The TV Movie
Now IÂ’m going to be controversial with this one, as many will know that this is one of my favourites.
The TVM is Doctor Who with the budget it deserves, and in fact a lot more. Even the new TV series will not have a budget to match this. The effects, even though nearly eight years old, stand up to scrutiny today. The plot does make sense of a kind but the story is fast paced and does not allow you to think to carefully about the flaws. I always just allow the film to carry me through in great fun.
The Movie begins with the voice over provided by Paul McGann that sets the scene for the 7th Doctor to be carrying the MasterÂ’s remains. Full marks must be given to Philip Segal for using the Doctor Who theme, itÂ’s very effective, and the roaring build up to the title appearing gives me shivers even now. Sylvester McCoy puts in a fine performance in the little he is given to do. The scene in the TARDIS is wonderfully relaxed and has a nice atmosphere to it. The TARDIS interior is incredible, the console stretching into the ceiling is far more effective, if anything itÂ’s perhaps a little too large, and there is a slight lack of scale involved. The Master has now formed into a jelly like mass that later becomes more reptilian, this too is effective though not explained.
As we know the Doctor is shot and taken to the hospital where he is rushed into treatment. On the way in the ambulance we are treated to Chang Lee filling out the DoctorÂ’s name as Â“John SmithÂ”. Another of Philip SegalÂ’s nods to the past, in many ways he has got a little carried away with this, the bowl of jelly babies in the TARDIS, and the over emphasis placed on the DoctorÂ’s reading of The Time Machine. None of this detracts from the film but could have been more subtle I think. The Doctor goes in for treatment to have the bullets removed and X-rays taken showing his hearts, a nice piece of continuity. Grace is called and it is her putting a probe into the DoctorÂ’s body that eventually kills him. I have never really cared for the scene in the operating theatre as I find it rather graphic and just a little distressing, and the story could do with it being reduced in content. The Doctor eventually is taken to the morgue where he is later to regenerate. This is where the direction of this story is done so well, the MasterÂ’s evil possession of a human body is mixed with the regeneration of the Doctor. Also the inter-cut scenes of the Doctor awaking and Frankenstein coming to life are well done and a good touch to the story. At last Â– Paul McGann is the Doctor! Some would say that the film should have started with him, in many ways it was good to see the seventh Doctor out, in retrospect IÂ’m not sure the future of the series under fox would have been different in either case.
And the film really does become worth watching for Paul McGannÂ’s first and apparently only time out as the Doctor. He puts in an excellent performance slipping easily into the role and establishing his own character in the short screen time available. Everything is right about this Doctor, the personality, the looks, the costume, all works so well together. Initially the Doctor wanders the hospital in a daze although I have never understood where he is, it appears to be an abandoned part of the hospital Â– I wish we had beds lying around like that in the NHS!
The story picks up again the next day, the Doctor searches through lockers at one point pulling out a scarf Â– another of SegalÂ’s moments. This scene is also effectively combined with the less innocent searching of the DoctorÂ’s stolen possessions by Chang Lee, who gains access to the TARDIS. The Doctor meanwhile settles upon his clothing and goes to the hospital where he meets Grace and eventually goes to her house. The scenes in the house are McGannÂ’s best, his Doctor at rest and his interaction with Grace help define his character in the time available. The joy of life shown by the Doctor in the outdoor scenes is too very well done and then there is the kiss. Actually done very well, this slots well into the film and does not interrupt the flow, as Doctor Who goes this should really feel like it cuts across the gain, and yet it doesnÂ’t. McGannÂ’s Doctor carries it off well and it is very chaste and acceptable. The Doctor is now half human, and again, I find this acceptable even though I had always been under the impression that unless told otherwise, he was fully alien. But the calm of the story starts to fall away and the action theme starts to settle in. There is the memorable glass scene which I can never forget because as an eleven year old it was so effective. The Â“By midnight tonight this planet will be pulled inside outÂ” line is delivered perfectly and with excellent gravitas.
When the Doctor and Grace are trying to escape the Master and Lee there is the confrontation with the policeman. At this moment the Doctor manages to get the gun off him but unlike so many American heroes he threatens to turn the gun upon himself. One can only thank that this was done, as the Doctor threatening someone innocent with a gun would have been a far greater transgression than the kiss. The motor bike sequence is completely unnecessary but is still fun but this rather makes the film into action, which Doctor Who is not really about in that way. In the Institute forTechnological and Advanced Research (How many times have I seen this film?) we get more of the friendly banter between Grace and the Doctor as they fit into the crowd while trying to steal the chip. At his point was another new development for the Doctor, the ability for him to be able to sense someoneÂ’s future, the point of this is unclear and just seems to be there to make the Doctor appear more alien.
The last part of the film takes place in the TARDIS. At this point I mention the Master and Chang Lee. Eric Roberts plays the Master, and he is given the opportunity to play the Master his way. This Master is not another Delgado clone, and really that seems a more realistic idea, I like the RobertsÂ’ Master but he should have lost the coat because the Terminator idea falls in too much with the motorbike chase making it appear like a copy. The dialogue for the Master is very over the top and the delivery of the lines clearly shows that Roberts was having far too much fun doing the part. This new Master seems to relish death and generally having rather a lot of fun making his way through the film. I donÂ’t mind this, but I can see why others dislike it. The character of Chang Lee never really leaves much impression as an individual and seems to follow along with the Master until the ending. At no point is he even bothered by his friends getting killed at the beginning of the film which is more than a little odd.
The final scenes set in the TARDIS are effective as the Master attempts to take the DoctorÂ’s lives (somehowÂ…) and the final battle between him and the Doctor over the eye of harmony are very well done. The Doctor does offer the Master his hand, not much but it is inkeeping with his character. The only part of this film that I have never really managed to swallow is the idea of the TARDIS bringing Lee and Grace back to life. The film would be better served by them not actually dying but only being stunned as they were in the novelisation. At the end of the film Lee leaves and the Doctor kisses Grace goodbye, gratuitous maybe but it is a warmer and more realistic departing of two characters than in many other Doctor Who stories. And then itÂ’s all over, too soon the eighth Doctor comes to an end, we would have to wait years before audios were to appear, books were written but never the same as being on TV. The movie was more than most could expect, it actually feeds into continuity unlike more other proposals, and it did keep the flame alight, as Segal put it, for that night, because without it we would probably never have seen the merchandise we see now, the books, CDs and probably not even the new series. And as a last note, the thump on the console to get the TARDIS to start - that counts for a lot, this isnÂ’t the perfect starship enterprise, itÂ’s Doctor Who!
Filters: Television Eighth Doctor
It was 1996 and the Beeb had sold Doctor Who to the Americans. No donÂ’t start to cry. It turned out pretty ok for all concerned. Sylvester McCoyÂ’s Seventh Doctor dies and Paul McGannÂ’s Eighth Doctor is born. In the story he battles to save himself and the Earth from the Master (yes there wasnÂ’t all that much plot but that never stopped Doctor Who before so be quiet).
