Dimensions in Time
aka. "Enemy Within", "The Fox Telemovie"
|Production Code||Made for TV movie|
|Dates||May 14, 1996 (US)|
With Paul McGann, Sylvester McCoy,
Daphne Ashbrook, Yee Jee Tso, and Eric Roberts as "The Master".
Written by Matthew Jacobs. Directed by Geoffrey Sax.
Executive Producer: Philip David Segal.
|Synopsis: The life of the seventh Doctor comes to an abrupt end after the Master returns to life after his (latest) execution. But the Doctor regenerates to find himself in love with his inadvertant killer (Daphne Ashbrook) and fighting the power of the Eye of Harmony locked inside his own TARDIS.|
Too bad by Daniel Callahan Updated 6/10/97
What I wrote back on September 6th, 1996:
McGann is unpredictably charming (and charmingly unpredictable) as the eighth Doctor, although McCoy hardly receives as appropriate farewell to his role as the seventh. Eric Roberts plays an American Master well, although the supporting cast perform less convincingly. The plot and story are nearly negligible, but I'm disposed to be lenient.... Paul McGann is perhaps the perfect choice for the Doctor. On the basis of his portrayal alone, a new series is warranted. Despite the hoped-for explosive return of Doctor Who, this story (unofficially titled The Enemy Within) holds up rather quietly but well.
What was I thinking? Probably mindless optimism, (bordering on insanity?). I still believe that as pilots go, Enemy Within stands up better than some, but who watches the Next Gen. pilot for fun? And I would still love to watch a series with McGann, who doesn't throb my heart but is still absolutely charming.
But back to the What was I thinking? department. McCoy's farewell is more than hardly appropriate: it is atrocious, badly-conceived, ludicruous, unworthy, etc. If McCoy would have stumbled out of the TARDIS, collapsed, and regenerated in the first ten seconds of the program, I would have less of a sense of disappointment (to say nothing of that non-event, the morphing of McCoy to McGann).
Eric Roberts? Not the best of the best.
As far as plot: the eye symbolism might have worked if the Eye of Harmony was supposed to be in the TARDIS, or if the Eye had meant anything to the story. The Christ symbolism also just appeared and did nothing in particular. For one thing, Christ was forced to wear a crown of thorns before his resurrection, not the other way around. As far as the Frankenstein motif: who cares? And why did anyone go with this script in the first place? Harlan Ellsion could have dashed off a few notes on a new series that would have topped this story, a move that might have saved Doctor Who from extinction.
Which is the situation we're facing. Animated series, radio series, new or missing novels that purport to be legitimate Doctor Who adventures (if I want broad and deep, I'll read a real novel, thank-you) will not do. But unless something drastic is done, this pilot seems to have accomplished what the BBC had wanted back in 1989: to get rid of a thirty year-old eyesore.
What a way to end a series.
A Review by Robert Smith? 2/3/97
Well, this is probably one of the most controversial stories ever -- it's the first televised story ever to be declared non-canonical (something I disagree with entirely, not just because I like the story), it's big budget, it's glorious, it's full of imagery and themes and some wonderful acting and I love it to death!
This is Who for the nineties. Like the New Adventures (which it bears a lot of similarities to!), it takes the concept of Doctor Who and reworks it for the nineties, proving the timelessness of the character. We've got lots of links to the past (most of them fairly subtle), we've got a wonderful leading man in Paul McGann, a great regeneration sequence, telling themes on the nature of life and death and conquering your fears and a battle between two Timelords on a planet about to be destroyed.
The writing is simply gorgeous -- the dialogue and characterisation absolutly *shine*. The plot is a bit more of a problem -- but a few lines to explain the slightly confusing ending would have fixed that. The set design is out of this world (check out that console room!) As is the direction. Geoffrey Sax put an incredible effort into the direction, often shooting scenes over and over to get it just right -- and it shows!
Doctor Who is back. And it's about time!
Dead and Buried by Dennis McDermott 15/3/97
The BBC may have killed off the Doctor; Fox buried him with this ill-conceived movie. Imagine you've never seen a single episode of Doctor Who but decided to see what all the hoopla was about? How likely would it be that your television set would still be on 45 minutes later?
The problems here are numerous. The seventh Doctor lands in San Francisco, steps out of the TARDIS, and is immediately shot. Why? Who knows? Apparently the script writer didn't seem to think motivation is an important part of plot development. More seriously, the Doctor essentially disappears for half the movie. Even with extensive knowledge of the Whovian universe, the first half of this story is slow, confusing, and more than a bit wierd. Imagine what a first-timer must of thought.
Second, Doctor Who, like Star Trek, works best with an optimistic overtone to it. There is a reason why the Tardis background is white. The dark, brooding tone (especially at the beginning) is far too much at variance with the Doctor's history. A case in point is the regeneration scene. In the past, the Doctor regenerates heroically, usually surrounded by friends (though to be honest I haven't seen the second or sixth regeneration). Here he dies for no real good reason, is stuffed in a cooler, and has to bust his way out as if he's Frankenstein's Monster. The first half of this movie is a complete muddle, and Doctor Who at its worst.
Fortunately, once the eighth Doctor regains his senses, the whole thing turns around. Paul McGann is a wonderful Doctor, probably establishing the best persona since Tom Baker (here with the caveat that I haven't seen the Sylvester McCoy episodes yet; I was out of the country). The story moves along effienciently and is quite entertaining. Here I will agree with the other reviews. However, by this time there was probably so few television sets tuned to it that it probably didn't matter much. And that's a shame.
Doctor Who (the TV Movie): A New Beginning? by Carl Malmstrom 26/5/97
I usually like to review episodes soon after I've seen then because they're fresh in my mind. However, as this is the first anniversary of the TV Movie and my copy is elsewhere, I'll have to make do with my memories of it. I warn you now: this review may sound like you've heard it before. If it does, it's because for once I agree with almost everyone else says.
Almost exactly one year ago FOX tantalized us by briefly bringing back the Doctor. They dangled in front of our faces a pilot and a series that they were planning around it. They cast a brilliant actor as the Doctor who could have rivalled Tom Baker as the most popular Doctor given the chance, one (or possibly two) strong companions, and, while not the best Master ever, not the worst either (if you count Geoffrey Beevers and Peter Pratt). They revamped the TARDIS, spent a bundle of money, and then dumped it in San Francisco and tried to cover up a lousy plot with a number of overpriced special effects. Oh yeah, and they killed off my favorite Doctor, too. Don't get me wrong, I was glad too see Sylvester McCoy behind the console one last time, but the events leading up to the regeneration were some of the darkest, most painfully X-Files-ish I've ever seen. In other words, it was too FOX. Maybe it's just as well they passed on the series. The rumor mill has it that other companies are interested in Doctor Who. While these are just rumors and should be taken as no more than such, it would be really nice to see someone else do the series justice. Keep Paul McGann, keep the TARDIS, even keep Grace and Chang Lee, just dump the network.
So I guess what I'm trying to say here is, thank you FOX for giving us hope and for giving us a glimpse at what Doctor Who could be under the right hands. I'm just sorry that those hands are were not capable of being yours. Doctor Who is an entity unto itself. It had secret organizations saving the world from conspiracies long before Chris Carter had ever dreamed of the X-Files. It would have been a tragedy had FOX made Doctor Who into a pale X-Files clone like Milennium or even Sliders. It's sad that we must once again wait and see what will happen, but we should not lose hope. The Third Doctor's last words as a regular Doctor Who actor were "Where there's life there's...", but remember he regenerated shortly afterwards and came back better than ever, and with luck, so will Doctor Who.
A Review by Leo Vance 20/1/98
This is the return of Doctor Who, intended to relaunch the series as `The Next Generation' relaunched Star Trek. Well, I have to tell you that in my opinion: it's bad.
On the upside, we have Paul McGann as an excellent Doctor, similar to Peter Davison and Tom Baker. We also have a great performance and a good character in Yee Jee Tso's Chang Lee. Then you have Professor Wagg, followed closely by the special effects and costumes, both of which were acceptable.
Now we come to the downsides: Eric Roberts is the worst Master ever seen (I prefer Peter Pratt and, to most fans, that will be a pointer to how much I hated Roberts' portrayal). I can't tell you how awful it was to watch his wooden portrayal. Then there is Daphne Ashbrook as Grace Holloway. This is the stupidest woman I have ever seen: She doesn't believe the Doctor is an alien when he has two hearts, extraordinary blood, and he has stepped through a solid glass window!
The general cast are so awful that I'm not going to mention them. The script is next under the hammer: It's awful and barely watchable except for a few scenes (those with Professor Wagg in them, the Doctors shoe scene and the section where he threatens himself with a gun). The kissing is as a 13-year old, a bad mistake: the Doctor is my hero because he's not all mushy mushy, he doesn't go round the TARDIS for 45-minute episodes just having the characters undergoing emotional problems (as in Star Trek).
