WHO's the Doctor? Paul McGann

Paul McGann in Doctor Who's 1996 feature length adventure Paul McGann starred in Doctor Who's 1996 feature length adventure

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Byronesque, brimming with potential and with the best Tardis: Paul McGann was Knowledge and Learning assistant producer Joseph Bell's gateway to the world of Who.

Besides hazy childhood memories of being taken around the exhibition at Longleat, I'm pretty sure my first introduction to the world of Doctor Who was watching the 1996 television movie. Now I'm older I'm able to see it for the quirky misfire of a backdoor pilot it was, but back then it was something incredible.

Fans often say that the first Doctor you encounter is 'your' doctor, and in many ways I think that's true. Therefore, although I'm not sure it's a popular view, I have to say it - Paul McGann as the Eighth incarnation of the Time Lord is 'my' Doctor.

Re-watching his sole on-screen adventure it's easy to find problems (and despite all my love for this version of the character I refuse to accept 'half human' as canon) but there is still something special there.

Magnetism
Joseph Bell Joseph Bell wonders (often) how Eighth Doctor became Ninth

Paul McGann has a great magnetism on screen and, alongside cancellation, one of the great tragedies in the series' history was him not being given the opportunity to do more. Even with just one story and a 'problematic' script he's still this wonderfully unusual byronesque take on the character.

I believe that the enduring charm of the series as a whole is down to the fact that it has the single greatest fiction format ever devised. It may not always live up to that promise, but the point is it has a set-up that can allow us to go anywhere at any point in time.

It's a series that, at its heart, is built around the idea of potential. What I've come to realise about the Eighth Doctor is that perhaps the greatest and most appealing aspect of his incarnation exactly mirrors that of the programme as a whole - the appeal of endless possibility.

More to explore

The series can do or be anything and so could the Eighth Doctor. He only got one on-screen adventure and, whilst some of that possibility has been looked at in various spin-off novels, comics and audio dramas, there is still so much more left open to question and exploration. How long was he around? Did he fight in the Time War? How did he become the Ninth Doctor?

Even now I spend far more time than is healthy wondering about things like this. A small part of me still even hopes that they will one day be addressed with an appearance in 'NuWho' and maybe even the 50th Anniversary special itself. [since this article was written, a new seven minute minisode, Night of the Doctor, was released on iPlayer, featuring McGann and explaining his fate].

So yes, you can have your 'popular' Doctors - even getting older and knowing better, I'll stick with the Eighth. He was my 'gateway' Doctor - my route into this wonderful world and for that I owe him a lot...or at the very least 500 words on a staff website.

Plus I'll happily argue with anyone who thinks he didn't have the best Tardis.

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