Matthew Kresal pays tribute to the War Doctor.
Of all the Doctors, the War Doctor holds a special place for me. Not just because he was played by Sir John Hurt, an actor I greatly admired, but because of who that Doctor was and his role in the series. I took an almost instant liking to this Doctor and the anniversary special but it wasn't until months after it first aired that I realized why.
Because The Day Of The Doctor, and the War Doctor's role within it, is a tale of redemption. What ever else you may love or hate about that fiftieth anniversary tale, it is ultimately a tale about a man facing his darkest day to make an impossible choice that he feels he can not recover from, yet finding in facing it the strength to carry on and become a better person. Looking back on things, it was that part of the special that resonated with me.
Because back in 2007, I faced an impossible choice of my own which I thought I never would recover from. Due to being a poor math student, I missed out on graduating from high school when I was meant to have and, with the additional factoring in of a number of other reasons, lead to me making a decision I never considered making before: I dropped out of high school. I know that might not sound very traumatic but back then I was the sort of kid who had a plan for the future, to go to college (university for you in the UK) so I could attend film school and go on to have what I thought would be a great career. That plan was dashed to the rocks, leaving me without a future it seem, destined to languish at a job I came to hate to pay repentance for my lack of hubris.
Yet once an idea is in your brain, it doesn't really go away. Events during the year after the special was broadcast were to show me that, like Hurt's Doctor, I did have another choice and that I could change my mind. In a sense I found my own version of the Moment who showed me the way, someone who would become my best friend for all intents and purposes, who encouraged me to write again and to look for a way out of my job. It was no accident that my first serious piece of fiction in years was a War Doctor tale, one written for the Seasons Of War fan anthology that was accepted but later cut when a strand of stories were removed. Or that my first published story, published in an anthology back in August, features a protagonist modeled on Sir John Hurt. I even adopted one of Hurt's lines (originally written by Terrance Dicks) as a personal motto: “Never give up, never give in.”
That is what the War Doctor and Hurt's performance meant to me. This was a man who had seen and done terrible things given a chance to reclaim the man he once was. This was a man who found, in spite of everything, a chance to be who he wanted to be again. It's a lesson I haven't forgotten and that I hope I never will.
Rest in peace Sir John and thank you so much for being the Doctor I needed.
Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't
have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the
Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.