The direction is less than average, if not awful; and the new TARDIS set is the worst ever shown on Doctor Who! It is simply awful. The Cloister Room is a horrible mistake, the Eye of Harmony is another mistake. I mean, I'm not a continuity fanatic, but making these awful mistakes is just unbelievable (bad as Mawdryn Undead) from a fan producer.
Overall, an immensely disappointing story, with some good points. Never let Daphne Ashbrook, Eric Roberts or Matthew Jacobs near Doctor Who again! 4/10
A poor script, and it lacked that Doctor Who spirit by Tom May 19/3/98
"I always dressssss..for the occasion!"
Well, well. That Doctor Who returned was a great opportunity spurned by the makers of this "TV Movie," it doesn?t feel like Doctor Who. What's more, the script is incoherent, incorrect and dull. Frankly, I can't find a single story out of the other 159 that is as badly plotted as this. Even The Twin Dilemma etc. have scripts, if not effects, that beat this. As for "Americanization" of our beloved programme, I have to say that this isn't a problem. The only real requirement was for a British Doctor.
There is appalling continuity, which I can excuse, if the story improves on what went before-- The Deadly Assassin, for example. It was a shame that the early part of the film doesn?t attempt to "canonize" the New Adventures using McCoy. Sylvester McCoy is tellingly great here, a truly untimely end to his underrated era as the Doctor. It's only his familiar voice-- "There, that should do it!" that comforts me into believing this is Doctor Who. McGann's narration is well-done but unnecessary, like McCoy's new costume. Paul McGann is reasonable but not outstanding (but neither were McCoy or Colin Baker in their respective debuts), I felt his best as the Doctor was to come.
Eric Roberts was better than I'd expected him to be as the Master-- finding a neat balance between the likable/camp and sheer malevolence. This Master, while not as well acted as Delgado, is the most evil, deadly Master of them all.
Daphne Ashbrook as Grace is, if not crucial, incidental to the plot. Ashbrook is inconsistent, acting-wise with some fine moments and some true howlers. Positively, I quite enjoyed the bizarre scenes (neatly directed by Geoff Sax) of Grace prancing about the hospital in an overblown ballgown. Shame she didn't keep that outfit (!), we don't really see much character interaction here-- Grace suffers from this as she doesn?t have enough to do.
If you wanted to explain away the kissing then I'd put it down to post-regenerational trauma- the Sixth Doctor strangled Peri, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Doctors acted a little bizarrely, and the 7th was completelybizarre in his debut. One totally unneeded element was, of course, the "Half-Human" factor.
An abysmal script, based entirely on inconsistent dialogue, a crucial lack of any characterization, bar the four lead parts, ruins any sense of interest, also, it was a bad idea to base the thing on effects so much-- after all, the sets for the classic Ghost Light are superb but cheap. McCoy should've been given a longer innings, although McGann is promising. The ending, seems to suggest this was just another adventure for the Doctor.
Let's hope that Doctor Who returns properly, in a series of stories- until then, watch City of Death, watch Tomb of the Cybermen, watch Curse of Fenric, watch the reconstructions, write fanzines, spread the word, read the books and enjoy the legacy, of Doctor Who. 3.5/10
A Review by Matt Michael 29/11/98
In the cold light of day, the TV Movie has been heavily criticised. We've been told that it was too violent, not funny enough, the plot didn't make sense and the effects were too good. All-in-all, a sector of fandom has decided that the TV Movie is appalling. I'd like to respectfully suggest that they are wrong.
The TV Movie is superb, in many respects a peerless Doctor Who classic. The direction is inspired (particularly the regeneration sequence), better than anything we ever saw in the series, even in Androzani. For the first time there is symbolism in evidence (the theme of the eye is one), and the editing is faultless. Added to this some very impressive special effects, and a wonderfully large console room that, while not quite to my tastes, really does look spectacular and you have a visual treat unparalleled in Who history.
The acting is also of a superb standard. Eric Roberts makes a great Master, all black humour and camp villainy, and Daphne Ashbrook is a marvellous companion -- with her understated wit and charm she truly deserves the name "Grace". And then there is the Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann. On the basis of this one performance, I would say that McGann's Doctor is the most promising since Peter Davison. The Eighth Doctor is a massive contrast to the Seventh. Gone is the dark, manipulative side. Gone, the omniscience. The Eighth Doctor is an innocent abroad, a true hero in the best Hollywood tradition, best demonstrated in the oft-quoted motorcycle cop scene, which must rate as a classic Doctor Who moment. McGann's performance is as magical as Tom's and as heroic as Peter's, and he manages, in the space of a mere sixty minutes, to make the part his own.
Of course, it can't all be wonderful, and the script is rather weaker than I might have liked, particularly the rushed and poorly explained ending. On the other hand, it's no more nonsensical than Pyramids of Mars, and the sheer wit and style of the production more than make up for the shortcomings of the final quarter.
Another mistake was the inclusion of Sylvester McCoy, whose presence is an unecessary and ill-conceived concession to fans, serving only to further confuse an already complicated story. I cannot help but think that had the first twenty minutes been altered then there would have been more room for characterisation and the story would have seemed less rushed towards the end. This sort of fannish writing represents everything that was wrong with mid-eighties Doctor Who and I hope that if there are more movies continuity will be kept subtle -- "neither confirm nor deny" as Nuala Buffinni might say. Still, at least we had the intriguing and entirely consistent half-human idea thrown in for good measure.
Overall then, a wonderful production that might have benefited from a little less executive interference and obtrusive continuity, and a tighter script. Nevertheless, surely deserving of a 9/10. The saddest thing is that a new series never materialised.
Maybe the epitaph for the Movie, and the series, should be: "It was fun while it lasted."
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 3/12/98
The absence of new Doctor Who since Dimensions in Time was something that could`ve been avoided, and while the TV Movie proved that there was light at the end of the tunnel, it was just another wasted opportunity by the BBC.
If there was one thing wrong with it, it was the plot: it tries to tell the audience too much at once. Given that it was aimed at new viewers, this was a mistake. Instead, it should have sticked to what Doctor Who does best: tell a story of good versus evil. That said, however, once the storyline is established, things do improve and at a great speed.
Production values are very high here, with outstanding special effects (notably the regeneration) and an exemplary, if somewhat grandiose, TARDIS console room. On the acting front, everybody is on fine form. Sylvester McCoy, whilst undoubtedly a stranger to some viewers got a decent send off, leaving the viewer in no doubt that Paul McGann is the Doctor. In roughly an hour, he achieves this, conveying a childlike, innocent, vulnerable yet romantic side to the rogue Gallifreyan.
Daphne Ashbrook, deservedly earning her character's nickname of "Amazing Grace", brings a witty, vulnerable and gutsy companion to the nineties and one that should have travelled on with the Doctor. Eric Roberts, meanwhile, brings a new meaning to the term "pantomime villain", being both menacing and camp, breathing new life into the Master.
Some plot elements don`t sit too comfortably with every fan either, especially the half human aspect. However, this makes sense given the Doctor`s love of Earth and ties in with why he left Susan there. The kiss, too, is nothing over the top, given the blossoming friendship between Grace and the Doctor. And the ending, whilst not immediately obvious, makes sense after repeated viewing.
Add to this the subtle continuity references, the use of (particularly religious) symbolism, and a revamped theme tune, the result: a recipe for success. It`s a pity only the fans seem to realise this.
This Is Doctor Who?! by Bryan Smith 6/12/98
What can possibly be said about the TV movie that hasn't been mentioned? To call it rubbish would be considered by some a harsh response toward Doctor Who's best shot at a comeback in years. To call it breathtaking would be an overstatement, and while that description may accurately describe the "look" of the telemovie, it certainly has nothing to do with the plot.
Many people have pointed out that Paul McGann's performance is enough to make this a classic, but I disagree. His performance was indeed something special, but the fact that a weak and almost utterly threadbare plotline was thrown in makes the "story" completely forgettable. In fact, when people praise the telemovie, they rarely mention the plot holes: instead, they lavish praise on the acting and direction, which would normally be fine, but for one small problem... This is Doctor Who!
The one thing that Doctor Who has always had going for it over all other science fiction programming is it's ability to tell good stories. It's that simple. In the TV movie, however, all the matter in the universe is so unstable that Paul McGann can stick his hand through various surfaces, but no one else in the world seems to notice anything's wrong! In the TV movie, Grace lets a complete stranger, a hospital patient, into her apartment for no particular reason. In the TV movie, the Doctor and company need to find a machine-doohickey created by Professor Whatzisname to stop the end of the world before it's too late. Never mind the kiss, never mind the squeaky Dalek voices, and never mind the fact that there are leaves drifting in the console room, there is no real story in this one!
That said, let me mention that the telemovie's scripting wouldn't have been quite so bad, had the scriptwriter decided to focus solely on the Doctor's regenerative crisis. All the scenes involving Sylvester McCoy's death, Paul McGann's confusion, and Daphne Ashbrook's disbelief at the miracle taking place in front of her were all handled very well.
