Doctor Who: John Hurt's 50th anniversary role explained?

News Louisa Mellor 4 Jul 2013 - 07:50

Doctor Who costume designer, Howard Burden, has explained precisely where John Hurt's role fits in with Who history...

Warning: contains spoilers for The Name of the Doctor and the 50th anniversary special.

It's the answer many were anticipating, though it hasn't arrived necessarily through the channel we expected to hear it. Speaking to the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall at a Doctor Who studio visit on their annual summer tour of Wales, costume designer Howard Burden described John Hurt's character as a "dark Doctor", going on to explain,

“There was a gap between Paul McGann playing the Doctor and Christopher Eccleston, when we didn’t see a regeneration, and John Hurt will fit into that gap. He is a past Doctor, not a future Doctor.”

That clears up some of the speculation surrounding Hurt's place in the Doctor continuum, including the number one question in our list of mysteries left behind by the series seven finale, The Name of the Doctor.

We've a sneaking feeling though, that there are more surprises in store...


Please, if you can, buy our charity horror stories ebook, Den Of Eek!, raising money for Geeks Vs Cancer. Details here.

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Most people had guessed this although it has been fun watching people come onto these message boards and try and argue he was the real first Doctor or the next Doctor, he clearly is the Doctor who fought the Time War. Still holding out for a glimpse of McGann and Eccleson in the episode so we can see the regenerations we missed although that may render the new regenerations boxset a bit dated with 3 extra regenerations before this year is out.

IS HE THE 8TH DOCTOR OR A NEW DOCTOR? Does that mean Eccleston is the 10th, Tennant the 11th and Smith the 12? (Didn't Clara say that Matt smith was the eleventh doctor?) Me confused!

John Hurt's Doctor, 11th and which other is regenerating?

Paul McGann into John Hurt is what he means, I think

No - Eccleston is still the "9th Doctor".

The series finale episode title, and Matt Smith's lament at the end of it, pretty much explained it all - the title "Doctor" is earned from helping people and the chap who McGann regenerated into, Hurt, knew he would do something so atrocious that he could not bring himself to take on that title.

I suspect he will take on one of the monikers given to him by Dalek legend: The Oncoming Storm, The Destroyer of Worlds, The Bringer of Darkness, The Predator etc.

Therefore, while he may be the 9th body of the Gallifreyan man who sometimes calls himself The Doctor, he will not actually be The 9th Doctor.

The question I want to know is, who leaked this info to Den of Geek - the Prince of Wales or the Duchess of Cornwall?

I'm going to be the first to get the obligatory mention in.
With this clarification does that mean that Andrew Scott would now be the 13th Doctor?

I still think that Hurt is the 8th Doctor at the end of his life. I think at one point the 8th Doctor just gave up the name "Doctor" because he had to do something he couldn't stand. Like in "the beast bellow" when the Eleventh Doctor says that once he killed the star whale, he'll have to find another name because he won't be the Doctor anymore.

Bingo, that's it exactly. And the BBC are hardly going to undo their own merchandising and publicity efforts this year by pushing the last 3 Doctors up a number.
He's a "Trousers of Time" alternate split-off Doctor, and there's plenty of room in Burden's comments for that interpretation (especially when you allow that he was explaining a complicated piece of fiction to people who he could reasonably assume weren't following the plot)

Bull. How the hell would that fit in with the First Question? The Doctor's real name, which the past three seasons have been aimed towards uncovering? Moffat wouldn´t step on RTD´s legacy of the Time War...

Still hoping this means John Hurt is the Valeyard

I thought he was 'the secret the Doctor has been running from all his life'?

yup Matt is still the 11 doctor but the 13th body (tenant used two).
So to me this could be why trenzelore is his burial place with only matt's doctor and only those below him as Matt's is the final incarnation.
The doctor reaching the end of his natural life and finding a way to beat the regeneration limit is as good a place to start a 50th story as any. Probably wrong but it would shut up the fan boys

But why didn't Clara know who the John Hurt Doctor was? She has been in the Doctors timestream being his guardian angel so to speak through out all his regenerations so surely she would have known who he was? Maybe not what he done as he says it his secret. I'm not convinced he is a legitimate regeneration or older 8th.

