One of the best parts of Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary celebrations last year was the unexpected return of a Doctor few expected ever to see on their TV screens again. The Night of the Doctor minisode not only gave fans something they’d been clamoring to see — the Eighth Doctor’s regeneration — but it set up the Day of the Doctor special and gave actor Paul McGann one more chance to step into the time lord’s shoes. But as well received as McGann’s surprise return was, he’s not holding out hope that he’ll ever return to the role again.
In an interview with Doctor Who Magazine, McGann is honest and pragmatic about the fact that, while he enjoyed getting to play the Doctor again, it was the first time anyone from Doctor Who had invited him back to be a part of the show, and he doesn’t expect that to change going forward. McGann says:
Of course I’d be super enthusiastic if I got a similar offer. I’d be crazy not to be. I really loved doing it. But that was the first phone call — or any kind of contact — that I’d had since ’96 from anyone associated with Doctor Who. You have to see it from my perspective. I don’t expect the phone to ring. Why should I?
Am I the only one who feels really shitty that it took this long for Who to find a way, even if only a small one, to involve him in the franchise again? Prior to The Night of the Doctor, McGann played the Eighth Doctor only once in a visual medium, during the 1996 Fox Doctor Who TV movie that also starred Daphne Ashbrook as Dr. Grace Holloway, his (at the time) latest companion, and Eric Roberts as The Master. The TV movie was intended as a backdoor pilot which, if successful, would have resurrected the Doctor nearly a full decade before Russell T Davies and Christopher Eccleston managed it. Alas, the movie didn’t perform as Fox hoped and McGann was left as a one-off — until Night of the Doctor. He has done several Doctor Who audio dramas, and that’s great, but it’s not the same as getting to see him back on the TV screen.
Part of the frustration I feel for McGann stems from the fact that he was so damn good in those seven short minutes of Night of the Doctor. He was funny, he was dashing — he was, as one of his future selves would say, fantastic. Night of the Doctor, while tremendously awesome in and of itself, also made me long for an Eighth Doctor spin-off series. I want to see more of McGann’s Doctor. I want to see how he got from where we left off in 1996 to where we picked up in 2013, with the Doctor aboard a crashing spaceship and carrying the weight of many untold stories on his shoulders.
If a full spin-off series seems too ambitious, why not follow embrace an idea made popular in comic books? While the “current” Doctor continues his adventures in the main series, why not do occasional “one-shots” that serve up untold adventures of the earlier Doctors? Sure, Eccleston had made it pretty clear he’s got no interest in participating in the show again, but you just know David Tennant and Matt Smith would be game to step back into the TARDIS every once in a while.
Am I just dreaming? Why am I inside this pipe? Alas, while McGann isn’t totally ruling out the possibility of coming back if there’s a good reason for him to do so, he doesn’t sound like he’d be interested in the Eighth Doctor spin-off I’d give my eyeteeth to see. He continues:
You know what? I don’t expect to ever to be involved again. But I expect I’ll be surprised one day by something. That’s what Doctor Who‘s about. I expect to be surprised. You can never say never with this thing. But it would have to be of the same heart and magnitude, and proper, and true. I wouldn’t want to run away with the rights and make my own spin-off. You’re either in the Doctor Who family… or you aren’t.
All I know is, when the 60th anniversary rolls around, I’ll be crossing my fingers for an epic adventure starring David Tennant, Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi…and Paul McGann.
You can read the full interview with McGann in the current issue of Doctor Who Magazine, issue #472.