Red button minisode in which the eighth Doctor attempts to save a space pilot's life.
Prob... whoa, what the heck did I just type? The eighth Doctor???
Yes it's true. Only 17 years after taking over as the Doctor, Paul McGann returns to at long last clock up just over an hour in the role. (last time, in 1996, I think he only just managed 57 minutes)
I mean all right, so this 7-minute episode does comprise of merely two cut scenes, yet it still leaves one yelling at the TV screen "See, FOX Network, see??? Now how hard would that have been each week?!?"
(please be my guest to substitute FOX Network in 1996 with BBC1 in 2004, or indeed any of the preceding 14 years...)
More seriously, despite just how encouraging it is to see that actor playing that role again at last, and with such compelling dialogue, from a production point of view there is much that leaves this entry into the Doctor Who canon wanting:
1. At the fiftieth anniversary, there's just no escaping that this both could and should have been a full-length episode. Likewise there should have been a new full-length episode for each of the available earlier Doctors. PLUS minisodes. There are enough other brand new Doctor Who related programmes on this week.
2. Before he regenerates, the outgoing eighth Doctor properly gets a valedictory speech, but in using it to list his many unseen companions, this episode manages to plug a hole in the show's history by creating several new ones. Not a smart average. Naming them after his audio story companions, but ignoring his books and comic ones, well, that's just careless.
3. We get the eighth Doctor's closing regeneration scene, but then the director goes and idiotically cuts away, denying us the satisfaction of at long last seeing it. This is not going to look good in future compilations of all the different Doctors' regenerations.
4. As the eighth Doctor regenerates, how many of us were rooting to see Christopher Eccleston's missing launch as the ninth Doctor, and were then disappointed at losing this too? It only needs a still image of him unconscious to be doable.
5. John Hurt. No matter what way you try to spin this, every minute that he is on screen is another one that is subtracted from a different actor who we have a vested interest in seeing in the role. It looks like he's reading Eccleston's lines, but the 'bad' incarnation of the Doctor has always been the Valeyard played by Michael Jayston. Casting a prominent new actor really shouldn't be anywhere on an anniversary special's todo list. Likewise replacing an unavailable actor with another one who is also unlikely to be available for return appearances in the future is also daft. Every time I see him I wish he was someone else. He's going to cripple every scene he's in in the 50th anniversary special...
6. One of the sisterhood of Khan really should have been a Clara. Really, after the hopeless retcon of her across the Doctor's entire life in Name Of The Doctor, it's basic damage limitation. The Doctor is unconscious and in need of saving and everything that she's supposed to be there to do for him.
7. If the Sisterhood of Khan can control who the Doctor regenerates into, then why didn't the tenth Doctor return to them in all that spare time he got at the close of The End Of Time?
For all that though, the mere fact of this edition's existence outweighs all the above missed opportunities.
I tend to sum up each of the Doctor's incarnations in my review of their final story, so I suppose here goes. Paul McGann's TV portrayal has remained consistently generic throughout his 17 years, yet he has never fallen into the trap of becoming predictable. Even in this story, any protest that the Doctor would never be so daft as to remain on a crashing spaceship when he could escape in the TARDIS is bunk, because we just don't know how his Doctor would behave. His prolific spin-off stories, such as the aforementioned audio stories, are just that - spin-offs, and therefore subjective.
Regardless, it's moments like this at which we can all be glad of those audios. The fact that those CD producers have down the years successfully approached, befriended and won over the actor is likely a large reason why he has been willing to now return to the role he played once on TV so long ago. Well done!
Really, we should be getting a whole TV series with this one now.
It's about time.