Watch the end of The Name of The Doctor again and you'll have your answer. Hurt was his (The Doctor's secret): the man who did unspeakable things (probably to end the Time War). Hurt IS The Doctor - the missing incarnation that Clara couldn't see because he was buried away & forgotten...until Great Intelligence got into his time stream and uncovered him. Essentially, he's the Doctor that came after McGann, making him the true 9th Doctor, except those terrible deeds robbed him of the title "Doctor", but he was the 9th Doctor none-the-less. Head scrambled yet? Of course, this means Matt is the 12th, and the next will be the last!

Anyone else think he might be the Nightmare Child? Last time it was mentioned, the Doctor was visibly scared; and only one thing scares the Doctor...... himself.

He also said that he thought Davros had died when his ship flew into the jaws of the Nightmare Child. Miniaturisation ray perhaps?

This is good.

Attack of the 50-Foot John Hurt

I'm a bit surprised by this, but in the main intrigued. Thinking about it, it can still tie in to why the Doctor's true name is hidden and what started the First running; some sort of prophesy/portent on Gallifrey (concerning what his true name represents perhaps) saw Doctors 1 through 8 running from it happening, before 9 onwards kept running from it having happened. A nice way of bringing the classic/new series dichotomy into the 50th episode too. The question is, though, what did he do (presumably) in the Time War that is even worse than the genocide of Time Lords and Daleks that we already know about? Is it what Clara read in Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, and will she remember it again now?

He was clearly nothing until this report, the air of superiority lots of people assumed when saying he couldn't possibly be pre-Hartnell or a future Doctor or anything but between eight and nine is what riled people, because there was absolutely nothing concrete to base that on.

But the Eighth Doctor was not hidden from Clara, was he? And from a production point of view, why would they not have him being a completely separate regeneration rather than an older version of someone who probably would have been happy to appear anyway?

I've & many others have said from the time the last episode aired he was clearly the incarnation who ended the Time war because of the QUOTES from the episode--“I said he was me,” the Doctor replies. “I didn’t say he was the Doctor.
My real name… that is not the point. The name I chose was the Doctor.
It’s like a promise you make. “He’s the one who broke the promise.” AND “What I did I did without choice. In the name of peace and sanity,” AND "But not in the name of The Doctor" Pretty Obvious, IMO that he HAD to be the one who ended the Time war and because of the carnage involved he didnt DESERVE to take the name "the Doctor" because he broke the promise that name implies--as River once said
"Doctor": the word for "healer" and "wise man", throughout the universe. We get that word from you, y'know.

I've been thinking about it since the end of The Name of the Doctor and this is my own take on the thorny issue of just Who is John Hurt (bad pun sort of inadvertent):

1 – We know that the Time War is timelocked, meaning nothing gets in or out (End of Time, Journey's End)

2 – People who have lived through a redundant timeline that gets hit by the Big Reset Switch have a habit of remembering the events that were wiped out (Last of the Time Lords, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS)

3 – In Rose, Ecclestone appears to have only recently regenerated (or at least not
seen a mirror since his regeneration).

Cutting the Gordian knot – the Doctor Hurt is an alternative 9th, as has been hinted by the production team. At some point prior to, or during, the Time War, McGann regenerates into Hurt.

He ends the Time War by wiping out both the Daleks and Time Lords and survives ('Not by choice', as Ecclestone says in Dalek). Somehow the timeline containing the Time War is rendered void and timelocked (perhaps a survivor was needed to set it up?), and time is reset to just before the outbreak of the war, with the Doctor back as McGann. Racked by guilt or somesuch dramatic contrivance, PMG regenerates into CE as the 'proper' 9th Doctor.

Or he's Omega/the Rani/Valeyard...

Just a thought.

It's a gap Doctor, and not an official "number Doctor", and that's what I've been saying since the beginning.

True I was secretly hoping the Moff had a clever twist coming our way so he was the future Doctor or something but he does tend to go with the answer that's in plain sight all the clues pointed to him being the Time War Doctor.

