…aka the Hurt!Dctor. When he was first introduced, there was a lot of worry about what to call him, since we weren’t told quite where in the lineup he falls - in fact, just about all we were told in “the Name of the Doctor” is that we shouldn’t call him…the Doctor. Well, that’s helpful. And so, the Warlock. We all remember John Hurt as the Dragon from Merlin (it’s funny because the Doctor is canonically Merlin) so it seems appropriate. But also, the word warlock comes from the Old English waer-loga meaning Oathbreaker. What better epithet for “the One Who Broke the Promise”? But…now that we’ve seen “Day of the Doctor” (and, seriously, if you haven’t seen “Day of the Doctor” yet stop reading right now ) does the name still apply? He’s no longer the Oathbreaker… but on the other hand, that’s not what Warlock means anymore either - it means Magic Man. Characterization marches onwards, and so too does language, and it continues to be extraordinarily apt. It’s only one brief moment of lateral closure away from “War Doc” (in my dialect at least) which is what we’re apparently supposed to be calling him, and 8.5 is both clunky and inaccurate (contrast Doctor 2.5 in “the Ten Doctors.”) So, I’m going to stick with Warlock, primarily for convenience, but also for aptness, as I’ve said.
…It suddenly occurs to me that if it’s not the final Doctor who becomes Merlin, it would make so much sense for it to be the Warlock. Remember Badon and his mighty arts, after all. The Merlin Doctor was/will be a warrior and a support to warriors, and the Warlock already has trouble calling himself the Doctor. We still don’t know how he escaped Morgaine’s time trap, but then, he does tend to be rather good at that sort of thing. That’s my new headcanon at any rate. Discuss at your leisure. (And then draw me fan art because I need this…)
The first remarkable thing about the Warlock is how totally unexpected he is. First off, he’s a regeneration nobody knew was even there until we suddenly encounter him in the Doctor’s mind. And at that time he is present as gruff and grim, dark and possibly Valeyardy, the part of himself the Doctor would rather forget. He even has a beard. That guy’s just gotta be bad new. Except that he’s…not. Not even remotely. He’s old and tired. He’s kind and sweet and soft-spoken. He’s contemplative and practical. The one thing he’s not is broken and angry. And that’s a huge thing. He doesn’t push the proverbial button because he’s all broken and angry - he (well later doctors) is all broken and angry because he pushed the proverbial button. Despite the horrors of the Time War, he’s still very much the adorable, hopeful Doctor we all know and love. It’s kind of mind-blowing.
I don’t normally tend to comment overmuch on the Doctor’s age, but the Warlock is old. He’s old and he has gotten old - we saw the Eighth Doctor regenerate into a young man, after all. This is something we haven’t seen since the First Doctor. And there is a very Hartnell sort of vibe to the Warlock overall, down to Famous Last Words and a general ethos of Hey You Kids Get Off My Lawn. And chief among You Kids are, naturally, his own replacements. In deliberate call back to “the Three Doctors,” he plays the older, wiser, and more sedate and dignified counterpoint to the clowning of his future selves, despite being significantly younger, strictly speaking. But where Two and Three were very respectful and deferential towards the First Doctor, Ten and Eleven are more frightened (and ashamed) of the Warlock than anything else. But then, of course, they know something he doesn’t (which is rather the point, really). The Warlock is at the end of something. He’s old and tired, and more than that - weary. This makes him sort of slow and deliberate. He’s not expecting to survive - he even says “I don’t have a future.” But even so, he’s seeing it through and doing what has to be done.
But we know, of course, that he does have a future - we’ve been watching it for eight years. And in true Doctorly fashion, he’s (initially) pretty unimpressed with it. But he’s there to observe and evaluate that future, and he does just that, noticing the good and the bad, and the just plain silly. The way I’ve been phrasing it is “John Hurt says all the things I’m always thinking,” but in her review dimensionsintime puts it even better - he represents the voice of the classic fandom, and does it in an overwhelmingly positive way, which nevertheless does not detract from the worthiness of the post-2005 series. He calls the newer Doctors on their shenanigans - seriously omg the screwdriver posing was the very best thing - but he has the wisdom to know it must be for a reason, and the perspicacity to see the depth behind it. “What is it that makes you two so ashamed of behaving like grown-ups?” He takes them to task for their ridiculousness while seeking to understand and perhaps even embrace it, and ultimately needing their approval and acceptance. He is judging them - and while they’re different (and different from each other, of course) he judges them to be, in fact as well as name, the Doctor. And they, in turn, return the favor.
The Warlock really does have the most amazing perspicacity. Perhaps it’s because he does more watching and listening than talking. He doesn’t say much, but every single word out of his mouth is utterly golden. And he figures out the other two Doctors flawlessly (to be fair, he does have a bit of an advantage in that department), both their strengths and their weaknesses. And he makes the hard call, for the right reasons. And his relationship, brief as it is, with Magical Billie Piper, is absolutely beautiful. Not only does he talk to her, he listens to her. He’s willing to learn the lesson she has to teach, and to make an informed decision, but not run from it. I’ll talk about her another day, but it’s worth noting that you’ve got a Weapon of Unspeakable Destruction with a conscience (frickin Time Lords do not get me started) - only the Doctor could have used the Moment, because only the Doctor has the good sense to have that conversation. (See also: Nemesis).
I also have to say, only the Doctor would steal a doomsday weapon he didn’t actually know how to activate. I love that so much. He’s not all-knowing, he’s not all powerful, he’s just an old man doing the best he can in impossible circumstances. He’s very serious, perhaps the most serious of the lot, but he doesn’t take himself too seriously. And in his seriousness and the seriousness of situation, he doesn’t cut himself off from real joy. His joyful relief at the possibility of a Third Option is the single most beautiful thing in the whole episode. Even giving up everything - his world, his person, his identity - he never gives up his capacity for joy. Despite his protestations, he never stops being the Doctor, the Magic Man.
I’m gonna come out and admit, the Warlock is a serious contender for my favorite Doctor. He’s genteel and straightforward, well-spoken and perspicacious, witty but not cruel, and just…completely adorable. No wonder that I adore him.