TV Movie Reviews
By Graham Howard
Since the end of Season 26 all those years ago, fandom has continued to live in hope that one day we may see new Who on television. But with the passing of each year, and with every false start, the prospect of any new Who seemed to become ever more remote. I guess it was really only in the last six months that it became apparent that the telemovie really was going to happen, although some fans were still (understandably) sceptical. For once the sceptics were proven wrong. Seven years on and at last we have a new Doctor and a new Doctor Who adventure. The expectations were high - maybe too high. Would it be one last fling, or the beginning of a new era?
Casting was always going to be of crucial importance if this new vision was going to be anything more than a one-off. Fortunately, the casting of both major and minor players was, in my view perfect. Even from this one story it is clear that Paul McGann is an inspired choice of actor for the Doctor. The relative youthfulness of the Doctor's physical appearance contrasts with an indefinable sense of wisdom that McGann seems to be able to convey. I found myself accepting McGann's Doctor almost instantly and hopefully, before too long, there will be other adventures in which we will be able to see more of this Doctor in action.
Daphne Ashbrook's spirited portrayal of Grace Holloway is another casting decision that paid off. Although occasionally veering towards the histrionic, all the ingredients of the standard Doctor Who companion seem to be there, though hopefully if there are to be any future outings with the Doctor they will not be too traditional - I'd like to think the independent-minded medical professional would not be forgotten. Chang Lee was an effective foil for the Master, and it was an innovative new twist for the Master to have a protégé. In something of a surprise, I confess I found Eric Roberts' Master to be superb. Previously only known to me as brother of Julia, I wasn't really expecting much. But it worked. Positively reveling in the over-the-top nature of the role, Roberts conveys a real sense of evil quite effortlessly, and to my mind far more convincingly than Ainley's excesses ever could. There wasn't really any depth to the character, but then there wasn't really intended to be: he was the comic book baddie, pure and simple.
The criticism of a lack of depth could, to an extent, be leveled at other major characters too, though probably the hectic pace of the action did not really allow for much by way of character insights and development. This was presumably intentional: the movie was, like the television series before it, first and foremost an action adventure. However, because of this, some of the attempts to provide depth that were made, particularly with Grace, seemed a little clumsy, as if they were imposed on the script, rather than evolving from it.
The humorous touches were handled well and didn't distract from the story at all, such as it was. The regeneration itself, and the fantastical nature of an apparent human who is really an alien with the ability to regenerate, provided numerous opportunities for humorous moments. The eighth Doctor emerging from the morgue, in front of a startled attendant is one such moment that comes to mind. Even the scenes with the seventh Doctor on the operating table provided some light relief (sadly several cuts were made to the BBC version). Although perhaps the funniest scene was the motorcycle policeman driving into the TARDIS - and out again.
One of the advantages of having a generous budget - as this movie did have - is that at last Doctor Who was able to showcase some stunning visuals and special effects. From the regeneration sequence (I loved the juxtaposition of the old Frankenstein movie with the Doctor's regeneration) to the climactic scenes at the end, it would seem that no expense was spared in providing an impressive visual look to the movie. The opening titles looked good, with a nineties feel to them, though I was hoping the rather lacklustre theme music might have recaptured some of the eeriness of the original sixties and seventies tune.
Speaking of visuals, special mention must go to what was probably the most expensive of the props: the new TARDIS interior. The idea of giving the TARDIS a Wellsian Time Machine type feel in which old-world charm would contrast with a highly advanced technology, initially appealed, but I now feel there was not enough contrast. While it is fine for the decor of the 'living area' to be styled with an Edwardian feel, it would have been preferable for the TARDIS control systems to exhibit the more traditional trappings of an advanced technology - particularly the central control console - as opposed to the rather primitive appearance that was given. Of more serious concern, is that in the television series the TARDIS could almost always be viewed as a home for the Doctor and a kind of home away from home for the companions - a kind of sanctuary from the perils of the worlds outside. In making the TARDIS so vast, dark and foreboding (and apparently quite accessible to the Master), this important feature of the television series has been needlessly sacrificed.
I've always thought that television bosses tend to place too much weight on things such as special effects. While it is certainly important that the special effects and other visuals look convincing, in my view they should always be regarded as secondary to the plot. Unfortunately, the TV Movie is a good example of a situation where it must have been hoped that the visuals were so good, and Geoffrey Sax's direction so polished, that no one would notice the plot's deficiencies. In addition, the impression was that so long as the elements deemed necessary to appeal to an American audience were present (e.g. a car chase, a hint of romance, an apocalyptic ending, a violent confrontation with the story's villain...), the finer details as to what was happening, why and how they were happening could be brushed to one side or glossed over.