It's very much a matter of semantics I think. Yes he is the true ninth incarnation but as implied by that episode he is not considered by future incarnations to be a "Doctor". Therefore the numbering system remains in place. Matt Smith remains the 11th Doctor but is now the 12th incarnation of the man.

That's a very good thought, and one I hadn't seen before. Nice one.

If there's one thing I'd happily put money on, it's that the Doctor's greatest secret is *not* something we've known about since 2005...

NIghtwing: I still think Hurt is the 8th Doctor at the end of his life.

Is this despite having just read confirmation from the shows designers that he is not in this very article?

This doesn't sit well with me, why not just have McGann as the time war Doctor? I've loved Moffat's run but this just seems a bit contrived. Although, did we see 8 running about with the others at the end of the last episode? Can't say I noticed him...

Because he's a secret, that can't be an already established Doctor can it? Eight was in the opening sequence very briefly, just before Two.

Things as I read them is that there's a gap between McGann PLAYING the Doctor and Eccleston and we didn't see the regeneration. So it's still compatible with my thought. It would be different if the shows designers states that there's a gap between McGann's Doctor and Eccleston's Doctor.

Also he says that we basically didn't see McGann regenerate into Eccleston. Hurt will fill the gap and to me it doesn't mean that Hurt is a different Doctor than McGann's.

Hurt could be an older version of the 8th Doctor. Older than the one played by McGann, and therefore close to the end and to the regeneration into our well known 9th Doctor.

That's my theory since "The name of the Doctor", the costume of Hurt's Doctor seems like a mix between McGann's and Eccleston's Doctor so... I don't know.

Also having just another regeneration between McGann's and Eccleston's seems a bit too obvious to me, knowing how Moffat loves to made complicated storylines. ;-)

However I admit that English is not my primary language so maybe I'm missing something, but to me, my theory isn't incompatible with this article. (The Eighth Doctor is a past Doctor, isn't he?)

Fair enough. Personally, I'd rather the secret was what he did, not this hidden incarnation but I guess I'd be better waiting to see how it plays out before judging!

Nope, Tennant did not use two. Interesting theory though.

First thing I would say: To have us wonder for months who the hell Hurt can be. Showing McGann at the end of "The name of the Doctor" would be a surprise, for sure, but it's still a known face.

Also maybe they want to have an older actor (McGann is only 53, Hurt is 30 years older) to "show" that this Doctor lived a long time and had plenty of time to think about what he will finally have to do.

Again this is just my theory, my feeling about it. I may be 100% wrong but in my head it's consistent.

About that, I still have the feeling that they will sort this out with some stuff like "River gave a few additional regeneration to the Doctor when saving him in Let's kill hitler". A bit too easy, maybe, but it would make sense, especially since River can't regenerate anymore and didn't use all her regenerations, as far as we know.

I couldn't care less if they ever address the regen limit but to me it would be a waste of a good story not to address it and journeys end was a full regen, he just managed to syphon of some of the power but that was a regen (again though don't feel strongly)

Again, the so called spoiler is what we all knew.

Well, but she did... The Doctor said that she gave him all of her remaining lives. Problem solved.

You miss the point. He's not an aged 8th Doctor. He's the "real" 9th Doctor. But as he broke his promise to do good. He wasn't called Doctor. He's the lost incarnation between 8th and official 9th.

You name the amount & its a bet--FYI--Hurt has confirmed that is who he is playing BTW, in a very recent interview, so I'd suggest you make it a small bet :-)

I don't know dude, Smith's Doctor clearly says "He's the one who broke the promise", I doubt he'd be making a distinction between young 8th and old 8th. I doubt he (PM) would have been known as the Doctor up until a certain point and then lose the title only as his older self.
My guess regarding the crossover for 8th and 9th clothes is that he was not in the JH incarnation for long, maybe just for part of the Time War, still in 8th's fancy outfit but stuck a leather jacket over it. I have a feeling that the 50th may involve JH's "Doctor" redeeming himself.

because though he IS the incarnation that ended the Time War, he CANNOT claim the name "the Doctor" because of what he did.
She was "born to save the Doctor"--NOT the incarnation that is "his greatest secret"

He's the one who broke the promise can also mean that he's the one who used to be the Doctor and had to abandon/change his name because he did something awful or was planning to do it. Remember the beast bellow when Smith's Doctor is about to destroy the Star Whales brain and says something like "when I'm done with that I'll need to find another name because I won't be the Doctor anymore".

