Retro ‘Doctor Who’ Review – Vol. 8 (The Movie)
When diminishing ratings and the show falling into routine the BBC shelved the Doctor Who franchise after an epic 26 seasons. The first attempt to resurrect the series occurred with the made for television movie/pilot in 1996. With the tone of the show changed to appeal to American audiences and changes to continuity fans were unhappy with the new direction and the reboot was not continued.
The story begins with the Doctor being recruited to deliver the remains of the Master from his execution on Skaros to their home of Gallifrey. When the Master’s remains escape from their box the TARDIS crashes on San Francisco hours away from New Years Eve, 1999. Upon arrival the Doctor is gunned down by a street gang and taken to hospital by a paramedic. Cardiologist Dr. Grace Holloway in unable to save him and he is placed in a morgue, where he regenerates.
Right from the opening scene we have problems. There’s no context for the Master being on trail for a ‘list of evil crimes’ on Skaro, as the Daleks tend not to bother with such formalities before exterminating people. Why they would allow the Doctor to collect his remains is also drastically out of character. The remains of the Master being sentient ooze is also a major plot point that is completely left without explanation. Seeing poor Sylvester McCoy being shot by gang members is a terribly undignified way for a Doctor to go, and the farce of the doctors trying to save him is also terrible to watch. The whole rigmarole of the surgeons refusing to belief that what they are looking at is real is one thing, but all the sweeping and crooked camera angles just looks cheesy. Then we get the ‘wacky’ mortician pulling stupid faces while the Doctor regenerates and somehow kicks his way through a metal door. We get into true B-Movie territory when the Doctor heads into a dark, messy hospital ward full of broken mirrors and broken dolls for some reason, so he could scream “who am I?” at the sky a few times.
Paul McGann does deserve due credit, he is a fine choice for the Doctor and it’s just a shame that he wasn’t given the opportunity to really flesh out his version of the role. He’s got the right balance of youthful charm and wisdom beyond his years that characterise the Doctor and the random instances of amnesia could be a new way to explore the history of the character. His chance to put his own spin on the long running character is marred by some of the perplexing changes to the continuity. Much of the resolution to the story comes from the baffling news that the Doctor is half human.
Less successful is Eric Roberts as the Master. Often a decent actor his hammy take on the usually dignified and calculating foe is downright embarrassing. From the moments that he gets possessed by the evil snot snake that the Master turned into for some reason it just causes cringing. The glowing green eyes are a weird choice as well, meaning that he wears sunglasses throughout the film, which does nothing to improve his performance. Daphnes Ashbrook fills in companion duties as Grace Holloway, the heart surgeon who can’t identify when her patient has two hearts even after he tells her and shows her x-rays. Grace doesn’t develop much as a character, and basically functions as a standard issue action movie love interest.
Speaking of action, there is much more convention action sequences in this film compared to the typical Doctor Who story. Riding around the place on a stolen police motorcycle is something else that feels drastically out of place, and the special effects heavy confrontation at the end is just a drawn out, poorly filmed mess. For reasons unknown the Doctor is forced to spend this confrontation wearing what it very clearly a repurposed optometrists testing device. Things are made worse with constant cuts back to close up footage of the wacky mortician making faces at party, as though this is going to be comic relief. Plus we get the ever-frustrating cop out of main characters being killed in the finale only to be brought back to life in the next scene.
This is a bad movie, and a terrible example of Doctor Who. For a layman the story is terrible and cheesy, the acting is atrocious and the action and comedy mostly falls flat. For Whovians this is a confusing mess of broken continuity misuse of your favourite hero. Feel sorry for McCoy and McGann for being involved in this dredge and avoid at all costs.