In fairness to what the TV Movie was trying to achieve, I did try to watch it primarily as a stand-alone piece of entertainment, not worrying too much about things like continuity with the series (e.g. the Eye of Harmony being located in the TARDIS as a power source, the half-human nonsense (but we're stuck with it now!), the Doctor's newly acquired uncanny insight into what the future holds for, well, just about everyone he runs into, etc), and on this basis the 'introductory' first half of the movie was thoroughly enjoyable. It was mostly the second half where the difficulties arose, and more particularly the ending, where things that should have been explained better, weren't - even a 'stand-alone piece of entertainment' must have a reasonably coherent plot. For example, it was made pretty obvious that the Daleks 'exterminated' the Master. So how can he still be alive in any form, snake or otherwise? What specifically was the function of the small component of an atomic clock and why was it needed? I won't even attempt to speculate on the reason behind all of the Christian symbolism in the film, but it seemed kind of in bad taste, and what is more, pointless. What was the relevance of midnight? (I realise it was a redundant plot element from an earlier draft, but why was it left in the final version?). As you might guess, I still don't fully understand what was happening at the climax or how the world was saved, or indeed what it was saved from exactly. Maybe the answers are there in the script, shrouded in technobabble, but as with the television series, it shouldn't be necessary to watch and re-watch a story to pick up basic elements of the plot. And even more damningly, the plot as a whole doesn't really inspire the effort that this would involve. In fact the whole premise (the opening of the Eye of Harmony causing the end of the world) seemed contrived and, for want of a better word, silly.
On the first viewing, the novelty of watching a new Doctor Who story makes it almost possible to overlook such matters. But there is one sequence that cannot be overlooked or forgiven. No, not the infamous kisses, which in my view were fairly tasteful, but the extraordinary killing-off of Grace and Chang Lee, only to bring them back to life again (presumably the Master was also 'brought back to life', but this was essentially ignored). It is frankly astonishing that such a crude dramatic device actually made it through to the final script, when there are so many professionals who must read and approve everything before it ever gets to filming. Violently killing off a major character in a piece of drama should produce a deeply moving, emotional response in the viewer. To then bring them back to life - and as to how this was achieved was neither clear nor convincing - is nothing more than a dramatic cheat. I understand that in the novelisation of the movie Gary Russell rewrote the entire sequence so that neither Grace nor Chang Lee actually died - well done Gary!
Notwithstanding the above difficulties, there is a lot to like about the movie in terms of the characters, the production values and most of the acting, and I hope this TV Movie does not represent the end. The potential is there for great things. For me, the main problem with the movie was an uninspiring and confusing story - hopefully Matthew Jacobs will not be involved in any future project! While the sheer excitement of it all carries you through to the end, in terms of the plot you are left feeling strangely empty and unsatisfied once the credits begin to roll. That really would be a sad epitaph for Doctor Who if, as appears possible, its life as a television programme is over...
By Jamas Enright
There are two sorts of people who have seen this movie. Those who think McGann seriously needed a haircut, and those who didn't notice. The split occurs, in this case, because either you were too caught up in the movie to notice the hairstyle, or it didn't sustain you enough, and you paid attention to minor details such as this.
I hated the hair. Does this mean that I hated the movie? No, there just wasn't enough of a story there to draw me in and keep me interested. Doctor Who always has potential to be very powerful, but it also has it mediocre moments, and this is one of them.
The plot is definitely not the most exciting one ever conceived, but it does have its points. One question must be asked: Is it Doctor Who? Yes, it features a character called the Doctor, and another called the Master. It has companions, screaming, running through corridors, and a battle royal with the fate of the Earth in the balance. In this case, I think that this movie isn't Doctor Who in the sense that it has too broader a scale. Yes, we have had stories where the fate of everything hinges on one moment but in each case, the focus of events was quite small. We do see the possible effects of inaction, or the wrong action, but in a very limited area. In the movie, we see the whole Earth going 'kabloom', which, while impressive and very graphic, is going over the top.
Of course, the story can't be mentioned without referring to the special effects. With the size of the budget, it's not surprising that the effects were good but I think that the opportunity for grandiose effects went to the writer's head, producing an unfortunately insubstantial plot. Much is made of the BBC Doctor Who series having a good plot to make up for limited effects, but here is an obvious reverse tendency to rely on special effects to let the plot sag a little.
The TARDIS console room certainly puts dimensional transcendentalism in its place. A rather ancient baroque style to the panels of the console itself, but while levers may look nice, I don't really think any effective piloting could be done with them. Points for having a moving information screen, which I suppose doubles as an exterior viewer when the need arises, although we haven't seen it used as such yet, and to the new argon-blue spiked column, which is easily the most impressive part of the console proper. The Gallifreyan seals add a nice touch, enhancing the Doctor's origins.
