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.|
"Temporal Orbit? What's a Temporal Orbit?!?" by Terrence Keenan 28/10/02
I can't help but love this movie. I think it's awesome, even with its incomprehensible story and the fanwank.
Let's deal with the fanwank issue first. When I saw this back in 96 and out of fandom at the time, I thought the nods to old TV show, the inclusion of McCoy, etc. were brilliant. It meant they weren't pissing on the fans. When I watched it this last time, I rolled my eyes at the Tom Baker scarf in the locker, but other than that, it wasn't all that bad.
The plot? Well, there is one, but the problems occur with the gaps in the story as it evolves. (How did The Master get into the TARDIS that first time? How does Grace know which wires will jump start the time rotor? How do Grace and Lee come back from the dead?; etc.) It's kind of obvious that the script is a hybrid of a few previous efforts (reported on in The Nth Doctor), with elements tossed together without a true sense of how they fit. Methinks a few rewrites could have tightened things up and filled in the gaps.
I don't understand why people were upset about the so-called "Americanization" of the telemovie. Pertwee did car chases throughout his five year run. At least the telemovie's chase looked like it was going faster than ten miles an hour. And the kissing? I thought it was great. Even 1000 year old Time Lords need to get their groove on. (All right, the fireworks behind the last kiss were a bit much, but it's not the end of the world). And who is to say that they might have had Davison do something like this during his run if they could have gotten away with it? Davison was the most "human" and "vulnerable" of the Doctors. Arguments about the snogging seem even more silly after Human Nature's release.
Now, onto the good stuff:
Paul McGann was a brilliant piece of casting. He makes the role of the Doctor his from the get-go, an interesting mix of Davison's humanity and T Baker's emotional whirlwind. It never seems forced as he switches from genuine humanity to righteous anger on a dime and back.
Daphne Ashbrook does a solid job as Dr. Grace Holloway. Shame she didn't go along for the ride. Her screamer moments are minimal, and she's convincing in her continuous attempts to deal with the strange events as they occur.
The TARDIS interior was amazing. The sterile white rondelled control rooms might have been tradition, but this console room had a personality that fitted its operator. The wood and brass console with it's old fashioned switches and levers, the pull-down Philco TV set and the dual columns are beautiful.
Eric Roberts's Master is good fun. Come on, now. Admit it to yourself. You'll feel better. Roberts has the charming menace required for the part, and his campy OTT turn in the climax was fitting for a role that does require scenery chewing abilities.
It might have been a bit much, but the quasi-religious imagery was a noble attempt and commendable.
The motorcycle sight gag was silly, but overdue. And, if they could have done it during the TV series's long run, they would have fit it in, probably more than once.
Okay, the story is lame. But there is enough to enjoy in the telemovie to make it worthy of much praise. The acting of the principals and the visuals are strong enough and showed the groundwork laid for a potential series.
A Review by Paul Rees 15/9/03
The 1996 TV Movie is, essentially, an infuriating combination of the spellbinding and the excruciating.
On the positive side, Sylvester McCoy brings a sense of gravitas to the role which he never quite managed before whilst Paul McGann makes for a convincing Doctor, settling immediately into the role. His companion for this story, Grace, is also very likeable and of the supporting cast only Eric Roberts' Master strikes a discordant note. The effects are simply awesome, and there is a polish and a sense of expanse in the TVM which had not been seen in the series hitherto: the new TARDIS interiors in particular are wonderful, providing us with a real sense of space. The religious imagery surrounding the Doctor's resurrection/regeneration is also well judged and effective.
There are, however, two rather irritating departures from the series' ethos: the Doctor is revealed to be half human (why? - and why had no one mentioned this before?), and he then proceeds to become romantically attached to his new companion. Apparently, this was done in an attempt to win over the American market, but it seems simply out of place and out of character. Very odd.
There are other continuity difficulties (for example, the Eye of Harmony was previously on Gallifrey, but is now in the TARDIS; and similarly, the Master turns into a snakelike creature, which seems to contradict what we knew previously about Time Lord physiology) but these can be explained away with a little ingenuity. Rather more problematical are the internal flaws in terms of the script: the plot is, quite simply, incomprehensible. For example, it is revealed that only a human retina can open the Eye of Harmony. But why on earth should this be the case, apart from out of pure expediency? Then, to cap it all, to resolve the situation the Doctor simply travels back in time to before the Eye opened (and thus to before his companions went to meet their maker). This approach would, needless to say, have completely mitigated any dramatic tension which a follow-up series might have had.
I desperately don't want to like the TVM, but when I watch it I find myself won over by it despite myself. If only the script were as good as the effects, it would be an all time classic. As it is, sit back and enjoy - but check your brain in at the door first. Just like the script editor apparently did. 6.5/10
A Doc badly born in the U.S.A. by Konstantin Hubert 31/5/04
After over 600 episodes from 1963 to 1989, a unique history and an unprecedented gap of 7 years, the longest-running science fiction series came back in 1996 with the so-called TV Movie and it is a pity to realize that this production was destined to become the 90s' biggest event in both hype and... disappointment. In the history of the programme the years from 1990 to 1999, the Nineties, will always be remembered for their absolute poverty when it comes to TV productions, of which the movie unfortunately monopolises the attention (Dimensions In Time is just a brief celebration). After watching the US-oriented Enemy Within, I figured out which its three purposes are: BBC cooperated with Universal to produce this movie in order to finish off the 7th Doctor’s era and to render the new Doctor the programme’s new mascot, which was to be featured in a new range of novels (I will mention the third purpose at the review's end). Therefore, if Sylvester McCoy's Doctor had expired during Survival, this clunker may have never existed.
Its frivolous scenario, devoid of beauty and depth, features Eric Roberts as the Master, the villain. What was the point in bringing back the evil Time Lord? He has exhausted all his incarnations and he should have been dead, finished by now. In Deadly Assassin after all the Master is struggling to survive having run out of incarnations. But the BBC preferred to bring him back and assign him banal aims in his repetitive and dull life: once again seize the Doctor's body for his own and destroy the world. The 8th Doctor's debut takes place in San Francisco, the day before New Year's Eve, 1999 and those responsible for the movie didn't lose the chance to share the very superstitious and hysterical belief that the arrival of year 2000 would have brought the end of the world. Indeed, the Master with his evil plans dramatically jeopardizes the whole planet and sets off a countdown to human extinction that will expire on the very first second of the new millenium, provided that he actualizes his desires...
Eric Roberts, when wearing sunglasses and a black leather jacket and with his character's scampish behaviour, grants the Master the look of an American tough guy and when clad in a lavish Gallifreyan uniform, he swaggers with the pride of the leader of a prosperous, dreadful empire. The image and actions of the Master contrast with his current state. Since he is dying, he should have been presented less powerful, less self-confident and not being able to alter the entire planet's molecular structure! The only battle between the two Time Lords occurs inside the TARDIS and if not for the dazzling high-budget special effects and the noisy, chaotic atmosphere, it would have fallen flat, one being the fact that the Doctor is chained, unable to move and is freed by the companion Grace Holloway only towards the end. In those scenes the Master and the Doctor symbolize Satan and the crucified Jesus Christ respectively, the two eternal opposing forces: one determined to destroy the world, the other to become its saviour and protect it. However, Christ is believed to have defended the world from Satan's moral and spiritual decline, from sin and without any use of violence. Moreover, if the Master annihilates Earth, he will inevitably annihilate himself as well since he is on Earth (what a blunder)... Seven years had to elapse for a new Who episode and the BBC not only sacrificed the show's Britishness by setting it in the U.S. but also more importantly produced one of the show's most lightweight moments.
Of the movie's highlight, the 8th Doctor, as the material on which to base an analysis is scanty, I will avoid drawing conclusions. I will only cite that he appears lively and friendly: a cross between the 5th and 2nd incarnations with an appearance evoking the 4th's. The movie starts off well, the first minutes being despite the 7th Doctor's very sudden assassination nice, decent but after the regeneration scene in the morgue of a hospital and when the 8th incarnation is ready to roam the streets, it goes downhill. His romance with the attractive but inappropriate (because of the age of the Doctor) and not girlish, companion Grace is really unnecessary and out of place. The Time Lord was never seen behaving like a Don Juan before, so why was his nature distorted during these very anticipated and critical moments of the series?
This brief romance isn't the only out of place aspect: the Doctor is seen offering jelly babies adopting the Fourth incarnation's habit, threatening a cop with Grace's help and twice riding very competently a police motorbike (who is he anyway a secret Hell's Angel member or Speedy Gonzales in disguise?). And while attending a meeting at the Institute of Technological Advancement, the Doctor clumsily and naively reveals to a professor he is not acquainted with that he is... human from his mother side, that he is a half-human! We deduce, to our astonishment, that he never was 100% Gallifreyan in the past, so shouldn't his humanness biologically affect and reduce his alien characteristics? Why should a mere movie, just 90 minutes, define so radically our Time Lord's nature? Unfortunately an inadmissible sign of disrespect to the show's 26 years. I admit Paul McGann, a sympathetic actor, animates well the newly born and seemingly at a loss 8th incarnation and saw a large chapter of Doctor Who's history tightly linked with his glorious name by doing almost... nothing. I am aware that my latter remark is cynical but why did BBC choose to transform this promising actor into an one-off Doctor? Why was an entire incarnation wasted? Hasty decisions without rationale.