Perhaps a better approach to the storyline would've been one from an outsider's perspective. From the very beginning, the audience sees things from the Doctor's point of view. The viewer knows from the very beginning that the Doctor travels in a phone booth, bigger on the inside than out, and that there's something alien about him. Wouldn't the plot have been more fascinating, especially for a person who had never seen the show before, if Chang Lee's amazed entrance into the TARDIS had been the first we'd seen of the TARDIS interior? Or perhaps we could have seen things from Grace's perspective, as she encounters a seemingly crazy individual who claims to be a half-human time traveller?
Anyway, that's enough Who-bashing for now (although, as Adric once said, "There's lots more!"). I read somewhere that the TV movie's scriptwriter, Matthew Jacobs, was penning the script for the new Francis Ford Coppala film. Well Francis, just a word of advice: watch out for this guy. He's something else, and no amount of good direction can stop him!
These shoes! They fit perfectly! by Will Jones 8/6/99
The state of collective anticipation in fandom was immense. Doctor Who was returning. We knew it would feature big Hollywood special effects and would feature the Master. We knew that, although it was an American production, it was to be co-produced by the BBC and even the American producer was a long-time fan of the series. This all sounded great. Our only real worry was the man they'd cast as the Doctor. Paul McGann? Drunken, stoned, paranoid 'I' in his most famous work? And a scouser, to boot. Cropped of hair and short of smile, an American fan put it best in a letter to Doctor Who Magazine: there was, he said, "no humour in his eyes". As it turned out, of course, we were worrying about exactly the wrong thing. Doctor Who (or Enemy Within as I'll call it to save confusion) is a vast science-fiction TV movie. It bears little or no connection to the programme we all know and love. Yes, it features a character called the Doctor, and a machine called the TARDIS. Yes, his enemy is the Master. The context is right, but the film itself is another thing altogether.
Doctor Who, as we know it, is - at it's best - a wonderful piece of television. It has the power to move, to enlighten, and to enthral. Even when it's below par, sometimes woefully so, still it tries to do this. Enemy Within makes no such claims. Enemy Within is fairly formulaic action TV. Chase scenes serve no purpose other than to provide a cheap slice of adrenaline. The villain is a stereotypical hissing beast, a long way from the debonair, urbane Master played (in particular) by the wonderful Roger Delgado. The hero defeats the villain and gets laid en route. Everything builds up quickly to an action-packed finale which bangs on the special effects at the expense of the plot, which relies mostly upon coincidences (how come they're reporting exactly what the Doctor wants to see on TV?).
The film seems to realise how slender the resemblance is to traditional Who, so slaps on the continuity links until they become tedious, no matter how irrelevant they are to the plot. We have Skaro, Daleks, a sonic screwdriver, jelly babies, a long multicoloured scarf, and an utterly wasted Sylvester McCoy as a Seventh Doctor bereft both of the lively humour that characterised his television appearances and the dark manipulative side seen in the New Adventures.
So the thing itself has major flaws. But it is lifted a long, long way by the Doctor, played to perfection by Paul McGann. Oh, how perfectly cast he was. The shoes do indeed fit perfectly. He's funny, lively, irreverent and above all good. His main ambition is to stop evil and save humanity. McGann plays him so convincingly that a non-fan viewer would no doubt end up rooting for him.
He's not the story's only good point, of course. Geoffrey Sax appears to be a talented director, and makes the best of an appalling script. Many have criticised the new TARDIS interior, but I personally think it's great. Daphne Ashbrook and Yee Jee Tso carry off the supporting actor honours between them, and the acting as a whole (if you ignore the stupid comic characters) is of a higher level than much we saw on the BBC. Most importantly, this is entertaining stuff; brainless, yes, but still entertaining. We are made to forget that it's stupid and patently not Doctor Who simply by the pace (especially after the Doctor has his memory back) and by Sax's spirited direction.
All in all, this is okay to good TV, but that's all it is. It's not real Doctor Who, but it's better than a lot of the programme's past clunkers, like The Dominators and The Curse of Peladon. 6/10
Casting a Cold Eye by Mike Morris 3/8/99
He's back - but not for long... I've got to admit that the TV movie is kind of hard to review, mostly because of its sheer importance. It was Doctor Who, it was expensive, and it was - wait for it - on the telly! Nothing will top that sheer thrill of anticipation I got when that concluded in the Master being blown up and those credits rolling, and wasn't the music great?
But all that apart, the fundamental question must be asked. Was the TVM any good? Well no, not really, it was tosh. I'm not saying it wasn't a fun piece of tosh, but it was tosh. Go on, admit it to yourself!
To be fair, though, a lot of this can be explained away by the fact that it had an awful lot to do. Regeneration stories are difficult enough, but this one had to reintroduce the entire concept of the series, with thirty years of continuity baggage to boot - tricky. On paper, the approach taken by the construction team was perfect. Rather than featuring a full alien invasion plot, as per Spearhead from Space, the story is more akin to Castrovalva - a straight scrap for survival between the Doctor and the Master.
So the storyline was nigh-on perfect, with the possible exception of the unnecessary - but understandable - the-whole-planet's-going-to-be-destroyed subplot. But, at the end of the day, the telemovie isn't really all that good. It has an awful lot of needless car-chases and what have you, a technobabble conclusion, and a horrible, horrible script. What went wrong?
A quick digression. I've heard a few people level that old chestnut of an accusation, "It's not real Doctor Who!" at the TVM. There's no such thing as a "real" or "traditional" Doctor Who story. The whole point of Who is that it is an eclectic show, full of variety. Depending on your favourite era you can argue that "real" Doctor Who should contain an incomprehensible poacher, a yellow car, wobbly sets and companions who never change their clothes. Rubbishing the TVM because the TARDIS console room is different isn't really a proper argument, IMO.
Anyway, back to the review. The first twenty-five minutes or so are great. It's well-directed, boasts an excellent central performance, and introduces the new Doctor wonderfully well. It's when we get to the bothersome business of telling a story that things start to go funny. Why is the world going to end on the stroke of midnight? How come the Doctor can walk through a pane of glass but nowhere else is at all affected? There are some marvellous moments, sure, the Doctor threatening to shoot himself chief among them, but there's every cliche in existence on display here. The Doctor happens to need a berillium atomic clock, and hey presto there's one being built right there (and what did he need the berillium chip for anyway?). The flash effects can't disguise a silly, silly piece of storytelling.
Then there's all those continuity links that even JNT would have found a bit too much. It's a common misconception that Doctor Who fans desperately need sonic screwdrivers, jelly babies, gold dust (yeah, cos the Doctor always carries bags of that stuff around), scarves and yo-yos to enjoy a story. No, we don't. This is fanwank, and in a film that was trying to win a new audience that's unforgivable. Not to mention the "half-human" revelation. Why? As I said above, this story had an awful lot of information to pass on, so why complicate the job by giving yourself yet more of it? The result is that the Doctor just decides to mention, to Grace, for no particular reason, that he's half-human. I don't have a problem with that, but it wasn't integral to the plot, so why bother?
And another thing. If one more person says that the movie was witty I'm going to scream. It wasn't. Funny, yes, in places. Not witty. Motorbikes going into the TARDIS isn't wit, it's slapstick. One of the most irritating things about the script was the sheer lack of wit, the missed opportunities for jokes. Example; when Grace asks the Doctor to tell him about her future. I was really waiting for a payoff, a joke of some sort. Instead, the Doctor shrugged. He shrugged! Surely he could do better than that?
But - and this is the big but - it was a pilot. Although not very good in itself, there was enough there to suggest that the series could have been great, and that's all a pilot is supposed to do at the end of the day. If I've been ranting about how bad it was for the last few paragraphs, but I'll qualify that by saying that it wasn't a turkey. It was well directed, it was diverting, it had a wonderful frantic pace to it and it voted an amazingly strong central performance. Paul McGann was magnificent, and would certainly have made a series worth watching. It got nine million viewers in Britain, and most people enjoyed it.
What more is a pilot supposed to do, after all?
No other gripes, apart from the "homophobic subtext" discussed in Licence Denied. I'm uncomfortable with that theory, but there's a certain justification for it, which is a pity. I'll just fervently hope that I'm seeing things that aren't there.
Conclusion. As a story? Terrible.
As a template for a possible series? Excellent. So why the bloody hell didn't Fox make one? Can I sue them for playing with my pathetically frail emotions like that? If I can, I'll sue them for every penny they've got...