It was lovelyÂ…
I remember when it came out. I think I might have wept a bit. That poncy bloke with the long hair didnÂ’t grab me at all (forgive me, I was young, foolish and had never read an EDA). I missed Sylvester as the Doctor like the dickens and the idea of having an American Master was just too scary to contemplate. However, I found that just like green alien slime from the EarthÂ’s core, this story grows on you (but fortunately doesnÂ’t turn you into a hideous slavering monster).
The Beginning Sequence: Now no matter what you may think of the rest of the movie, the first three minutes of the film did have a certain allureÂ…
For one there was Paul McGannÂ’s accent: I once had a boss who was a Scousy (from Liverpool) and he had a lovely way of speaking Â– Â‘Youwngiee. Geart hinto dat barr n peurr maei a vodka an doon gi mei ani gipÂ’ - so there must be a little something in me that just loves PaulÂ’s knockdown: Liverpool meets RADA accent. And Paul is so serious about it all. By the time he got through to the Â‘it was a request they never should have grantedÂ’ bit from the introduction I was in stitches.
Then there was the music: Someone was asking what stupid silly small thing makes Doctor Who spesh for you. And I have to admit I used to have a total wobbly every time I heard the seventh Doc Â‘turn table technoÂ’ (and I still do). However this music is much more dramatic and serious. Even now after eight years I am still going Â– Â‘yes yes yes Â– Doctor Who is back and he is going to kick Dalek buttÂ’ before I remember that that was all along time ago and sadly it never happened. But this music is the sort of stuff that gets men across the Delaware.
All in all it was a great beginning. The only down side I think was that they hired the chipmunks to voice the Daleks, but it is good to see Alvin and the gang getting some work.
Next we come to good old Syl:
Sylvester McCoy looks like a complete tosser in this movie? Now I love Sylvester and have my axe always handy for those namby pamby little cowards who think it is cool to pick on the little fellow with the silly jumper, but I am going to do a Janet Fielding and say: Â‘Whart was thart on hs haird?. Thairt haire kut dowes nowt soot heimÂ’. However there was a trade off in the fact that finally Syl was free of John Nathan Turner and his John Nathan Turneresque views on fashion: So no question mark jumper.
But Sylvester does play an integral part in this movie. He came from England Â– all the way across the Atlantic Â– to fall into some bin bags and die so that Paul McGann could take over the mantle. And, seriously folks Â– it was a lovely gesture. If ever there was a testament to how much Doctor Who means to people, it is a plucky little Scottish git traveling five thousand miles to Â‘do what he thought was rightÂ’ by Doctor Who. And that also makes this film spesh.
I admit I never really warmed to Grace. Yes she looked good in that blue dress and she has nice taste in music, but she seemed so boring Â– the cardigan of companions if you like. She wasnÂ’t popping out all over the place (and I donÂ’t mean out to the shop) like Peri, she wasnÂ’t totally obnoxious like Tegan, she wasnÂ’t a total wierdo like Turlough, she just Â‘wasÂ’. I can theorise it would be a very hard brief for an American actor to get lumbered with the job of being the DoctorÂ’s companion. Because of the unique origins of Doctor Who the whole concept might seem very alien (if you will pardon the pun) to your average American Daphne who has grown up on a diet of Leave it to Beaver and The A TeamÂ…
Â‘So there is this guy who travels the universe in a phone booth accompanied by chicks who have a propensity to scream and sprain their ankle a lotÂ… and every planet he visits looks like a quarry.Â’
She must have wondered Â‘now how exactly do I play this oneÂ’? If the series had continued I can just imagine the poor woman asking the director Â‘so how do I react to the giant space frog again?Â’ However the upshot of this is she just tends to act totally bemused as she tries to cope with this bizarre Englishman who has inserted himself and about thirty years of baggage and in jokes into her life. The look on her face after the Doctor has done his Â‘these shoes, they fit perfectlyÂ’ spiel is worthy of any good cartoon character and almost does a Tom Baker Â‘lets break the fourth wallÂ’ - and that bit alone makes the film worth while. But when she is not playing Â‘oh dear this is all too much, I need a couple of asprin and a good lie downÂ’ she might surprise youÂ…
Chang Lee. Finally someone to make NyssaÂ’s acting look credible (even good). And even now I still have an abiding hatred for his cod awful jacket. His performance in this movie is a living testament as to why drama school is a good thing.
Anthony Ainley he is not:
Â‘My name is not HoneyÂ’ Â– wow. No offence to Eric, but he was just odd. Maybe it was the script Â– Â‘I must have the DoctorÂ’s body, I need to explain the plot Â– right nowÂ’. Maybe it was the high heels. Maybe it was the leather outfit: I have never ever seen a paramedic dressed as Neo from the Matrix. All the ones I have seen have stethoscopes and comfy clothes. And this annoyed me. Here we have this guy who looks like he has escaped from (insert suitable dark tv show or movie) and no one in the story notices a thing. I realise he has to be a bit menacing, but Anthony Ainley managed to do it with a few laughs and all while wearing crushed velvet pantaloons. Why does this guy have to go the full bondage? But to be fair Eric does some seriously evil smiling and just like Jack Nicholson at the Oscars he wears his sunglasses in inappropriate places.
I cannot believe they named the ambulance man whose body the Master nicks Bruce. I am sorry, but you cannot have a character in a serious drama (or even a sci fi) called Bruce. It is soo Monty Python territory. I reckon Eric hated it as well Â– first chance he gets he explicitly states he Â‘is not BruceÂ’.
These shoesÂ… They fit perfectly
There is a theory in drama. All you need is one really good bit and people will remember that, forget the crap bits and go away raving. Actually that is not really a theory. I just made it up. However it is true. Whenever I think about this movie I always remember the park scene. People complain that McGann was Â‘The Doctor LiteÂ’ - the diet cola of Doctors, and so forth, but you canÂ’t always be a planet destroying sad sack can you? Sometimes you have to take pleasure in the little things that make being the Doctor so much fun, ie Shoes and having it off with Lalla behind the catering van during the filming of City of Death... that sort of thing.
And that brings us to Paul McGannÂ…
I am going to say I thought he was wonderful. But then again I would probably watch a half hour show of Paul McGann reading the newspaper. I think McGann was as gobsmacked as everyone else was when he landed the role. He is not Â– erm Â– anything like any Doctor we had had before. When you think that here is a Scousy boy with a shaved head dressed up as a Victorian ponce with a long haired wig, even if you donÂ’t agree with his interpretation of the Doc, you have to say that this boy can act.
The Puzzling BitsÂ…
Get that boy to an optometrist:
Every so often in the movie we see things from the Â‘DoctorÂ’s perspectiveÂ’. Now either that guy was totally smashed for the whole movie or he has a serious eye problem. It looked as if he was seeing the world from the bottom of a vodka bottle. People would lurch in and out of his line of sight with an alarming randomness. No wonder he couldnÂ’t pilot the TARDIS all those years Â– HE COULDÂ’T SEE THE BLIKNIN BUTTONS! Judging by this film it is a wonder he could even find the door. But this does explain why the poor boy was so skittish for half of the movie. You wold be a bit worried if everyone was coming towards you like zombies from a bad Hammer horror movie too!