The comparatively high budget makes Enemy Within stand out. Indeed, it is obviously of a much higher budget but the rich production values are apparent especially during the scenes inside the new flamboyant, spacious and impressive TARDIS with its church-like interior. In fact, if we exclude those scenes, then Enemy Within would have looked like an ordinary dodgy US movie. San Francisco is characterised by an amalgam of cultures and so we see blacks, Latin Americans, Chinese including Chang Lee and eventually one gets an impression of a typical US movie. The American elements inevitably overshadow the two British ones (the TARDIS and Paul McGann) and by distinguishing the unconventional Enemy Within from all other episodes of the series, render it a truly unique albeit not rewarding experience.
The strongest aspect of Enemy Within is frankly Geoffrey Sax's direction, which without any doubt tops that of most, if not all, episodes of the series. One immediately perceives the different style of the cinematographic direction when compared to the much simpler direction of the televised productions: more complicated and lavish scenes, frequent close-ups, at times masterful permutations of images and a more advanced technique of shooting. The combination of the direction with the high-budget effects result in the best and most interesting scenes, those inside the TARDIS, the battle between the two Time Lords. Even the sublime direction doesn't save the day when the plot is weak and without depth. As Bryan Smith points out in his review "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." If the telemovie unfolded on a planet other than Earth and if the enemy were not the saturated Master (don't misunderstand me, I like him, but even this legendary figure however has to bid farewell to the DW universe and besides audios and novels featuring a past Doctor can make up for his absence on TV) but an army of aliens, such as Cybermen or Sontarans, this movie would have most likely fared much better and most fans would have acclaimed the BBC's efforts to bring back the show, the third purpose of the movie. The BBC managed to resurrect the Master, kill off the 7th hero and give birth to the 8th but failed in its third purpose. No reason to complain since at the moment I am writing this review every fan knows that BBC cares for its popular programme and will mark its long-awaited return and the debut of the 9th incarnation in a few months.
To sum up, Enemy Within was simply produced to serve the three purposes I cited before and is an example of necessity beating quality and depth in storytelling. If frivolous high-budget Hollywood movies, such as Men in Black, fascinate you, it might please you, if you have a penchant for the series' sophisticated or low-budget albeit witty episodes you will be most probably disappointed.
Am I drunk or just getting nostalgic? by Kathryn Young 20/10/04
It was 1996 and the Beeb had sold Doctor Who to the Americans. No don't start to cry. It turned out pretty ok for all concerned. Sylvester McCoy's Seventh Doctor dies and Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor is born. In the story he battles to save himself and the Earth from the Master (yes there wasn't all that much plot but that never stopped Doctor Who before, so just you be quiet).
I remember when it came out. I think I might have wept a bit. That poncy bloke with the long hair didn't grab me at all (forgive me, I was young, foolish and had never read an EDA). I missed Sylvester as the Doctor like the dickens and the idea of having an American Master was just too scary to contemplate. However, I found that just like green alien slime from the Earth's core, this story grows on you (but fortunately doesn't turn you into a hideous slavering monster).
The Beginning Sequence:
Now no matter what you may think of the rest of the movie, the first three minutes of the film did have a certain allure...
For one there was Paul McGann's accent: I once had a boss who was a Scousy (from Liverpool) and he had a lovely way of speaking - "Youwngiee. Geart hinto dat barr n peurr maei a vodka an doon gi mei ani gip" - so there must be a little something in me that just loves Paul's knockdown: Liverpool meets RADA accent. And Paul is so serious about it all. By the time he got through to the "it was a request they never should have granted" bit from the introduction I was in stitches.
Then there was the music: Someone was asking what stupid silly small thing makes Doctor Who spesh for you. And I have to admit I used to have a total wobbly every time I heard the seventh Doc "turntable techno" (and I still do). However this music is much more dramatic and serious. Even now after eight years I am still going - "yes yes yes - Doctor Who is back and he is going to kick Dalek butt" before I remember that that was all a long time ago and sadly it never happened. But this music is the sort of stuff that gets men across the Delaware.
All in all it was a great beginning. The only downside I think was that they hired the chipmunks to voice the Daleks, but it is good to see Alvin and the gang getting some work.
Next we come to good old Syl:
Sylvester McCoy looks like a complete tosser in this movie? Now I love Sylvester and have my axe always handy for those namby pamby little cowards who think it is cool to pick on the little fellow with the silly jumper, but I am going to do a Janet Fielding and say: "Whart was thart on hs haird?. Thairt haire kut dowes nowt soot heim". However there was a trade off in the fact that finally Syl was free of John Nathan Turner and his John Nathan Turneresque views on fashion: So no question mark jumper.
But Sylvester does play an integral part in this movie. He came from England - all the way across the Atlantic - to fall into some bin bags and die so that Paul McGann could take over the mantle. And, seriously folks, it was a lovely gesture. If ever there was a testament to how much Doctor Who means to people, it is a plucky little Scottish git traveling five thousand miles to "do what he thought was right" by Doctor Who. And that also makes this film spesh.
I admit I never really warmed to Grace. Yes she looked good in that blue dress and she has nice taste in music, but she seemed so boring - the cardigan of companions if you like. She wasn't popping out all over the place (and I don't mean out to the shop) like Peri, she wasn't totally obnoxious like Tegan, she wasn't a total wierdo like Turlough, she just "was". But I suppose she is ok. I can theorise it would be a very hard brief for an American actor to get lumbered with the job of being the Doctor's companion. Because of the unique origins of Doctor Who the whole concept might seem very alien (if you will pardon the pun) to your average American Daphne who has grown up on a diet of Leave it to Beaver and The A Team...
"So there is this guy who travels the universe in a phone booth accompanied by chicks who have a propensity to scream and sprain their ankle a lot... and every planet he visits looks like a quarry."
She must have wondered "now how exactly do I play this one?" If the series had continued I can just imagine the poor woman asking the director "so how do I react to the giant space frog again?" However the upshot of this is she just tends to act totally bemused as she tries to cope with this bizarre Englishman who has inserted himself and about thirty years of baggage and in jokes into her life. The look on her face after the Doctor has done his "these shoes, they fit perfectly" spiel is worthy of any good cartoon character and almost does a Tom Baker "let's break the fourth wall" - and that bit alone makes the film worthwhile. But when she is not playing "oh dear this is all too much, I need a couple of aspirin and a good lie down" she might surprise you...
Chang Lee. Finally someone to make Nyssa's acting look credible (even good). And even now I still have an abiding hatred for his cod awful jacket. His performance in this movie is a living testament as to why drama school is a good and necessary thing.
Anthony Ainley he is not:
"My name is not Honey" - wow. No offence to Eric, but he was just odd. Maybe it was the script - "I must have the Doctor's body, I need to explain the plot - right now". Maybe it was the high heels. Maybe it was the leather outfit: I have never ever seen a paramedic dressed as Neo from the Matrix. All the ones I have seen have stethoscopes and comfy clothes. And this annoyed me. Here we have this guy who looks like he has escaped from (insert suitable dark tv show or movie) and no one in the story notices a thing. I realise he has to be a bit menacing, but Anthony Ainley managed to do it with a few laughs and all while wearing crushed velvet pantaloons. Why does this guy have to go the full bondage? But to be fair Eric does some seriously evil smiling and just like Jack Nicholson at the Oscars he wears his sunglasses in inappropriate places.
I cannot believe they named the ambulance man whose body the Master nicks Bruce. I am sorry, but you cannot have a character in a serious drama (or even a sci fi) called Bruce. It is soo Monty Python territory. I reckon Eric hated it as well - first chance he gets he explicitly states he "is not Bruce".
These shoes... They fit perfectly:
There is a theory in drama. All you need is one really good bit and people will remember that, forget the crap bits and go away raving. Actually that is not really a theory. I just made it up. However it is true. Whenever I think about this movie I always remember the park scene. People complain that McGann was "The Doctor Lite" - the diet cola of Doctors, 'not quite Doctorish enough', and so forth, but you can't always be a planet destroying sad sack can you? Sometimes you have to take pleasure in the little things that make being the Doctor so much fun, ie shoes and having it off with Lalla behind the catering van during the filming of City of Death... that sort of thing.
And that brings us to Paul McGann...
I am going to say I thought he was wonderful. But then again I would probably watch a half hour show of Paul McGann reading the newspaper. I think McGann was as gobsmacked as everyone else was when he landed the role. He is not - erm - anything like any Doctor we had had before. When you think that here is a Scousy boy with a shaved head dressed up as a Victorian ponce with a long haired wig, even if you don't agree with his interpretation of the Doc, you have to say that this boy can act.
The Puzzling Bits...
Get that boy to an optometrist:
Every so often in the movie we see things from the Doctor's perspective. Now either that guy was totally smashed for the whole movie or he has a serious eye problem. It looked as if he was seeing the world from the bottom of a vodka bottle. People would lurch in and out of his line of sight with an alarming randomness. No wonder he couldn't pilot the TARDIS all those years - HE COULDN'T SEE THE BLINKIN' BUTTONS! Judging by this film it is a wonder he could even find the door. But this does explain why the poor boy was so skittish for half of the movie. You would be a bit worried if everyone was coming towards you like zombies from a bad Hammer horror movie too!
