Friday, December 6, 2013

Will the Real Ninth Doctor Please Step Forward

Now that the 50th anniversary is behind us and we have been shown where John Hurt's War Doctor fits in, a question begs asking; Who is the real Ninth Doctor?

This is not as simple as it sounds. For one thing, what do we mean when we talk about the Ninth Doctor. Do we mean the Ninth incarnation of the Timelord we know as the Doctor? That would clearly be John Hurt. Or would it. Or do we mean the Ninth actor to hold the role in the series? That would clearly be Christopher Eccleston. But it isn't even as clear as that.

We were first given a Ninth Doctor in the 1999 Red Nose Day special, The Curse of Fatal Death. Rowen Atkinson played the Ninth Doctor for most of the story, before a quick series of accidents lead to Richard E. Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, and Joanna Lumley as the 10th through 13th Doctors. It was also Steven Moffat's first Doctor Who story.

That was followed in 2003 by the first post Eighth Doctor story, the Scream of the Shalka, staring Richard E. Grant. He was going to start a new series of Ninth Doctor stories, but very shortly after that, the BBC greenlit Doctor Who for a return to BBC ONE.

So who is the real Ninth Doctor. I have a double answer. Rowan Atkinson's appearance is obviously for comedly and should be taken as nothing other than a spoof, so he is out. John Hurt is a warrior, not a Doctor (and this goes along with what Steven Moffat has said) so he is not the Ninth Doctor. That leaves Richard E. Grant and Christopher Eccleston.

My take is that had the Time War not happened, events would have transpired that led to Richard E. Grant's Ninth Doctor. He is from an alternate reality where the Time War did not happen, but he is the Ninth Doctor for that reality. But in the reality where the Time War did happen, we have the events that led to the Eighth Doctor trying to stay out of it, crashing on Karn, regenerating into a version of himself who would be willing to fight and kill in order to stop the war he had not otherwise been able to stop. He no longer called himself the Doctor (though everyone around him did). Then when he regenerated (and for now we can assume that it was into Eccleston's Doctor, but we didn't actually see the result) he resumed being his normal self and resumed calling himself the Doctor.

In real world continuity, John Hurt's character is no more counted in the numbering (though he does have to be counted in the regenerations) than Richard Hurndall's portrayal of the first Doctor in the Five Doctors. He was a story device so that the Doctors of the past could comment on the Doctor's of the present. The first three actors are dead and the next four are really too old to reprise their roles, so John Hurt stood in for all of them. the only real difference it makes is in the count against the 12 regenerations. He takes up one, but he does not displace the actors who have been cast as the Doctor since 1963. While it is true that Paul McGann only had a one off appearance, that movie was supposed to be a pilot for a revived series, but it did not get the ratings to make that viable. Had it gotten picked up, as it was later in the audio adventures aired on BBC7, he would have had many more episodes. Hurt came in a prequel and went out in the main story. His timeline is locked in the Time War. To the outside world he is not the Doctor.

This all changes when you go to Gallifrey, where they only call him the Doctor because that is how he chooses to be identified. On Gallifrey he is the Ninth incarnation of our wandering Timelord. they don't care what he calls himself. But when you put the two together, the numbering and the name, you have to skip all but Christopher Eccleston. He IS the Ninth Doctor.

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