Thanks to the wonders of Big Finish, even Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor has enjoyed a solid degree of prolificacy, despite that incarnation only appearing in one TV Movie (1996) and the 2013 short, The Night of the Doctor. This surely makes John Hurt’s War Doctor the shortest-serving incarnation of the Time Lord.
Fortunately, there’s still plenty of material featuring the War Doctor to enjoy.
Allow the DWC to guide you through his appearances on TV, in audio, and the printed page. We’re sticking to official products, so won’t include any fan fiction. Otherwise, we’d be here all day! This is Part One, dealing with his adventures on television, in audio, and prose.
Minor spoilers ahead, so read ahead at your peril. (All appearances correct at the time of writing.)
The Name of the Doctor
The first ever appearance of the War Doctor came in this 2013 tale, the conclusion of Doctor Who Series 7 featuring Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor.
Lured to Trenzalore, the Doctor doesn’t have a chance to outwit the Great Intelligence (Richard E. Grant) before the disembodied baddie jumps into the Time Lord’s time stream. Fortunately, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) is there to save the day, in doing so seemingly sacrificing her life. But the Doctor won’t let that be the end and he follows her into his own time stream.
There, they meet a forgotten version of the Doctor – one who doesn’t even take that title.
The Night of the Doctor
In the aforementioned 2013 short, the Eighth Doctor tries to save Cass (Emma Campbell-Jones) as her ship crashes on the planet, Karn.
But she’s repulsed by all Time Lords and together, they die together.
Naturally, that’s not the end. The Sisterhood of Karn revive the Doctor for 4 minutes and it’s up to him whether he dies or regenerates – this time, as a warrior, finally heading into the Time War.
We get a brief shot of the War Doctor, reflected in a bronze chalice, accompanied by the voiceover, “Doctor no more.” The image is likely from Crime and Punishment (1979), in which Hurt played Raskolnikov.
The Day of the Doctor
The 50th anniversary special saw three Doctors (initially, at least) team up against the Zygons as the shape-shifting aliens plan to invade the present… from the past.
The War Doctor is there, of course, in his only full appearance, watching on as his future incarnations – “the man who regrets, and the man who forgets” – do whatever they can to avoid a catastrophe on Earth. There, he makes a decision. And so does the Eleventh Doctor.
Regret is a terrible thing, especially when it’s over something you’ll never be able to live with…
In something of a surprise, the War Doctor is revisited in a flashback to The Day of the Doctor.
The TARDIS takes the (unconscious) Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara, and Orson Pink (Samuel Anderson) to a barn on Gallifrey, and when Clara ventures out, she finds a young Doctor, crying in his bed. Clara makes the connection and assures him that “one day, you’re going to come back to this barn, and on that day, you’re going to be very afraid indeed… But that’s okay. Because if you’re very wise and very strong, fear doesn’t have to make you cruel or cowardly… Fear can bring you home.”
The BBC only reuses footage from The Day of the Doctor, but it’s a poignant way of wrapping up the 50th anniversary celebrations, albeit in 2014.
The Day of the Doctor
Released in 2018, Steven Moffat adapted his own script into a Target novelisations, and so added in a lot more details, more characters, more drama, more stuff to be considered controversial.
The Tenth Doctor is hunting shape-shifting Zygons in Elizabethan England. The Eleventh is investigating a rift in space-time in the present day. And one other – the man they used to be but never speak of – is fighting the Daleks in the darkest days of the Time War. Driven by demons and despair, this battle-scarred Doctor is set to take a devastating decision that will threaten the survival of the entire universe… a decision that not even a Time Lord can take alone.
On this day, the Doctor’s different incarnations will come together to save the Earth… to save the universe… and to save his soul.
John Hurt is depicted alongside David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor and Matt Smith’s Eleventh on the cover, with art by Anthony Dry.
Engines of War
This is the War Doctor’s only full-length original novel, written by George Mann and released in hardback and digital in 2014, and paperback in 2015.
The Great Time War has raged for centuries, ravaging the universe. Scores of human colony planets are now overrun by Dalek occupation forces. A weary, angry Doctor leads a flotilla of Battle TARDISes against the Dalek stronghold but in the midst of the carnage, the Doctor’s TARDIS crashes to a planet below: Moldox.
As the Doctor is trapped in an apocalyptic landscape, Dalek patrols roam amongst the wreckage, rounding up the remaining civilians. But why haven’t the Daleks simply killed the humans?
Searching for answers the Doctor meets ‘Cinder’, a young Dalek hunter. Their struggles to discover the Dalek plan take them from the ruins of Moldox to the halls of Gallifrey, and set in motion a chain of events that will change everything. And everyone.
This short story was part of 2014’s The Shakespeare Notebooks, as something of a follow-up to The Shakespeare Code (2007).
This hardback collection features riffs on many of the Bard’s plays, written by numerous writers and starring many incarnations of the Doctor.