Fanwank carried to the ludicrous:
Where did he get the jelly babies from? I realise this is an important bit of total fanwank for the British creators, but not only did the sudden appearance of a bag of jelly babies have no relevance to an unsuspecting American public, it made no sense. The man did not even have shoes! How did he acquire a bag of anachronistic sweets? Did he pop out to the sweet shop before or after he realised he had medical probe inserted into his chest? Any why didn't he notice that probe before anyway. I really think I would pick up on a piece of "primitive wiring" with the dimensions of a coat hanger stuck in my chest right away! Are sweet shops even open at nine PM on New Years Eve in San Francisco? Did he make Grace stop off at a Seven Eleven on the way home to pick some up?
San Francisco was awfully flat. I swear remember reading something about hills in Tales of the City?
If I had one chance to go back in time...
I'd go back, misuse my Time Lord powers and change history. Every time I watch this movie I am saddened at what might have been. It would have strange. It would have been different. For some it would have never been as good as the old series. But it sadly did not ever get a chance to "be" anything.
The DVD bit:
The DVD I have has some groovy extras. There are some interviews with Syl being his normal diplomatic self and trying to explain it all for the unsuspecting American public "there's this bloke and he travels through time and space in a big blue box... no really... it's good."
There is also a great interview with Paul McGann saying how he wouldn't go near a Doctor Who convention even if you super glued him to a Dalek, cos the fans are just too scary (just what had Syl been telling him, from what I heard Syl was the driving force behind that pool party).
Sometimes I wonder about McGann. Here is this big Scousy dude terrified of a bunch of people who like to dress up like the Doctor and discuss telesnaps... Ummm, how bad did you think it was going to get? Fortunately now he does do the odd convention and will continue to do them as, so far, no one has leapt on him yet and frightened him off. (Actually I have it on good authority they just took him out for afternoon tea and fed him cinnamon buns.)
The bloke who does this commentary has the wit of Oscar Wilde's turnip (but not the interesting turnip shaped like a thingy).
Why this movie is important:
Simply for the fact that if you pick up an Eighth Doctor Adventure story you will see Paul McGann's face slathered across it. A lot of people will say that the Eighth Doctor is a literary creation, but I reckon it would be nice to see the bloke who inspired it all, eh?
"These shoes... they fit perfectly!"
And besides, he is a lovely Doctor.
The Trial of a TV Movie (a defence) by Lance Bayliss 13/11/04
As those who might have glanced at my review of the novelisation of the TV Movie will gather, I have a great deal of enthusiasm for this production. I'm not beyond seeing its faults. But I certainly don't see that the "trinity of errors" that fans often go on about are any worse than anything the original BBC series inflicted upon itself.
But rather than debate these same old topics - you all know to what I am referring - I should like to examine this version of Doctor Who within the context of what it is rather than what it is not. What it is, (Dimensions in Time excepted of course!) is the only example of televisual Doctor Who for the 1990s. In a time when Doctor Who had effectively been relegated to novels and 'unofficial' video and audio productions, the TV Movie was seen by many fans as the last great hope for their series. Those of us who hadn't given up hope of the series return greeted the news of the movie in a perhaps over-inflated view.
This is why I feel people often magnify its faults. Even before watching it, many fans already had a vision on how they would see the series return. Therefore they entered it seeing the flaws, rather than simply watching it as it was. It's something that I fear might afflict Russell Davies new version as well. There will always be a certain contingent of fandom who won't like what is being done, and who will make it worse for the rest of us as a result.
The TV Movie is for my money everything that I would have expected Doctor Who to be, had it carried on into the 1990s. Sure, it's got a larger budget, but if the original series had still been on the air in 1995/1996 I fully expect that certain elements of it would have evolved into a form not dissimilar to what we got.
I must be a realist and mention that the final product doesn't really stand up. But then, neither does much of original Doctor Who when given a similar tooth-and-comb treatment. Almost every Who story has an unsatisfactory ending to one extent or another. Almost every Doctor Who story features helter skelter plotting methods: Even in the heyday of Tom Baker, stories like Pyramids of Mars don't really stack up when all four episodes are watched back to back, protagonists don't remain internally consistent from one episode to the next. The difference is that the TV Movie is subject to greater scrutiny due to its very nature as a relaunch of Doctor Who.
Which brings us to Paul McGann. No matter how often Doctor Who scripts may have gone awry in the past, the lead actors can almost always been counted on to make it entertaining. Many a dull "base under siege" tale in the 1960s was boosted by Hartnell's childlike ability to be honourable one moment and be overcome by whimsy the next (he always make me giggle). Or Troughton's way of turning a phrase so that it takes on more than one meaning. Tom's hilarious turns in much of Seasons 16 and 17 are often just attempts to liven up dull storylines. And no matter how much Terror of the Vervoids may sink into a "cartharsis of spurious morality", Colin Baker always manages to make me smile with his purile flipancy (the scene where he refuses to give Mel the seeds for example).
As so it is with McGann. Others have often painted him as being shown as a "stereotypical limey, fish out of water" type, but when you look at it, this is exactly what the Doctor has basically been in all 7 past incarnations, and probably will be again in the future. It's the small things of his performance that get me smiling. The way he follows Grace's gaze down at his clothing in the lift. The way he puffs out his cheeks when stopped mid-sentance by Professor Wagg. The shoes scene is overstated, but the final scene - the Doctor saying goodbye to Grace with only a distant look - is just about perfect. It's these tiny things that often make me melt when watching the movie. McGann, like all those before him, salvages a lacking script.
I shan't discuss Grace or Chang Lee, other than to say - honestly - that they are non-characters. Both manage well as possible 'regulars' had the American series gone on, but they really aren't up to much here. Eric Roberts however is nowhere near as poor as people often paint him to be. Mister Roberts is a method actor, and struggled to grasp the core of the character of the Master. Considering what he had to work with, I think he did rather well. His Master still retains an offhand manner that reminds one of the past ('Did she kiss as good as me?!' 'As well as you.') and that's good enough for me.
When Roberts later played a bad guy on the animated series "Justice League", the producers claim that they found him 'scary' when he came in to read, because he had so many different ways he wanted to play the role. In the event, he did all of them in recording. It was up to the producers to find a balance in post production between one scene and another, but as they say the end result actually enhances that evil character. One moment he's staid and normal, the next he shows such malice. So I feel it is with the Eric Roberts Master.
In closing (and I apologise for the length of my ramblings - Give one an open forum and he'll go on all day!!) I restate that everything that Doctor Who might concieveably be expected to be in 1996 was matched in this movie. It's a run around some overseas corridors. It retains a glib humour. It looks towards effects over plot, at times. If there's nothing else to be said about it, the TV Movie stands as a reliable stopgap. It ties up what went before, and promises a bright future. Nothing better can ever be said.
A Review by Finn Clark 25/5/06
The time is ripe for reappraising the 1996 TVM. It's no longer our Last Hope For The Future, but no less importantly it's no longer The End. Doctor Who survived, thanks to Russell T. Davies. These days, the TVM is that oddity from 1996 that writes out Sylvester McCoy between Survival and Rose. We can fit it into a greater context and hopefully see it more level-headedly.
I always kinda liked it, but watching it in sequence with its neighbouring Who stories was an eye-opener. It's not very good, is it? There's a lot to like in the production, but the script is bollocks. In fact it's the most incoherent gibberish ever to get through the Doctor Who TV production process, which is no small claim. The first half-hour is an extended epilogue to the McCoy era, albeit a charming one, with the real story only beginning once the Doctor and the Master have their new bodies. The Doctor decides he needs a MacGuffin (the beryllium clock - WHY???) and the world gets destroyed and saved by screenwriter whim. I nearly said technobbable, but we're not even given that much. Matthew Jacobs has some strange ideas about time machines, but, what's more, thought them so self-explanatory that justification was unnecessary. You'd have to tie your brain in knots to explain what happened. It's not beyond the wit of fan, but I'd sooner try to rationalise UNIT dating.
Russell T. Davies had a go at redeeming it in Boom Town and The Parting of the Ways, though.
It's interesting in a continuity context. Some of the 8th Doctor's traits were foreshadowed under Cartmel. The 7th Doctor mentions his family in Curse of Fenric and leaves notes for himself in Battlefield, which, although it's a much lesser cheat, could be seen as leading up to the TVM's (mis)use of time travel. Furthermore, McGann's kisses now seem to lead in to the Eccleston era, e.g. The Doctor Dances. The TVM even has our last mention of Gallifrey before the Time War, in a respectful homage that's a more fitting farewell than the messy Trial of a Time Lord.
However the Master being tried and executed on Skaro, to be taken back to Gallifrey? Huh? Whassat? Russell T. Davies's Time War can be interpolated into Dalek stories from Genesis onwards, and the TVM adds a further perspective to that. Dunno what it means, though!
Despite everything, I'm still fond of the TVM. It cares about its characters and works its little socks off to give them snappy scenes and a good joke or two. Its heart is in the right place, even if its brain isn't. "Half-human" indeed. It's amiable and good-natured. Most importantly, it feels like the work of someone who loves Doctor Who, rather than someone who thinks the show was a bit crap and needed more ass-kicking and macho one-liners.
