John Hurt at Rome film festival.

John Hurt ‘Doctor Who’ Role As The War Doctor One Of His Many Amazing Performances

For many Doctor Who fans, the John Hurt Doctor Who role as “The War Doctor” was one of the most exciting incarnations of the character we’ve seen. With Hurt’s tragic passing on Friday following a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer – as reported by the Associated PressDoctor Who fans and other admirers of John Hurt’s many amazing performances over the decades are grieving the loss of this remarkable actor.

John Hurt receives knighthood for drama, including the John Hurt Doctor Who role.
John Hurt receives knighthood for drama, including the John Hurt Doctor Who role. [Image by Steve Parsons/WPA pool/Getty Images]

Of course, John Hurt was far more than just The War Doctor. For one thing, he was actually Sir John Hurt, having been knighted by the queen in July, 2015, for his services to drama over his six decades long career in the acting industry. In these six decades, Hurt appeared in more than 200 movies and television shows.

John Hurt had memorable parts in movies like A Man for All Seasons, the Harry Potter films, The Elephant Man, Hellboy and – of course Alien. In fact, the famous scene in Alien in which Hurt died – as one of the titular aliens bursts out of his stomach – was later repeated hilariously by Hurt in the Mel Brooks’ Star Wars parody Spaceballs.

John Hurt also starred in – or made appearances in – countless television series over the course of his career, from his role as a dragon in the Merlin series to his most recent small screen appearance in The Last Panthers. But for Doctor Who fans, he is best remembered as The War Doctor.

The John Hurt Doctor Who Appearance

There is no denying that, when John Hurt took on the role of The War Doctor, he helped save the 2013 Doctor Who 50th anniversary “Day of the Doctor” special from a serious problem. Steven Moffat’s 50th anniversary plans for Doctor Who had apparently initially relied on the idea that Christopher Eccleston would return to play his incarnation of Doctor Who, alongside David Tennant and Matt Smith.

John Hurt Doctor Who event with a Dalek attending.
John Hurt ‘Doctor Who’ event with a Dalek attending. [Image by Eddie Mulholland – WPA Pool/Getty Images]

But when Eccleston chose not to reprise his role in the show, it must have been obvious to Moffat that a two-person Doctor Who 50th anniversary special featuring only Tennant and Smith just wouldn’t do the long-running television series justice. So the writing team for the project quickly created The War Doctor to take up the slack.

This newly minted “lost Doctor” actually turned out to be one of the most intriguing and powerful versions of Doctor Who we’ve seen in either the original or new series. The John Hurt Doctor Who offered us a badly damaged version of the character who had been forced to abandon almost everything he believed in to save the universe from the Daleks – and then from his fellow Time Lords on Gallifrey – during the last of the Time Wars.

Doctor Who As Played by John Hurt

Doctor Who not only used guns in Hurt’s version of the character, he was apparently willing to kill millions when he deemed it necessary – including millions of Time Lord women and children. For all of the darkness that Matt Smith – and then later Peter Capaldi – tried to bring to the role of Doctor Who, none of them were as dark, lonely and hopeless as John Hurt’s War Doctor.

And that’s one of the things that made the character so compelling. Yet, throughout the 50th anniversary special, we also see that the John Hurt Doctor Who still retained his spark of “humanity” despite the horrors of war. The recognition by the viewer that this was still the Doctor made it almost painful to watch Hurt – as Doctor Who – doing things you knew the character didn’t want to do, but that he did anyway out of necessity.

And in the end, that’s what made the redemption and renewal of the John Hurt Doctor Who so uplifting for the audience. In the closing moments of the anniversary special, Hurt wonderfully portrays the relief and joy the character felt when the weight of having to destroy entire worlds was lifted from him and he could become just The Doctor again, without being forced to append “War” to the title.

[Featured Image by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images]