“I love humans. Always seeing patterns in things that aren’t there.”
The period between 1989 and 2005 is often dubbed by Whovians as the Wilderness Years. During this time, other media such as Big Finish were still producing Doctor Who material, even though the BBC wasn’t.
Then, in the mid-90’s, hope seemed to arrive. Philip David Segal, a television producer working with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, proposed an American version of Doctor Who. His credits included Seaquest DSV (one of my all-time favorite shows!) and Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. The movie aired in 1996 on Fox and starred Paul McGann as the new Doctor. Sadly, the pilot failed.
About Paul McGann
Paul McGann was born in 1959 in Kensington, Liverpool and was the third of six children. He was encouraged to be an actor by his parents. In fact, all three of his brothers are actors. He starred with all three of his brothers in the 1995 serial The Hanging Gale. Prior to Doctor Who, his biggest claim to fame was his role as Percy Toplis in The Monocoled Mutineer. After the failed pilot, he starred as David Talbot in the film version of Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned. His most current role was in Waking the Dead in 2011.
Pros and Cons of the Movie
While I do think the Doctor Who TV movie is good, there are a few flaws I want to address.
First, there’s the demise of the Seventh Doctor. I think it happened too quickly and too early, and did not involve the heroism of most of the past regenerations and those afterward. (excluding the Sixth’s of course) Remember, Doctor Who would be reaching a new audience as well as the faithful in the BBC. It was not as well-known a property in America as it is now. It needed to accommodate to new viewers as well as old, and I think this impeded that.
Then there’s Eric Roberts. He seems more like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator than the Master. This is not what the Master is about–he is supposed to be a crafty schemer, the Doctor’s equal. And he’s also given new abilities that are thankfully discarded in later versions. He can now spit and hypnotize people, and turns into a crude CGI cobra. Time Lords do NOT shape-shift.
And of course, there’s the “half-human” revelation. This completely ruins years of continuity. Fortunately, when Big Finish did audio plays featuring the Eighth Doctor, they glossed over this scene to keep it in the already established canon.
So, what worked? Firstly, the set of the TARDIS is magnificent, very much like HG Wells’s Time Machine. (we even see the Seventh Doctor reading the book) Second, Paul McGann is great as the Doctor and so is Daphne Ashbrook as Dr. Grace Halloway. It’s a shame nothing else could be done with her, even in the extended “canon” of novels, comics, and audio plays. When the movie failed, Fox retained the copyrights to characters created for it, as well as a portion of the ownership of the show itself. BBC fought hard to bring the show back. There are also several continuity nods:
1: When the Doctor regenerates into Paul McGann, he steals an outfit from a hospital locker room, just like Jon Pertwee’s Doctor did in his first episode, “Spearhead From Space.”
2: When we see the TARDIS interior, we see that the Eighth Doctor has a Sonic Screwdriver. Granted, he never uses it, but this is enough for me.
3: The Doctor gives a jelly baby to a policeman, just like the Fourth Doctor would do.
Fortunately, the TV movie has finally arrived on DVD. I recommend picking it up if you’re curious about Paul McGann’s sole TV appearance as the Eighth Doctor.
2 thoughts on “50 Years of Doctor Who: The Doctor Who Movie”
Awesome as always, my friend. I don’t agree with classing the half-human revelation as a ‘continuity error,’ though–but it’s not my blog. Nowhere in the entire span of the classic series are we ever told ANYTHING about the Doctor’s parents, so we don’t know that they necessarily WERE both from Gallifrey. I heard various people bitching in 1996 that the half-human revelation somehow contradicts the idea of the Doctor as an alien, but let’s think about this–Mr. Spock is also half-human–a fact no one tries to retcon or bitch about–and yet Spock is also dealt with as an alien by EVERYONE on the Enterprise crew. There’s never any ‘But Spock’s mom was a human, so he’s not really an alien..’ In the films, this has come up, but it never did on the show. And I say we should view the Doctor in the same light. If he’s half human–which, as long as the Eighth Doctor is canon, is still canonical in my book–then that explains his attraction to Earth and his loyalty to humans. Otherwise, it just seems like the arrogance of a bunch of human science fiction writers. It doesn’t make him NOT a Time Lord–clearly, he can regenerate–so why are we quibbling that finding out that he’s ‘half human, on (my) mother’s side’ violates anything about DW? That’s like saying that if someone had a friend who was of mixed ancestry, and it didn’t show, but then that person found out, that it should change the whole essence of their friend (and I am being deliberately general because I am NOT accusing you of being a racist, at all).
But even though this case is fictional, I don’t think it should change–and I don’t believe it DOES change–anything about the Doctor, or the show, at all. And as far as I know, the BBC has never really retconned it. Nor do I think they should.
Here’s the difference between this and Spock: The revelation came out of nowhere. Nowhere in the already-established canon was there even a hint that the Doctor is half-human. I took a creative writing class at a community college where the teacher told us the best way to reveal something was to “build” it, not present it as a surprise. Spock’s half-human heritage was established early, in key episodes like “This Side of Paradise”, “The Naked Time, and “Amok Time.” This is different from that. There was no buildup, it was simply tacked on out of the blue. That’s my problem.