It gets the Doctor right. He's compassionate, whimsical and Doctorish, with some wonderful moments ("I'll shoot myself" or "these shoes: they fit perfectly"). Back in 1996 we were full of praise for Paul McGann, but I'm inclined to give more credit to the script. The actor's having fun, but I came away with a stronger impression of Matthew Jacobs's Doctor than I did of McGann's. Probably his most distinctive moment is the bit near the end where he's showing off at the TARDIS console. Curiously McGann's performance spoke to me more of the Earth Arc Doctor than the "hello birds, hello sky" congenital idiot of the early 8DAs. His cold, pale eyes make him feel remote and distant. I'm thinking particularly of his unreadable expression as he looks back at Grace from the TARDIS doors before disappearing at the end.
In contrast, Sylvester McCoy gets hung out to dry! Lunatics have called it his best performance as the Doctor. Bollocks is it. The script gives him nothing to play with. There's nothing wrong with him here and McCoy gets to demonstrate his forte of physical acting, but it could be seen as a flaw that this movie's lead character is almost entirely passive and silent until he dies. Eccleston's first two minutes in the role gave him more to do.
Daphne Ashbrook holds the film together as Grace. If she hadn't been so strong and vivid, this would have been well-nigh unwatchable. Yee Jee Tso is also fun, but for me the star of the show is Eric Roberts. He may be camping it up somewhat, but how exactly is that inappropriate for the Master? Don't try to tell me that Roger Delgado and Anthony Ainley were never tongue-in-cheek. I might have liked this Master to be scarier, e.g. when killing Chang Lee, but Roberts is clearly having a ball and he's always fun to watch. He has charm and wit, which are important. I love his ad-libs and comedy byplay in the ambulance, for instance. His banter with Chang Lee always makes me chuckle.
Seriously, the Roberts Master may have his critics but things could have been much worse. Consider his shades. Sunglasses are great if you want to look imposing and impassive (e.g. the Terminator), but fortunately Roberts chose to play against them instead of relying on them. Imagine the Master being played as an American Schwarzenegger wannabe in black leather and shades, then shudder. I also enjoy watching the Master's gradual disintegration, from "I had trouble with the walking and the talking" all the way to becoming Dracula destroyed by sunlight. As an aside, no classic series story ever painted him more clearly as the anti-Doctor, with their personal stories paralleled at every point (resurrected together, acquiring new companions together, etc.).
On a production level, obviously the TVM is stunning. The "Oh My God" console room is still my all-time favourite, beating the Eccleston version by virtue of being so damn beautiful. Geoffrey Sax's direction is wonderful, with at least one sequence (the Doctor's regeneration intercut with clips from James Whale's 1931 Frankenstein and scored with a heartbeat) that's worth the entry price all by itself. Ooooh, that's good. Admittedly I cringe at Fat Comedy Guy's "Oh My God" shortly afterwards, but you can't have everything.
The incidental music is terrific all round, in fact. In what's surely a first for the show, three people get an "Incidental Music" credit. At its best it complements the visuals as well as anything we'd ever seen, though I'm not wild about the new arrangement of the theme music. It sounds nice and I like the twinkly piano bit, but it treats Ron Grainer's original as just another tune to be scored for an orchestra. The results are too melodious. It's just another American TV theme, not haunting or wailing. The trumpet section needs shooting, and as for the very end of the closing titles...
Interestingly not only do all four lead characters die and get reborn, but so does the whole world! You can't accuse them of not following through on their theme of resurrection and rebirth.
I like the resonances and ironies in the story. For example it's not bullets that kill the 7th Doctor, but simply being an alien among humans. I enjoy the religious imagery too. The kisses make me roll my eyes, but they don't matter. In 1996 Doctor Who fell into the hands of Americans and the results may not have been perfect, but Jean-Marc Lofficier's The Nth Doctor showed that things could have been much, much worse. It's a bit stupid, but charming.
An American Review by Billy Barron 24/9/06
I noticed that many posters are from the UK and mentioned the Doctor Who movie had good ratings there. However, Fox never gave it a chance to succeed in the US. It was barely advertised. In fact, I never knew when it actually was on and I'm a Doctor Who fan. Needless to say it was doomed in the US before it was ever shown. I didn't see it till years later.
However, if the marketing hadn't already doomed it, the product itself would have. The telemovie reminded me of the movie "Dune". Both are too hard for novices to get into and both make hard to swallow changes for the hardcore fan.
The beginning dragged and dragged and dragged. I like 7th Doctor and I say that. I can't see that the non-Who fan would have made it past that first bit without switching the channel out of boredom. McCoy did okay given the absolutely worthless script he was given.
I've always considered the Master to be the worst thing to ever have happened to Doctor Who. Eric Roberts, the most well-known actor here, drags the Master to new lows that I didn't know were possible. Finn Clark's comment about the Schwarzenegger Master is dead on.
Grace was an unusually boring love interest for an action film. I can't remember a single line or scene of hers really.
The plot, what little of it there was, took forever to unfold and then when it did it was pretty uninteresting. I still don't understand what happened at the end or nor do I really care.
I hated the trappings of Doctor Who which appeared here or there but missed the spirit. The jelly babies were a great example: the film was made for an American audience. Jelly babies were thrown in to draw in the old casual Who fan, but I wouldn't know what a jelly baby is without Doctor Who. Us Americans call them jelly beans.
Now to McGann: I don't get why he gets such raves in other reviews. To me, he was better than Peter Davison, but every other Doctor is light years ahead of him. His look is all wrong to me. He just seem to mope around quite a lot and didn't once excite me.
All in all, a complete debacle in my book. Definitely one of worst Doctor Who stories of all times. Fortunately for it though, The Web Planet and The King's Demons both exist and are much worse.
However, it may have been for the best it failed. Fox was completely the wrong network to run a Doctor Who series and might have damaged the franchise beyond repair if it had done more episodes.
The only good out of this movie in my book is that Russell T. Davies learned some lessons and made Rose everything a relaunch should be.
A Review by Nick Tosoni 19/1/07
I recently had the pleasure of watching this on YouTube a few weeks ago. While this TVM is loaded with so-called "inconsistencies", it still holds a nostalgic place in my heart, because this is the thing which turned me into a Doctor Who fan, 10 years ago. (I was only 9 at the time, and I didn't know any better.)
Where to begin, though? First, I'd like to say that the acting is very, very, good in this. Watching the TVM again, the scene where Sylvester McCoy died on the operating table nearly broke my heart, it was such a violent and needless death. He did very well with that, giving a great exit for his Doctor, even if his subsequent regeneration scene was a bit too comical-looking. (I can excuse all the "fanwank" of having the 7th Doctor in this movie just for that one scene.)
Paul, on the other hand, strikes the perfect note here, both dramatic and Doctorish. Everybody compares him to Tom Baker, and this claim is well-justified. When he gives his triumphant cry of "I... AM... THE... DOCTOR!" you believe it. (Offering the policeman jelly babies was a very nice touch. It's a crying shame these aren't in the New Series.)
Daphne Ashbrook and Yee Jee Tso were very well cast as Dr. Grace Holloway and Chang Lee, very well cast indeed. As for Eric Roberts' Master, though... well, the American accent was entirely excusable plot-wise, but he seemed kind of languid here. That, and the fact that his dark glasses make him look like Roger Waters (of Pink Floyd) struck me as hilarious.
Right, now that the main cast is out of the way, let's move on to the plot. The fact that the Daleks put the Master on trial was ludicrous, mainly because it requires too much explanation. In my opinion, it should have been the Time Lords putting him on trial, then telling the Doctor to dispense with the ashes/do as he pleases with them.
I find the Eye of Harmony stuff totally excusable. A note to all the fans: it's a remote Eye of Harmony within the TARDIS, which acts as a receiver of sorts to the real Eye on Gallifrey. Also, the Beryllium clock stuff is excusable, because the Doctor uses the clock's "chip" to fix the timing mechanism, which got blown out when the Master screwed up the console in the beginning.
As for the half-human element, at least it's only mentioned in passing and not explained further. (The "cloaking device" line, however, was kind of stupid, but then I think the Doctor was trying to express "chameleon circuit" in a way that an American mind could understand.)
Well, that's it. Doctor Who: The Movie. An exercise in nostalgia, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Oh, well, at least I still like it after all these years. 9/10
Improving the TV movie: Eight things to change, four things to keep the same by Emily Monaghan 24/5/08
The TV movie looks good, but is rotten at the very core. Despite that, it's not beyond saving; it's certainly enjoyable, and it's the only time you will ever get the joy of seeing the Eighth Doctor on screen. Here are a few pointers, if they ever decide to give it a rejig. The below contains spoilers.
Eight Things to Change
Ditch the half human comment: why would the Time Lords invent a technology they couldn't use? Seriously, was this bizarre bit of plotting worth the stress it has caused since? They could easily have come up with something else (see: DIY science below).
Don't kill Grace: Grace's death is irrelevant and unnecessary. It adds nothing to the story; there's no reason she couldn't just fall and be knocked out (I believe the apologetic Gary Russell novelisation does something of this sort) Or, indeed, fall and land correctly. To my mind, the only reason they kill her is to bring her back to life, and it's the bringing back to life that I really object to. It's a huge injustice to all the other worthy and deceased people of the Doctor's acquaintance who couldn't conveniently appeal to the TARDIS' sympathetic side. It's a payoff for the naff "holding back death" line used throughout the film. Resurrection always cheapens death - see Torchwood to see it done well - but this was a cheap death to begin with.
