Doctor Who: The Movie. The Paul McGann Year.

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Summary: Doctor had a made-for-TV movie, once (and well, a couple of other movies that are even less part of the canon). For the old series, that was it, the swan song. How does it shape up? A fitting farewell or a nail in the coffin? Well...

Monday, 11 January 2010

(23:52:00 CST)

Doctor Who: The Movie. The Paul McGann Year.

Note: Originally I wrote this last January. Now, with a better grasp of the series and after watching the movie again recently upon its Stateside DVD release, I've went back and edited it. My overall set of opinions are the same, but the gist of them is somewhat different. I've heavily deleted and altered the criticism, while adding in some details (the first version barely mentioned the plot, etc). I've also fixed some spelling errors and etc. The new version was added 30 Mar 2011.

The Doctor gets a call to escort the remains of The Master from Skaro to their burial place (Gallifrey, presumably). How did Skaro overcome the Doctor's tricking Davros into blowing it up? I am unsure, though this could be an earlier event or later events from that might have returned it. On the way, though, the TARDIS is shunted off course and lands in San Francisco, 1999. The Doctor, at this moment played by Sylvester McCoy, steps into a gangland shoot-out, is shot and later "dies" on the operating table because a well meaning surgeon, Grace, is concerned by the double heart-beat. After regenerating into his Eighth incarnation, this time playd by Paul McGann, he wakes up unsure who is. By the time he figures this out, he finds out that the Master is back, as well, and now the whole of Earth is being threatened by the Eye of Harmony on board the TARDIS. The very surgeon who was working on him when he died teams up with him to stop the dastardly plans, and a new era of Doctor Who is born. One more action oriented and less about running through corridors about...well, running in other locations.

Doctor Who's initial run ended after 26 years, from 1963-1989. To put this in perspective, the Simpson's has something like 5 season to go to catch up [later note: I guess 4 seasons, now]. A terribly long time. It is not surprising that the weight of the show—which ran long enough to see an entire generation of watchers grow up and having children old enough to start watching—eventually pulled it around and it was cancelled.

"Cancelled" seems a dark word in the terms of the heavily revered show, one that continued to put out intriguing, if not always groundbreaking after all that time, content but nevertheless, there you are. Sylvester McCoy, playing the Doctor as a strange Scottish showman with a darker interior was the matching bookend to William Hartnell's cantankerous old man whose really just a big softie.

The made-for-tv movie—often known as Doctor Who: The Movie though a few titles such as "The Enemy Within" do get applied—was something of a restart blended with a continuation (while most things were in continuation with the old series, new statements like the Doctor having an human mother were at odds). The flavor was going to be altered slightly, a new Doctor cast (Paul McGann, showing up on-screen for the first time as number 8), with an American audience in mind. It was shot in Canada with a mixture of American and British production teams and was aired to some fanfare back in its home-country. However, it never took off over here, bringing the series to an end. The BBC, for the time, was mostly done* with Doctor Who [and would be for about 9-10 more years], and it looked like Americans cared more for rewatching old Tom Baker serials than participating in anything new**.

It is unknown how it would have gone had McGann's version been picked up. Doctor Who as a 26-ep per season series in the 90s would have been...interesting. Possibly crap, for sure. American adventure TV has a long history of "wandering good-guy" plots to choose from, from Kung-Fu to the Hulk to the A-Team. It's a format that has been made to work. At the same time, the overall vibe of that never quite felt like the sort of show you would want Doctor Who to be. Picturing that vibe mixed with recent SF like Star Trek: The Next Generation, there was promise, but looking at the movie, now, that's not where they would have likely ended up. I imagine the end result would have been more Beauty and the Beast, Highlander, or Xena: Warrior Princess than Doctor Who. Paul McGann makes an interesting Doctor and number 8 is well liked by me, but the movie as a whole feels like it fell from the same basic mold as other "TV series pilot that is also a stand-alone movie made in the 90s with an action meets speculative fiction theme". Remember the pilot for The Flash from the 90s (or others just like it)?

Rather than focus too much problems that might have been, let's look at the good and bad that was. We have a well-epic plot—the world and the Solar System are about to liquify—even if certain elements are a bit wonky (how come opening up a portal into a black hole is causing this? I'm sure it is explained at one point, but I forget). The main villain, well, is Eric Roberts playing Willem Dafoe playing some generic 80s action movie villain. You have some big plot-twists that gouge at the previous series' identity—The Eye of Harmony in the TARDIS, the Doctor is half-human on his mother's side, and the TARDIS can now bring people back to life—but these might have been altered or adapted later or explained later. You do have a couple of nice chase scenes, a bit of fun camp as Eric Roberts gets into his version of the Master, and a couple of fun bits of action that you see apparent in the new-Who series. There are a lot of reasons to gripe—see plot-twists above—but at least it is fun in a TV pilot way. It could have been better, but the creators were trying a little bit of new. 26 years is a long time to keep a continuity up**.

In the all in all, though I understand the attempt, I just think the sum total was bungled. A bit of a mess, and more a snapshot of what could have been rather than something I would have fully wished for. McGann could have a better start and McCoy definitely needed a better finish. I'd think the thing warrants a mostly Fair score overall, with the Meh and the Good roughly averaging out.

* Even though the BBC was somewhat done, it would eventually pick back up books [publishing, unless I am mistaken, the Eighth Doctor Adventure series] and produce a radio-play or two. However, fan products, Target's novelizations and new books (which came to an end as the BBC brought the books back in-house) and Big Finish's early audioplays were going on; leading to Doctor Who becoming increasingly a fan-production, something that is still fairly true.

** Though, by this time, the PBS showing of Tom Baker's serials that were really popular in the 80s were starting to die down, I think. I really have no idea.

*** I would say that Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat have both done a great job of updating the continuity while also reshaping it.

Si Vales, Valeo

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