The cloister room was way wacked-out, in my opinion. Flaming torches? The Eye of Harmony in the centre of it? I don't think so. Where's the stone walls, the hanging plants? The miles of corridor between the console room and this place? The Doctor's been going mad with the Architectural Configuration circuits; there are some things that should be been considered sacrosanct by the producers. As for all those roundels... well, there are circles on the supporting girders in the console room, aren't there?
Finally, we come to the actors. Sylvester McCoy - I loved his look of horror once he saw that the Master had escaped. It's just a pity that we saw so little of him, but he had to give way to the limelight of the film, although it was a rather 'wussy' cause for regeneration. Still, while he was there, you knew that his Doctor was a true Doctor.
Eric Roberts made a wonderful bad guy, but not quite the Master we could have hoped for. With green eyes and all over black (you can never go wrong as a bad guy wearing black), he comes across evil enough, but he isn't quite the mastermind we know. Then again, this plot isn't really something that suits the Master's style. Putting the Earth in jeopardy just to get the Doctor's body - there are easier ways of doing such things. Next time, if Eric comes back, he should try a goatee.
The main companion, Grace Holloway, played by Daphne Ashbrook (and very delectable looking too), starts off well enough, but other than the first operation is there any reason why she is a doctor and not just any airhead bimbo? All too soon she suffers the way of all female companions, that of 'What is it?'. Will they ever get it right?
I preferred the Master's companion, Chang Lee, played by Yee Jee Tso, over Grace. More élan. Yee does this very well, and it's a shame he didn't stay on to become the Doctor's companion.
Lastly, Paul McGann; I didn't have any idea what to expect. Regeneration stories have never been the best at establishing personalities for the Doctor, and with little plot, Paul isn't really given enough of a chance to show off why he was picked. The potential is definitely there, but it's safer to reserve judgment. I haven't seen anything that would put me off him (except maybe the half-human shtick), and I look forward to seeing him develop in a proper series.
Now, as any good nit-picker is wont to do, it's time to rant about all those silly things... the Eye of Harmony. What the hell is that doing in the TARDIS? Last time we saw it, it was the main stable of energy from the entire planet of Gallifrey. I suspect that the writer has heard about many episodes but has never seen them. Pulling the Earth inside out? I don't think so. The interior of the TARDIS is supposed to be in a different dimension (and how many times have we heard that one), so anything that happens in there shouldn't affect the outside world.
The Kiss. Or rather, the kisses. Although we have seen the Doctor exuberant before (especially after saving the day), it was never enough to kiss someone. It's possible that it's part of his personality (again I lament the lack of time to fully develop one), but the second kiss (at Grace's request) is the one that goes a bit too far. While it might be that his half-humanness is leading the way, and so might develop into a person who does actually have relationships, I suspect it's the Hollywood element creeping in (which I blame for their manner of parting at the end).
'I'm half-human. On my mother's side' 'I can change species during regenerations.' If this last is true, I can see it being grossly misused by writers later on. The only justification I can see for it being added is to allow the Master to open the Eye of Harmony with a human eye. As the Doctor is half-human, he now has a human retina, and as the TARDIS is symbiotically linked, it now is tuned into accepting a human eye to open the Eye, and so that Master uses Chang and Grace... Some might ask that if the Doctor is half- Gallifreyan then why doesn't the Master use his own Gallifreyan eye, or his body's human eyes? Simple answer, I would call snake eyes neither human, nor Gallifreyan. What happened to the Doctor to turn him half-human? Best answer I can think of is that the piece of human technology in him caused him to borrow human elements, but then again, what he had last eaten should also affect him, by that count.
At the end of it all, was it really worth it?
Doctor Who is back, and by all means it should stay. I think that this wasn't the best of possible beginnings, but it is a beginning, and I hope like smeg that it doesn't stop here.
By Paul Scoones
The new Doctor Who story had a lot to live up to - perhaps most importantly it had to convince television company executives that a series revival was viable, but in the immediate sense it simply had to be reasonably faithful to the spirit of what had come before, and above all entertaining. Whilst it might have been not quite as good as we'd hoped, it was for me, at least pretty close to the mark.
The most important factor was of course the new Doctor. Paul McGann proved himself to be an admirable choice for the eighth Doctor. He has just the right combination of humour and dramatic flair essential to the part, assisted by some sparkling and occasionally touching dialogue.
Daphne Ashbrook brought a pleasing level of self-confidence and assertiveness to the role that many of the series previous companions lacked. The actress did a fine job but her character was disappointingly inconsistent apparently due to poor scripting. Grace Holloway is naturally at first sceptical of the Doctor, but once he has seemingly won her confidence she starts to believe the Doctor is insane even though the Time Lord is able to provide some degree of proof for his claims. Nonetheless, she had some great lines, most notably her response to the Doctor's invitation to go with him at the end. 'Come with me,' the Doctor says, to which Grace replies 'You come with me.' Delightfully, the Doctor is completely taken aback.