But, as a coda to this, do kill Chang Lee. This Master isn't terrible, but with camp lines about "dressing for the occasion", snarling and actually descending into physical violence against the Doctor, instead of continuing the chess-style gentleman's war; he's not entirely himself either. That one moment of murder is perfect: a benevolent smile and true evil for evil's sake all wound up into one.
Don't muck around with time: Doctor Who has a DIY approach to science. We're suffering temporal warp ellipse cut out! What can we do?! Well, anything the writer likes, since neither he nor the audience has the foggiest what temporal warp ellipse cut out actually is. So when the black hole is about to destroy the Earth, he can theoretically solve it any way he likes, as long as he covers his tracks with technobabble. But he doesn't. Instead, he has to come up with a solution that directly contravenes one of the few laws that is fixed in this universe. Let's call it "the second law of time".
You can tell I'm an Adric fan, can't you. If resurrection-for-its-own-sake and turning back time completely were that easy, wouldn't the Doc have done it before?
There are a lot of reasons why the denouement should have been different. Why set the stakes so high that something truly drastic has to occur? If he goes back to the 29th , then a lot of things need explaining. Chang Lee's buddies haven't been killed, and neither has the Doctor. Is Bruce still alive, or has he vanished from time, or what? Not to mention letting Grace and Chang back out into a world where they still exist in a different form, which genuinely could cause trouble.
On the other hand, it does utilise time travel. The TARDIS is often little more than a plot randomiser; I've always had a fondness for episodes which engage with the possibilities and problems having that ability brings. And, as a supposed "backdoor pilot", and something intended for new fans to the show, putting something about time is an important piece of setup. So maybe this isn't an entirely lost cause - just give it a bit more thought.
Remove Frankenstein: look at me, ma! I can crosscut! After decades of static camera, Somebody Who Has Been To Film School has got their hands on the franchise, and decided to make it "cinematic". Sometimes it works (the shots of clocks, the general sense of pacy-ness). Sometimes it's just pathetically naive and obvious, such as here, with the Doctor's regeneration intercut with the "it's alive!!!" of the classic Frankenstein movie. Just because you can, it doesn't mean you should. The jury's still out on murder-to-Puccini however...
Why does the hospital have a trashed up wing? No, seriously. Nice scene with the mirrors and rain and chaos, but if it was a metaphor it was heavy handled and unnecessary; and if it wasn't, then what the hell happened there? Does your local ward have a room with smashed glass, broken dolls and rusty junk, just in case someone feels like expressing existential despair?
Don't let Grace save the day - because I'm just a normal Earth Girl too, and it's nice to know that when he turns up and it's down to me to save the universe, I'll know exactly which wires to twist...
Don't let the Doctor use the word vacation: I may be wrong, perhaps this word is used in English too, but it's always struck me as very American. Fair enough, he's a Gallifreyan, so it's all foreign, but it still felt false for me. I'd endured a lot by that point, my nitpick-radar was on full blast. Much better was the Master correcting Grace's grammar, which is perfect characterisation for him (and nice to see the Doctor doing the same in the recent Sontaran Stratagem).
Don't let Fox do it: this was always a bad idea. Fox hates fandom. Fox stays up late at night planning on how to do murder to good shows, annoy the loyal fans and kick puppies. Futurama? Firefly? As such, was handing the franchise to them really a good idea?
And four things to keep the same
The Doctor: can anyone fault him, really? Ageless, magical, packed full of that Doctor charm that lets him get away with anything. If I use the word "smile", do you know the one I mean? The beam that makes everything OK. The use of sleight of hand is a brilliant new addition to his character, while all the old ones - the mercy, the brilliance, occasionally the heroism - are in place. This ninety minutes launched a character which has successfully inspired the books et al that came after. He also namedrops with brilliant style.
The design: this film is beautiful in every single way. Someone has misread "bigger on the inside" as bloody massive, bigger than any realistic building could ever be, and the TARDIS is all the more lovely for it. Finally, we get to see the library we always knew must be in there somewhere! The lived-in bits are cosy; the mechanical bits are steampunked up, and it feels alive again. I also love the huge console room; after years of emergencies, the Doctor's obviously cottoned on that he can't afford to be too far away from it! Even the leaves feel terribly right. The costumes are gorgeous too - not to mention the leading man. Should the Doctor be good looking? In general, I don't think it hurts, or matters. Here in particular, even when the plot is shot to hell, the dialogue's dodgy and continuity and canon are completely out of whack, at least you have something nice to look at...
Keep the kiss: yup, you heard me. At least the first one. It cements his absolute joy to be alive. It's not so much love for her (she has just stuck a scalpel in his gut...), as love for everything. As such, it's an uplifting moment, celebrating life, not to mention being young and able to get away with it for the first time in centuries. Aside from the shock of looking in the mirror, regenerating must be a wonderful feeling, a sort of cosmic shower.
Plus, retain it out of pity for the strict purists. If they hadn't been so worked up about this, they would only have paid better attention to the dire miseries of the plot as detailed above, which are twice as unpleasant.
The first 15 minutes: Paul McGann, as I've already observed, makes a fine Doctor. It's just a pity for him that he passes good taste and smart plotting on the way in, because his regeneration is the point at which things go downhill.
It all starts so well! The theme tune! The building sense of menace, before the Master assumes both a form and knowledge of fashion! The Seventh Doctor getting a runaround that gorgeous redesigned TARDIS, and then redefining the cliche of "the Doctor meets trouble very soon after leaving it" by doing it instantly.
And what a departure! The classical death for a hero is doing something heroic. For one with the stature of the Doctor, this should be no less than saving his companions, the world or the universe - preferably all three. Even facing your fears is a noble way to go. But a medical botch up? How unpleasant for a guy who has faced off death a thousand times. It's a situation we can all understand, and as such more real than any alien nasty. No calm acknowledgment that the way has been prepared for; this is a traumatic and scarily realistic way to go, a series of nasty accidents. And it's very refreshing.
I've seen many comments suggesting the film would have been less alienating to start with an already-regenerated Eighth Doctor, much in the way the Ninth turned up and let us into the world gradually during Rose. Maybe that would have been better; pity to lose this bit though, as it's the only bit that rang true...
I can see Sylvester McCoy now, rubbing his hands with glee when he reads a few pages further on, and discovers he's escaped before the grot sets in.
Ding Dong the Master's dead by Thomas Cookson 9/2/09
The TV Movie has an unfortunate position of being a standalone failed comeback. It has always been vulnerable to heavy criticism, some of it no doubt pre-empted by many fans before it was even shown. Had it come immediately after Survival, it might be rather higher in fan estimation. If it came in Season 23 or 24 it would be heralded as story of the season, no doubt.
With the exception of The Talons of Weng-Chiang, no pre-2005 Doctor Who story has had such pristine production values in terms of directing, acting, special effects and even lighting. It seems to get everything right and that's a rarity for our beloved show.
So what's wrong with it?
When I watched it at 14, I was hardly the best judge of quality having been raised on 80's action flicks and re-runs of Buck Rogers and thinking that formulaic, lobotomised machismo was the height of cool. I was fairly engaged in a first time viewing but the ending really disappointed me, it was confusing (in a stupid way rather than a clever way) and it didn't even seem to be a proper ending, and no explanations or heavy symbolism made it any more comprehensible. The only answers seemed to be the most contrived ones which were that the Master's life force just happened to burn out at that crucial moment and the Temporal Orbit seemed capable of fixing a problem and raising the dead with ridiculous ease.
But it was easy enough to hate the film at that age, because everyone was slagging it off and there's nothing more fun than slagging something off when you're a teenager.
Then, when I was 17, prompted by a few lucky finds of old stories, I entered back into fandom and decided to give the TV Movie a second try [*]. By this point I have seen The Twin Dilemma and knew all about painful viewing experiences, and decide that by comparison the TV Movie has long deserved a day in court and a fair reappraisal.
[*] By the way yes if you've done your maths it was indeed 1999 when I was 17, and no I didn't do anything sad like actually watch the TV Movie at the turn of the millennium.
Well, the moody first fifteen minutes still impressed me. Doctor Who has always been about atmosphere after all. But come half an hour into it, when we've met Grace and entered into that car chase, and I find I've lost interest. I'm finding it quite annoying for reasons I can't articulate and have little desire to keep watching. Then comes the ending and it's still a disastrous anti-climax.
So again, what's wrong with it?
Funnily enough it shares many of its faults with the worst of the 80's stories. This was to be a new era of Doctor Who, but most eras begin with the leftovers of the last era. Had the TV Movie succeeded, it might have led to stories that were far removed from this one, in much the same way as Robot or Horror of Fang Rock are such a throwback to the previous era that they're off beat with everything to follow.
The TV Movie was in some ways called upon to clean up the dead wood of the John Nathan-Turner era (and the JNT era had a lot of dead wood). It needed to kill off the old Doctor, and at the same time needed to finally kill off the Master once and for all so that he wouldn't become the same thorn in the show's side anymore, given that Castrovalva, Planet of Fire and Survival had each failed to be the 'final end' for him.
To be fair though, and to lay off blame on the JNT era, I often think that having the Master survive the end of The Deadly Assassin was one of the worst mistakes the show ever made.
