeatedly said he's focusing on the Doctor's future, telling U.K. newspaper The Telegraph, "I didn't want this to be a celebration of the past." Then again, this is the guy who put the faces of all the Doctors in his very first episode as showrunner ("The Eleventh Hour"), so who knows?
Anyway, of course there are real, practical reasons for not including all versions of the Doctor on screen. For one, three of the actors - First Doctor William Hartnell, Second Doctor Patrick Troughton and Third Doctor Jon Pertwee - are dead. For two, most of the surviving actors no longer look like they did when they played him. After all, this isn't a charming bit of fannish wish fulfillment like "Time Crash," the 2007 Children in Need short in which Moffat brought Peter Davison's Fifth Doctor face-to-face with Tennant's incarnation in the TARDIS. All it took then was a joking aside to shrug off Davison's older, stouter appearance, but it would be tough to suspend disbelief over how much Four's Tom Baker (shown above), Six's Colin Baker and Seven's Sylvester McCoy have aged in this longer, more epic adventure story. (Although rumor has it there will be another minisode featuring Davison's Doctor, so hmm.)
2. Then Again...
"The Night of the Doctor" is as thrilling as any of Moffat's best work - and a clever clarification of which Doctor was actually involved in the Time War. The only problem is, it makes me want more McGann (shown above in the 1996 TV movie, his only previous on-screen appearance). He fully owns the character in this short, and - now that we've learned a little more about Eight's relationship with and attitude toward the Time War - I would love to see him interacting with 10, 11 and War. (It's a stone drag that Christopher Eccleston's Ninth Doctor isn't in the mix too, but we all know his stern resolve to stay the hell out of the Whoniverse.)
Eight has had quite a life in peripheral media, such as his audio adventures for Big Finish, which apparently have become "canon" now, what with the mention in "Night" of his companions from those tales. So giving McGann a little more screen time in the actual special would be an even more awesome way to embrace his incarnation.
3. But It's OK, Because There's Really Not Enough Time
Moffat has written a typically sprawling tale that, according to the official BBC synopsis, leaps across space and time, from 2013, "when something terrible is awakening in London's National Gallery," to 1562, where "a murderous plot is afoot in Elizabethan England," to "somewhere in space," as "an ancient battle reaches its devastating conclusion" - aka the Time War. Also, "all of reality is at stake as the Doctor's own dangerous past comes back to haunt him."
Well, damn. That's a lot to cram into 75 minutes, and even a guy as prone to jamming everything and the kitchen sink into any given story might have trouble giving all 11 known Doctors, or even just Doctors Four through Eleven, enough screen time to make it worthwhile. Besides, there's Hurt's whole new War Doctor to deal with, and clearly that will be an epic and probably devastating tale. And that means...
4. We Need the Space
Ever since Hurt's Doctor popped up inside Eleven's time stream at the end of "The Name of the Doctor," Whovians have been wondering what the deal is with this guy. He's older, grizzled, battered and clearly carries a heavy-duty secret. So heavy, Eleven refers to him as someone who "broke the promise" he made to himself and doesn't have the right to be called "The Doctor."
We now know where Hurt's character fits in the Doctor's timeline, and how and why he was created, but there's still much to learn about him and the mostly unspeakable thing he did to end the Time War. So let's hope Moffat gives his story enough room to breathe.
5. Double the Doctors, Double the Fun
It's probably smarter to not crowd the screen with dusty ol' Doctors, and instead give the two most popular recent incarnations their heads. Just seeing Ten and Eleven side by side in the trailer is great fun. They coo over each other's brainy specs, clash over Eleven's TARDIS redo and flop onto their backs with arms crossed in stereo defiance of the forces trying to control them (or whatever).
Behind-the-scenes accounts say Tennant and Smith got on like a house afire - and attempted to out-Doctor each other with glee. It looks like their chemistry is going to be a highlight of the special, and clearly they should get as much space/time as possible to maximize that.