Fanwank carried to the ludicrous:
Where did he get the jelly babies from? I realise this is an important bit of total fanwank for the British creators, but not only did the sudden appearance of a bag of jelly babies have no relevance to an unsuspecting American public, it made no sense. The man did not even have shoes! How did he acquire a bag of anachronistic sweets? Did he pop out to the sweet shop before or after he realised he had medical probe inserted into his chest? Any why didnÂ’t he notice that probe before anyway. I really think I would pick up on a piece of Â‘primitive wiringÂ’ stuck in my chest Â– right away! Are sweet shops even open at nine PM on New Years Eve in San Francisco? Did he make Grace stop off at a Seven Eleven on the way home to pick some up?
San Francisco was awfully flat. I swear remember reading something about hills in Tales of the City?
If I had one chance to go back in timeÂ… IÂ’d go back and do something to Rosanne Barr. Not that I have anything against her personally, but every time I watch this movie I am saddened at what might have been. The pilot was never picked up because it went up against a very emotional episode of Rosanne and failed to get the ratings it needed. It would have strange. It would have been different. For some it would have never been as good as the old series. But it sadly did not ever get a chance to Â‘beÂ’ anything.
The DVD bit:
The DVD I have has some groovy extras. There are some interviews with Syl being his normal diplomatic self and trying to explain it all for the unsuspecting American public Â– thereÂ’s this bloke and he travels through time and space in a big blue boxÂ… no reallyÂ… itÂ’s goodÂ’.
There is also a great interview with Paul McGann saying how he wouldnÂ’t go near a Doctor Who convention even if you super glued him to a Dalek, cos the fans are just too scary (just what had Syl been telling him, from what I heard Syl was the driving force behind that pool party).
Sometimes I wonder about McGann. Here is this big Scousy dude terrified of a bunch of people who like to dress up like the Doctor and discuss telesnapsÂ…. Ummm, how bad did you think it was going to get? Fortunately now he does do the odd convention and will continue to do them as, so far, no one has leapt on him yet and frightened him off (Actually I think they just took him out for afternoon tea and fed him cinnamon buns).
The bloke who does this commentary has the wit of Oscar WildeÂ’s turnip (but not the interesting turnip shaped like a thingy).
Why this movie is important:
Simply for the fact that if you pick up an Eighth Doctor Adventure story you will see Paul McGannÂ’s face slathered across it. A lot of people will say that the Eighth Doctor is a literary creation, but I reckon it would be nice to see the bloke who inspired it all Â– eh?
Â‘These shoesÂ… they fit perfectlyÂ’
And besides, he is a lovely Doctor.
Filters: Television Eighth Doctor
Seven years after Doctor Who finally came to an end on BBC television, the phoenix seemed set to rise from the flames with co-production between the BBC and the American company Universal Television. Rumours abounded that this was to be a pilot for a new series (although by the time it was transmitted this already seemed unlikely) and the promise of a bright new start delighted legions of fans. With Sylvester McCoy returning to the role of the Seventh Doctor for a regeneration scene and Paul McGann cast as the Eighth Doctor, the TV movie, entitled simply Â‘Doctor WhoÂ’ promised a great deal. Unfortunately, it didnÂ’t deliver on this promiseÂ…
Eight years on, Â‘Doctor WhoÂ’ stands as something of an oddity. It never developed into a fully-fledged series, and with a new BBC series just around the corner, itÂ’s easier to look at in perspective as a one-off that led to a whole new direction for theDoctor Who novel ranges and a starting point for Big FinishÂ’s Eighth Doctor audios, rather than bemoaning the fact that that it could have been a last, wasted opportunity for a new series. Given this, how then does it stand up as a Doctor Who story in its own right? Well, actually itÂ’s mostly a right load of old bollocks. It does a few things right and it can be entertaining if the viewer is in the right mood, but its saddled with a nonsensical plot and a crap villain, and if Russell T. Davies wants a tip on how to make the new series appeal to a new generation of viewers, all he needs to do is look at Â‘Doctor WhoÂ’ and think, Â“yeah, IÂ’d better not do anything like thatÂ”. IÂ’ll come to what I like about it shortly, but first IÂ’ll discuss what I consider to be its plethora of flaws. Just one point however: some fans feel that Â‘Doctor WhoÂ’ doesnÂ’t feel like Â“properÂ” Doctor Who. If this is the case, given that it features a horribly over the top actor hamming up the role of the Master and a nonsensical plot that makes no real sense in the final analysis, then neither is Â‘Time-FlightÂ’.
Â‘Doctor WhoÂ’ does not start well. It seems logical to me that the best way to introduce the central character and the concepts of the series to a new audience is to introduce the Doctor, explain who he is and what the TARDIS is gradually, and allow the plot to unfold at the same time. As opposed to, say, starting with a garbled pre-credits sequence, which prattles of Daleks, Skaro, and the Master with bugger all explanation as to who or what any of these are. The inclusion of the Daleks is gratuitous and pointless, especially since they arenÂ’t actually seen and they sound like Smurfs. To be fair, the Master is described as the DoctorÂ’s Â“old enemyÂ” in the voice over, but no explanation is given as to how he can survive death in the form of a snake made out of snot, possess badly-acted ambulance drivers, and allow them to immobilize their opponents with acid and what looks like semen, whilst also controlling the minds of other people using a special effect nicked wholesale from The X-Files. New viewers must have been baffled by this, although to be fair so too are established fans. The established fans have the opportunity, in retrospect, to find a half-arsed explanation for all of these things in the pages of Terrance DicksÂ’ Â‘The Eight DoctorsÂ’, but unfortunately in order to find out what that explanation is, they would have to actually read Â‘The Eight DoctorsÂ’, which is about as much fun as sitting on a toilet seat made out of barbed wire. Or, for that matter, reading Terrance DicksÂ’ Â‘WarmongerÂ’.
Things do not improve. Any new viewers who havenÂ’t already switched off, are treated to twenty minutes or so of Sylvester McCoy putting in a restrained and dignified performance but having to contend with dodgy expository dialogue that includes waking up on an operating table and explaining to a confused surgeon that he has two hearts and that surgery will therefore kill him. What is especially annoying about this is that itÂ’s completely unnecessary; a more confident writer would have let the x-ray of the DoctorÂ’s chest speak for itself, rather than explaining what it means three times. Fortunately, things get better once McCoy regenerates into McGann. The amnesia suffered by the Eighth Doctor immediately following his regeneration is a contrivance and amnesia has become something of a contentious issue for many Doctor Who fans who read the BBC Eighth Doctor novel range, but it is well utilized here, as the Doctor rediscovers his past with both Grace and the audience. In retrospect, he story might have been better served if it had opened with the Eighth Doctor wandering San Francisco as an amnesiac and gradually revealing his past with a regeneration in flashback (I am, I must admit, glad that McCoy was given the opportunity to return to the role to see off the Seventh Doctor in style, I just have issues with the effect that it had on the story).