It's slightly strange, watching the piece of television that The Completely Useless Encyclopaedia dubbed The U.S. Telemovie With The Pertwee Logo, to remember how important it once seemed. The telemovie is more or less forgotten by most of the general public now, and - give or take the odd appearance by Paul McGann in a five minute mini-episode - it's pretty much unreferenced by the series as a whole. In an era when we keep hearing about "game-changers", it's worth noting that the telemovie positively bristles with them; they just wound up being largely ignored. This is considered proper, telly-canon - the Journal Of Impossible Things made clear, and the Master's reference to being resurrected by the Time Lords seems specifically designed to pick up the threads of the telemovie. Still, we've yet to talk about the Doctor being half-human; if we pick up the hints in The End Of Time, his mother definitely comes from Gallifrey.
So the telemovie feels like a strange offshoot; an alt-universe template for a form of Doctor Who we simply never got. Pitching Doctor Who purely as a cult series seemed to make sense at the time, and it's easy to forget that, on its initial broadcast, huge swathes of fandom really liked it. The Virgin novel range had begun to cement it as a property for adult fans of science fiction, as most of Doctor Who's fans were grown ups (well nominally, in my case, but still). To be completely autobiographical about it, I mainly became a fan through novelisations in the mid-to-late eighties (none of my friends were reading them) and then videos in the 90s, and I couldn't remember this mythical time when Doctor Who was broadly popular. Without being there, it seemed natural to me to see it as the same bloodline as things like Star Trek and Babylon 5 - that's probably why my first review concludes that, as a template for an ongoing show, this was - oh how I shudder - "excellent."
Smarter people than me realised at the time what now seems obvious; trying to hammer Doctor Who into that sort of shape was just... perverse. Moffat-era Who is as close as the show has ever been to that model, and even then you can't compare it to (say) True Blood or - if we go back to 1996 vogue - The X-Files. If I remember right, the most obviously weird thing about the telemovie was almost completely unremarked-upon when it aired: this programme has absolutely no interest in making itself interesting for children. More than all the more notorious elements, it's this that really jars when you watch it now. It reads as a bizarre move to alienate the programme's core audience, and any scenes feel like they've somehow leaked in from a much trashier show made for sub-adolescent adults; you wouldn't see Bruce pulling out his own fingernails, or a probe graphically forcing its way out of the Doctor's chest, in any other era of the series.
On rewatching, there's one moment that really struck me as one of the very nastiest scenes in the whole of Doctor Who. The Master's completely pointless murder of Bruce's wife - for absolutely no reason at all - is witless, sadistic and utterly repugnant. Bruce's wife is treated as little more than a slab of meat, and her murder doesn't achieve anything. The Doctor never learns of it, no one discovers it, and she doesn't even get a name. It's just there to tell us that the Master's, like, not nice. A woman is murdered by her husband in her own home but we're only really expected to notice the Master's silly contact lenses. This sort of mini-horror to launch an episode was an X-Files staple, so this is of its time to an extent, but shorn of that context it's really unpleasant.
On its own merits, though, a lot of the telemovie is very confident and surprisingly enjoyable. It's not amazing, and it's no surprise that Fox didn't commission a series, but it holds up reasonably well. Doctor Who has a long and honourable history of invading other people's stories, so the first half - where it's bending a standard-issue hospital drama out of shape - is something this show has always been good at. The TARDIS materialises in the middle of a gang gunfight, and the Doctor gets shot instead of Chang Lee. So, instead of the surgeons shouting "stat!" and lots of moralising about how gangs are bad that you'd get from a standard-issue hospital drama, the guy they bring to the hospital has two hearts and changes his face. This setup is one thing the telemovie got exactly right.
The other big plus becomes clear on rewatching; Grace is fantastic. In less than ninety minutes, we know more about her as a person than I do about Clara (even though The Day of the Doctor recently dropped a profession in my lap). Grace isn't written as a Doctor Who Girl, she's an intelligent career woman who's developed a taste for expensive things, but after playing the game for some time she decides to say no. This is a woman who's successful in her own right, doesn't need the Doctor to validate a damn thing about her, and will happily junk her own career because she's realised the politics stink. We can tell her boyfriend's a dick just from his reaction when she leaves the opera, and until she's asked to perform character-contortions to keep the plot going, we've got the most emancipated companion since Liz Shaw. She's great.
Similarly, the setting actually functions really well. The Doctor hangs around in waiting-rooms and multi-storey car parks. He wanders through disused wings of hospitals. When he tells Grace they've met before, she thinks he's either a nutcase or a creep. Having the Doctor appear in the back seat of your car isn't treated as a joke, it's a downright frightening thing that lets you think you might be murdered. Yes, it's a 90s U.S. TV version of reality (which oddly seems as dated as Pertwee-era politics), but that's not a terrible thing on its own merits, and it feels closer to the real world than most Doctor Who ever manages.
Unfortunately, the premise hasn't been developed at all well. Conventional wisdom has it that launching a series with a regeneration is a terrible way to go - not least because of how badly it's done here - but I'd argue that they could have made this work. Instead, it's completely botched. The decision to have Paul McGann narrate an alienating Daleks / Master backstory, even when we're still seeing Sylvester McCoy in the role, is utterly baffling to new viewers. The other big dramatic faux pas is easy to miss, because most fans - heck, most people from the UK - take the bigger-on-the-inside thing for granted... but there's nothing at the start to tell a new viewer that the great big library-place is inside that blue box. We keep cutting between them, but it takes a big leap of intuition to realise that the oh-so-quiet cavernous chamber with the armchair is spatially linked to the blue thing bouncing and spinning through space.
And yet... if you were to start the movie with that (lovely) shot of the fish's head being sliced off, you'd have something instantly more dramatic. A mysterious man shows up in the middle of a quite different story. We don't know who this newcomer to the hospital is, or why the hell he's turned into someone else, or whether we can trust him or not. The Master's "he's evil" line might actually have been vaguely convincing, and Chang Lee's entrance into the TARDIS would have been a glorious shock.
It's not hard to spot a script that's been redrafted seven times too many, and this one has clearly been hacked about at the behest of various men-in-suits. The opening suggests it's going to be about gangs, but the way this gets dropped just screams of being leftover from an earlier draft; we're introduced to Chang Lee as a gun-wielding street kid, but this gets mixed down as soon as we're supposed to like him. Grace realises the Doctor is an alien at least three times, but forgets whenever the script needs her to. The Doctor's anguished and quite frightening when he appears in Grace's car, and then strolls into her house and asks for tea as if he's been out shopping. As for The Kiss - yes, it warranted capital letters back then... it isn't such an unfamiliar event any more, but it still looks strange because it flops out of nowhere. If it weren't for Grace's "do that again", it wouldn't even be clear that it's meant to be romantic. There's been no hint of Grace finding the Doctor attractive before now - in fact, she's clearly very wary of him - and suddenly she's demanding to be kissed like a B-movie heroine?
Still, it survives pretty well until the last half-hour. The script is pretty plodding, and some of it is wince-inducing - witness that bit where Yee Jee-Tso says "Chang Lee's gonna help ya" because they haven't worked out how else we can learn his name - but there are nice touches too. The Doctor's "could you excuse us?" in the middle of a confrontation with a policeman is great, Eric Roberts' delivery of "yes, we're a team" is the best bit of a largely well-judged OTT turn, and the Master correcting Grace's grammar is laugh-out-loud funny. The ubiquitous continuity references are uncomfortable, but they aren't too intrusive (although the Doctor carrying around great big bags of gold dust is plain weird). The TARDIS interior is ludicrously over the top, but the console design is quite cool. Plus, although he's working with a very generic drafting of the character, McGann's performance is every bit as good as it seemed at the time. It's the trappings that don't sit right - the long wig, the gratuitously Byronesque costume, the sudden premonitions of nothing in particular, the utterly witless exchanges with the Master at the end. Get that man into a leather jacket... erm, stat!
The story visibly goes downhill at exactly the point when the Doctor announces that he needs to find a beryllium atomic clock. Suddenly we're parachuted into a world of ludicrous coincidence and pantomimesque villainry. What's surprising is how difficult it is to tell, on a basic level, what exactly is happening. I think those picture-postcards whizzing upwards on-screen is meant to denote the end of the world, but it's hard to be sure. The TARDIS rewinds time at the end, which is rubbish because blah blah dramatically useless fix-everything device you know how it goes - but there's a much more fundamental problem, which is that it's not even clear what's going on. Grace and Chang Lee come back from the dead, and that's unintelligible too. All that does emerge is a vaguely homophobic edge to the Master's characterisation.
As for the half-human line, it's similar to the kiss in two respects: partly because it seems to be there because that's the sort of thing cult shows do, but mainly because it bears no relation at all to anything that's happening. Fans aren't as conservative a bunch as people think, and might have rolled with this if it had been introduced in a dramatic way. However, it just plops into the script and doesn't go anywhere. To a casual viewer, it's an irrelevance that they've seen dozens of times since Spock. To a fan, it's contrary to the spirit of the show - not in continuity terms, but because it's an inward-looking mindset that decrees we can't have an alien as an identity-figure, and Doctor Who spent 26 years quietly telling its viewers not to think that way. So is it repellent, or is it just clumsily handled? I'd suggest it's both.