If he makes a distinction or not isn't known for sure.

Again I can be wrong. It's just a theory among a lot of others :-)

It's not clearly said. He fill the gap between McGann playing the Doctor and Eccleston and we didn't see a regeneration... but we didn't see anyone regenerating into nine as well as we didn't McGann regenerating. I got your point but I still have the feeling that this can be something else than a lost incarnation.

1. John Hurt is the 8th Doctor at the end of the time war because

a) his costume is clearly meant to indicate a transition from 8 to 9
b) Marketing - there is no f***ing way the people at the BBC want to have to renumber all the merchandise from Doctor 9 - 11; not a chance.
2. His little monologue at the end is clearly a reference to the Time War and what he had to do to stop it.

You've mis-understood me. It seems clear that his Doctor is between 8 and 9 now, sure, but are the extent of his actions letting the Daleks and Time Lords die in the war? No way, for the simple reason that that hasn't been a secret!

Oh yeah ! Technically you're right. But the most simple explanation is most of the time the correct one. Many people had ridiculously complex theories about who was John Hurt when I always said that he was the lost Doctor from the Time War which was logical according to the dialogues and made perfect sense. If he was to play an old 8th, why the hell wouldn't they have hired Paul McGann with a few make up to play him ?? It would have been much more logical ! If they hired another actor, it's because it's another Doctor.

True, it was really funny ! People were making incredibly complex theories for him to be an alternate timeline Doctor, the first Doctor, a future Doctor etc... When the most obvious and logical answer that we told them was the right one.

1a) Could have easily been a deliberate red herring, note how Ingrid Oliver's character wears the Fourth Doctor's scarf too!
b) Why would they need to renumber merchandise? What does that even mean? This makes no sense.
2. No it isn't.
3. This comment is kinda redundant now we know who he is, because a guy at the BBC has told us!

My work is done

For everyone trying to decide who this the Hurt Doctor will be watch Episode 1 of the revised series and when rose is trying to track down the doctor and she goes to the conspiracy guys house he shows her some pictures of him. One of these pictures is of the 9th after he saved a family from the Titanic if you look at what he is wearing it is pretty much the same outfit that the Hurt Doctor wears.....just saying

You mention in the episode 'Rose' how he looks into a mirror and comment on his face keep watching and youll see a black and white doctor of the Doctor after he saved a family from the Titanic. He is wearing the Hurt doctors clothes so my theory is that this family was a event that allowed him to regain his name of the doctor and his next travel was to the JFK shooting wear he picked up the sixties James Dean look......makes sense

Remember there is ANOTHER! doctor we haven't seen so technquically Clara didn't see TWO incarnations of the Doctor

And my guess about that is basically that if they would have hired McGann instead of Hurt, people wouldn't be making speculations like this. The cliffhanger would have been strong but not as strong as the actual one

OK, fair point--I DID misunderstand your meaning. The thing is--we KNOW about the TW, have seen a tiny "glimpse" into it near the end in TEOT, BUT--have never seen IT--I suspect we may, or they may be intending to somehow bring back the Time Lords, or ...something completely different. That said--dont you think killing his OWN people along with the Daleks is heinous enough to be the "doctor's greatest secret"? While WE know what he did, he has shared that info with companions very grudgingly & never in detail on screen--But hey--you may well be correct--Cheers

I still don't get the Time War secret doctor thing. All three modern doctors have owned up to ending the war. 11 says fear me, I killed them all referencing the Time Lords. Note the use of I, not he or some secret doctor. It makes more sense to me if the shameful thing the secret doctor did was start the war. That's a much more shameful act than ending it. Just saying.

So is he the one who caused the time war?

So is John hurts 'Doctor' the Valeyard since he was described as a "dark doctor"? And does the 50th take place in the real world or the Doctors timeline.

There's so many questions.

No, it doesn't, because the numbering system is to count how many bodies a time lord as been through... not how many they have been through under a particular name...

