The 'Doctor Who' Mini-Episode, Explained

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Before The Day of the Doctor, the big 50th anniversary special airing next Saturday, the BBC has released a "mini-episode" called The Night of the Doctor, which should confuse newbies and delight fans. 

The episode, written by showrunner Steven Moffat, features Paul McCann in the role of the Doctor. (For the uninitiated the Doctor is a time traveling alien who regenerates—hence multiple actors have played him.) McCann was the eighth incarnation of the Doctor, but only served for a brief time, after an attempt to relaunch the series via a TV movie in 1996 was unsuccessful. (It got back in to full swing in 2005, with Christopher Eccleston as the ninth Doctor.)

In the mini-episode, the Doctor tries to save a woman on a crashing space ship, but is rejected by her. After the crash, he encounters the Sisterhood of Karn. If you want the long and short of it, the mini-episode is most useful for explaining the presence of John Hurt, set to play a mysterious, unfamiliar Doctor in the upcoming special. As Dan Martin at BuzzFeed explains: "The episode also confirms what most people had suspected, that John Hurt’s previously unseen Doctor came after the Eighth, and was the one forced to commit genocide against his own people to end the Timewar." 

Makes sense! Doesn't it? Well, it did to the legions of Who fans. ("Out of a population of just over 60 million in the U.K., over 10 million people watch Doctor Who," BBC TV chief Danny Cohen told The Hollywood Reporter.) If you're hoping to catch up quickly, BBC America has you covered with an entire week of Doctor Who related programming leading up to the big reveal of the anniversary special.  

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.