“Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of a lesser man to light the flame…”
Sir John Hurt is surely a man who needs no introduction, even if his Doctor didn’t get introduced to us properly until the show’s fiftieth-anniversary special. Known simply as the “The War Doctor” – or sometimes “Grandad” or “Captain Grumpy” – Hurt’s incarnation is the mysterious regeneration who fought in the horrors of the Time War, and most importantly, the one who broke the promise. One thing he didn’t let us down on, though, was his indisputable talent and the impact he has had on the Doctor Who mythos.
Serving as the cliffhanger to Series 7 finale The Name of The Doctor, popping up as a post-regenerative reflection in The Night of The Doctor, and making his full debut in The Day of The Doctor, it’s safe to say that John Hurt was quite the talk of the town during 2013. Despite only having one true appearance on screen, Hurt managed to deliver a barnstormer of a performance (barnstormer, geddit?!) as the war-torn and battle-scarred Time Lord at conflict with himself over whether to commit genocide of his own people. Such a pivotal role would be a significant undertaking for any Doctor, but for a completely unknown face to step in and absolutely steal the show is a testament to just how amazing an actor Hurt really is.
Even though he was originally depicted as a villain, a mistake, a part of The Doctor’s history to fear and be ashamed of, John Hurt managed to also make The War Doctor a warm and likeable presence, playing a perfect contrast against the youthful zaniness of David Tennant and Matt Smith’s Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, and at times being the only one with his head screwed on right. A huge chunk of The Day of The Doctor’s most memorable moments are down to Hurt executing Steven Moffat’s lines as beautifully as you could ever hope, be it poignant drama or comedy genius. I mean, he’s right – what are they going to do against their enemies, assemble a cabinet at them?!
The War Doctor was such a hit, in fact, that his one-off appearance has since spawned all manner of spin-offs and extended material. Last year he returned in George Mann’s excellent Engines of War novel, and just recently John Hurt has lent his “posh, gravelly” tones to a brand new series of Big Finish audio adventures – the first of which, Only The Monstrous, is out now for your listening pleasure.
We can but hope this is just the beginning for Hurt’s involvement in the show, and even if he never appears on-screen again, the ramifications of his character continue to be felt to this day.
The Doctor may have wanted to forget him, but we certainly never will. Join us in extending a Happy 76th Birthday to The War Doctor himself – we hope you find some fun-filled ways to pass the timey-wimey, Sir John!