Many fans have complained about the cynical approach to the demise of the old Doctor as he is shot to pieces simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But, funnily enough, I could easily imagine such a moment feeling right at home in an Eric Saward story, in its view of an inescapably savage universe of human beings at their worst. For that reason, I quite like that death, plus the moments in hospital where Sylvester (in a very strong and seasoned performance) is warning Grace "I am not human, I am not like you" still have me on the edge of my seat now, dreading the inevitable. But beyond that, the film just becomes a complete washout.
There's the heavy-handed continuity references, and it can't even be bothered getting the continuity right (I really can't buy the ludicrous notion of the Daleks having their own judicial system, but then again Revelation of the Daleks was guilty of the same misdemeanour and that's one of my favourite stories). There's an annoying, unlikeable companion who's as shrill and melodramatic as Tegan and as verbally diaorhetic as Ace in her early stories. The interplay between the Master and Chang Lee as he tries to convince the innocent little thug that the Doctor is a bad guy is as witless and childish as when the Rani dressed up as Mel to fool the Doctor in Time and the Rani - though, to be fair it wasn't quite as boring to watch (on the subject of which, how did they ever manage to make such a high farce story like Time and the Rani into something boring? That takes some effort).
If there's one thing that has always bothered me about the TV Movie it is that the Doctor is so emancipated, far more than he was in most of the Peter Davison stories. There seems no sign whatsoever of the confident, uptight, missionary, confrontational hero that he once was. There's hardly any grounds for a good confrontation anyway, since the Master is appallingly scripted and there's none of the show's old theatrical eloquence that would have made those confrontations so special. The Master is characterised as pure sleaze in much the same way as Sil was in the Colin Baker era, losing the charm and class that always raised him above being a common creep. The Doctor eventually battles the Master, and he emerges as the only Doctor apart from Peter Davison to actually kill his mortal enemy. But when the Master's worked for a desperate survival plan and yet his last moments see him in a moment of absurd pride, declaring "never" at the Doctor's offer to save him, what was the point of all that?
The Doctor spends most of the rest of the film actually running away. And that's partly why I found it difficult to warm to the Eighth Doctor the same way other fans did until I started listening to the Big Finish audios, like Natural History of Fear and Terror Firma. You've got to love Big Finish for giving a second chance to those Doctors who got a short end of the stick and could have been contenders, and also for giving me an alternative current Doctor Who that is mature and sublime, unlike the current series which is aimed at kids, and not just kids per se, but specifically bitchy, obnoxious, spoilt kids.
Speaking of which, one of Russell T. Davies' pearls of wisdom was when in one interview he pointed out that the problem with the TV Movie is that even forgoing the issue of Grace and Chang Lee being brought back to life, it is still all ultimately inconsequential. The Doctor is usually supposed to arrive in troubled times and make a difference. In this story, the Doctor saves the Earth, but had the TARDIS not landed on Earth, the planet wouldn't have been in danger in the first place. The inconsequential, chickening-out ending is much like Trial of a Time Lord, except that Trial at least was able to rely on the surreal Matrix environment to make the ending semi-workable on a symbolic level.
The story has been much criticised for its Americanisation, and the "half human" references are a given Trek-ism that really make me want to bang my head against a wall and wish that it had never happened. Now and again, the show does something that reads to me as such a major insult to its own legacy that I'd like it to have never made it to screen, and that one is up there with overwriting the deaths of Davros and the Master after Genesis of the Daleks and Planet of Fire respectively, or Warriors of the Deep digging up and bastardising a tragic story that had already been told and done in the Pertwee era, or the Doctor betraying all his principles and tormenting Peri in The Twin Dilemma and Mindwarp just for the sake of cheap shock tactics.
But really, to me, the problem with the film is that, just like the John Nathan-Turner era, it is so fannish. By which I mean it doesn't merely involve things that please those who like the show, but that it is aimed at the kind of people who take the show far too seriously. Just like the JNT era, and just like Star Trek: The Next Generation. Barely a year later we'd get John Peel's berserk explanation as to how the Daleks faked the entire Movellan war to save Skaro.
Basically, the whole thing drowns in its own pretentious over-earnestness, but yes it is the overblown American style that makes the repellent excesses of this film. It should be said that Philip Segal was critical of the 80's era of the show, as is Russell T. Davies. This shows in how Russell writes, since Russell goes firmly against the grain of the fan-pleasing 80's and in fact much of what he writes seems to have gone quite bullishly out of its way to bait and irritate the fans as much as possible, as relentlessly as possible, whether it be crude sexual humour, endless domestics, unflattering portrayals of fandom or the Doctor being perpetually cliquey and bitchy, into trash TV and snogging his companion at least once a season. Then again, Russell is one of those control-freak producers who can only bear to be criticised if it is crucially on his own terms (remember that any new Who is subject to a lot of unreasonable pre-emptive criticism from fandom).
With the TV Movie, the approach was clearly to aggressively overcompensate for the major lethargy that had afflicted the John Nathan-Turner era since day one, with so many slow-moving stories and so many tedious scenes. It also seemed to want to wipe the slate clean of the Sixth Doctor's violence, and the "stand aside before I shoot myself" moment does this well and brushes The Twin Dilemma completely out of memory, although it also seems to be part of the aforementioned emancipation of the character.
But, getting back to the main point, the TV Movie seems to feel obliged to break with the old show's lethargy by having a very forced and overdramatic urgency running through it. Feeling obliged to have something exciting and frenetic happen every five minutes, someone pulls out the hyperbole trumpet, no matter what it is, no matter how mundane. Chang Lee racing out of the hospital after Grace grills him, with pretentious dramatic music and Chang Lee diving over stretchers and knocking trays of water over is a classic case in point of using this pretentious style to cover up the fact that nothing that important is happening. Ditto when the Doctor finds the camera probe and has a fit of paranoia and orders Grace to drive before they get caught, and it's played as a dramatic escape even though NO ONE IS ACTUALLY CHASING THEM.
And then, of course, there's the motorcycle chase. In and of itself, it is quite ridiculous the way fans became in uproar about the Doctor involved in a motorcycle chase as being somehow a blasphemy and un-Doctor Who. If that were a rule then Day of the Daleks, Planet of the Spiders and dozens of other Pertwee stories couldn't count as true Doctor Who either. But the Terminator homage is unbearably heavy-handed and showy throughout - not even in an ironic way - and reads like the TV Movie putting nails in its own coffin. Truth be told, many of the JNT/Saward stories were pretty much "Doctor Who goes Rambo", but not this unsubtly. Furthermore, the Doctor and Grace manage to lose their pursuers quite early on, but the dramatic "race against time" chase music keeps going for another five minutes, even though there's no tension in the scene anymore.
(By the way I quite liked the freeway chase in The Runaway Bride.)
I've said in my reviews on The War Games and Genesis of the Daleks that the action padding in a Doctor Who story is not, as many fans would claim an expendable part of the story because it all plays a part in characterising the determination and strengths of both heroes and villains. But this isn't the case here, because it lacks any humanity. It's not engaging us with the spirits of the characters or conveying the all-encompassing danger, it's just telling us very unsubtly that this is an exciting sequence and we should be excited right now. It's all hyper-stylised, it's visually and sonically shrill and there's no real warmth or humanity underneath it. And the more it does this, the more hollow it ultimately becomes. Rob Matthews very eloquently described this film as "a mess of sound and fury" and it's the most apt description of the TV Movie I've come across. And it's not like Run Lola Run, where the fury is human and primal and bountiful. Instead, it's like any other American TV Movie where any soul or substance to it is screamed out by melodramatic belligerent characters till there's nothing left but an empty shell (also why the Eighth Doctor himself didn't warm to me until listening to the Big Finish stories). The more style it expends, the less substance it is left with. And that's partly why the extended fight with the Master at the end is ultimately so boring, because it exhausts itself so thoroughly.
I could point out the slapstick as well, but that's pretty much covered by the hyper-stylising. Still, despite the vapidity of much of it, there was the odd good joke like "you think he's going to go to a better hospital?" and where the Master claims that the Doctor was Genghis Khan, "Yes way!" and, of course, not forgetting "humans, always seeing patterns in things that aren't there."
If I were to have taken the helm of the revival TV Movie, then hindsight would compel me to pair the Eighth Doctor with Romana again, so that when we hear about the time war, the TV Movie could be looked on poignantly as Romana's last adventure. Like many fans, I couldn't help but be disappointed after the pre-credits sequence that the film had to be about the Master and couldn't be about the Daleks instead.
In some ways, this joins the ranks with half the Master's stories that could have happily have had their scripts jettisoned before they got commissioned. Then again, I do at least appreciate its virtue of trying to be the 'final end' for the villain, but it still seems so inconsequential, and makes me wish that Planet of Fire had really been the character's ultimate end, because that was far more poignant (and also if we never saw him again, familiarity would have bred less contempt).
But I can live with the TV Movie. Aside from really wishing I could cut out the offensively pointless and out-of-the-blue 'half human' references, I wouldn't gladly jettison it the way I would with half the JNT-era stories or the more recent episodes. It's a lobotomised mess of sound and fury, but at least it is what it is, which puts it firmly above the schizophrenic, neurotic and often deranged messes of the 1980's. It's an important part of the canon, like it or not, and I'd leave it as it is. It just completely fails to move me. In some ways, I wish we had got a series from it. One that could hardly be worse than the show we've currently got now. I can't picture Paul McGann spending every subsequent story moaning to his current companion about how great Grace was and how much he misses her, or being really sneering and playing 'look at that freak' with the aliens, or using the TARDIS as his companions' personal taxi service whenever she wants to go pick a fight with her mum's ex-boyfriend.