Eric Roberts has received much criticism for his interpretation of the Master, but I personally enjoyed his viciously cold yet campy performance. He achieved a strong impression of intense and brooding evil, and stole every scene in which he appeared.
Sylvester McCoy was sadly under-used and there were only brief moments in which we could be reminded of his character before the Seventh Doctor died on the operating table, His demise was quite disturbing and on first viewing a little painful to watch, especially given that it was apparently only Grace's exploratory surgery that killed him, and not the 'hail of bullets' that we had been led to believe would be the cause of his regeneration.
The two TARDIS sets were magnificent, if hardly faithful to the originals. Despite this the console room and the cloister room felt as if they were in keeping with an idealised concept of the TARDIS and had a sense of being incredibly ancient, though some of the console controls were a little too 'clunky' and 'low tech' as Grace put it. The fact that the console room was never clearly seen and always shrouded in shadow helped to restore a long-lost sense of mystery, The cloister room looked like something out of an Indiana Jones movie and provided an effective location for the climatic battle.
The only real problem with the film was the plot. Despite all the emphasis on the turn of the millennium in San Francisco (in contrast with other parts of the world where the year 2000 would of course have arrived earlier or later), no solid explanation was ever provided for its significance, The storyline in the latter half of the production is a confused interleaving of two only loosely related threats, one being the Master's quest to steal the Doctor's body and the other the imminent destruction of the world at midnight on 31 December 1999. The Eye of Harmony links the two strands but that of the threat to Earth seems tacked-on.
Several of the series precepts are challenged by this story. Suddenly we are told that the Doctor is half-human, that Time Lords can change species when they regenerate, that the Eye of Harmony is in the Doctor's TARDIS and that the Doctor has a mother and a father. The new Doctor appears to have the hitherto unrevealed ability to know a person's past and future from the moment he meets them, He seems to know Grace's most private thoughts and aspirations as well as what will happen to her at some point after he leaves. Similarly he dishes out advice concerning the specific choices they will make in the future to both Gareth and Chang Lee. The dark scheming of his previous incarnation seems slight in comparison with the new Doctor's apparent omnipotence. No doubt such things will cause devoted continuity buffs sleepless nights, but perhaps most controversial of all is the Doctor's passionate kissing of Grace on no less than three separate occasions. Whilst this is on the face of it quite out of character, it is worth considering this as a trait particular to the eighth Doctor and furthermore that there was no hint of sexual desire for Grace.
Although the plot has its deficiencies and some of the revelations are hard (but not impossible) to reconcile with previously established Who-lore, I believe that this story is a worthy addition to the Doctor Who myth. I hope that in years to come it will be looked upon as the all-important first story of an enduring Doctor's era. Only time will tell.
By Edwin Patterson
'These shoes fit perfectly!'
Well I don't know - frankly I'll have to see a few more stories featuring McGann before I really warm to his character. Nevertheless the movie did impress me. I was entranced with this character that resembled the Doctor in so many ways, but differed in many respects as well. McGann suited the role well with his mix of innocence yet mystery. Still, I'm not convinced he really is the Doctor just as with McCoy (who is great here in his final moments - I love his final word!). I can never accept the Doctor until his first season draws to a close and I have enough to reflect back upon and say: 'Yep, I like him,' or 'It's crap, I'm never going to watch it again!'
The rest was great - I was dumbfounded as Sylvester was gunned down after the best materialisation ever to grace the screens and his death in the hospital was a scene I'll never forget (even if the Beeb doesn't want anyone to see it). That TARDIS set - flipping heck, it's great, putting that old crappy one to shame with its console (I must say the old white one looks extremely outdated with its 'modem interior' - I shudder every time I see it now); it's so huge! Shame about the roundels only being on the pylons now.
Eric Roberts is superb as the Master, his nineties portrayal is spot on with his malevolence yet still reminding us that he truly is that character we all grew up with - the hypnotism and camp laughter (I just love the scene at the hospital where he peels the nail off his finger!). Grace - well I don't know about her, that accent just drives me up the wall with its screeching and squawking. She's a fairly good actor (as her role in the Deep Space Nine episode also shows), but I don't think she's cut out to be a Who actor. I don't think her heart is really in it (so to speak).
