It was the minisode that melted minds: Paul McGann, as the eighth Doctor, back on screens after 17 years in The Night of the Doctor. But would it have had the same impact if it hadn’t been such a surprise? Probably not. Which is why, says McGann, it was released when it was…
Referencing an impending leak of the Doctor Who 50th anniversary prequel, McGann explained, “What’s actually slightly disappointing is when you realise you can’t keep a secret now. And you know [the episode] should have gone out next week, but they had to put it out this week because someone was about to put it out… [showrunner] Steven Moffat presumably thought ‘I’ve gotta do something’, so we released it.
“It wasn’t easy [to keep the secret]. I mean, a couple of mates knew, and I’m pretty good at keeping a secret, but of course so many people work on something – technicians and everybody else. I’m not pointing the finger, except I’m saying, somewhere along the line, someone couldn’t resist pressing send…”
As it turned out, the decision seemed rather well-planned, given that the seven-minute episode – which showed the eighth Doctor regenerating into John Hurt’s mysterious ‘War Doctor’ – was released on 14 November, McGann’s 54th birthday. “I regard it as Steven Moffat’s birthday present to me,” said the star.
Asked whether he had expected to return as the Time Lord for the 50th anniversary, McGann – who last played the Doctor on screen in the 1996 TV movie – told fan-site Doctor Who Online that he hadn’t been optimistic: “Well not after…well, how long has it been? 17 years. After 10 years I thought if they’re not going to ring me up now, they’re not going to ring me up.”