Bear with me, but John Hurt was the best Doctor we never had.
Okay, we did have him. We had him in a wondrous hour and a half of TV. Apparently, he was concerned on accepting the role that he be taken seriously as a proper Doctor, and he more than etched himself a definitive place n Who history.
He was John Hurt after all. If anyone was going to pull off a secret Doctor no one knew about, it was him.
But really, there was never going to be a series of War Doctor adventures. Given the nihilism of the character when he first appears on TV, given that he is on the edge of actually committing genocide (even if an idea from himself three regenerations ahead means that he doesn’t actually go through with it) an actual series wasn’t a realistic idea.
And that’s ignoring the fact that Hurt was 73 when he took the role, so unlikely to sign up for a series with the demands and rigours modern Who entails.
His is an outlier Doctor, a Doctor at the edge of destructiveness. As such he was never going to be the comfortable, heroic viewing we’ve been used to these fifty odd years.
No, The War Doctor was never going to get his own series.
But then he did.
Of course, Big Finish was going to step into the breach. If there’s a breach in Doctor Who, then Big Finish will work hard to fill it. I’m surprised they haven’t yet given us an episode telling us exactly what happens to that pirate who goes missing in ‘The Curse of the Black Spot’.
And once John Hurt has said that he’s interested in pursuing the idea, why the hell wouldn’t you?
Now, John Hurt had one of the greatest voices in English speaking history, and I’d listen to his dulcet tones read ‘The Complete History of Sandpaper – Volume One: Aluminium Oxide to Garnet’. So, of course, I was going to enjoy it. What’s more, I’m a big Whovian so I’m as primed to enjoy this as any bespectacled man alive.
And the results are highly entertaining. With The War Doctor’s travails against The Daleks and the Dalek Time Controller feeling like the grandest of space operas. Particularly, it has to be said, those episodes where The Sontarans throw their helmets into the ring as well.
But what it doesn’t feel like is The War Doctor.
What it actually feels like is ‘Doctor Who’.
When he’s battling Dalek agents in Berlin 1961, or destroying a secret Dalek weapon on a distant asteroid, it feels like an adventure any one of thirteen Doctors could go on.
Yes, he’s played by John Hurt at his most gravelly, and yes, he keeps telling people not to call him The Doctor (although he mostly ends up being called The Doctor anyway), but it doesn’t feel like The War Doctor as we saw him on TV.
There isn’t that darkness, that desperation, the hopelessness that leads him to blast “No More” into a Gallifreyan wall. This version is friendlier, still with hope, still looking for a peaceful solution.
Perhaps if John Hurt had lived longer we would have got more volumes. We would have gotten to the point three minutes before ’Day of the Doctor’ where, for him, all hope is lost.
But for now, we have twelve good to excellent stories (the length of a whole TV season now I think about it) which I’m immensely happy to have listened to. I just wish – since we’re not getting anymore – that we could have further explored The War Doctor at his worse, rather than at his most Doctorish.