Still there are parts I really hate. McGann's scene where he shouts 'WHO am I?' in a room of mirrors. The policeman riding into the TARDIS (was this necessary?) and that cloaking device debacle. The Doctor's kiss is not one of them though - I was shocked at first but on refection it kinda' suits him, in a weird half-human sort of way? Most of all, I shudder when thinking about the plot. I realise that any 'pilot' has to be simplistic for any new audience to understand and they did get the mix of simple and reference right so the fans are happy, but it just did not make sense! Why did opening the Eye of Harmony (a connection to the one in the Panopticon me thinks) nearly destroy Earth. What is a temporal orbit? And how did Grace so easily get into it? How did Grace and Lee come back to life? If the Doctor could do this he must have really, really, really hated Adric and Sara.
All in all I think its a nice new start to the show - hopefully if a new series come about (I'm not holding my breath over this), it will be just as good but perhaps make a lot more sense.
By Peter Adamson
Have seven years really passed between Survival and the TV Movie? In that time television and movie audiences have seen a resurgence of sci-fi in popular electronic media. The Terminator franchise has had a celebrated sequel, as have the Highlander movies (not to mention a TV series) and the Warlock movie (coincidentally starring the other Withnail personality). I mention these because they were the most familiar references I made when I first watched the movie. I saw it in late May, and by then I'd had enough of the movie deluged about me through magazines, fanzines and mailing lists that I chose to seal myself off and try as hard as I could to view it devoid of the trappings of a fan. It was a challenge, but I think I managed it.
To me there was a fair amount of simple pleasure to be gained from noting the references, and some of these were pretty blatant - note the Master making his T2 entrance into the hospital; see the ripples in the Seventh Doctor's tea visually recalling that scene in Jurassic Park, observe the flashes of lightning in the regeneration scene and try not to think of the similar 'quickening' scene in the Highlander movies (though to be fair here it was more probable that it was Frankenstein this scene was referring to). The Fox promos for the movie made an effective pastiche of the Warlock/Highlander notion too, of the eternal struggle between an agent of Good versus the agent for Evil battling it out over the fate of the Earth. Add to this the sub plot of the alien/man, and the now slightly tired device of time travel and it was possible to see the bulk of something that once was quite special and unique crack under the strain. Sure, most of this intertextuality was light hearted in approach, and it's hard not to cover old ground. I believe the production team did the best they could to cover over a bit of this by playing with it; it's a shame then that they offered little beyond replaying those scenes.
From my adopted casual-viewer mode I watched the movie as a non-fan and saw instead a rather hackneyed series of 'borrowing' from other SF staples. Somehow I think even the TARDIS concept suffered for its very obvious and celebrated 'Jules Verne' interior. It's almost as if the show had nowhere else to go. All very fine for The Outer Limits or one-off Tuesday Night Movies, but not a wonderfully promising invitation to a new series for television.
So how could things have been improved? Again, I'm reluctant to suggest anything from a fan point of view because like much of the continuity referencing within the movie, it's all too exclusive and hardly addresses the issue. I think the (virtually) modern day Earth setting was a double edged sword. Not spacecraft interiors admittedly (we've seen enough of these in everything else, surely), but still very familiar in the car chase/night time scenario. My girlfriend was disappointed that there were no aliens, and I think she had a point. Okay, no X-Files 'grays' or bumpy foreheads thank God, but though a (literal) ransom was saved by not including the Daleks, I wonder whether a greater opportunity wasn't missed. These would after all be the other great nostalgic ingredient of the series, and though Eric Roberts did a fine job, the character of the Master and the Doctor's enmity with him were still too familiar and 'human' to offer anything other than the staple 'son of Satan' type. The robes he adopted at the end didn't help either. So no aliens then, which was disappointing. To the movie's credit there were no big explosions or gunfights other than Chang Lee's introduction, but in place of these was an awful amount of exposition and explaining. Nice for continuity's sake of course, but almost lost on new viewers. So too was the 'half-human' revelation and the 'kiss' - these were new only to long time fans, and sure to intrigue and/or outrage the same set. I actually think what might have made a better movie for the casual viewer could have been a reversal of this formula: i.e., a lot of visual continuity with the old series (nice for fans but uninvolving - the Daleks to all intents and purposes have always just been another Bug-Eyed Monster) and a definite drought of textual continuity with the same. This is not to say that continuity should be done away with (even the fan within me recoils from that horror), but that for a great part of it what was included was superfluous to an already traditional plot.
A few days after I viewed the movie I considered it a swap around of the usual fan complaint: nice story, bad look. The TV Movie had (and I'm sure you've all heard this by now) a great look and poor story. Perhaps that's all that was needed to get new viewers - something new with something old as garnishing - a bit extra for the fans. A few days after the revised Fall schedule for Fox was published on the Internet (with no Who content in the running) a long-time contributor to a newsgroup complained that after this, the death of Jon Pertwee, and the probable death of Virgin's fiction series, it was almost as if Doctor Who's fans were being 'punished for wanting too much'. She may have been right. It would be spiteful to suggest that instead it was the movie itself that was the punishment, but in the great stakes of catching a new audience I think the TV movie fared as well as should have been expected, and it was in starving the new viewer to overfeed the less significant fan that a greater opportunity was lost. Within me both the 'casual viewer' and the dedicated fan were left wanting more. Despite its faults I would be deeply saddened to have only the TV Movie as a conclusion to the series' most interesting and entertaining history. After all, Doctor Who without Paul McGann scarcely bears thinking about!