Given the way in which the story unfolds, the interest of new viewers might have been grabbed by the plot. Unfortunately, the plot is bollocks. With the budget apparently unable to stretch to more than two monsters, executive producer Philip Segal instead opts to pit the Doctor against his old arch-enemy the Master, an idea that might have worked were it not hamstrung by a ludicrous plot and a denouement that, as Doctor Who novel author Lance Parkin once put it, amounts to two men shouting at each other in a cupboard. The plot, such as it is, is as follows; the Master having cheated death in ways that are none of the viewersÂ’ damn business, possesses a convenient human as a temporary body whilst he sets about trying to steal the DoctorÂ’s. To do this, he needs the Eye of Harmony, an enormous stone scrotum that is a key component of the DoctorÂ’s TARDIS, which will apparently steal the DoctorÂ’s soul if he looks into it for too long, leaving his body an empty vessel. An unfortunate side effect of this is that the Earth will be Â“turned inside outÂ” and sucked through the Eye of Harmony, a process that involves glass becoming soft and pliable and the Doctor losing twenty pounds in weight. In order to prevent this, the Doctor must close the Eye of Harmony before itÂ’s too late, which requires him to steal a beryllium chip from an atomic clock and wire it into the TARDIS, except that he does it too late in order to save the world. As a result, once he has defeated the Master, he has to use the TARDIS to rewind time until before he arrived, which somehow negates the events of the last forty-eight hours without negating either his regeneration or his battle with the Master, and also just happens to resurrect a couple of unfortunately deceased supporting characters. ItÂ’s absolute tripe. It hinges on so many contrivances and coincidences that I canÂ’t help wondering if writer Matthew Jacobs is taking the piss. There just happens to be a beryllium clock close to hand. Grace, a human surgeon whom the Doctor has known for less than two days works out how to rewire the TARDIS and make it dematerialize. Sheer poppycock.
Having potentially alienated and/or confused any new viewers, the production team seeks to charm existing fans with nods to the past. There are numerous continuity references, including a glimpse of the Fourth DoctorÂ’s scarf, the cloister bell, and the sonic screwdriver, none of which are intrusive and which appeal to the fan in me, but are unlikely to confuse new viewers. Bizarrely however, there is some weird buggering around with continuity, some of which is pointless but ultimately irrelevant (the Eye of Harmony is recognizable to anyone who has seen Â‘The Deadly AssassinÂ’ but is now inside the TARDIS, for example, a fact that prompted Lance Parkin to include an explanation in Â‘Cold FusionÂ’), some of which is incredibly irritating. What is interesting about this is that much of it seems to be a patronizing attempt to appeal to American viewers. The Doctor kissing Grace doesnÂ’t especially bother me, as it seems more like a tactile expression of jubilation than the Doctor trying to get his end away, but I canÂ’t help suspecting that itÂ’s an attempt to appeal to Star Trek fans who are used to Captain Kirk shagging anything that isnÂ’t nailed down. Likewise, the Chameleon Circuit is referred to as a Cloaking Device, which again isnÂ’t really important or problematic in story terms, but seems to imply that the target audience is composed of cretins unable to infer anything from the word Â“chameleonÂ”. What is really annoying however, is the half-human revelation. After twenty-six years of the Doctor being an alien in the television series, the production team have decided that heÂ’s actually half-human on his Â“motherÂ’s sideÂ”. Now this could be justified given the right plot; it might, for example, explain the DoctorÂ’s obsession with Earth and his fondness for humans. But it isnÂ’t; instead, the only purpose it serves within the plot is so that the Master can use a human to open a Time Lord energy source at the heart of a Time Lord craft, because they have similar retinal patterns to the Doctor. This is in itself gibberish, but more to the point it creates the impression that the production team feel the need to give the Doctor a closer link to Earth than mere fondness in order to create a hero that their target audience can really believe in. Because heÂ’s, like, one of us and not a foreigner. I mean alien, of course.
What the plot of Â‘Doctor WhoÂ’ does have is subtext. Except that itÂ’s so unsubtle and overt that it barely qualifies as subtext at all. Â‘Doctor WhoÂ’ has themes of life, death and resurrection, from the DoctorÂ’s regeneration, the MasterÂ’s return from the dead as an animated cadaver, and Grace and Chang LeeÂ’s literal resurrection. ItÂ’s nice to know that Jacobs was at least putting a modicum of thought into this, but the contrast between the reborn Doctor and the unborn Master would have sufficed; instead, we get the inexplicable use of the TARDIS to cure death in supporting characters and some woefully unsubtle imagery which includes the regeneration scene intercut with mortuary attendant Pete watching Frankenstein, and references to Christ include Grace stating, Â“Somehow I donÂ’t think the Second Coming is going to happen hereÂ” when the Doctor vanishes from the morgue, and the Master sort-of crucifying him in the TARDIS whilst making him wear a crown of thorns. I donÂ’t object to subtext by any means, but the pudding is so over-egged here, that it just feels crass. GraceÂ’s motivation for becoming a doctor is a further example and arguably the most successful; the Doctor deduces, Â“You dreamt you could hold back deathÂ”, and as a result it is, ultimately, the fact that she accidentally killed him and that he came back to life that makes her trust him.
Â‘Doctor WhoÂ’ also suffers from some poor characterisation and acting. Firstly, there is mortuary attendant Pete, an utterly facile character intended to provide comic relief but merely irritating instead. Admittedly, actor William Sasko couldnÂ’t have done a great deal with lines as cringe worthy and witless as Â“WeÂ’ve got a nice autopsy booked for you, followed by a saunaÂ”, but his delivery of Â“What, you think he might have gone to a better hospital?!Â” alone is enough to make confirm that his abilities as an actor arenÂ’t exactly cramped by the dialogue. Then thereÂ’s Chang Lee. By this point, IÂ’ve also reviewed the Big Finish audios Â‘Real TimeÂ’ and Â‘Excelis DecaysÂ’ and IÂ’ve been fairly disparaging about Yee Jee TsoÂ’s acting in both of those stories. Here, heÂ’s not too bad, but his character is a bog standard smart-arse street punk who gets some reasonably good lines on occasion, but basically exists for one reason and one reason only; if it seems unlikely that the Master might adopt a companion, then consider that he spends a great deal of time explaining his plans, and therefore the plot, to Chang Lee and therefore the audience. Chang Lee essentially fulfills the same purpose as Grace, but comes across worse because aside from anything else heÂ’s just thick; it takes a great deal to convince him that the Master is lying and it isnÂ’t in fact the Doctor that is the homicidal body snatcher. He also gets some very bad dialogue, most notably Â“The guy from the ambulance? Bruce, donÂ’t scare me like thatÂ”. In spite of all this, Lee gets a few good moments (such as his amusing if predictable reaction to entering the TARDIS for the first time) and some good lines and Yee Jee Tso does fairly well, especially when the Master scares Lee, which happens on several occasions. Which brings me neatly to the villain of the pieceÂ…
The Master is awful. This is a combination of two factors, one of which is the scripted dialogue, one of which is Eric Roberts. Even during the worst excesses of his performance, Anthony Ainley was always entertaining, whereas Roberts is merely atrocious. Impressively, he manages to be both wooden and hammy at the same time, camping up the role to previously unseen levels and generally making an arse of himself. The script does not help; a vacuous attempt at wit that badly misfires and undermines the entire story with such sphincter-clenching bad dialogue as Â“My name is not honeyÂ… Master will doÂ”, Â“The Asian childÂ”, Â“Genghis KhanÂ… that was himÂ”, and Â“Lee is the son I never hadÂ”. In fact the funniest line that the Master gets here is, Â“We must get to the Doctor before he finds a clockÂ”, which I suspect is actually meant to be taken seriously. Then there is the Â“YouÂ’re sickÂ” Â“Thank youÂ” exchange which reinforces the fact that the Master here is even more of a pantomime villain than usual, which is a shame because in the final analysis the Master is obsessed with survival, power and humiliating the Doctor, which is perfectly true to his past motivation. Their old relationship also holds true in the scene in which the Doctor, despite all that the Master has done, offers him his hand as he is sucked into the Eye of Harmony. As the script stands, a decent actor might have been able to salvage the part or extracted some genuine wit from scenes such as the one in which the Master corrects GraceÂ’s grammar. Unfortunately, Roberts instead relies on extravagant hand gestures, and a smirk that makes him look as though heÂ’s touching cloth, all of which is epitomized by the ludicrous scene in which the Master changes into a fetishistic dressing gown and groans, Â“I always dress for the occasionÂ”.