Oh, what could have been...
But there is a fair ammount to be grateful for, with the TV Movie. It did clear out some of the dead wood of the old show and for a while made the public regard the show with nostalgic affection again, and to forget the embarrasments of the 80's. It got people talking about the quintissential Britishness that made the classic show so charming, as people complained about the Americanisations. It perhaps also made the current revival both possible and welcome.
The American Child by Hugh Sturgess 14/2/13
The TV movie has been largely forgotten today. It's no longer the Last Hope for Doctor Who, nor is it the Thing That Killed the Series. It's a oddity, an American deviation during the wilderness years. The old and new TV series are linked far better, both to each other - with Survival and Rose seeming to be beasts of the same species - and to the books in between, than to the TV movie. It doesn't really seem to have had any lasting impact on Doctor Who, unless you count the romance for the Doctor or the increasingly explicit homoerotica between the Doctor and the Master.
But, back in 1996, it was all-important. As soon as it was aired, fans dissected it. I once read someone, I think Lance Parkin, saying in all seriousness that its quality would be based on whether it went to a series or not. By that strange assessment of worth, the TV movie crashes with flying colours. It did very well in Britain, but it vanished without a trace in America. It probably never had a chance against that climactic episode of Roseanne, particularly with the poor marketing it got from Fox, but even if it had got a Superbowl audience watching that wouldn't have made it any good. As it stands, it's a $5 million waste of time for Fox, something that is entirely aimed at old viewers rather than grabbing new ones - a problem for a series that doesn't have a major mainstream following in America. We are left with no idea who the Doctor is, what he does, why (or whether) he travels the universe, who the Master is, and - frankly - why we should care. It's fun, but it fails at its most basic task: to get an audience for a new series. Like K9 and Company, its failure as a pilot is much worse than its failure as a piece of drama in its own right.
This is unfair, but there is the indefinable air of self-indulgence about this movie. The way money has been dumped bukkake-style onto the TARDIS set, the lengthy "prologue" with the seventh Doctor, the way in which it even seems like a one-off... This seems like a vanity project by a well-connected fan, not a serious attempt to launch a series. Maybe that's hindsight talking - we know it didn't go to series, so we can't see it any other way - but I don't think so. I think it didn't go to series BECAUSE it is like this.
The lengthy appearance of Sylvester McCoy is often singled out, even by the actor himself, as something that should have been cut. Personally, I don't agree. The argument is that we aren't given time to learn to like the seventh Doctor before he's killed off. But I don't think we're meant to. The emphasis is on Grace, on the horror of being a great doctor who screws up a routine operation. "Mr. Smith's" weird x-rays, his lack of a family or even a real name, and then his resurrection as an entirely different man... If you want to focus on regeneration as a Unique Selling Point of the series, this is how to do it. This isn't a waste of time. Philip Segal and Matthew Jacobs clearly view this as being as important as RTD did establishing the TARDIS.
Here's an experiment: start watching the movie from the shot of the fish getting its head chopped off. That cuts out the whole opening sequence of the Master's execution and escape. For my money, the objections to the first act (we don't care about McCoy, we see the inside of the TARDIS before the outside, too much info-dumping, etc) disappear. You're just as confused as Chang Lee and his would-be assassins as a blue box appears in front of them, the gooey worm-thing is mysterious and actually kinda scary, the Doctor's resurrection is miraculous rather than overdue. The fundamental problem with the TV movie is that no one thought how it would play with the uninitiated, and it wastes only the least amount of time possible explaining the set-up for new viewers.
Look at three other "first episodes": An Unearthly Child, Tomb of the Cybermen and Rose. Every one has a moment when the Doctor explains that he is a traveller ("Susan and I are cut off from our own planet, without friends or protection...", etc). The TV Movie doesn't. I don't think the Doctor mentions being a traveller once in the entire ninety minutes: the vague description of the TARDIS as "my ship that carries me through time and space" is all we get. He could even be based on Gallifrey from the dialogue. He's a Time Lord! What's that? Grace even seems to know what a police box is! It's not like Rose and its hints ("I fought in the war!"). The TV movie just expects us to know. Was explaining what a police box is too embarrassing? Or does it come from the same place as the infamous "cloaking device" - a lazy expediency to save the time needed to actually explain properly?
That's a real shame, because everyone is so visibly putting in their damnedest. No expense has been spared. Money has been lavished on the TARDIS. The sonic screwdriver has been lovingly recreated. All the actors are trying their hardest. Professor Wagg and the fat morgue guy are funny. ("You think he's gonna go to a better hospital?!"). Geoffrey Sax's direction is the stand-out element here. This is by far the most well-directed piece of Doctor Who in existence. I've never seen television like it. TV tends to have functional direction, since the smaller screen puts the emphasis on the characters and the dialogue instead of the pictures, while this practically screams the director's art at the audience. It's loud and showy, almost enough to be annoying, but it never crosses that line. Sax's background was in soap operas, apparently, which makes this all the more amazing. His film Stormbreaker isn't nearly this well-directed, for instance.
Looking at the horrendous narrow escapes we had in The Nth Doctor, the only thing in common between the various scripts (beyond the Doctor being half-human) is a reversal of the usual way of explaining everything. It gives us the answers before we can ask the questions. It shows us the extraordinary world inside the police box before the ordinary shell. It tells us that a Time Lord has thirteen lives before we see what a Time Lord is or what it might do. We hear how evil the Master is before he does anything at all. Imagine a version of An Unearthly Child that has a Star-Wars-style roll-credit at the start, explaining that the Doctor and Susan Foreman are aliens and they live in a police box that's really a spaceship. Ian and Barbara would look like pillocks for asking sensible questions we already know the answers to. The episode would be dead air. That's pretty much what happens here. Matthew Jacobs makes the interest-killing mistake of explaining it all beforehand.
I don't know what happened to Philip Segal's career after this, but he should have been fired. Or at least punished severely. Steven Spielberg put him in a position of trust and Segal betrayed that trust by allowing this to be made. It isn't unpleasant to watch, but as a pilot it's almost criminal.
One of the many inexplicable decisions made by the production team was to spend ninety minutes introducing us to Grace Holloway and Chang Lee, and then leave them behind. Daphne Ashbrook is lovely - world-weary, intelligent, mature, not at all girly - and, while Yee Jee Tso is obviously inexperienced, he's fun. They would have been infinitely preferable to any of the initial McGann teams in the books, audios or comics. They get the longest screen-time and are the most developed characters - and yet they stay behind. The impact this has on the viewer cannot be overstated. They effectively say that they've had their Doctor Who experience and are going back to Roseanne next week. Why shouldn't we do the same? One of the earlier writers for the project, one Robert DeLaurentis, actually pointed this out - the "leaving the companion behind" trope was shared in all the versions of the script. Presumably the producers thought that the Doctor was enough of an identification figure - but he isn't. McGann is not David Tennant or Tom Baker in their solo adventures - they had two or three years in the lead role at the height of the show's popularity, while McGann had barely 60 minutes. We have no idea where the Doctor will go, or what he plans to do, after he leaves Grace by the bay. Unlike An Unearthly Child or Rose, I find it curiously impossible to imagine a series stemming from this story.
Mad, crazy people have said that Paul McGann makes the greatest debut of any Doctor since Hartnell. That is, in my respectful opinion, utter bullshit. There have been four (or five, considering Vampire Science as the "real" start to the EDAs) goes at an "episode two" for McGann, and the results speak for themselves. In his adventures, the eighth Doctor has generally been a bland and whey-faced cipher, either an assembly of character traits from his past incarnations or just a generic "Doctorish" figure. That's because McGann doesn't make his mark here. At times, he's almost shockingly lightweight. How anyone ever came to think of him as being like Tom Baker I have no idea. And here the limits on time become a problem: he doesn't have enough space to be that Doctorish. He makes moves towards greatness in the "these shoes!" scene, and in the following scene in Grace's flat he's almost scary, but for the rest of the time he's dropping infodumps or shouting in the cloister room.
Thomas Cookson's review above suggests that the Doctor doesn't do anything of substance here (though, wonderfully, he misuses the word "uptight" to mean "upright" and "emancipated" to mean "emasculated", weirdly suggesting that his ideal Doctor is one who is oppressed and prudish). While other Doctors trample all over their guest stars and make themselves the centre of attention (even Troughton and McCoy, who attract attention by trying to avoid it), McGann trails in Grace's wake. He's a bit boring, to be honest. Watching this puts the EDAs' failure to portray an engaging eighth Doctor in perspective. It doesn't absolve them of everything - Stephen Cole was still an incredibly bad editor - but wasn't as though this movie contained a great Doctor that they squandered. I'm sure McGann would have developed his character, given a TV series (and writers who were interested in doing so too, unlike - say - the Big Finish gang), but going from this movie the prospect of a McGann series frankly sounds like watching the adventures of an empty space.