To sum up, this has some good bits, but it's best viewed as a period piece; it's a bit like looking at a Gaudi building that's fairly horrendous on its own merits, but intriguing as an outstripped, forgotten glimpse into a rightly abandoned alternative world. This is the Neandertal to the Cro-Magnon Man that we got when Rose aired in 2005. It's bland as a piece of drama in and of itself, its narrative is a mess, there are some genuinely appalling scenes and the last half-hour is dreadful. Still, it's got a nice sense of place and - particularly these days, when it's shorn of context - it manages to be entertaining simply because it seems so damn odd. In that, it inadvertently gets one of the basic rules of Doctor Who absolutely right.
A Review by Daniel Spelner 23/5/00
The long wait for new Who was finally over after seven years, with this expensive co-production between BBC Worldwide and Universal Television. It was a ratings flop in America and only a fair success in Britain with generally lukewarm reactions. And so, on the whole, justice was done. As many had feared, it was all gloss and no substance. The script amounts to nothing more than a stream of silly lines and corny plotting. The direction is slick and fast, but nothing else. The cast overact and give no depth to their characters (two chief examples: Daphne Ashbrook's overly expressive Grace and Eric Roberts' loud, flashy Master). This should and could have been so much better considering they had seven years to get it right. However credit does go to Paul McGann for his calmly measured performance as the Doctor, rising above the surrounding inanity.
Americans Within by Adrian Loder 3/10/00
It had been a long time since I'd viewed the Fox TV Movie of Doctor Who, and, reading the reviews on this site, my interest was piqued, so I took out my home-taped video of the show, and popped it into the VCR. Originally, when I watched this, I was unimpressed, but as I sat down to watch it again, I began to experience some of the thrill I must have felt then when I realized I was about to watch an all-new Doctor Who adventure. My tape preserves the advertisement for the show aired just before it began, and to see my favorite television show pronounced as the TV movie event of the year still makes me feel very warm and happy inside. Unfortunately, that feeling tended to ebb and flow at various points of the movie. I should note that my mother happened to commandeer the VCR midway through the taping, and as such I'm missing about 25 minutes from the middle. which brings me to my bad points, which I will go over prior to the good points:
Overall: I would have preferred an entire show, hour-long, with McCoy dying at the very end, instead of the beginning, followed by a new TV series starring McGann, who would emerge Davison-like for about a second and a half at the end of Enemy Within. However, despite the numerous flaws in Enemy Within, I can't help but feel that it IS in fact Doctor Who, and I did enjoy it. 6.5/10.
A Review by Ben Jordan 30/11/00
On an Earth where the millennium begins in the year 2000, and where everyone lives on the same line of longitude so that all can enjoy simultaneous millennial celebrations, the Master causes the TARDIS to land in San Francisco, where he plans to steal the Doctor's remaining regenerations. And since the Doctor has been shot down by Chinese gangsters, he's going to have to take this one lying down.
So unfolds the telemovie of 1996, problematic as hell, but something I absolutely enjoyed when I saw it in 1996. It was hard not to. Doctor Who withdrawal symptoms had sufficiently built up my appetite to appreciate what was on offer, continually whetted throughout the year by press anouncements, t.v trailers (it most certainly was about bloody time), and snippets of information from conventions. The Master reduced to an alien serpent, completely redesigned TARDIS, a new Doctor - how could it not be good? And the first time I watched it, it was good. I was ecstatic. But like their flowery counterparts, even the effect of rose-coloured glasses soon withers, and I found things to moan about like everyone else. The whole millennium aspect of the plot was logically absurd. Since when has the Doctor needed a primitive Earth-device like a beryllium atomic clock to get his infinitely advanced time ship to work? Is that listed in the Troubleshooting section of the TARDIS manual? ("Ifsoever one finds oneself drawn sharply off course in the vicinity of Earth, hope you all that the local dateline brings one in the vicinity of the late 20th Century by their Gregorian timeline (cross-link: primitive Earth calendar variations), be sure to install the printed circuit of a Beryllium microchip into the console to countereffect universal time spillage. Ifsoever one finds oneself in an earlier dateline, you have encountered a problem this manual cannot resolve. May Rassilon be with you.") Not to mention the fact that the millennium begins in 2001, and people celebrate this according to different time zones. Not to mention the fact that the millenium is just an arbitrary designation in the calendar we currently use. What mythical and dangerous properties can it possibly have? Mind you, the movie wasn't the only thing to perpetuate this nonsense.
So now the Doctor is half-human. So what? It explains an awful lot, and doesn't diminish the alienness of the man. It accounts for his overwhelmingly human character, and fetish with the planet. And the Doctor and Grace. Again, what of it? Love has never been beyond the Doctor's capability, and sexuality is understated to such a degree that only those who like reading into it obessessively will see more than there is. The Doctor and Grace look good together, and for that we can thank Paul McGann and Daphne Ashbrook. Ashbrook is free to play a more realistic American character than the other one we know so well. I would expect her to think the Doctor a raving loony, and an extra-terrestrial influences on Earth impossible to swallow. This kind of leads to what people have criticised as the Americanisation of the story. If Doctor Who takes place in any other country besides England, I kind of expect that the majority of characters will be locals, speaking their own dialect and exerting their own cultural influence. I don't expect everyone to speak with a British accent, and have British values. This is of course only part of the argument. There is undeniably a more American 90's sci-fi feel and structure to the movie, but again, what can one expect? That was the style of the time used not just in America (and it goes down well in England too, or X-Files wouldn't have been popular). This was the way sci-fi shows were going at the time, and Doctor Who would have been pitiable indulgent nostalgia to simply try to maintain the style of the 'Original Series'. As someone once said, time has flowed by. And it was only the first episode. It's rare for a show to get it right first time. I didn't mind the darker atmosphere either, but that's my personal taste. Helmed by Paul McGann, there was plenty of hope, and I don't think people can accuse McGann of not keeping the Doctor British. I warmed to him instantly. Warm, charming, witty, energetic, intelligent. He was the Doctor, and I have to live with the fact that we most likely will not see him again on screen. The existence of the telemovie made my Whoniverse a hundredfold richer for producing the 8th Doctor as realised. It was a heart-warming moment to see Sylvester McCoy again, obviously enjoying himself immensely. His softer portrayal of the Time's Champion made me wish we'd seen more of him.
Not so the Master, who had always been one of my favourites, but anyone within earshot of me while watching this story would be forced to hear a succession of groans thanks to one of the worst casting choices ever made - Eric Roberts. This is because they needed an American male in a lead role, yes? Fine, but most anyone else would have been less vomit-inducing! Not once did I feel I was watching the Master. Not once did his dialogue even approach the doomsday melodrama of Ainley, the desperation of Beevers, the chilling dread of Pratt, or the gentlemanly Moriarty-like tones of Delgado. Matthew Jacobs, you utter bastard, for reducing the Master into a banal generic baddie. As for Eric Roberts, well, he simply couldn't act the part. And while I was pleased to see Yee Jee Tso if for no other reason than that I applaud Asian representation in films (and no I'm not Asian, or for the record, British or American), Chang Lee was purely an unrealistic Asian-American stereotype, typically lacking in depth and doing little more than exist to fill the role as the villain's henchman. Jacobs did however manage to produce some memorable lines nonetheless. The opening narration was sufficiently attention-grabbing (I wonder if Gordon Tipple would have been a better Master? Oh, why bother wondering?), and the Doctor's cry of "Oh, please" to the Master's campy behaviour was a perfect response, even though it could have been a witty retort. McGann at least, being the great actor he is, manages to inject a lot of himself - particularly his sense of ungency (as in Withnail & I), and also wonder, into his lines, making them far better than they probably are. But it isn't the first time good acting has saved a pedestrian Who story is it?
Glitz and special fx abounded, as you would expect from a production with this kind of budget. The new TARDIS interior was wonderfully gothic and mysterious. It makes for a wonderful deception as to the true nature of an alien time capsule. The regeneration scene was standard morphing really, but for once McCoy's and McGann's facial contortions imply that it was a far from peaceful transition, climaxing with an amnesiac Doctor crying "Who am I?" to all existence. Magic stuff. The musical score is nothing that stands out, although the re-scored theme is wonderfully majestic and a bit more grandiose than Domenic Glynn or Keff McCulloch playing around with a synthesiser.
With a movie full of inconsistencies such as this, it's hard to give an overall opinion. 10 out of 10 to Paul McGann, and a singularity-sized raspberry at Matthew Jacobs for writing such a nonsensical, simplistic script that failed to satisfy anyone. And if by any chance Eric Roberts is allowed near the programme again, I pray that I will not be impersonating Mr Levine by smashing my television. Given time to iron out the cracks, this incarnation of the show could, I think, have improved markedly. Alas, we shall never know. By the way, I deliberately left my personal computer running over the night of December 31st. When I came home next day to find it hadn't exploded into a million fibres, I breathed a sigh of indifference.
