All year, BBC America has been doing specials focusing on each of the eleven Doctors. While these installments of “The Doctors Revisited” have been pretty disappointing, providing very little insight and glossing over important information such as William Hartnell’s deteriorating health and Colin Baker’s firing, one highlight has been the way they’ve paired each special with a Classic Who story featuring that Doctor.
August being the eighth month, the latest special focused on Paul McGann. And, since McGann only appeared in one televised episode, that means many casual fans got their first look at “Doctor Who The Movie”. I decided to watch it as well for probably the first time since it aired in 1996.
Today, “Doctor Who The Movie” is a decent if Americanized take on the show. But in 1996, it seemed like the end of “Doctor Who” forever. The show had been cancelled in 1989, and this was its chance to find a new audience. I remember watching it with a friend who had never seen the original show, and I was constantly apologizing throughout and explaining how much better the low budget BBC version had been.
Having just re-watched it, I have to admit the producers got more right than wrong. Things I particularly enjoyed:
- Sylvester McCoy returns as the Seventh Doctor, allowing for an on-screen regeneration (something we didn’t get when Christopher Eccleston took over).
- The sonic screwdriver makes an appearance for the first time since Peter Davison’s first season.
- The new console room is excellent, and definitely paved the way for the expansive ones seen on New Who.
- The Doctor steals a police officer’s gun and threatens to shoot… himself. What a very Doctor-like thing to do.
- McGann in general is outstanding, and by the end you really do want to see more of his adventures — if only to see what he could do with a better script.
But there are still some things about the script that bother me. Notably:
- The Master is tried for his crimes… on Skaro? Who knew the Daleks had a criminal justice system? I’d love to see a Dalek barrister in a wig and gown.
- Eric Roberts is over the top as the Master, but not in a good “Roger Delgado/Anthony Ainley” way. Plus the lack of a British accent (or use of his catchphrase, “I am the Master”) is disappointing.
- The Doctor’s regeneration takes place several hours after his death, and nowhere near the TARDIS. While it’s never been stated that a TARDIS is necessary for regeneration, the Doctor is usually in or near it when he regenerates (unless he’s assisted by the Time Lords as in “The War Games” or “Logopolis”). And regeneration has always kicked in at the moment of death, not hours later.
- The Doctor needs to close the Eye of Harmony in order to save Earth, but it’s been open too long — so he travels back in time to before it opened. This is the worst kind of time travel story cop-out.
- The whole “I’m half human, on my mother’s side” thing still pisses me off. The Doctor is not Spock. There’s a reason this has never been referenced again.
Of course, the telemovie bombed and “Doctor Who” disappeared again for nearly a decade before the BBC brought it back. For years, no one could agree if this movie ‘counted’, and if Paul McGann was really an official Doctor. Despite starring in dozens of Big Finish audio plays as the Eighth Doctor, his status would remain unknown until his image started being used on the current show around series 3.
As a sidenote, they’ve finally updated his look for the most recent series of audio adventures:
"Doctor Who The Movie" isn’t any better today than in was in 1996, but its place in history has changed. Instead of being a failed attempt to resurrect the show, it has become a bridge between Classic Who and New Who. Its take on the Doctor, with his love for adventure and willingness to kiss the occasional companion (something that was unheard of prior to 1996 and caused a great deal of outrage among fans at the time), is closer to the modern versions of the Time Lord, but the presence of Sylvester McCoy ties it to Classic Who.
Good or bad, like it or not, “Doctor Who The Movie” counts.