Doctor Who mini-episode takes off online

The eleven doctors of Doctor Who who have appeared over the 50 years the series has run.
The eleven doctors of Doctor Who who have appeared over the 50 years the series has run.

The internet exploded overnight with the release of an epic Doctor Who mini-episode that revealed key details about the character's past and saw the return of a beloved actor.

The Night of the Doctor was released nine days ahead of the full The Day of the Doctor episode, which will mark 50 years since the series began.

>>>Spoiler Warning<<<

The episode featured the regeneration of the Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann, into John Hurt as The War Doctor.

McGann's only previous outing as the Doctor on screen was in the 1996 telemovie, although he has played the role in dozens of audio adventures.

His appearance delighted fans of the classic series, who took to social media to discuss the long-awaited for reveal of how the Eighth Doctor "died".

Written by series supremo Steven Moffat, the six-minute-long mini-episode begins with McGann's Doctor appearing on board a plummeting spaceship and endeavouring to help the pilot escape.

However, she refuses to enter the Doctor's TARDIS, accusing he and fellow Timelords of committing war crimes as part of their war against the Daleks.

After the spaceship crashes on the planet Karn, the Doctor is told by a cult of women that he must join the Time War, and that they can help direct his next regeneration.

The Eighth Doctor chooses to become a warrior, rejecting his long-standing role as a pacifist.

He then regenerates into a young John Hurt, an effect achieved using archival footage.

The mini-episode confirmed a popular online theory which had been doing the rounds since Hurt was revealed as the Doctor at the end of Series 7.

Christopher Eccleston played the Ninth Doctor when the series rebooted in 2005, but his regeneration was never shown.

Hurt is therefore a previously secret Doctor between the Eighth and Ninth.

The Tenth and Eleventh Doctors (David Tennant and Matt Smith) will star alongside Hurt in The Day of the Doctor, which is screened on Prime on November 24.

Matt Smith will end his time as the Doctor at the end of this year, to be replaced in 2014 by Scottish actor Peter Capaldi.

Excitement over the Doctor Who anniversary is building to fever pitch in the UK, with any revelation about the show widely shared on social media.

Producers managed to keep McGann's appearance in the mini-episode secret, although the actor had given away some hints.

On November 11, McGann posted a picture of John Hurt in his classic role of the Elephant Man on Twitter, saying "Don't want to start a rumour, but I think [he] looks like me."