The War Doctor: Doctor No More

The Time War storyline is my favorite arc in all of Doctor Who. Every time it came up, little child me would always perk up immediately. It’s mystery compelled me; just what could have happened to the Doctor to cause him such regret?

Finally, after years of waiting, we got the 50th anniversary special. And with it, one of the greatest takes on the Doctor: the War Doctor. All in one movie-long episode.

Despite only appearing once nearly ten years into New Who’s run, the War Doctor acts as the bridge between the Classic and Modern series. Everything, from his personality to design, reflects this. His Tardis is a blend between the looks of the classics and the Tardis of the ninth/tenth Doctors, his sonic screwdriver is an interesting middle step between the final one scene in the classics and the first one of the modern, and even his clothes feel like a mid-blend of the eighth and ninth Doctor’s outfits.

But the biggest point in favor of this is his personality. The War Doctor is one of the most serious takes on the character in the show’s history. Understandably so; he’s a grizzled soldier, not a goofy grandpa. His brand of humor comes from him acting as the straight man, sighing and shaking his head at the antics of his future selves.

Which works very well. This is a Doctor who has seen and done some truly traumatic things. Things that are still affecting them in the incarnations we’re more familiar with, such as ten and eleven. He clearly fought in the Time War for a long, long time; when he first regenerated in ‘The Night of the Doctor’, we can see in his reflection that he was young. Yet the man we meet in the 50th anniversary is old, so old that he regenerates due to old age the end of the special.

His arc in that special is one of my favorites in all of Doctor Who. When we first meet him, he has this grim determination about him; he’s fully prepared to end the Time War, and everyone, himself included, along with it. He’s tired, self-loathing, and humorless. But as the special goes on, and he spends more time with his future selves, he rediscovers that spark that makes life worth living.

Yet this doesn’t dissuade him from ending the war. It only strengthens his resolve. He comes to admire the men he’ll become while growing to loath the man he is even more. It’s perfectly captured in this one line:

Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of lesser men to ignite the flame.

War Doctor

But then those very men appear by his side. They acknowledge him, praise him even. More importantly: they shoulder the burden with him. And in doing so, all three of them make an impossible decision: to change the past, consequences be damned, and save Gallifrey.

Of course, none of this would be half as gripping as it is without a good actor in the part. Luckily, we’re treated with one of the best. The late John Hurt was absolutely brilliant as the War Doctor. His gravelly voice carries so much gravity, and his eyes are so deep you can fall into them. Whenever he smiles, you can’t help but smile with him.

RIP, Mr. Hurt. You’re tenure as the Doctor was a short one, but an extremely memorable one.

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