One of the most controversial elements of the “Doctor Who” mythos is the dreaded TV movie. Made by Fox with the cooperation of the BBC and Universal, and intended to spin off into an American TV series, the Doctor Who movie in 1996 starring Paul McGann is almost universally hated. Let’s find out why, and why now might be time to reconsider it, after the jump.
The 1996 Fox TV Doctor Who movie is much maligned in many circles. Even hardcore fans like my friend Terry, in his excellent old school Who blog, hate it, as you can see here. The fact is, despite its budget (which for the record was bigger than anything previously attempted by the BBC), and a few continuity glitches, it’s really not that far off from the current “Doctor Who” series that we all love. One might even say it was the groundbreaker for it. I think what was really wrong with this movie was that it just wasn’t the original series, and was too early for the new one.
There were things in the movie that were a shock to traditional audiences, but today wouldn’t have made anyone bat an eye. At the time, much was made of The Doctor landing in America – and recently, Who coming to America was the biggest thing to happen to the show. The Seventh Doctor was shot in a gang gunfight as he exited the TARDIS, would we even blink at that kind of thing today?
And then there’s the romantic tension between The Doctor and a companion, and Gallifrey forbid, a kiss! Ha. Maybe we just weren’t ready for it. A decade later all we wanted was Rose and The Doctor together. The Master displayed weird new powers in the TV movie, but were they really any different from those he had in the Russell T. Davies series? Why was it all right for John Simm, but not Eric Roberts?
Now there are problems. That insanity about The Doctor being half-human, half-human on his mother’s side? Now that’s just nonsense. I know that there was a theory floating around fandom for a while, but it was never canon. And why would The Master be tried on Skaro, and would Daleks even carry out his execution? That’s just absurd, and a lazy way to pay homage to the past by both acknowledging the Daleks and letting us hear them say, “Exterminate!” Some of the dialogue is maddening, and the ultimate plot and resolution is foggy, but I can look past some of it.
I can look past it mostly because there’s also a lot to like here. I dug The Doctor having a doctor as a companion, who kills him by mistake, and a companion doctor in an odd outfit as well! I really liked Chang Lee as companion to both Doctor and Master, and Chang signing The Doctor in to the hospital unknowingly as his own alias John Smith was a nice touch. I also liked the return of Jelly Babies.
Paul McGann is brilliant and would have made a wonderful long term Doctor. I was so glad to see him again in “Night of The Doctor.” The movie has all the hallmarks of a regeneration episode. Shaky resurrection, great wardrobing scene, but the Eighth Doctor does take a bit too long to get his memory back however, but all in all, is it that much different from “The Christmas Invasion” where the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) spent most of the episode in bed?
Perhaps, as I said, it was just too early for this kind of Doctor. Most of the TV movie seems to me to be much like the current TV series, only lacking a bit of humor and heart maybe. It was good to see Sylvester McCoy once again, and I wish we could see more of Paul McGann. There’s a lot to like, a lot not to like, but I didn’t hate it. I think it’s worth checking out, at least once, with a new eye, but not the Eye of Harmony (…and why was it in the TARDIS again?). I bet you’ll enjoy it, despite yourself.
And I’ll see you in August when the new season of “Doctor Who” starts up.