Recommended reading: the novelisation, because it attempts to make sense of some inconsistencies, and Lungbarrow, which is a good bridge between the then NA's and the film.
A Review by Richard Simmons 14/3/01
For want of a better term Sylvester Mccoy was my Doctor. Now by that I don't mean favourite Doctor, nor do I mean definitive. I just mean he was mine and that is for the simple fact that before he "banged his head" on the TARDIS console, my only real memory of Doctor Who at the time was a fat clown being dragged under some dirt by disembodied hands. Childhood memories are a happily fickle thing and due to lack of foresight season 24 was not taped as were Seasons 25 and 26. Therefore my sonnet of Mccoy is a little less tarnished than it should be, but with The Curse of Fenric and Rememberance of the Daleks to look back on would any child really give a toss about not having recorded episodes which contained:-
a) The Rani.
b) Richard Briers.....
c) Ken Dodd!?!?
d) The most terrible actor ever to grace the Doctor's many adventures...yes! Its the restaurant owner from Dragonfire!!! If You can bear to sit through it then watch out for his classic reaction when Ace gets shirty and storms out! A gem in the same sense that Myra Hindley was.
Sylvester was at once comic and serious, infallible but strangely fallible, and nowadays after having seen, heard or read damn near all Doctor Who, I don't think that anybody tapped into that famous alien quality quite like he did. I was 10 years old in 1989 and alarm bells started ringing in my head when, in the closing credits of Survival part 3, the nice BBC person did not say "And well join the Doctor again in another series of exciting adventures, next year". He said nothing. But as I lost Doctor Who, so I found it. Through Virgin Publishing, BBC Video and DWM.
Don't worry, I do have a point.
Seven Years is a very long time to wait, an almost ridiculous amount of time in which to speculate and anticipate something that vanished inexplicably before my 10 year old eyes. On grounds like that the TV Movie can be judged as something of a disapointment and it must be said that certain elements really do seem very wrong. People point to the Doctors recognition of people like Grace and Gareth and claim it to be indicative of the meddling nature most obviously displayed by his Seventh Incarnation. Well forgive me but I don't remember McCoy's Doctor going "You're Mike aren't you? When the Little Girl possessed by a Dalek battle computer shoots lightening at you duck left, not right....remember left. Not right". Portraying the Doctor as some sort of omnipresent god bestowed with the ability to see into the futures, no matter how irrelevant, of every living thing just cheapens the fact that he is a Time Lord. This Doctor is a Time Lord in an American sense of the word. A sort of a pigeon hole for a rogue element that they cant pin down. For further proof then hear reference to a Cloaking Device and A Magical happyland TARDIS that can apparently bring people back to life. Gnnnngh. In favour of this troubled production, Eric Roberts gives us the best Master since probably The Deadly Assassin. A desperate afflicted character fighting for survival.
His response to the Receptionist telling him that the John Doe that they brought in last night "died" is wonderful, as is his correction of Grace's grammar. A much underrated actor manages to ham it all up just enough to make it beleivable and indeed, memorable. Chang Lee is pretty dull fare being a simple story of bad kid goes good, then bad, then worse, then good. Grace comes across as someone who given the oppurtinity could have made a more than adequate companion giving more than her fair share of memorable moments and gelling with our leading man in a number of unforgetable scenes. Sylvester's send-off is probably best described as not fair but adequate, I must admit that I still have to suppress a sob when he plays out his final scenes.
There comes a point in every review of the TV Movie when something just gets said. No review would be whole without somebody saying "Well yes, I admit that the majority of it was cack, but the TARDIS interior was cool and Paul McGann was the best Doctor in ages". Paul Mcgann is without a shadow of a doubt one of the greatest Doctor's ever and the fact that he proves it in so little screen time is absolute magic. However for the sake of not just repeating what everybody else says in detail, I will instead summarise:-
Even the kiss isn't bad, if a little innapropriate when done for a second time. Wasted Potential. Put simply, McCoy was and now McGann is. Which is why when nowadays in my adulthood I state McGann to be my Doctor, my favourite and as far as I am concerned the definitive article I feel the same sadness that I felt 12 years ago in 1989.
A Review by John Wilson 17/6/01
The American TV movie was great. There, I said it. Yes, it was flawed in places. But I can still recall the thrill of seeing the first new Doctor Who in years - the wonderfully redesigned console room, the brief return of Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann's performance as the Doctor. Throw in the Master, the kiss, the Doctor's revelation that he was half-human (which I really didn't buy because it was too much like Star Trek), and, apparently, the Master's final death. It was so much to take in all at once. And then it was all taken away.
The TV movie was actually a pilot for a new series that would have been produced in America. So, in order to appeal to a broader television audience, it couldn't be your traditional Doctor Who story, so it was inevitable that most fans were going to be disappointed. Perhaps, if the series had been picked up, we would have seen more traditional stories, but I'm straying off the point…
I've only got two major gripes. I was disappointed that Sylvester McCoy got such a lame send-off. After facing off Daleks, Cybermen, and Fenric, the Seventh Doctor blithely walks out of the TARDIS and is casually shot down by a street gang. To add insult to injury, he actually survives this attack, only to be accidentally killed on the operating table. Ah well, the Seventh Doctor may not have entered this Universe kicking and screaming, but he certainly left it that way. Producer Philip Segal could very well have ignored most of the series past and started the movie off with a completely new Doctor. I'm thankful that we saw some sort of transition.
My other gripe has to be the setting. This is supposed to be a show about time travel. It doesn't seem that setting the story exclusively in the twentieth century would grab that many casual viewers' attention. Perhaps if they'd added a 15 minute stretch at the beginning where the Seventh Doctor retrieved the Master's remains on Skaro, and then had to escape a trap laid by the Daleks…Not only would the story have had a slightly bigger scope, but it would've highlighted the differences between the McCoy and McGann Doctors. If wishes were fishes…
On the plus side, I really like the Eight Doctor. He seems a wonderful mix of the Troughton and Davison Doctors, full of child-like wonder at the world around him and crazy impulses. The constant motif of clocks was nice. I thought Eric Roberts' portrayal of the Master was fine up until the end where he started to camp it up and wear that ridiculous costume. And I had no problems with the kiss.
Some Doctor Who fans consider the TV movie to be a footnote to the legacy of the series. I don't think so. As the Doctor, himself once said: "Time will tell…"
Something old/Something new by Joe Ford 12/2/02
We should be really grateful that this movie was made. Doctor Who had a re-birth which it desperately needed. Before the movie we only had the Virgin New Adventures and although they were a pretty stunning series of books after 50 or so they were starting to get a little stale (although I will admit the final cluster of books are FAB!). McCoy manipulates, Benny comments sarcastically on the action, Chris can't decide whether he's a a wet fish or a butch action hero and Roz is a in a foul Tegan mood…we did need some fresh blood.
This is Doctor Who like we've never seen it before. It's exciting. It's visually stunning. It's got incredibly charasmatic leads. Okay maybe we have seen these in the series canon but not really to such extremes. For the first time we can sit or family and friends in front of Who and say…look this isn't embarassing!
Am I being too fair? Well yes, really. Because although the production values and acting are as solid as we're likely to get, the plot itself is a piss poor one note idea dragged out over ninety minutes. The regeneration has been done to death by now, in my eyes they should have skipped the after-effects and jumped straight into a traditional monster plot. Something to really hook the audience in. Imagine Autons parading the streets of San Fransisco? Or a secret Dalek (also re-designed) army being built? Or even a totally new idea, I dunno…anything but this daft excuse for drama we got.
However as a whole the film is just so entertaining I can't help but give it a recommendation. The car-chase is pulse-racingly exciting, the hospital scenes are gritty and graphic, the last act in the TARDIS is so fast paced and loaded with effects I just sat there in eye candy awe.
And the acting is top notch. Paul McGann makes a superb, sexy and dangerously likable Doctor. He plays it soft to start with but unlike that chunk of wood Davison he grows in a mere ninety minutes into a strong and formidable Time Lord. His romance with Grace (c'mon…with the Eye of Harmony in the TARDIS this is what you complain about?) is sweet and in no way gratuitous. Daphne Ashbrook makes a refreshing change, a mature sensible woman…more in the Barbara mould than anyone else (maybe Sarah-Jane?)…she doesn't just bitch and moan, she's an enjoyable foil for McGann's romantic alien. Even Eric Roberts gives us a passable Master, viscous when he should be and a wonderful camped up Who villain otherwise.
It is acceptable as a pilot (c'mon Time and the Rani/Robot…how daft are they?) and probably would have developed into a great series. It just needed a little more brain to bring it up to scratch and a little less of the "wow we have good effects…we spit on you Dr Who TV series!"…as such it makes for incredibly entertaining viewing but is ultimately unsatisfying as a Doctor Who adventure that always put imaginative ideas ahead of FX…that’s why I fell in love with it in the first place.