A Prologue stars the War Doctor as The Chorus, the first character from Henry V, who regales the tale of the Time War.
The Heroes and Monsters Collection (2015) opens with The Stranger, in which writer, Gary Russell cleverly plays with the chronology of the Time War.
The War Doctor says he abandoned his name in the Fifth Segment of the War, placing The Night of the Doctor relatively late on in the confrontation (at least in the non-timey-wimey, linear sense which humans are accustomed to).
He travels back to an earlier part of the Time War in order to rescue Gallifreyan children who are hiding inside the planet to escape the Daleks.
Engines of War
Here’s a brilliant audiobook of George Mann’s aforementioned novel, Engines of War.
It’s read by Nicholas Briggs (perfect for a story starring lots of Daleks!) and has a running time of just under 8 hours. It’s well worth a listen, even if you’ve already read the book. It’s produced by Neil Gardner with sound design by Simon Hunt. Michael Stevens is the Executive Producer.
The Day of the Doctor
That Nick Briggs gets around, doesn’t he!
Here he is, providing the audio reading of Steven Moffat’s The Day of the Doctor Target novelisation.
Released in June 2018, just two months after the physical book hit shelves, the audio has a duration of 7 hours 26 minutes (it is a large book) and can be enjoyed via download services like Audible.
Only the Monstrous (2015)
The first of four Big Finish box-sets features John Hurt’s return as the War Doctor! All stories in this set are written by Nick Briggs.
With the Time War raging between the Time Lords and the Daleks, enveloping all of time and space in the conflict, the Doctor knew he could stand on the sidelines no more. To that end, he renounced his name and pledged to do what was necessary to bring about peace.
But the fire of the war so vast and so fierce is not easily extinguished. Its strategies, its betrayals, its sheer devastation will severely test the Doctor who knows he can be the Doctor no more.
And as the battlefields seem to stretch on for eternity, he will now face new and terrifying, unthinkable dilemmas…
For, in this unrelenting Time War, no one is left untainted. And, perhaps, no one except the truly monstrous can survive its ferocity.
1.1 The Innocent: As the Daleks mass their time fleet for a final assault on Gallifrey, something ancient is waiting for them at Omega One. And a sacrifice must be made.
Arch-manipulator and Time Lord strategist, Cardinal Ollistra receives shock news of the Doctor’s death.
Meanwhile, on the planet Keska, a parochial war has returned to plague a peaceful civilisation after decades of tranquillity. But how can such a war have any connection with the great Time War which, at any one moment in the whole of eternity, could threaten to tear the universe apart?
If only the Doctor were still alive.
1.2 The Thousand Worlds: With the high-ranking Time Lord Seratrix behind enemy lines, the War Doctor finds himself assigned to a rescue mission. But any room for manoeuvre is severely restricted by an area of space known as the Null Zone.
Times have changed on Keska, and a countdown to destruction is beginning.
But who are the Taalyens and what is their part in the great and terrifying Dalek plan?
1.3 The Heart of the Battle: Trapped in a citadel swarming with Daleks, the Time Lord rescue force must find a way to overcome insurmountable odds. With the Daleks apparently planning to rule the Null Zone, perhaps their thirst for universal conquest and victory has been quenched…
The War Doctor doesn’t believe so – but how can he prove it without destroying any chance of peace?
As the countdown to the destruction of Keska proceeds, a deadly choice must be made… A choice that will define this Doctor, and perhaps forever cast him in the role of ‘monster’.
Infernal Devices (2016)
In the midst of the Time War, Daleks and Time Lords bring to bear all the weapons they can find, unleashing untold devastation. But if just one of these infernal devices can provide an advantage – however small – that could mean victory.
While the Daleks experiment with new ways of waging war, Cardinal Ollistra seeks out arcane and mysterious armaments of her own. And she will have the assistance of Gallifrey’s greatest warrior – regardless of whether he is willing to help.
As both sides think the unthinkable, the consequences for the universe could be catastrophic. But the Time War must be won, at any cost…
2.1 Legion of the Lost by John Dorney: In a time of war, every means of victory must be explored. In the Time War, the unthinkable must be thought, and neither side can afford to be squeamish about their methods.
When the destruction of an obscene weapon leads to the Time Lord once known as the Doctor uncovering a secret Gallifreyan initiative, he cannot believe what is being considered.
Should victory be sought at any cost? Or are there worse possibilities than losing to the Daleks..?
2.2 A Thing of Guile by Phil Mulryne: The Daleks are developing a secret weapon on Asteroid Theta 12. It is imperative that their plans are uncovered.
Cardinal Ollistra has her hands full studying the range of ancient and mysterious armaments the universe has to offer, but she makes it a personal mission to investigate the Dalek project.
On this dangerous assignment, there is one particular Time Lord she wants at her side – and he will be accompanying her whether he wants to or not.
