This is a cool “mini-episode” leading in to the upcoming Doctor Who 50th anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor.” It marks the return of Paul McGann as the eighth Doctor, who’s only appeared on screen one other time–in a made-for-TV movie from the 90s that was meant to revive the franchise for an American audience. It failed, but McGann’s performance was generally well regarded. His version of the Doctor is considered “canonical,” and he’s gone on to play the role in a number of audio stories.
The episode also provides an origin for John Hurt’s “War Doctor,” a heretofore unknown incarnation of the character who plays a pivotal role in ending the “Time War” between the Time Lords and their ancient foes the Daleks (an event referred to a number of times in the current BBC revival of the show). Hurt’s character is going to appear alongside the tenth (David Tennant) and eleventh (Matt Smith) Doctors in the 50th anniversary special.
I haven’t seen the 1996 TV movie, but this is enough to make me wish McGann had been given more opportunities to appear onscreen.