However, it spawned the BBC range which after an odd Steven Cole start
developed into the best run of Doctor Who stories ever written. And
for that I am eternally grateful.
Wow, I don't think I have ever enjoyed that more!
I can still remember the insane hype that surrounded this movie and the expectations it had to live up to. It was inevitable that it would fail to reach those heights and in many respects it did. Despite a respectable viewing figure (equal to Rose's recent BBC screening) it failed to capture the audience it needed (the Americans) in order to keep the series alive. And watching the story today it is easy to see why, despite the American trappings this is a deeply British programme and one that makes the foolish mistake of cramming in as much continuity as possible so the average Joe understands what the hell this crazy guy is doing wandering time and space in a blue box. Unfortunately by reducing the story to a checklist of Doctor Who variables it completely lost its audience and lacked the simplicity and horror that would have drawn them in.
However now we have the comfortable knowledge the series has returned to our screens the TV Movie exists as little more than a fan curiosity, a snapshot of what the series could have been. And dare I say it but I think it could have been something very special indeed.
When you watch Rose you will be comforted by the essential Britishness of the programme but what bothered me was the script was practically borrowed wholesale from the TV Movie. In this you have an alien who invades a young woman's life in a spectacular fashion, a spanking new TARDIS which is central to the plot and far grander than anything the original series gave us, a gorgeous new Doctor who is much more dynamic than usual, stolen scenes from Spearhead from Space (Rose thieves the Auton rampage, the TV Movie steals the "Two hearts" hospital scenes), the return of an old foe and the Doctor's feisty new assistant saving the day. Okay so the incidentals are hugely different but there is far more in common here than anyone will give credit to. The fact that the TV Movie is made in America and by Americans makes this far braver than Rose could ever be (which, despite being rather wonderful anyway, was rather ordinary and safe). I am not trying to dismiss the new series which is everything I could have ever hoped for but as two pilots go side by side, Rose sticks to what we already know Doctor Who is whereas the TV Movie dares to show us what it could be. Jump over to episode two (The End of the World) and you have something that pushes Doctor Who's boundaries much further.
And my biggest criticism about the TV Movie has always been the overload of continuity but if you are going to watch it as a fan and not a newcomer this is actually a surprisingly mature take on the series. Instead of thinking up an original plot of its own the TV Movie takes the staples of the series, the Doctor, the Master and the TARDIS and builds quite a clever plot around them. It is certainly far more interesting than anything the mid-eighties vomit of continuity offered up. I feel strongly that if you are going to bring back elements from the past you have to update them to suit your version of Doctor Who. If an idea did not work in the past (such as the plastic Gallifrey) then don't bring it back and make it even plasticier, re-invent so it works in your era. Remember ideas never date but effects often do, make the series your own instead of copying other people's work. The TV Movie takes these three staples and gives us a responsibly fresh take on all of them. The Seventh Doctor is serene and relaxed with himself, a far cry from his excitable days on the telly. The TARDIS is a marvellous gothic nightmare and far more exciting to be than it ever was. And the Master has been executed and now exists as a proto-plasmic life form that is desperate to secure the Doctor's bodies so he can survive. All three are fascinating ideas and far from unconvincing and I firmly believe the reason the fanboys (including myself) got in a tizzy over this story is because it destroyed their vision of what Doctor Who was. This is different and it's rather good too.
The story is a hybrid of a thousand sources all rolled into one. You've got Spearhead from Space (the hospital/regeneration scenes), season twenty-two (the British Doctor with the American companion), ER, James Bond (the frentic car chase), Terminator (the Master), Star Trek (the twee ending)... and yet the story still manages to have an identity of its own. Here is another fine example of a show that can encompass absolutely anything into its possibilities of storytelling, even (shock horror!) real people dealing with real problems! This story has a woman with boyfriend trouble! A burp! Graphic hospital scenes! A high street shoot out! Despite the absurdities of the plot, despite the stabs of humour, this is written and played as a serious drama with big name actors in thoughtful roles. And it really, really works. It is another quality it shares with Rose, come to think of it, that touch of realism that reminds you this can all happen in the real world to normal people.
And the humour really works! There are some quality sight gags on display which really made me chuckle and reminded me how much fun this is supposed to be. The "police motorcycle in the TARDIS" joke works a treat, as does seeing the new Doctor dash around like a loony in his new shoes, even the quick appearance of the jelly babies and the 900 year old diary are okay as a subtle way of acknowledging the past without overdoing it. But it is the dialogue, which deserves the highest praise with some of the best lines to appear in any Doctor Who story...
This is exactly the level the Master should have been pitched at in the eighties, the pantomime antics there to trick you into thinking he was just a dopey villain and sudden moments of shock horror viciously murdering people. Instead we just got Ainley's pantomime antics. Whereas Eric Roberts really goes for it in the gripping climax, the intensity of the brawl between the Doctor and the Master erases all those comfy feelings from the seventies... this is hatred, pure and simple and he wants the Doctor DEAD. The fact that the Doctor still tries to save him despite his homicidal actions is a testament to their relationship but I have no doubt the Master would not have extended the same courtesy.
Admittedly he did have a superior budget to work with but I cannot ignore the stylishness of Geoffrey Sax's direction compared to some of the static attempts in the TV series. He tries to make every single shot look interesting. That really helps in a science-fiction show; it has to have a slightly skewered sense of reality to remind you this is not your average episode of Eastenders. He uses all the usual tricks, fades and zooms and quick edits but it extends to how he opens and closes scenes too, like each one is an event. There are far too many set pieces to mention but the car chase is a triumph of frantic editing and the climatic final twenty minutes zoom by breathlessly and you don't even notice the lack of explanations because the pictures are so pretty and the pace is always four hundred steps ahead. He actually manages to pull off the destruction of the Earth far better than many big screen movies I have seen with two hundred times the budget.
Okay, there are problems. I have already mentioned alienating the audience with continuity. There are scenes which are a bit too weird such as the close ups on the hospital staff and patients from the Doctor's POV with a harsh blue light on them... I didn't get what all that was about. The walking through the window scene is just silly. And the Master acts like a bit of prat when he gets sprayed in the ambulance. And of course the script problems. How the hell does the Doctor know the world will end at midnight? And the Temporal Orbit is the naffest plot device I have seen for a long time. Oh and Grace managing to get the TARDIS away from Earth one second before it sucks it into a black hole is taking James Bond campness to a new level.
But to be fair there are huge plot holes in most of the classic Doctor Who stories. Gasp? Does that mean you are calling the TV Movie a classic story? Without trying to sound like a pretentious, revisionist bastard, yes. It isn't perfect but then I don't think there is a Doctor Who story that is. This is colourful, funny, exciting, gorgeous and most of all different. It has heaps of potential, which it doesn't entirely realise, but what we do get is much, much better than your standard Doctor Who fare.
And should you choose to follow the eighth Doctor's adventures you have a choice, go with Big Finish and you'll have a fantastic Doctor who evolves into a crap one or go with BBC books and you have a crap Doctor who evolves into a fantastic one. Either way, it's a hell of ride and well worth taking.
Back from the dead by Tim Roll-Pickering 28/7/02
After years of waiting, Doctor Who finally returned with this television movie. No series emerged from it, though the reasons for this are hotly disputed as to this day, but for a brief while the series once more soared high.
Two of the most common suggestions made for a revival of the series have always been to give it more money and to make it on film. The television movie benefits immensely in both respects, with the whole production having a darker, grittier feel to it whilst the sets benefit immensely from the subdued lighting and effect of the film when videotape could have turned the images into over bright unrealism. The budget may be a far cry from the original BBC series (contemporary number crunching estimated that two entire fourteen episode seasons could be produced with the budget for this solitary production) but the result is a movie that can hold its head up high alongside US productions such as The X-Files or the modern incarnations of Star Trek. For this one off special a lot of money has been spent on the series and it's worth it!
The story has the difficult task of introducing the series to people who have never seen it before, reassuring existing viewers and telling a story at the same time. There are some occasional lapses - for instance it isn't immediately apparent that the story begins inside the police box that is seen at the end of the opening credits - but generally it works in establishing the Doctor as an alien traveller in time and space who winds up in the ordinary world and sets about putting things to rights. We may not get the chance to go travelling and see alien worlds or the history of Earth, but we get a conflict between the Doctor and Master that contrasts between the Doctor's desire to save lives and the Master's callous goal of achieving new life even if it means the destruction of Earth. Eric Roberts is perfectly cast as the Master for this story, providing a mixture of subtlety and over the top villainy as and when the script requires. Paul McGann hits the ground sprinting as the Doctor, bringing a combination of manicness and reassurance as well as a high degree of sex appeal. No Doctor has previously made such a strong debut performance and so it is a pity that to date McGann's only subsequent performances have been for Big Finish audio adventures. Sylvester McCoy makes a brief final performance as the Doctor and shows a strong sense of weariness, but this isn't a fully fledged finale story and so his role is limited to little more than a cameo.