On the other hand, Eric Roberts is great fun. He's clearly having the time of his life intoning "the Asian child..." or bellowing "This! Is! An ambulance!" Sure, he's camping it up, but the only Master who's never been the Camp One was the hate-filled putrescent monster of The Deadly Assassin. Camp's aesthetic of putting on an act that isn't especially good fits both the Doctor and the Master: after all, they're not human, just pretending and getting it very slightly wrong. Unlike McGann, he's having fun. Suggestions that Roberts is playing "the Schwarzenegger Master" (Finn Clark's review uses those words, but Billy Barron somewhat witlessly thinks he means them) are absurd. Roberts is smarter than that. I like him.
Philip Segal's heart is obviously in the right place, but there's no denying that more time and thought seems to have gone into the TARDIS console than the plot. It's just really, really stupid. The Doctor collecting the Master's remains from Skaro after his execution by the Daleks looks like a goof for fans, and for first-time viewers there's no hint that the unseen Daleks (am I a bad person for liking those squeaky voices?) are evil. The Doctor loses his memory (no!!!) and gets it back, and then decides he needs a beryllium atomic clock. It's to fix his timing malfunction. What that is and how a beryllium clock will fix it are never even hinted at. Matthew Jacobs also never bothers to explain quite what the TARDIS does at the end. Presumably he thought it was so self-explanatory that he didn't have to. I'm guessing that a "temporal orbit" involves "overwriting" the TARDIS's own timeline, which undestroys the Earth because the Eye of Harmony was never opened to change the planet's molecular structure. But everyone still remembers what happened. And the resurrection of Grace and Chang Lee is unrelated, just a favour from the "sentimental" TARDIS (an unbotched version of Rose's resurrection of Captain Jack in The Parting of the Ways?). It's telling that the TV movie has spawned two sequels based around how fucked up it was (Unnatural History and The Fallen, in which it's specifically the Doctor's blabbering that gets criticised), and even the scientifically illiterate Russell T Davies had to weigh in to help in Boom Town.
You certainly couldn't call it predictable, but that's largely because it operates with no logic or sense. Any thoughts that this is a smart piece of television are dispelled in the scene in which the Doctor sees the atomic clock on TV. Discussing bizarre weather events around the world, the TV anchor claims that scientists have suggested that it is due to "small fluctuations in the Earth's gravitational field" (really?) that only occur "once every thousand years". Because they must be a thousand years apart, because it's 1999, and any strange or unusual occurrence must be to do with the millennium. The poverty of the intellect here is stupendous, which makes it surprising that I haven't seen anyone else pick up on it. Why would the Earth's "gravitational field" (really?) be synched with the Gregorian Judeo-Christian calendar? Were there unusual weather events in 1000 AD? Or 0 AD? The suggestion that anyone - let alone scientists - would think that this is a plausible idea further attests to Jacobs's odd way of thinking.
The movie's weird bits of continuity-busting have by now turned from things we ignore into a source of fresh speculation in themselves. The Daleks' Master-swap has been written into the grander story of the Time War by RTD in the 2006 Doctor Who annual, though without explanation. Maybe the Time Lords gave the Master to the Daleks as a peace offering, and the Daleks went through the motions of a "fair trial" to look more civilised than they were. In that case, maybe the Master-snake was a "get out of death free" card from the Time Lords, who couldn't risk losing such a potentially valuable agent ("the perfect warrior for a Time War", indeed). (That's the third explanation for the snake that I've seen, after Terrance Dicks's deathworm and Scott Gray's Morphant.) As for the Eye of Harmony being in the TARDIS, it's been well-established now that it's a link to the prime Eye on Gallifrey, or a copy in miniature placed inside the heart of every TARDIS (the way the TARDIS functions after the destruction of Gallifrey might influence this either way).
What I was really surprised by is how lightly the "half-human" line skims the viewer's conscience. It gets a dramatic musical chord in the cloister room, but it's a non-revelation. We barely know who the Doctor is, and it doesn't affect the story in any way. You think it's going somewhere when it turns out that only humans are able to open the Eye and so on (why?), but it just piddles off. It has no consequences. From its delivery, the line "on my mother's side" could easily be facetious (especially as he uses it as a distraction to get Wagg's ID). Needless to say, if the Doctor had kept his human heritage a secret all these centuries, he wasn't about to admit it to some loser at a junket. Perhaps tellingly, mere minutes earlier, the Doctor acknowledges to Grace that he can "change into another species" when he regenerates. It's such a gratuitous line on its own that I almost believe Jacobs intended fans to make the connection. Once again, a half-human eighth Doctor could have gone places, but it seems that the books, the audios and the comics were all so embarrassed by it that they pretended it never happened.
(The strangest example of faulty memory regarding this production was in an article on news.com.au hyping the imaginary David Yates Doctor Who movie. It mentioned a "straight-to-TV movie" made in "2005", starring "Patrick McGoohan in his only appearance as the Time Lord". Good to see that Australian journalism is following its usual maxim: the job of the press isn't to repeat misinformation, it's to create misinformation. I particularly appreciate the "only appearance" bit, which shows they were speaking to a fan who lamented that McGann only got one shot, and they remembered that, rather than the date, the actor and the kind of production. "A finger-puppet stage-show made in 1884 starring Peter Pan in a story that shocked fans by suggesting that the Eye of Harmony is really inside the TARDIS rather than on the Doctor's homeworld of Gallifrey.")
The TV movie is enjoyable enough, but it's not a good introduction to the series. Its plot is gibberish, its protagonist is bland and it's abandoned by its most established characters. It means well, but the nicest overall statement I can say about it is that it's dumb. It's not the worst piece of Doctor Who, but it's surely one of the shallowest. Before 2005, it had a unique position as "the last Doctor Who story (on TV)", and that made it seem rather important and special. Now that it's a half-forgotten blind alley, it looks shockingly inconsequential.
The Comeback That Should Have Been by Matthew Kresal 15/10/13
The TV Movie: the one attempt to relaunch the series between the original series ending in 1989 and the new series beginning in 2005. So long remembered as Paul McGann's one TV appearance as the Doctor or as that time the Americans ruined Doctor Who, The TV Movie was written off for a long time. It also faded into obscurity for many US fans due to the rights issues between the BBC and Universal kept it from receiving first a VHS and then later a DVD release. With the DVD finally out and with The TV Movie's profile rising again, perhaps we can finally see it for being more then the single televised adventure of the eighth Doctor but also the comeback that should have been.
Perhaps the biggest highlight of the movie is that it contains Paul McGann's debut as the eighth Doctor. Some of the actors who've played the Doctor have found their feet after some time, others almost immediately, and it would seem that McGann is one of the latter. From the moment he appears walking out of a morgue in a shroud to the last scene in the TARDIS, McGann embodies everything the Doctor should be: eccentric, intelligent, melancholic at times, yet an all around watchable and likeable character. The American setting in fact highlights the eccentric qualities of McGann's performance even more. Perhaps the greatest shame of The TV Movie is that this would be McGann's sole Doctor Who TV appearance.
There's also a good supporting cast backing him up. Playing the companion is Daphne Ashbrook as Dr. Grace Holloway who goes from a simple operation into an adventure with the fate of the world at stake. It helps that McGann shares some fine chemistry with her and the movie shines whenever they're together. Ashbrook also makes Grace's back and forth swapping about whether or not to believe the Doctor work despite the fact that it makes very little sense. There's also Yee Jee Tso as Chang Lee who does a adequate job due in what seems due in large part to the script rather than his skills as an actor. Not forgetting of course Sylvester McCoy's all-too-short appearance as the seventh Doctor in the opening minutes either, though his appearance seems rather unnecessary and potentially over complicates the film for anyone seeing Doctor Who for the first time (something that this TV Movie was supposed to be for).
Which rather brings us to Eric Roberts as the Master. I mus confess that I am in two minds about Roberts' performance. There are times when he is actually quite sinister, such as the scene when he initially meets Chang Lee in the TARDIS. Yet, for the most part, Roberts is over the top at every possible occasion - such as the "I dress for the occasion!" line for example. The Roberts Master then is sinister yet over the top but whether that helps or hurts the film is left up to the individual viewer to decide.
The production values could easily rival anything that the new series has yet produced. Of particular mention is John Debney's score, the first time that Doctor Who has had the feel of having a full orchestral score including the excellent version of the Doctor Who theme used in the opening and closing credits. The design of the TARDIS interior with its Gothic/Jules Verne, almost-steampunk feel is also of note. There is also the superb direction of Geoffrey Sax throughout the entire movie which does its best to ride the fine line between the Britishness of the series and the American setting, something in which it sometimes succeeds and sometimes doesn't.
Which leads to the script. For something that was meant to be the launch of an American co-produced Doctor Who TV series, it is seemingly continuity heavy. Within the first few minutes, for example, the viewer has the Master, the Daleks, regeneration, the TARDIS and two different Doctors being thrown at them. The movie itself works well with its mix of humor and a good vs evil storyline as the plot heads towards the millennium (remember this was shown in 1996) until the ending. While there are plenty of plot holes along the way (such as the aforementioned business with Grace shifting back and forth about believing the Doctor), for the most part the story holds up despite those faults.
Where does all of that leave The TV Movie then? It features a fine debut for the eighth Doctor, good performances and has some fine production values. While it has its faults, the fact that this was more or less a pilot does excuse some of the faults present. Looking back on The TV Movie nearly twenty years after it was made, one thing is clear: it is the comeback that should have been.