No review of the classic series can be complete without referencing the Doctor who deserves his time in the sun, and a story that is only second in his era to a story that is jaw droppingly brilliant. Which is unusual, because I hated the TV Movie when it was first shown!
This in fact was the first Doctor Who story I watched that was not a repeat or on VHS – and from the moment I heard they were bringing it back I simply could not wait to watch it. Until this point, my Doctor Who enthusiasm was enjoyed through the medium of VHS, and the occasional reminisces of my dad. Now it was back (and as the BBC said, it’s about time!) through a special one-off television movie featuring Paul McGann as the new 8th Doctor.
Let’s begin by acknowledging the elephant in the room. It was produced by an American television company, and therefore is much closer to Macgyver in production values than spaceship-suspended-from-a-string courtesy of Auntie Beeb. It contains that kiss between the Doctor and his companion, Dr. Grace Holloway, which prompted the following reaction (inspired by classic murder-mystery spoof Murder by Death) from me:
All that said – if you suspend disbelief and ignore some of the obvious plot holes and continuity errors, this is a thoroughly enjoyable story. McGann is superb as the Doctor, beginning a reputation that would grow through Big Finish audio stories, and finally flourish through a stellar six minutes in Night of the Doctor. The supporting cast play their roles with aplomb, even if Eric Roberts does grate somewhat as the Master. And while the production values are undoubtedly American (big, loud and dramatic) you cannot fault their professional edge. Poor Sylvester McCoy, who was brought back pretty much to be shot, suffer a botched heart operation and then regenerate, surely would have given his eye teeth to have the production budget this story had during his era.
The story itself is straightforward (ish …) – while transporting the Master’s remains back to Gallifrey, the TARDIS is knocked off course and lands in San Francisco on the eve of the new millennium. The doctor is shot in a gang shooting, and regenerates after surgeons attempt to correct his anomaly of two hearts. The Master meanwhile escapes, takes over the body of a hospital worker, and enlists a gang member who has stolen the key to the TARDIS to help find the Doctor. The Master’s aim is simple – to use the power of the TARDIS to steal the Doctor’s remaining lives. The Doctor meanwhile, rescued by Dr. Holloway, is trying to remember who he is, and fix the TARDIS before the Master’s abuse of it ends the world.
Compared to the hormone fest of the Eleventh Doctor and River Song, this is comparatively tame fare – I have grown to love this story with time and appreciate it for what it is – in no small part as the novelisation embellishes many of the details and explains the plot far more satisfactorily. I remember once watching it on a big screen projector and thinking that it would have been spectacular in the cinema – while Day of the Doctor was undoubtedly the better story, I think the BBC could take a better queue from Paul McGann’s first outing as the Doctor if they were to ever produce another adventure for the big screen.
If I have come to appreciate the story even more with age, the other thing that has increased over time is my regret that Paul McGann did not get at least one full season as the Eighth Doctor – a regret that has only increased after Night of the Doctor. What adventures we would have enjoyed … this story therefore belongs in the same category as as tales like The Time Meddler and The War Machines – a thrilling glimpse of what could have been … an allusion to an era of the story that we fans can only imagine.
Nevertheless, I am thankful not just that this story was made, but that the BBC have woven it into the history of the show so well. It deserves its place in the classic era of the show.