When Doctor Who returned in 2005, Christopher Eccleston was introduced as the Ninth Doctor. However, it remained unclear what happened to the Eighth Doctor, played by Paul Mcgann in the 1995 TV movie. It was still in continuity, but no regeneration from Mcgann to Eccleston was shown. It was only hinted that, perhaps, it had something to do with the Time War in which the Doctor fought in.
However, for the 2013 anniversary, the answers finally arrived.
We flashback to the life of the Eighth Doctor, older and slightly more haggard than he appeared in the TV movie.The Time War is raging across space and time, threatening all existence. Time Lords and Daleks alike have gone to desperate measures to win. The Eighth Doctor however, just wants to stay out of it.
A ship is crashing. The Doctor tries to help the young woman piloting the ship, Cass, by bringing her on board the TARDIS.
However, she soon discovers that he’s a time lord when he reveals the TARDIS is bigger on the inside. Disgusted as the species, she’d rather die than become his companion. The Doctor is unable to stop the ship crashing-and he’s on-board it too.
The ship crashes on the planet Karn, last seen in “The Brain of Morbius”, where the Doctor fought an undead Time Lord and was helped by the Sisterhood, a sort of breakaway sect of time ladies with an alchemy-based science.
They’re able to revive the Doctor, but Cass is dead. The Doctor has only a matter of time before he ‘dies’ again-and the Sisterhood have potions that can induce a regeneration. The Sisterhood urge him to give up being a “Doctor”, and become a Warrior. Disappointed that he failed to save Cass, and fearing he has no alternative, the Doctor takes the potion to induce a regeneration-to become the warrior the universe now needs.
“Physician, heal thyself.”
The Doctor’s regeneration results in a man who has resolved to become a warrior. This “War Doctor” then fights in the Time War against the Daleks.
Years pass from the Doctor’s POV. However, the Time Lords, even with the help of the War Doctor, are losing-badly. Gallifrey’s cities are under attack by the Daleks, and the fleet surrounds the planet.
Seeing no end in sight, the Doctor figures there is only one solution-the destruction of Gallifrey which will destroy both the Dalek’s fleet and Gallifrey itself, bringing the war to an end, although at great cost. He declares “No More”….
and then steals an object from Gallifrey’s weapon archives-the Moment, the “Galaxy eater” which, once activated, will consume Gallifrey. This is the moment that will haunt the Doctor forever.
However, perhaps there is hope for redemption in the Doctor’s future-and his past, as we’ll find out in the next installment which will deal in full with the rest of the 50th anniversary special, “Day of the Doctor.”