You can't save the Doctor without saving his greatest secret... if Hurts Doctor had died, then all future ones from that point would have never existed, regardless of the moniker he used.

In all fairness, there was no way he could have been a pre-Hartnell Doctor... he VERY clearly states on a few occasions, exactly how many bodies he had had, with Hartnell's Doctor stating "I am the first... the ORIGINAL, you might say!" And also "Goodness gracious me, so there are Five of me now!?", both quotes from The Five Doctors.

People need to realise that the 12 regenerations of a Time Lord are NOT linked to the moniker that the Time Lord is using, it is a part of his bodies natural cycle and the 13th body, REGARDLESS of name, is the last body of a Time Lord... unless he was offered a further set of regenerations by the Time Lord Council, which was a technology they had, but that they outlawed, unless the right was specifically granted by the High Council.

That said, the High Council is now trapped in the Time War and there is no longer anyone to stop the Doctor from utilizing the technology to add further regenerations.

But I digress, there IS concrete evidence to refute that Hurt came before Hartnell. CONSISTENT concrete statements throughout the series as to how many bodies the Doctor had inhabited.

This means that, regardless of NAME, Matt Smith is STILL the 12th incarnation of the Doctor, meaning his regeneration will take us to the Doctors LAST NATURAL body, because Hurt is the true 9th incarnation... again... regardless of NAME used.

I hate to be the author of one of those wanky "rule one: the Doctor lies" comments, but...

Well. If you want. Wait and see ;)

Finally! But now I want to know- will Tennant ever return after the 50th anniversary? I hope so.

I'm with you. BIg Finish are spending so much effort right now on McGann's final days (he's becoming darker and more bitter), so I don't think that Hurt has anything to do with the Time War. My personal theory is that Hurt is the personification of all the times the Doctor has not lived up to his chosen name - letting innocent people die, leaving death and destruction in his wake - not just in the Time War, but in the 50 years that we've known him. This would explain why Clara never saw him as she popped into the 11 Doctors' lives, and it would also explain his age, i.e. this non-Doctor has always just been there, lurking under all the charismatic regenerations. I hope it's nothing to do with the Time War, actually; it's such a part of fan lore now that digging it up will please only the fans and not many others. It's not just our show - it needs to be everybody's.

I think she was one incarnation of the Doctor she never met. If his existence was primarily within the time war period then much of his life would have been cut off from the main time continuum.

Kinda already guessed that. But it's nice to have it confirmed.

So that means the dr is on his last regen after all.

Except Matt's replacement is about to be named.

Yes he did, when he got exterminated in the Davros episode.

I know the episode you're talking about, but that doesn't count as a regeneration...go back and watch and listen to the explanation Tennant gives.

It was a full regen, apparently he just chose not to change form (first time ever) as he liked his DT incarnation, I have seen this episode thousands of times, it's one of my all time faves of new who because, well, er, Davros........

He syphoned the remaining energy into his hand. Stupid, ridiculous RTD was definitely not a full regeneration and certainly doesn't count towards the 12 that Time Lords get.

He would.

Well, that's your opinion, but I'm quite sure dr 10 specifically states it was a full regen. But anyway, any news on MS's replacement?

He never states that, my friend. Anyway, he didn't regenerate. His cells did not regenerate...he stayed as Tennant, so how can that count as a regeneration? Simple logic seems to solve this one.

yes, I'm saying it could be an interesting story how he gets that next regeneration, I doubt they would end the series because they hit the regen limit, I'm siply saying it is a good story to explore and would be a shame to waste it on a one off remark as to why there is no limit anymore

Technically Matt Smith is the Valeyard. The Valeyard is the evil side of the twelfth doctor as John Hurt is now the ninth that moves the latest three up one

Just had a theory: when the doctor said that hurt "is his secret", what if the use of the word secret was another way of saying that he is the real name (the doctors secret, I mean come on , he never tells anyone his name),

Bit confusing?

You do realize that the Doctor is the Doctor? He's the same person; it's the actor that changes. Been that way for about 50 years now.

Perhaps John Hurt is the Timelord before William Hartnell's incarnation chose to call himself the Doctor.

All of doctor who has just been ruined by the 50th, they broke so many rules that is cannot work with everything previous

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