Review By Liam O Brien, 3 out of 5
“It’s not often one has a Time-Lord in one’s living room Doctor!”
He’s back, and its about time! howled the BBC, press and any one else who cared in 1996- yes DOCTOR WHO was coming back! For one night. The American Tv movie held so much promise for fans of the show- a new Doctor, a budget, just the idea of a new series was good enough. But it did badly in the US- and, as such is network tv over in yankee doodle land, the show didn’t get a chance at a full blow series. The popular belief is McGann as the Eighth Doc was excellent, but the show was. . . crap. Is it true? Well. . .
It begins with the TARDIS, the great Seventh Doctor onboard (Sylvester McCoy) zipping through the vortex, on its way to Gallifrey to take the remains of arch enemy The Master home after extermination by the Daleks (how this is possible is never explained- the Doctor WORKING with the tin plated pepper pots?!). This is until it all goes wrong- the Master in liquid ooze form breaks free of the casket in which he is contained and forces the TARDIS to land- the place, San Francisco, the time- December 28th, 1999. As he leaves the ship however- the time lord is gunned down and left for dead. From there, it gets worse- in more ways than one.
The problems with the movie can be found in the script- its full of clumsy scenes and unrealistic characters. The Master, normally a great character, is written badly (but the performance is worse) and the Doctor finds one of his worst ever companions in the form of Dr. ‘Amazing’ Grace Holloway. She’s worse than Mel. And Peri. She’s that bad. The script packs in things it thinks will be shocking (Grace being taken over by the Master) but are instead obvious way’s to move things along. Also, there are a lot of things that go against established WHO lore- suddenly, The Doctor is half human (the American need to humanise EVERYTHING) and the Master can turn into some sort of worm/snake thing. That’s not all- there really are too many things to mention. The pace is all wrong, and a lot of the acting is very bad- but it’s not all terrible. The scenes with McCoy are brilliant and harrowing. The moment where he screams before his death is a classic WHO moment, and a final, fitting send off for the Seventh Doctor. But he’s killed off in the first twenty minutes, and from there on the film looses its way.
The Master is terrible. Eric Roberts portrays him as a pantomime figure, one who growls and gnashes his teeth and has glowing eyes, but he’s so incredibly camp he casts a shadow over the whole enterprise- even with the script problems, take away Roberts and that’s 40% of the problem gone. However, his awful performance is tempered by that of McGann- the George Lazenby of DOCTOR WHO. McGann is excellent- doing something few Doctors ever have- making his mark in his first story- he, unlike all before him ever had the time to settle into the role. This was his one shot- he took it and scored. Unlike but like those who have gone before him, he lifts the production and makes things that little bit slicker- kudos to the US telly people for casting a brit as the Doctor anyway! But even that’s a problem- there are several “don’t worry, he’s British so he’s not crazy, he’s eccentric”sort of lines. Also there are several ‘kisses to the past’ too many. The sonic screwdriver and jelly babies return, but these feel forced on McGann- these were Tom Baker’s hallmarks, this is a new Doctor, not the fourth. Other homage’s and changes work however. The Doctor is attired in a manner that reminds you of Hartnell or Troughton. Also, the redesign of the TARDIS interior, despite purist rumblings, works and is excellent.
The production values are superb. Shots of the TARDIS ‘in flight’ and the Master in liquid form work well, as do the little tweaks to the TARDIS’s materialisation sequence. The sets, especially the new TARDIS interior are wonderful- if only such lavish attention had been paid to the script this would have been a winner. Also, the direction- this is possibly the best directed adventure of all, with dramatic framing and some beautiful shots put in. But the main problem is that in trying to assimilate a distinctly British show to the needs and wants of American network TV, the producers lost what made DOCTOR WHO run for 26 years of UK tv- the feel that its different to anything else out there. As it is, the TV MOVIE fails largely because it just doesn’t feel like true, bonafide WHO- be that because of the budget or script, or even its setting, it’s just lacking that little bit extra that a Hollywood budget can’t buy- originality.
THE DISC: The restoration team had little to do on the disc- a little nip here and a tuck there with a few minutes worth of exorcised footage- all due to violence edits in the UK. This is, happily, the uncut version, and as it is, explains the 12 certificate. The extras, as with all DOCTOR WHO dvd’s are great- and comprehensive. They include a commentary by director Geoffrey Sax (amophooone- sorry went into Homer Simpson mode) an isolate music track, on screen production notes, deleted scenes, trailers, photo gallery, an interview with Philip Segal from 2001, being the man most directly responsible for the production he explains how it went wrong is some areas. The rest of the extras are from the press kit produced at the time, which features interviews with all the major cast and crew. Overall a nice package, for an OK feature.
ANY GOOD?: It plods, its dull in places, its plot is full of holes, but its the newest DOCTOR WHO, and its not as bad as everyone says it is- thanks mostly to McGann and in some small way to McCoy. It’s a lesson for the BBC if they ever get round to making a new series of how do not to do things, and how to do some things. In terms of a movie, it fails, in terms of moments, short, sweet moments where it really is DOCTOR WHO again- it succeeds. Short, beautiful scenes- that’s the best your gonna get from the TV MOVIE.