Despite all this dross, there are things that I like about Â‘Doctor WhoÂ’. For one thing, as I noted above, although I have issues with the way it was handled, IÂ’m glad that Sylvester McCoy was able to reprise the role of the Seventh Doctor for a proper send-off. McCoy gives a restrained, dignified performance and gets some great scenes. His obvious foreboding over the presence of the MasterÂ’s remains in the TARDIS is well conveyed, for example. His final appearance, as the Seventh Doctor Â“diesÂ” on the operating table is extremely well done, the initial calm as Grace prepares to operate giving way to rising drama as the Doctor wakes up and tries to resist her ministrations and ultimately goes into cardiac arrest, before expiring, all of which is impressively reflected by PucciniÂ’s music as it rises into a crescendo and then tails off.
Then there is Paul McGann. Whatever the many deficiencies of Â‘Doctor WhoÂ’, IÂ’m very keen on McGannÂ’s performance as the Eighth Doctor. In some ways, the script is written to provide a set of criteria associated with the Doctor; he is for example, obviously eccentric, and the production reflects this with a costume that is notably Edwardian in feel. ItÂ’s essentially an identi-kit Doctor, but it works, thanks to some great scenes and thanks largely to the actor. McGann brings tremendous enthusiasm to the role, conveying joy, warmth and anger with equal aplomb. The DoctorÂ’s confusion when he exits the morgue is obvious and due purely to McGannÂ’s facial acting, and he packs great emotion into the line Â“What is this?!Â” as he pulls the broken probe out of his chest. Once the Doctor becomes more relaxed, even before he fully regains his memories, McGann quickly makes him both compelling and commanding with equal measure and the moment when he tells Grace Â“YouÂ’re tired of like but afraid of dyingÂ” is strangely captivating. HeÂ’s also immensely likeable, such as when he tells Grace Â“hearts Â– pluralÂ” whilst grinning cheekily. The obligatory name-dropping (Â“I was with Puccini when he diedÂ”) is delivered with a mixture of joy and melancholy and it immediately creates the impression of a Doctor who cares. And whilst everybody cites it as a great moment, the Â“Yes! These shoes! They fit perfectly!Â” is an oddly defining moment for the Eighth Doctor. The flashes of foresight are also an interesting, if slightly pretentious touch, as the Doctor advises Gareth to answer a certain question on his mid-term exams and later tells Chang Lee to take a holiday away from San Francisco next year. My favourite McGann scene here however is when the Doctor holds himself hostage using a policemanÂ’s gun, which instantly seems perfectly in character, but isnÂ’t something weÂ’ve seen before in the series.
I also rather like ersatz companion Dr. Grace Holloway. Daphne Ashbrook plays the part very well, despite some scenes in which Grace does little save fulfill the traditional companion role and ask stupid questions. Her growing friendship with the Doctor works nicely, heightening my suspicion that Â‘Doctor WhoÂ’ would have worked much better if it had opened with Grace meeting the newly regenerated Eighth Doctor with everything else revealed in flashback, as she would have worked perfectly well as a means of viewer identification. Her desire to hold back death is of course supposed to be a defining character trait and part of the overblown subtext, although this largely fails since it is only ever the Doctor who mentions it and when she actually returns from the dead she glibly dismisses the experience as nothing to worry about. Nevertheless, sheÂ’s likeable enough and her easy acceptance of the dimensionally transcendental TARDIS interior is an amusing subversion of audience expectations.
Finally, there is the production; Â‘Doctor WhoÂ’ looks great. As director, Geoffrey Sax is partly to blame for the lack of subtlety regarding the resurrection subtext, but for the most part he does a great job. The first shot of McCoy in a warped mirror, the introduction of Grace weeping at the opera and the aerial shots of San Francisco all give a polish to the production that canÂ’t hope to compensate for the shortcomings of the script and some of the acting, but do make them more tolerable. He also handles the car chase well, which is an unusual feature for a Doctor Who television story, but works rather well. The sets are also very impressive, especially the new TARDIS interior, which combines the feel of Heath Robinson and Jules Verne. On the other hand, the incidental score is pompous, brash and intrusive.
Despite decent ratings in the UK, Â‘Doctor WhoÂ’ never led to a series. Nevertheless, it had an impact on Doctor Who. BBC Worldwide reclaimed the license to publish original Doctor Who novels from Virgin Publishing, with mixed results, and the Eighth DoctorÂ’s adventures continued in print. Despite this it seemed unlikely that Paul McGann would reprise the role of the Eighth Doctor, until Big Finish announced that they had secured his services, and a whole new series of adventures was announced...
Filters: Television Eighth Doctor
The time is ripe for reappraising the 1996 TVM. It's no longer our Last Hope For The Future, but no less importantly it's no longer The End. Doctor Who survived, thanks to Russell T. Davies. These days, the TVM is that oddity from 1996 that writes out Sylvester McCoy between Survival and Rose. We can fit it into a greater context and hopefully see it more level-headedly.
I always kinda liked it, but watching it in sequence with its neighbouring Who stories was an eye-opener. It's not very good, is it? There's a lot to like in the production, but the script is bollocks. In fact it's the most incoherent gibberish ever to get through the Doctor Who TV production process, which is no small claim. The first half-hour is an extended epilogue to the McCoy era, albeit a charming one, with the real story only beginning once the Doctor and the Master have their new bodies. The Doctor decides he needs a MacGuffin (the beryllium clock - WHY???) and the world gets destroyed and saved by screenwriter whim. I nearly said technobbable, but we're not even given that much. Matthew Jacobs has some strange ideas about time machines, but what's more thought them so self-explanatory that justification was unnecessary. You'd have to tie your brain in knots to explain what happened. It's not beyond the wit of fan, but I'd sooner try to rationalise UNIT dating.
Russell T. Davies had a go at redeeming it in Boom Town and The Parting of the Ways, though.
It's interesting in a continuity context. Some of the 8th Doctor's traits were foreshadowed under Cartmel. The 7th Doctor mentions his family in Curse of Fenric and leaves notes for himself in Battlefield, which although it's a much lesser cheat could be seen as leading up to the TVM's (mis)use of time travel. Furthermore, McGann's kisses now seem to lead in to the Eccleston era, e.g. The Doctor Dances. The TVM even has our last mention of Gallifrey before the Time War, in a respectful homage that's a more fitting farewell than the messy Trial of a Time Lord.
