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  • Paul McGann
  • Karen Hellekson (bio)

Paul McGann holds the distinction of being both the shortest- and longest-serving Doctor – the shortest in that his only episode is 90 minutes long, and the longest in that the gap after his 1996 episode lasted until the 2005 reboot, the longest service of any Doctor, including Sylvester McCoy, whose adventures ended in 1989. Yet McGann’s Doctor remains the most mysterious because he appeared in only a single Doctor Who episode: the Doctor Who television movie (US/UK 1996). However, he ably filled the void of Doctor Who’s lack during the years until the 2005 reboot: with licensed audio dramas, comic books and novels, McGann’s Doctor actually has more solid extra-televisual adventures than any of the other Doctors, despite their longer runs. He and his adventures were a precursor to the era of transmedia connection, where various media interact, often online and often with fans interacting with producers, to create a metatext.

The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who gave fans of the Eighth Doctor a real valentine: a proper send-off for a Doctor who never had a real run. In an online-only BBC mini webisode, ‘The Night of the Doctor’ (14 Nov 2013), we finally see his regeneration scene: he deliberately chooses to regenerate into the War Doctor (John Hurt). Ecstatic fan reaction segued into petitions that McGann’s Doctor have his own spin-off series. Yet previously, fans of this Doctor had worried that he was not really even canon. After the 2005 Doctor Who reboot, the canonicity of the one-off 1996 episode, known to fans as ‘The Enemy Within’, was questioned; after all, the made-for-television movie, an American/Canadian/British cooperative effort, shot in Canada and aired as a backdoor pilot on the Fox Network, never made it past its single 90-minute episode, the result of inadequate ratings. However, its canonicity was affirmed by Doctor Who in 2007, when ‘Human Nature’ (26 May 2007) aired. This episode featured hand-drawn diary pages penned by an amnesiac Dr John Smith (David Tennant), with McGann clearly depicted as one of the Doctors. This was the first of several canonical shout-outs, most often in the form of the image of McGann’s face among those of his fellow Doctors.

American and Canadian Doctor Who fans in particular can be forgiven for not knowing much about McGann’s Doctor. For copyright reasons, his single episode was unavailable for purchase on Region 1 DVD until 2011 – a 15-year absence, although there were several UK broadcasts and releases, the first in 1996, which included various versions with cuts made to excise violence; to acknowledge the recent death of Jon Pertwee; and to include explanatory [End Page 238] voice-overs. The multitude of versions means that McGann’s now-canonical Doctor does not necessarily even have a canonical episode.

There is much about McGann’s Doctor that presages decisions made in the 2005 reboot that reignited interest in the show. First is the casting. Although much was made of the casting of Peter Davison in 1981 – contemporary news releases called him ‘dishy’ and contrasted him with the older men who had played the first four Doctors – the casting of Paul McGann was on another level altogether. He was a good-looking film star with cachet, and casting him was considered a coup. His youthful energy contrasted appealingly with previous Doctors and provided a new template for the casting of the reboot’s Doctors. Second was the then-radical decision to involve the Doctor in a romance with his companion, Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook). Although the kiss they share is relatively chaste, and Holloway refuses to go with the Doctor when he leaves at the end of the episode, fan reaction was outraged. Yet this kiss paved the way for romantic plot points involving the Doctor in the rebooted Doctor Who, including companions Rose Tyler, Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) and River Song (Alex Kingston). Finally, although completely new versions and backstories of the Doctor were considered for ‘The Enemy Within’, eventually the production team decided to treat the episode as contiguous with the previous...


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pp. 238-240
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