The hopes of many longtime Doctor Who fans were realized this morning with the return of Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor in "The Night of the Doctor," a six-minute prequel to "The Day of the Doctor" written by Steven Moffat.
The prequel mini episode opens aboard a crashing spaceship piloted by a woman named Cass, played by Emma Campbell-Jones. Cass admonished the shipboard computer for talking about doctors, followed immediately by the Eighth Doctor revealing himself. "I'm a Doctor," he begins, "but probably not the one you were expecting."
As the ship continues to crash, The Doctor takes Cass to the back where his TARDIS is located. "Don't worry, it's bigger on the inside," remarks the Doctor.
Cass suddenly becomes deeply concerned. "Is this a TARDIS?" she asks.
The Doctor attempts to reassure her about his role in the Time War involving Gallifrey and the Daleks. "I'm not part of the war. I swear to you, I never was."
"You're a Time Lord."
"Yes, I'm a Time Lord, but I'm one of the nice ones."
Cass becomes horrified by this point. "Get away from me!"
"Well, look on the bright side, I'm not a Dalek."
"Who can tell the difference anymore?!" Cass deadbolts the door, separating her from the Doctor and his TARDIS. "Go back to your battlefield," she admonishes, tearing up in the process. "You aren't finished yet. Some of the universe is still standing."
The ship crashlands on the planet Karn, familiar to fans of the Tom Baker era of Doctor Who. We're reacquainted with the Sisterhood of Karn, a female society last seen in the 1976 Fourth Doctor story "The Brain of Morbius," who are dedicated to protecting the Sacred Flame, which produces the Elixir of Life.
The Eighth Doctor is revived by the Sisterhood and is told that he only has a little under four minutes to live. Ohila, the leader of the Sisterhood, offers to use the Elixir to help the Doctor regenerate into whatever form he needs, but the Doctor wonders why they would be willing to help. "The war between the Time Lords and the Daleks threatens all reality," Ohlia remarks. "You are the only hope left."
Cass is brought out, but appears to have died and the Sisterhood is unable to restore her to life. Ohila tells the Doctor that Cass wouldn't care he was a Time Lord if he could end the war. "She would beg your help...as we beg your help now. The universe stands on a brink. Will you let it fall? Fast or strong, wise or angry, what do you need now?"
The Doctor picks up a shoulder strap he took from Cass. "Warrior," chooses the Doctor. "I don't suppose there's any need for a Doctor anymore. Make me a warrior now."
Before drinking the Elixir of Life, the Doctor says goodbye to his previous companions from the Big Finish audio adventures series starring the Eighth Doctor. "Charley, C'rizz, Lucie, Tamsin, Molly...Friends, companions I've known, I salute you. And Cass, I apologize. Physician, heal thyself..."
The Doctor drinks the Elixir and we finally get to see the Eighth Doctor regenerate...only not into Christopher Eccleston's Ninth Doctor. The newly-regenerated figure, a young version of actor John Hurt, puts the shoulder strap on and says "Doctor no more" to his reflection. The end credits then reveal his new name as The War Doctor.
"The Day of the Doctor" airs in simulcast around the world at 2:50 p.m. EST on November 23, 2013, Doctor Who's 50th anniversary. If you'd like to watch "The Night of the Doctor," you can view it below thanks to the BBC's YouTube account...