By Francis Cooke
He's back, and he took his time...
But now he's here. From a brilliant pre-credits sequence (possibly the best part of the whole film) to an, ahem, passionate ending, you are taken over by the sheer charm of a stunning film. The Doctor is IN...
Sylvester McCoy (my favourite Doctor of all time), goes away in style. One of the points that really gets to me is that it's not the kids with guns that kill him, but the doctors. When Grace said 'Don't worry Mr Smith, I'm just going to find out why your heart is so wild... and then I'm going to stop it,' a shiver went down my spine. And Sylvester just keeps on telling them that he's not human, to stop what they're doing, but they keep on doing it. The tension builds and the viewer is almost screaming in frustration... when it's over. He's dead.
Oh no, he's not! Look, he's pulling funny faces! Oh, hold on, that's the regeneration scene. It's alive I tell you, it's alive. After the frustration in the hospital, I wanted to shout for joy when McGann stepped out, wearing the shroud like some sort of angel. They pulled out the old 'Who am I?' trick again of course, but it's a good way to introduce the Doctor to new audiences, and it's worth it to see McGann howling at the sky, prattling on about Gallifrey and meteors, and suddenly coming out with 'Puccini!' in the lift.
McGann's got the makings of a great Doctor. Eccentric, fun, and lovable, he's very much like Tom Baker, hardly ever staying in one place, running around doing good, battling evil and name dropping ('Ah, da Vinci. He had a cold when he drew that.'). I hope we have a chance to see more of his talent.
Then there's the Master. Wow... He obviously checked out Bruce's copy of The Terminator before picking clothes. Eric Roberts stalks around grinning, cajoling, and even twisting off a fingernail at one point. Could he be more perfect? It would be difficult. Roberts obviously knows who the Master is, and I would love to see him again.
The two companions... Grace has some great dialogue, constantly bouncing off the Doctor, and could best be likened to Peri. However, I found the character leaving a lot to be desired. I'd like to see her join the TARDIS crew, if just to see how she develops. Lee on the other hand, is well developed, but somehow I can't see him as a regular.
Of course there's the kiss. People were screaming about the Doctor holding an orgy in the TARDIS, while Segal was maintaining that it would not be licentious. Well, Segal's right, of course. The first kiss definitely isn't licentious. One could argue the point with the second kiss however. And the third. And the fourth. And the fifth. Final tally: The Doctor: 3 kisses; Grace: 4 kisses; The Master: 2 kisses; Lee: 1 kiss. Actually, I don't really care. The Doctor's already got a granddaughter, and he's never made any secret of the fact that he enjoys the companionship of humans, it's really just a step further, if even that. At least he doesn't drag Grace behind a bush...
There's also the revelation. The Doctor is half-human. Hmm, that explains a few things, such as his fondness for earthlings and his willingness to leave Susan with David. Gary Russell's novelisation tries to link it with the 'more than just a Time Lord' theme of Season 25/26. Sorry, but I'm not buying that one. What does being half human have to do with 'the dark time, the old time'?
Then it's the end. A battle in the TARDIS, and out of the four involved the Doctor is the only one left alive. So, for want of a happy ending, Grace and Lee are brought back from the dead. Say what? I know a happy ending is needed, but they could have done it a bit better than that. I suppose it could be explained: the Doctor harnesses remaining power from the closing Eye of Harmony to pull it off. But it's definitely not something I want to see happening on a regular basis.
So what do we have? Some of the greatest dialogue ever, a great plot, and excellent characters. It has a few faults, but who cares? The Doctor's back and we should be partying. 10/10
By David Ronayne
Things are certainly getting complicated at the end of the millennium. The Mark of Mandragora, Millennial Rites and now Doctor Who - The Movie all cluster around the turn of the century - it's surprising the Doctor doesn't bump into himself more often.
I find it difficult to review things from two points of view; one as a normal person, wanting to be entertained, the other as a fan, critical of the finer points of continuity (both real and imagined). Strangely enough with the movie, this for once didn't seem that much of a problem; I'd even hazard to say I enjoyed it.
Wow, who could not be impressed with the new opening sequence? This is Who with money most of us could only dream about. The opening score is still basically the traditional theme but redone in the big budget orchestral way that American TV seems to prefer at the moment. That huge TARDIS set and some rather impressive cinematography and special effects actually make it feel like a cinema film.
