We've watched, we've pondered, we've poured, and now can proclaim: "The Night of the Doctor," a mini episode precluding the epic Doctor Who 50th Anniversary special "The Day of the Doctor," is a real potential win for the women of the Whoniverse. And not just because he's one man in a sea of women in the nearly 7-minute long video clip, but because of who those women really are. Allow me to explain.
In "The Night of the Doctor," we see Eight (Paul McGann, which: yay! Paul McGann is back! What an amazing and worthy surprise!) crash land with his rescuee-intended, Cass, into Karn. Prior to the times depicted in old AND new Doctor Who, Gallifrey and the Time Lords held domain over many colonies. One of these was Karn, a planet that became the home of the Sisterhood of Karn — the last remaining members of the Pythia.
Now, the Pythia is twofold: at once the name of a matriarchal governing body, but also the leader of that body. What most do not know is that, prior to Rassilon (the ruler of the Time Lords) coming into power, it was actually this very matriarch that ran Gallifrey: home to both Gallifreyans and Time Lords alike.
Gallifreyans evolved into Time Lords via exposure to the Time Vortex and the Untempered Schism over billions of years, but ultimately, the Time Lords functioned mostly as a class system/society on Gallifrey, due to Rassilon's interference. The Pythia had psychic powers, able to see into the future. With the rise of Rassilon, however, the Pythia's powers weakened and eventually the remaining women fled to Karn to form the Sisterhood of Karn, tasked with protecting the Elixir of Life and the Sacred Flame that bore it. But not before Pythia cursed the Time Lords with sterility, forcing the regeneration aspect of Time Lord life into effect.
The Sisterhood of Karn — the remaining members of the Pythia — are all women, tasked with the duty of producing the Elixir of Life. Heated by the Sacred Flame (located on Karn), its doings are fairly self-explanatory: it's a liquid that helps to extend the length of one's life. It also has healing properties, but is largely coveted for being the secret to immortality. In "The Night of The Doctor," it seems that the Elixir of Life has evolved and can now allow Time Lords self-directed regeneration.
The High Priestess of The Sisterhood of Karn was, for a time, named Ohica (previously encountered by the Fourth Doctor). But this is not her: the Priestess encountered by Eight, here, is named Ohila. But she is "in some way connected to Ohica," according to showrunner Steven Moffat. And it is she that enlightens Eight to the doings of the Sisterhood, and puts him on the path to self-directed regeneration, leading us to John Hurt's warrior-minded War Doctor.
The women have powerful psychic gifts, including precognition — the ability to perceive events which have not yet happened. And it is because of that Ohila creates a "warrior" version of the Elixir, allowing Eight to regenerate into John Hurt and bestow upon him the qualities he needs to finally end the Time War. And Precognition and flames and smoke have featured heavily on the series in relation to the women on it. Like the soothsayers seen in the episode "The Fires of Pompeii" (which featured a soothy pre-Amy Pond Karen Gillian and Doctor-to-be Peter Capaldi, interestingly enough...), whose minds were "opened" following the explosion of Vesuvius that opened a rift in time, echoing backwards and fowards through time, giving them precognitive powers and the ability to predict things, such as the return of Rose Tyler in later episodes.
It's like they say — behind every great man is an even more powerful woman. Or women. And you don't need to look too deeply into the facts at had to see the threads that tie all of this together.
After years and years of criticism surrounding the role of women — including numerous cries for, and speculative theories about, a female Time Lady to take over that bigger-on-the-inside blue box known as the TARDIS — on Doctor Who, it seems as though Moffat has many plans for women's role on the series. The use of women behind the scenes in this way may feel counterproductive to the large "cause" at hand, but actually reflects accurately on the role of many powerful women (such as...say...Madame De Pompadour perhaps? Somebody go ask Ten what he thinks!) throughout history, especially in the days before women balked at the roles they were given and took control of their own lives and bodies. Moffat has previously called his vision for the 50th anniversary as "huge" and "it won't just be one thing ... we'll be doing lots of stuff." Maybe that stuff is introducing a new outlook on women?
Taking it one step further, Moffat has also vaguely and ominously mentioned multiple times that, "It's quite a serious episode. We start to move the Doctor into a place, and you'll start to see we've been moving him into that direction for a while." Could that new place see a return of the Pythia to power in Gallifrey? The introduction of a female Time Lady? Or maybe yet... a female Doctor? Ohila did mention the ability to change sexes in her speech about the Elixir.
With so much attention and secrecy paid to the role of returning companion Rose Tyler, as well as the increasingly impressive power and influence wielded by the Doctor's female companions. Clara, after all, was the Impossible Girl, who heroically threw herself across time and space to save the Doctor's life every single time he was in mortal danger.
All of this caused us to pause for a ponder, and we can't help but wonder: is Doctor Who ushering in a new era of women in the driver's seat of the TARDIS? We still have no idea what will come from the 50th Anniversary, but something tells us the Sisters are doing it for themselves.