However the Master being tried and executed on Skaro, to be taken back to Gallifrey? Huh? Whassat? Russell T. Davies's Time War can be interpolated into Dalek stories from Genesis onwards, and the TVM adds a further perspective to that. Dunno what it means, though!
Despite everything, I'm still fond of the TVM. It cares about its characters and works its little socks off to give them snappy scenes and a good joke or two. Its heart is in the right place, even if its brain isn't. "Half-human" indeed. It's amiable and good-natured. Most importantly, it feels like the work of someone who loves Doctor Who, rather than someone who thinks the show was a bit crap and needed more ass-kicking and macho one-liners.
It gets the Doctor right. He's compassionate, whimsical and Doctorish, with some wonderful moments ("I'll shoot myself" or "these shoes: they fit perfectly"). Back in 1996 we were full of praise for Paul McGann, but I'm inclined to give more credit to the script. The actor's having fun, but I came away with a stronger impression of Matthew Jacobs's Doctor than I did of the actor's. Probably McGann's most distinctive moment is the bit near the end where he's showing off at the TARDIS console. Curiously his performance spoke to me more of the Earth Arc Doctor than the "hello birds, hello sky" congenital idiot of the early 8DAs. His cold, pale eyes make him feel remote and distant. I'm thinking particularly of his unreadable expression as he looks back at Grace from the TARDIS doors before disappearing at the end.
In contrast, Sylvester McCoy gets hung out to dry! Lunatics have called it his best performance as the Doctor. Bollocks is it. The script gives him nothing to play with. There's nothing wrong with him here and McCoy gets to demonstrate his forte of physical acting, but it could be seen as a flaw that this movie's lead character is almost entirely passive and silent until he dies. Eccleston's first two minutes in the role gave him more to do.
Daphne Ashbrook holds the film together as Grace. If she hadn't been so strong and vivid, this would have been well-nigh unwatchable. Yee Jee Tso is also fun, but for me the star of the show is Eric Roberts. He may be camping it up somewhat, but how exactly is that inappropriate for the Master? Don't try to tell me that Roger Delgado and Anthony Ainley were never tongue-in-cheek. I might have liked this Master to be scarier, e.g. when killing Chang Lee, but Roberts is clearly having a ball and he's always fun to watch. He has charm and wit, which are important. I love his ad-libs and comedy byplay in the ambulance, for instance. His banter with Chang Lee always makes me chuckle.
Seriously, the Roberts Master may have his critics but things could have been much worse. Consider his shades. Sunglasses are great if you want to look imposing and impassive (e.g. the Terminator), but fortunately Roberts chose to play against them instead of relying on them. Imagine the Master being played as an American Schwarzenegger wannabe in black leather and shades, then shudder. I also enjoy watching the Master's gradual disintegration, from "I had trouble with the walking and the talking" all the way to becoming Dracula destroyed by sunlight. As an aside, no classic series story ever painted him more clearly as the anti-Doctor, with their personal stories paralleled at every point (resurrected together, acquiring new companions together, etc.).
On a production level, obviously the TVM is stunning. The "Oh My God" console room is still my all-time favourite, beating the Eccleston version by virtue of being so damn beautiful. Geoffrey Sax's direction is wonderful, with at least one sequence (the Doctor's regeneration intercut with clips from James Whale's 1931 Frankenstein and scored with a heartbeat) that's worth the entry price all by itself. Ooooh, that's good. Admittedly I cringe at Fat Comedy Guy's "Oh My God" shortly afterwards, but you can't have everything.
The incidental music is terrific all round, in fact. In what's surely a first for the show, three people get an "Incidental Music" credit. At its best it complements the visuals as well as anything we'd ever seen, though I'm not wild about the new arrangement of the theme music. It sounds nice and I like the twinkly piano bit, but it treats Ron Grainer's original as just another tune to be scored for an orchestra. The results are too melodious. It's just another American TV theme, not haunting or wailing. The trumpet section needs shooting, and as for the very end of the closing titles...
Interestingly not only do all four lead characters die and get reborn, but so does the whole world! You can't accuse them of not following through on their theme of resurrection and rebirth.
I like the resonances and ironies in the story. For example it's not bullets that kill the 7th Doctor, but simply being an alien among humans. I enjoy the religious imagery too. The kisses make me roll my eyes, but they don't matter. In 1996 Doctor Who fell into the hands of Americans and the results may not have been perfect, but Jean-Marc Lofficier's The Nth Doctor showed that things could have been much, much worse. It's a bit stupid, but charming.
Filters: Television Eighth Doctor
For the previous screenings in the British Film Instituteâ€™s monthly Doctor Who 50th anniversary events, there has been some degree of choice for the organisation in which story it selects to celebrate the era of each particular Doctor. While itâ€™s true that every era of the show has a small gaggle of stories held up as classics by a large portion of fandom, there have still always been options. Not so, however, for Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor. The man who once described himself as â€śthe George Lazenby of the Time Lordsâ€ť is represented by only a single entry in the televised history of Doctor Who â€“ the 1996 TV Movie, which brought the programme back from the dead after seven years, but failed to lead to the new US network series that the team behind it had been hoping for.
That said, McGannâ€™s sole outing on-screen wasnâ€™t the initial focus of this event, which â€“ unlike the others in the series that I have attended â€“ began with a discussion panel before the showing, which kicked off at 10am, with much apology from host Justin Johnson that weâ€™d all had to get up to early on a Saturday to be there! The first panel was a discussion and celebration of something the sheer level of which may be unique to Doctor Who â€“ the plethora of fan-originated professional spin-off media that carried the flame of the series during the long years the TV show was off-air, both before and after McGannâ€™s sole outing.
Dick Fiddy, Johnsonâ€™s co-host at all of these BFI events, expertly and deftly guided a panel consisting of Seventh Doctor script editor Andrew Cartmel, Big Finishâ€™s Nick Briggs, Jason Haigh-Ellery and Gary Russell, BBC Books novel editor Justin Richards and non-fiction author and former Doctor Who Magazine co-editor Marcus Hearn. Cartmel more seemed to be there because he wasnâ€™t able to attend the Seventh Doctor event back in August, and unlike the others on the panel didnâ€™t come up through fandom and the fanzine world, but he did write for both the novel ranges of the 1990s and for Big Finish, and had interesting things to say about what were being somewhat jokingly referred to as â€śthe wilderness years.â€ť
While you might perhaps think that such a panel could be a little dry, the conversation was free-flowing and, for me, fascinating, and it was interesting to hear the opinions on display about the years when Doctor Who was very much a non-mainstream, cult property, being made by fans, for fans in terms of books and audio dramas. Some of the panel even admitted that they never really thought Doctor Who would ever return to television, although of course all were delighted when it did.
The panel was enjoyable and informative, perhaps the most so among all those Iâ€™ve seen at the BFI, and I was surprised to find it had gone on for as long as 45 minutes. If anything was missing it was perhaps any real discussion of Virgin Booksâ€™ output during the 1990s, although Russell did acknowledge what an important contribution they had made in originating the careers of writers who went on through BBC Books, Big Finish and in some cases onto the TV series itself. But it was an organic discussion, you canâ€™t plan to include each and every thing, and there was only so much time available.