One of my favourite scenes is in Grace's apartment where the Doctor is trying to prove he is not insane. Not only are we treated to some amazing morphing through a window but there is also the wonderful conversation through the letterbox, neither of which I could imagine under the old BBC.
The story is perhaps the biggest letdown of the production. Although I must admit that the 'It's About Time' motif was quite well handled, the main problem was that the subplot with the Master's body snatching was a little too reminiscent of The Hidden movies.
The ending is a bit of a cop-out, lacking any visible explanation. I refuse to believe it's any kind of temporal paradox - that is all too easy.
Paul McGann is brilliant considering the background to the role. They have obviously tried to incorporate some of the earlier personalities into the new Doctor - the 'shoes' was very Troughton. But already McGann is putting his own mark on to the role. I can't quite imagine anyone else trying the bit with the traffic officer's gun. The only problem I have with Paul McGann is that in some scenes his hair is too red, and in others his face is too pale, so in some places where both appear at once (namely the park scene), he tends to look like Jennifer Saunders.
Believe it or not, I thought Eric Roberts did quite well considering the production staff's best efforts to turn him into a Dracula/Terminator clone with that utterly stupid 'I've been possessed by an alien' voice. His scenes with Chang Lee are good, conveying both menace and style. It's a shame he is unlikely to be back to reprise his role.
Daphne Ashbrook is a companion for the nineties who didn't have a screaming fit or sprain an ankle even once. At a couple of points during the movie I thought 'what a very Bernice thing to say or do'. The characters are very similar and Ashbrook handles the role competently.
Don't believe the hype - the kiss is quite innocuous and fits with the flow of the story. For the rest of the film the Doctor is his normal self and any interest is on the part of Holloway. It can probably be attributed to a post-regenerative aberration, like when the sixth Doctor tried to strangle Peri.
The half-human bit is quite bizarre really - it adds nothing to the plot and seems at odds with the New Adventures' genetic loom theory, unless of course this is what they have always meant by 'more than just a Time Lord'. One thing that does leave me bewildered though; the Doctor says that he has never been able to open the eye, and the Master says it's because he's only half human, so apparently only a full human can open it - why? The TARDIS is a Gallifreyan craft, so why the human link?
All in all, I was quite impressed and found the movie enjoyable, apart from a few niggly details. Shame on you, Sylvester McCoy, for pulling such ridiculous faces during your regeneration scene. Compared with other 'pilots', especially the various Star Trek series, I thought it was an admirable start. Philip Segal should be thoroughly congratulated for getting this far, and one can only hope he can continue.
By Nigel Windsor
What I saw was very 'watchable'. The elements present in this impressive telemovie are precisely those that I think are necessary to ensure the success of the programme in the second half of the nineties. For the first time in many years, I felt as though talented, professional people had actually sat round a table and discussed what elements would have to be in the programme to make it enjoyable, successful and relevant to a young audience in the nineties Just as they had done more than thirty years earlier for An Unearthly Child, but something that obviously wasn't done in the years of decline in the eighties.
Today's young audiences have been fed a television diet of hi-tech, no expense spared special effects, flashy sets, fast-paced action sequences and storylines you can still follow whilst flicking over to the other channels in the ad-breaks. It is this cruel environment of the trigger-happy kid with the remote control that the new Doctor Who has found itself thrust into. The series has been resurrected, re-birthed, and the bible has been re-written. The most obvious example of this is the revelation that the Doctor is half-human. I felt as though the producers thought this was necessary to explain the series to a contemporary American audience. The Doctor is not Gallifreyan, but British! This, for me has taken a large chunk of the mystery away from the character of the Doctor, as did the romance sub-plot with the companion Grace. If you want to watch humans going about their humdrum existence, you might as well watch Shortland Street. I thought the male 'Asian child' would have made a far better companion than Grace, and would have kept a convenient check on any sexual interest the Doctor may have developed! My favourite bits are in the first fifteen minutes of the film. In the opening titles, there is a little too much going on, especially with the voice over from McGann. The TARDIS is too Batman-looking, complete with bats, flaming torches and chandeliers, very fake Gothic!
What a brilliant Doctor McCoy could have been with nineties style high production values present in the telemovie. It's such a shame he was to endure average production values and dull scripts in his time with the BBC.
By Jon Preddle
Had this film been part of a standard season, it would probably rank as an 'also-ran' - not the classic of the season but certainly not the turkey. I could not fault the production values at all. In the hands of a less than competent producer it could easily have been a clichéd American SF travesty, but Philip Segal certainly knew how to make the film part of the Doctor Who television canon. The special effects were excellent, and the acting was of a high standard, from the principles down to the secondary characters.
