Does Night of The Doctor feature the strangest return in Who history?S

The first picture from this weekend's upcoming Doctor Who minisode The Night of the Doctor has been released online - and it might just hint at one of the most bizarre 'reappearances' in Doctor Who history. Wild Speculation beyond the cut!

The above image was tweeted by the official Doctor Who twitter account with the attached message:

Now, you might ask what the point of an ominous bunch of women in red dresses is, and how it relates to Classic-era Doctor Who. Well, let's cast our minds back to the 1976 Tom Baker classic The Brain of Morbius, and its own gang of red-dressed mysterious ladies: The Sisterhood of Karn.

Does Night of The Doctor feature the strangest return in Who history?S

The outfits in the publicity photo do bear a resemblance to the garb of the Sisterhood, sans the face makeup and the (honestly very silly) headgear. But the thing that ties them together is the outfit of the woman in focus, which displays a gold-threaded frontage with a similarity to the robes of Maren, the High Priestess of the Sisterhood portrayed by Cynthia Grenville (below left):

Does Night of The Doctor feature the strangest return in Who history?S

Now, this is all a bit of speculation - after all, other red-dressed female cultists in Doctor Who are available - but if these women are part of the Sisterhood of Karn, what could their presence mean?

In The Brain of Morbius, it was established that The Sisterhood had a long history with the Time Lords of Gallifrey - as guardians of Karn's Sacred Flame, the Sisterhood collected the water generated from underground springs on Karn that were heated by the natural flame which they referred to as an Elixir of Life. This valuable healing Elixir, according to the fourth Doctor, was sometimes solicited by Time Lords in times of dire need - such as when going through a particularly stressful Regeneration.

This little factoid, along with the minisode's description:

The 50th Anniversary features Matt Smith, David Tennant and a mysterious incarnation played by John Hurt. Only one appears in the mini episode, The Night Of The Doctor. But which?

Certainly sets Whovian alarm bells (or should that be Cloister Bells?) ringing - but it also got me thinking about this tantalising quote from John Hurt's Doctor in the recent TV trailer for The Day of The Doctor: "Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame.". If these women are members of the Sisterhood of Karn, and we're potentially dealing with John Hurt's incarnation rather than the Tenth or Eleventh Doctors... could this minisode set the scene for a troubled Eighth Doctor's regeneration, assisted by the Sisterhood and Sacred Flame of Karn - forged in fire, if you will - into John Hurt's incarnation?

Who knows. There's a lot of ifs and buts and maybes, and I should stress that there are enough leaps of logic here to earn gold in Olympic long-jumping - but it certainly seems very interesting either way. We'll find out this weekend, when The Night of The Doctor goes live on the BBC's red button service. UPDATE: Or see it for yourself right now!