Other than the Doctor and the Master, the only two characters who play any significant role at all in the story are Dr Grace Holloway and Chang Lee. Daphne Ashbrook gives a strong performance as Grace, ensuring the character has depth and reacts the way most people would given the events she is confronted with. A far cry from earlier screamers, she shows a lot of initiative as well as being far less phased by the TARDIS, no doubt due to a far greater cultural awareness of science fiction. Yee Jee Tso makes less of an impact as Chang Lee as his character is heavily overshadowed by the Master but his performance is competent.
The storyline is a little too abstract at times. A great disaster that is about the befall the Earth at the stroke midnight on New Year's Eve 1999 was something of a clich?in the 1990s, whilst it isn't entirely clear just how everything is resolved by the Doctor acquiring an atomic clock component for the TARDIS and it then going into temporal orbit. A stronger explanation would have enhanced this no end. Otherwise the dialogue is good and often witty, whilst there are many little touches paying homage to past Doctor Who stories as well as to a lot of Biblical imagery and to the movie Frankenstein.
There are two elements of this story which have generated huge controversy amongst fans and so it's now impossible to avoid commenting upon them. The Doctor's romantic inclinations towards Grace may seem out of character, but way back in The Aztecs the Doctor had had a romance with Cameca. For the most romantic of the Doctors to go down this route does not seem so strange at all. The Doctor's supposed asexually has indeed been an important feature for many fans, but this has never been an explicit part of the character, whilst many companions have been involved in romances in the past. The other controversy involves the revelation that the Doctor is half-human. There's nothing previously in the series that actually contradicts this, though the sudden emergence of these facts is surprising. How this would have developed in subsequent television movies may never be known but for a special to attempt to develop the character further is in no way a bad move.
The production of the television movie is awesome, with Geoffrey Sax providing excellent direction that never lets up, whilst the special effects never once let the side down. The musical score is strong too, with the result that the whole production feels competent and looks spectacular. The fact that no follow-up was ever made should not be allowed to dampen spirits as this television movie is wonderful and stands up as an example of the series that has nothing to be embarrassed about. 10/10
A Review by Rob Matthew 6/8/02
I watched this for only the second time a few months back. I'd been meaning to see it again for a while, mainly because I'd started reading the EDAs and was curious about Paul McGann's performance. But for some reason HMV were still charging almost twenty quid for a TV movie from 1997, and frankly, I wasn't that curious. I did after all remember it as being pretty lame. Then I discovered it in that cheapy video shop in Charing Cross Road for two pounds. That seemed a little more reasonable...
Again, I couldn't really get into the story (if indeed it had one), and it was a hollow viewing experience made up for by the occasional nice visuals - mainly the TARDIS interiors. It had by far the lamest rendition of the theme tune I'd ever heard, so bloodless that it made Keff McCulloch's rendition sound like a John Williams score. It had an instantly-dated millennial-panic story, it had a selfconsciously wacky companion character in Grace, it was full of pompous quasi-Christian stuff, fucking car chases, Doctor-companion kissing, and worse than all of this, it featured Eric 'nail in the coffin' Roberts as a brutish variation on the Master.
It didn't resemble Doctor Who as I knew it. And I don't mean because of the special effects - which weren't extraordinarily impressive, and in fact were merely adequate for a TV pilot of its type-, I mean that it had no life, no heart, no guts, no balls to it at all. It didn't resemble the kind of show I'd want to tune into, instead it was like something that, if made into a series, would have been the kind of thing which - in this country - would have premiered on Sky One and then been tucked away into the schedules at some time past midnight when it reached terrestial television. Just glossy generic rubbish, an X-Files/Buffy also-ran. And I don't like?The X-Files or Buffy.
Part of the problem is the sheer amount of accumulated Who lore that they decided to cram into it. Doctor Who isn't a one-off, monolithic kind of thing, something the BBC, with their vague promises of another telemovie, don't seem to understand. To completely wipe the slate clean would have been objectionable; a glossy remake of the series' classic stories, which I understand was planned at one point, would have been pointlessly out of touch with the times. But this, in it's ambitious attempts to please fans while at the same time sucking in new viewers, was leaden and top-heavy, And the makers were partly to blame for that, because though they were admittedly in an awkward situation, and obliged to introduce the idea of regeneration, of TARDISes, and the character of the Master to new viewers, there was absolutely no need to further complicate things by shoving the Eye of Harmony or the Daleks into the story. The script isn't coherent, and it's glossed over with special effects. That's just wrong, and not at all true to the spirit of the show.
The Doctor's 'romance' with Grace - well, actually it was so chaste and childlike you couldn't really term it a romance - is a bone of contention among fans, but I think it actually has more defenders than it does critics. I've always believed that the only thing that made the TV series a kids show was the general asexuality of the characters (with occasional exceptions), and that this created a slightly campy effect to anyone watching it as an adult. But so far as the Doctor is concerned, I think the NAs got it right with the whole sterile Time Lord bit. Really, we think of the Doctor as an extraordinarily old man, no matter what he looks like, so for him to go around the universe planting one on every helpful girl he meets doesn't sit well. He's Methuselah, not Lord Byron. He's from an extraordinarily ancient race that's too old for that sort of thing. It's like that line in Bad Therapy, "You're a few hundred years too young for me". Yeah, there was Cameca in The Aztecs, but really, if you have to go back to the early Hartnell era to look for a girlfriend for the Doctor, you're in trouble. I could also point out that he's an alien, but I suppose the reason they made him half-human was to make the romance element palatable... then again, I don't like the half-human thing, it feels so compromised.
Anyway, surely the real reason why we prefer our Doctor asexual or at least sexually ambiguous is because tacked-on love interests are always, always superfluous and boring - unless you fancy one or both of the actors in which case they're an appetiser for a hand-shandy, at best . Plus we'd lose some of our respect for the Doctor if he hooked up with some annoying partner we didn't like. At bottom, I prefer to think of the Doctor as someone who acts the way he does out of altrusim, and not because he's hoping for a kiss from the girl.
But, watching the telemovie again, there was one little ray of hope in the form of Paul McGann. He did inhabit the role of the reborn Doc wonderfully, and distinctively. The delivery of one particular line brought this home to me - when he was discussing Puccini's death and said to Grace "it was so sad". Because he said it enthusiastically, as if sadness was something to embraced as much as happiness. I can hear now how Sylvester McCoy would have delivered the line (brilliantly - but completely differently), so I was impressed that McGann could distinguish himself so effortlessly - and probably not even deliberately - from his predecessor. It's a remarkably confident debut, There was obviously some thought put in to making the Doctor youthful again, in all respects including his outlook, and that's by far the best thing about the TV movie.
Had a series followed, though, I'm 99% certain it would have been shit.
Appendicitis by Andrew Wixon 27/8/02
Whatever criticisms one might wish to make of the McGann telemovie with the Pertwee Logo, and let's face it you're not exactly short of ammunition, at least you can't accuse it of lacking self-awareness. To wit: there's a scene near the start where the Doctor is wheeled in in desperate need of attention, assistance and understanding. Whereupon a bunch of well-meaning but cack-handed Americans try to give him that aid, only to entirely misunderstand how he works, resulting in an untimely demise for our favourite Time Lord. Replace the character of the Doctor with the TV series in general in this scenario and you've pretty much got the TV movie in a nutshell.
Should we be surprised that such a vocal fan of the series as Phil Segal should have produced something so entirely and comprehensively un-Who-ey? I don't know, but the fact remains that that's what happened. Superficial icons from the series appear - the scarf, the jelly babies, the sonic screwdriver - but in style and shape this is something wholly different. The rather simple plot (only four major characters) could easily fit into two episodes of the original series, and revolves entirely around the Doctor and the TARDIS, the latter of which is barely recognisable. This isn't really a science fiction story, it's more like pure fantasy (occasionally comic, occasionally dark), with the magic Eye of Harmony, the castle-like TARDIS sets and the wholly magical (and incoherent) climax.
It just lacks the energy and invention I've always associated with the show, going instead for spectacle and style. Paul McGann is admittedly rather good as the most energetic Doctor yet, the character retooled as a dashing, slightly roguish chancer (with prescient abilities - there's the element of fantasy again), and Daphne Ashbrook is engaging as Grace. The same can't be said for Eric Roberts' Master, who is unrecognisable as the character previously played by Delgado, Pratt, etc. Both Time Lords are considerably demystified in the course of the story, most damagingly in their sexualisation - rather unpleasantly, in the Master's case.
This movie is working to a different agenda and playing by different rules to the TV show it purports to be a continuation of. It gave us the McGann Doctor, but absolutely nothing else of merit. Not so much a part of the TV series as an appendix to it, and a diseased appendix at that.