It was announced that John Hurt sadly died on 28 January 2017.
The “War Doctor” was the post-eighth incarnation of the renegade Time Lord known as the Doctor. (The Night of the Doctor) This incarnation, originally young and robust, disowned the name of the Doctor due to his predecessor realising that a warrior was more appropriate for the unforgiving scope of the Time War. He would spend countless years waging war, aging significantly more than any other incarnation shown before.
BORN FOR THE BATTLE
After the Eighth Doctor crash-landed during the Time War, he was revived temporarily by the Sisterhood of Karn. They offered to control his regeneration so that he could become the person he needed to be to end the Time War. Initially he refused, but after witnessing the death of Cass (the starship’s pilot, who refused the Doctor’s help because he was a Time Lord) he accepted their help and asked them to make him a warrior. After drinking a potion offered by the Sisterhood, he regenerated into his new incarnation, who promptly rejected the name of the Doctor, declaring, “Doctor no more”. (The Night of the Doctor)
The Sontarans told legends of the Doctor leading Time Lords into battle. (The Sontaran Stratagem) The 10th Doctor told the Cult of Skaro that he survived the Time War “by fighting, on the front line”, mentioning the fall of Arcadia as one of the battles he was present at. ( Doomsday)
MEETING WITH THE ELEVENTH DOCTOR
The War Doctor in his own timeline. (The Name of the Doctor)
The Eleventh Doctor, upon coming into contact with this incarnation, spurned the very memory of him. He went so far as to suggest this incarnation did not even hold the moniker of “the Doctor” due to his actions in life. He explained to Clara that his real name was not the point; he chose the name “the Doctor” and explained that the name a person chose was like a promise. This unknown incarnation was “the one who broke the promise.” He described him as “my secret.” This unknown incarnation responded by defending those actions, stating that what he did, he did “without choice” and “in the name of peace and sanity.” The Eleventh Doctor acknowledged that as true, but rebutted that it had not been “in the name of the Doctor.” As he carried Clara away, the unknown incarnation turned around and watched them with a sombre stare. (The Name of the Doctor)
The exact circumstances behind the War Doctor death are unknown. The Doctor’s tenth incarnation implied that this incarnation demise had been caused by the events of the Last Great Time War as he would later state that his ninth self was “born in battle”. (Journey’s End)
The War Doctor appeared old and bedraggled, wearing a distressed leather overcoat and a waistcoat. (The Name of the Doctor) His oldest article of dress was a bandolier across his left shoulder, taken off the body of Cass and equipped as an instrument for battle by him mere seconds after his regeneration was finished.
As shown immediately after his regeneration, this Doctor actually regenerated to a very young age, and seemed to have aged far more than any previous incarnation (other than the first) during his life. (The Night of the Doctor)
Night of the Doctor
The War Doctor at the start of his life. (The Night of the Doctor)
This incarnation originally had a stern, shaven and determined face with a head of dusty brown hair. (The Night of the Doctor) However, after spending an inordinately long period fighting in the Time War, he became jaded and tired, with pronounced wrinkles and weary eyes. His hair colour turned entirely to a deep silver, which he slicked up in peaks at the top of his head. The elderly War Doctor also allowed himself to grow a full beard; he was the only incarnation to normally sport facial hair, rather than go clean-shaven, further distancing him from the other lives of the Time Lord. (The Name of the Doctor)
Behind the scenes
Hurt, aged 73 when he first appeared on screen, is the oldest actor to portray the Doctor upon their debut appearance. The second oldest would be William Hartnell, who was 55 years old when the show premiered in 1963.
Strax describes this incarnation of the Doctor as having “the look of a battle hardened warrior.” (Strax Field Report: The Doctor’s Greatest Secret)
This incarnation of the Doctor is never named during The Night of The Doctor itself, but is described as the War Doctor in the end credits.
Though John Hurt was 73 years old when he debuted as this incarnation of the Doctor, special effects were used to blend archive material of the actor from earlier in his life to depict the War Doctor with a younger appearance at birth.
The War Doctor also shares certain characteristics with the Valeyard. Most particularly, he’s a darker version of the Doctor who rejected the name of ‘The Doctor’ and the expectations that go with it.
“Oh for heavens sake, Gallifrey stands!”