It was a small surprise that the TV Movie wasnâ€™t then formally introduced â€“ after the panel had finished and the chairs were removed from the stage, the lights went downâ€¦ Then briefly up again, then down again, then the movie started â€“ hopefully not catching anybody out whoâ€™d taken the opportunity to nip to the toilet!
I hadnâ€™t watched the film for eight years â€“ the last time I did so being just before the series returned back in 2005. But it was still very familiar, as Iâ€™d watched it repeatedly when it originally came out in the 1990s, when I was 12 years old and the return of Doctor Who, even sadly briefly, was one of the most exciting things I could ever remember having happened. I think fandom in general is a lot more relaxed about the TV movie these days. Before it was made there was anxiety and paranoia that it would be a heavily â€śAmericanisedâ€ť version of the show, and after it had come and gone much wailing and gnashing of teeth about its failings and the fact it didnâ€™t lead to a full series. Now, with Doctor Who having been back on television for several years as a great success, we donâ€™t have to be quite to worried about what it did or didnâ€™t do, and we can just enjoy it for what it is. Flawed, indeed, but still with some great moments of humour and charm.
Indeed, for a production that was being pulled in so many different directions â€“ by the BBC, by the Fox Network who were broadcasting it in the US, by Universal who were producing it, by Philip Segal as the Doctor Who-loving producer behind it â€“ perhaps the most surprising thing about it is just how good it is. If it had been as big a mess as the process of getting it made was, then goodness only knows what weâ€™d have seen on-screen.
Talking of being on-screen, while still strictly in standard definition format (no high definition version exists, nor is one ever likely to unless someone tracks down the original film elements and rebuilds it all from scratch) the fact it was made on 35 mm film means it scrubs up very nicely, possibly the best of the any of the three BFI showings I have attended. It was also the full original US edit, not the slightly cut BBC One version, meaning we got to see just exactly what happened to Chang Leeâ€™s mates (they didnâ€™t make it, in case you didn't know!) and also hear the Seventh Doctorâ€™s rather undignified final scream.
Following a very brief break (during which I did manage, with many others, to make a lightning dash to the toilet, before causing a minor inconvenience to Andrew Cartmel and the others sitting in my row as I made my way back to my seat!), we were onto the panel discussing the actual film itself. Philip Segal wasnâ€™t in attendance, and there was no note read out from him as there had been from other high-profile figures whoâ€™ve been unable to attend previous screenings â€“ Iâ€™m sure the BFI asked him along, of course, but doubtless living in the US made it difficult. However, someone who also lives across the Atlantic, and got a huge round of applause when it was announced sheâ€™d made the trip specially, is Daphne Ashbrook. Indeed, the actress seemed rather overwhelmed by the huge round of applause she received, perhaps even bigger than that given to her co-star in the film â€“ the Eighth Doctor himself, Paul McGann.
Ashbrook and McGann were joined by the filmâ€™s director, Geoffrey Sax, for another enjoyable and convivial session, answering questions from Justin Johnson and, later, the audience â€“ including me! I was brave enough to finally pluck up the courage to put a question at one of these events, and Iâ€™m glad I did as asking Sax whether heâ€™d ever been invited to come back to Doctor Who by Julie Gardner (with whom he worked on the ITV Othello in 2001) or any other of the post-2005 production team prompted the revelation that heâ€™d actually been invited by Gardner to direct the very first block of filming for Christopher Ecclestonâ€™s series back in 2005. He also said that after working with Matt Smith on the BBC drama Christopher and his Kind a couple of years ago, Smith had secured him an invitation to direct one of the Christmas specials. However, he was busy on both occasions, so has still to return to Doctor Who. As, of course, has Paul McGann, and I was surprised that nobody asked him the big question about whether he has even a cameo role in the forthcoming 50th anniversary special. The special was mentioned â€“ with McGann suggesting that speculation about who is going to be in it even beats â€śWhoâ€™s going to be the next Doctor?â€ť speculation these days â€“ and someone asked him about a Tweet heâ€™d recently made talking about Matt Smith and voiceover work, but nobody put the question itself outright â€“ which I thought showed remarkable restraint!
Much of the discussion during the panel would have been familiar to anyone who has read the making-of book by Segal and Gary Russell, or seen the documentary on the DVD re-release of the movie, which Ashbrook herself spoke of recently having seen and been astonished by just how much effort it took to get the thing made. Ashbrook indeed seems to have been on something of a mission to discover Doctor Who in her years since appearing in it, when she had no knowledge of the show at all â€“ she was even able to name-check Patrick Troughton when discussing favourite Doctors, and said how she still misses Amy and Rory from the current series! Her best story, however, was of returning in 2010 to the house in Vancouver which was used as the location of Graceâ€™s apartment in the film. The same couple whoâ€™d owned it back in 1996 still lived there, and gave her a copy of a photo taken with her and McGann back when the film was being made.
McGann himself was most fascinating when revealing some of the tentative discussions heâ€™d had with Segal about how the Doctor and the series might have developed had the movie been more successful Stateside. He was very clear that the appearance of the Eighth Doctor was not what heâ€™d wanted, and heâ€™d wanted a look and a costume much more akin to what Eccleston eventually got â€“ a look McGann jokingly referred to as â€śthe bin man!â€ť He also confirmed that, had Russell T Davies offered him the chance to star in the 2005 series instead of Eccleston, heâ€™d certainly have come back as the Doctor for that run.
Overall, it was nice to see a group still so pleased and proud of their association with Doctor Who, despite its brevity and its not leading to a full series. McGann remains a Doctor cheated out of exploring his full potential as the character, on screen at least, but Iâ€™m pleased he was here for his day in the sun at the BFI. These monthly celebrations continue to be hugely enjoyable, and Iâ€™m very glad Iâ€™ve been able to attend some of them â€“ it seems such a shame theyâ€™re coming to an end soon, as the 50th anniversary reaches its climax. Canâ€™t we just carry on and keep having one every month ad infinitumâ€¦? Please, BFIâ€¦?
Filters: Eighth Doctor Screening
Starring: Paul McGann (The Doctor), Eric Roberts (The Master),
A Joint Production by Fox and the BBC.
It does seem scarcely conceivable to myself that it is now two whole decades since the transmission of the most lavish TV production thus far seen in Doctor Who history. This is a beautifully directed collection of character drama and hi-octane escapades, and still stands up visually to this day. Of course, the script is far from perfect and the running time is somewhat on the short side, no doubt dictated by the many ad breaks that Fox TV needed for it to be able to afford showing the story. This still is a good watch, and has a pace to it that few of even the strongest four-part stories from the original 1963-1989 run could really pretend to boast, when viewed in one go.
It is a shame that Sylvester McCoy had such a truncated and gratuitously dismissive exit, involving a very careless departure out of the TARDIS without checking the surrounding area by scanner first. And although the actor does some fine work with very little screen time, he would perhaps have made a better cameo as a flashback to the Seventh Doctor's last full adventure. At the time writer Matthew Jacobs wanted a transition from the last of the classic series Doctors into this arrestingly romantic 8th Doctor, in order to honour tradition. However as was proved 9 years later on, the better method was to jump straight in with a new leading man and allow him to fully establish his credentials. It is rather curious that Paul McGann actually is present as a narrator in the very early stages. The script has a rather muddled approach to trying to honour the past but look forward at the same time. And many have commented over the years that brand new viewers who had never seen a single story with the Doctor would have been rather befuddled by the way the key principles of the show are conveyed.