2.3 The Neverwhen by Matt Fitton: On an isolated world ravaged by battle, time itself has become a weapon, laying waste to all who live and die there. Arms and technology are in a state of flux – and it seems that everlasting war is their only option.
The arrival of one battered Type Forty TARDIS inside this nightmare offers hope to the combatants trapped within.
But when he discovers the truth, the horrors of the Neverwhen will shock even the War Doctor…
Agents of Chaos (2016)
The Time War between Daleks and Time Lords rages across the history of the cosmos. Nowhere is safe. Worlds are ravaged by battles beyond their understanding, but certain other races hunger to fight in the ultimate conflict.
When Earth comes under threat, the War Doctor is drawn into Ollistra’s schemes once again. But the wily Time Lord Cardinal has not foreseen every move. The Dalek Time Strategist has its own game-pieces in play, and when volatile forces with their own agenda join the fray, no-one can predict how the war might turn…
3.1 The Shadow Vortex by David Llewellyn: Cardinal Ollistra exploits the War Doctor’s affection for Earth to send him to East Berlin, 1961, on the trail of a Dalek agent. Lara Zannis has breached the planet’s quantum shield on a very special mission for the Dalek Time Strategist.
Caught between MI6 and the KGB, the War Doctor must first escape the Stasi before he can hope to stop Lara. Cold War scientists are about to make a breakthrough – the Daleks want control of the ‘Shadow Vortex’, and Agent Zannis can provide it.
3.2 The Eternity Cage by Andrew Smith: Sontarans are the ultimate warriors – so they believe – and the Time War the ultimate conflict. Denied that glory by Skaro and Gallifrey alike, General Fesk of the Eighth Sontaran Battle Fleet employs a dangerous strategy to draw both sides to the planet Rovidia and prove his forces worthy…
Meanwhile, the War Doctor leads a rescue mission, aided by Rovidian street-urchin Kalan. Neither Daleks nor Time Lords expect the Sontarans to be so fearsome a foe, until they uncover the secret of the Eternity Cage.
3.3 Eye of Harmony by Ken Bentley: In the aftermath of events on Rovidia, the Dalek Time Strategist is presented with a unique opportunity to strike a lethal blow to the heart of Gallifrey. A devastating power is set to be unleashed, and with agents in place ready to do the bidding of the Dalek Time Strategist, the future of the Time War could turn in an instant.
Trapped inside a critically-damaged Battle-TARDIS, hopelessly adrift in the Time Vortex, the War Doctor and his allies have a final desperate fight on their hands…
Casualties of War (2017)
The War Doctor and Cardinal Ollistra are stranded far from their Time Lord forces, with Daleks closing in, destroying all that stands between them. They must call on the help of new friends and old to fight their way back to the front lines. From the outer reaches of the galaxy, to the heart of Gallifrey itself, the Doctor finds casualties in every place the Time War has touched. Among them, a fighter, a travelling companion of the distant past, who remembers him quite differently. A warrior woman named Leela…
4.1 Pretty Lies by Guy Adams: Trapped and desperate, light years from their armies at the heart of the Time War, the War Doctor and Cardinal Ollistra discover that wherever they go, destruction follows. A war reporter named Schandel may provide the key to their escape, but it is often said that the first casualty of war is the truth. When the choice between grim reality and a hero’s story means life or death, will the Doctor allow Schandel to print the legend?
4.2 The Lady of Obsidian by Andrew Smith: As a Dalek Strike Fleet heads to destroy another defenceless world, the Doctor seeks help from a shadowy guerrilla force. The Time War leaves many casualties in its wake, and inside the Obsidian Nebula the monstrous Unlived are held at bay only by the ‘Lady’ and her dwindling band of fighters. The War Doctor soon finds himself at the Lady’s mercy, and two old friends face new revelations…
4.3 The Enigma Dimension by Nicholas Briggs: The Dalek Time Strategist has a new plan to ensure final victory in the Time War. As its forces gather for a huge assault on the enemy, ahead of the fleet something hovers above the planet of the Time Lords. And on Gallifrey itself, shadows move among the Cloisters. The Time Lords face a threat alien to their entire universe. To save their world, the War Doctor and his allies must enter the Enigma Dimension…
The Lost Magic
The New Series Adventures Audio Stories launched in 2008 with Pest Control; the range now spans three Doctors and features exclusive-to-audio original tales told by a wealth of stars, including David Tennant, Matt Smith, Catherine Tate, Arthur Darvill, Frances Barber, Meera Syal, Alexander Armstrong, and Nicola Bryant.
In May 2017’s The Lost Magic, writer, Cavan Scott takes the Twelfth Doctor – and pushes him through a degenerative cycle, meaning he revisits all his previous faces. And yes, that includes the War Doctor!
That’s it for now, but tomorrow, in Part Two, we look at the War Doctor’s appearances in comic books. And there are more than you think!