“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.