If only Paul had actually had the opportunity to truly show his great skills as an actor in a proper ongoing series. We have many big finish audios to enjoy but most doctor who fans regard the TV medium as predominant. He eventually came back for the short but enthralling Night Of The Doctor, and it managed to pack a lot of continuity for audio and book followers alike. He really can be seen as a great prototype for the much loved David Tennant incarnation. Endlessly energetic, not afraid to take risks, and always looking to please people that he encounters. McGann is a rather modest and self effacing man in real life, and rarely does a fan-related event in the way that Tennant, Matt Smith, or Peter Capaldi would. But he clearly appreciates the opportunities he has had over the years, and respects the institution that is Doctor Who. He may still have another chance to blaze on screen, and perhaps this would be a multi-Doctor vintage. I cannot be alone in hoping along those lines.
Regardless, McGann can still be counted as a worthy Time Lord and one that kept the franchise alive as the face of the various BBC books, official magazines, and other merchandise that dotted retailers' shelves. He is instantly likeable in this story, and really makes the idea of a more passionate and relationship -conversant alien from Gallifrey seem credible. The line about the Doctor being half-human is one of the glaring weaknesses from the script, however and takes some of this boldness in McGann characterisation away. The idea of a man of many lives, and infinitely more knowledge and experience having the patience for us mere Earthlings was a wonderful element of the never-ending continuity that first had its roots in the days of William Hartnell and grainy black-and-white experimental efforts.
A couple of new 'companion' figures were introduced as well along with the Eighth Doctor. We have initially the rather thinly sketched Chang Lee, who is innocuous and passive but does have some wells of anger and frustration simmering beneath the surface. Jacobs does not really give us enough of a reason to care for this character in the crucial opening act. He has obviously fallen in with the wrong crowd and got into the lethal environment of gang warfare. He is young and reckless, and easily won over by the thoroughly malicious Master; along the lines of Eve seduced by the serpent in Eden. Yee Jee Tso is likable enough for the most part, but does struggle to make this character breath full life in various aspects.
Grace Holloway however is almost the equal of the Doctor in terms of being a relatable and inspiring protagonist. She clearly has a full life of worries and torrid emotions, as she tries to find the right man who can appreciate her demanding duties as a surgeon in San Francisco. She is in the middle of a date with a handsome man, and wondering if he is the one for her, before a fate-defining phone call gets her straight back to work. She was certainly not expecting a seemingly manic, eccentric with a Scottish burr calling out "I am not human.. I am not like you!".
That she turns out to be the Seventh Doctor's inadvertent killer, by using a 'cutting edge' probe is an interesting irony. Bullets did not kill our beloved rogue wanderer, it was the lack of earth technology and a determined medicinal doctor that ended up doing that deed. This makes the eventual romance between Grace and the new Doctor truly interesting. She sees him as a miracle man, but also somewhat terrifying. Ultimately she takes a leap of faith and trusts him, and proves to be of great value thereafter on more than one occasion. By the end, and the rather too neat way Grace and Chang lee are returned from the dead by TARDIS 'gold dust' the audience has been taken on a journey with a really engaging and relatable person. Daphne Ashbrook deserves plaudits for her efforts. She has a long sustained career on television and showed much range. Her acting chops are indisputable and a great asset for what was a much hyped venture, for which those who were responsible had invested so much hope.
Crucially this TV movie needed a robust and chilling villain. For much of the running time it did have it. Eric Roberts has famously been in the shadow of his sister Julia much of his career, but is still a fine actor. I certainly enjoyed his brief turn in Christopher Nolan's triumphant The Dark Knight. He does well enough in the dual roles of Bruce and then the Master proper. This in itself was not unprecedented, as the Anthony Ainley incarnation of the renegade had first come about from the disturbing fate Tremas had in the early 1980s Tom Baker story The Keeper Of Traken.
It is rather silly, especially today after the three rather weaker films in The Terrminator franchise, that Roberts attempts to emulate Arnold Schwarzenegger's most celebrated alter-ego. When those shades are not used and the terrifying snake eyes are in full display then the stout-hearted and quick witted McGann Doctor has a true equal and opposite. And even when Roberts waltzes in for the final battle revolving around the TARDIS' Eye Of Harmony - something that went over the heads of many a casual British and American watcher - and oozes camp rather than creepiness, he has a dominant presence. Ultimately he does not really belong in the elite of onscreen Masters, but definitely is worth being remembered all these years later.
In terms of the audience participation, this feature needed to have a double triumph in order to justify further expenditure into an ongoing series or mini-series. Whilst there were pretty good ratings on BBC 1 over in the UK, the US side of things was lukewarm at best. Things were not helped by the ever popular Roseanne having its finale being shown around the same time on the networks; an ironic reflection of how latter day Sylvester McCoy stories had to contend with the UK's powerhouse soap opera Coronation Street. As this was a limited success in terms of pure numbers, Doctor Who just could not carry on at that point in time. However a certain Russell T Davies was only just now coming into his own..
On a perhaps more personal level I found the lack of any new Doctor Who, and the frustration entailed, further compounded by the decision at the time by BBC Video to delete the majority of classic stories in the catalogue. This was to allow the maximum number of editions of the TV movie on shelves everywhere. There probably was some sound enough economic argument, but I cannot have been the only collector out there grimacing as I missed out on invaluable ways to witness capsules of history. For a 13 year old adolescent that got a rush from exploring shops on the sly, whilst also trying to fit in socially with various peer groups with more current and inherently Nineties pop culture in mind, it did feel undoubtedly cruel.
Of course before long there was another medium altogether in DVD which made the return of all those stories suddenly something to look forward to. And nowadays every Doctor Who story that exists in the archives is available via streaming across the internet. But at the time, even for someone wildly imaginative like myself, this felt as troublesome a setback as any other.
Over time as well the rating for this story has been modified. When it first was released in the UK on videotape some of the early stages had to be edited down so that the youngest fans, who traditionally are the target audience of Who, could be catered for in terms of the video being a viable 'present'. Some years later when the BBC did a Doctor Who theme night, the full version of the story was shown for viewers, and most notably gave the full account of how Chang Lee lost his pair of friends. And then on DVD release the story finally could be shown uncut and with the 12 certificate retained, obviously reflecting the changes in what was acceptable language and violence according to censors.
So let's raise a toast to this one proper story that represents the dynamic, vibrant universe of time travel and twin hearts, from the final decade of the 20th Century. There were of course high profile charity shorts in the form of Dimensions In Time, and The Curse Of Fatal Death, with the latter's case being a sign of greater things to come from Steven Moffat. All the same, this feature-length tale has a great deal of verve, and willingness to try new things, such as suggest the Doctor truly wants to love and be loved, and that there is more than one way for a Time Lord to survive a final incarnation. This fascinatingly unique entity is worth at least one look, if you yourself have yet to sample its many attributes.
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