Geoffrey Sax's camera direction deserves mention. He was not afraid to use experimental angles, evident by the way he placed shots through objects, and also his use of a split technique such as in the way that only one side of the Doctor and Master's faces could be seen during the final cloister room scenes. Another aspect which appears to be Sax's input is the 'Christ' imagery, as none of this is apparent in the script published by BBC Books. To some this may have seemed heavy-handed (or even blasphemous!), but I found it quite inspired.
Every film has its good points, but also its weak points, I felt that the production was a major disappointment in two areas: its intent, and the plot. A fan can find a lot to appreciate in the film, but to the eyes of a newcomer I would hazard a guess and say it was far too complex for a pilot.
From a fan's point of view I think the film succeeded as a continuation of the BBC series. The references to the past such as the scarf, the jelly babies and the diary were fun to see. They were not essential to the plot, as sometimes was the case with stories made in the eighties, and anyone not familiar with the significance of these icons would not miss anything. The Doctor being half-human really isn't that difficult to accept. True the Doctor has, in the past, said he isn't human (the seventh even says it to Grace as she is about to operate), but if one is half-human then one isn't technically human. The only thing that did bother me about this was how it affected opening the Eye.
I thought the 'appearance' of the Daleks in the pre-credits was unnecessary. It would have been better to have spent Terry Nation's pay-cheque on creating some new monsters.
As an introductory story for a newcomer I think the film failed. It really was not a good example of what Doctor Who was about. It is true that there were liberties taken with the old series' background to update the concept for the nineties but as a pilot it didn't emphasise the basics of the old programme: the Doctor is a time traveller and yet this was only casually mentioned in a few lines of dialogue. What they should have made was a chase through time (which had in fact been originally intended). Also, the plot was very hard to follow, with some of the important explanatory dialogue garbled, adding to the confusion. It took me to read the script book, the novelisation, and a second viewing of the film to actually get a grasp on what was happening. Many first-time viewers won't have that luxury. However, it was pleasing to see in the ratings demographics that at least most of the viewers who started with the film stayed with it to the end.
Initially I wasn't sure about McGann being right for the role, but after seeing the film I felt that, to paraphrase the First Doctor, the 'future is in safe hands'. Although this one adventure is not enough to fully judge this new persona, one thing that did bug me was that none of the past Doctors would have let Chang Lee just walk off with two bags of gold dust!
At first I thought Grace would be a typical American 'bimbo' but she came across as a person and not as a cipher. I wish people would stop calling her 'the companion'. She is no more a companion than Lawrence Scarman was in Pyramids of Mars. However, I wouldn't mind at all if the Doctor returned to take her with him! Ashbrook obviously enjoyed making the film, and let her enjoyment carry through into her performance.
I had never seen Eric Roberts in anything before but I thought he was great as the Master; the right touch of evil, comedy and campness. He even looks like Anthony Ainley. There were some nice touches, such as the 'ambulance' joke, and his line 'I always dress for the occasion'. I wasn't so sure about the snake when I first read about it, but it looked great on screen. If the Master can turn into a cat in one story, why not a snake in another? I know that Roberts is unlikely to return as the Master in any future stories, but I was kind of hoping the last shot in the film, right after the closing credits, would be the Master's hand clichéing its way up out of the Eye of Harmony!
There were just too many unanswered questions: Why would the Earth be pulled inside the Eye if it remained open for too long? Why could the device only be opened by human eyes? And if such a dangerous device as the Eye could only be opened this way why had it not happened before? Surely one of the Doctor's previous human companions must have visited the cloisters? I can just see it now: 'Oooh, what a lovely reflector staff I wonder what would happen if I pulled it out? Oooh, what a lovely shaft of light. I wonder what would happen if I looked into it. Oooh, what's that grinding noise? Oooh, look! The sphere is opening. Hang on a 'mo! Wasn't that the Earth that just got sucked into that hole, then? Ooops!' And why did the precise moment in time that the planet was going to be destroyed fall on the stroke of midnight? This was totally illogical considering that half the planet, such as New Zealand, was already 12 hours into the new millennium by the time midnight fell in San Francisco. I understand that this was a plot thread carried over from an earlier draft that had the Earth being destroyed by a comet that would strike the planet at midnight, but in the final version this was redundant. What brought Grace and Chang back to life? It looked like Tinkerbell's fairy dust! Also, it appeared that the TARDIS wound back time as far as 29 December and effectively wiping out everything that happened from the moment the TARDIS first landed, but the paradoxes that arise from this single action are mind boggling! And if it was as easy as that, why hasn't the Doctor done it before to solve a problem?
Despite the (few) negative aspects of the plot, the producers had their hearts in the right place, and for that I thank them. I enjoyed the film very much, and I want to see more from Doctor number eight!
This item appeared in TSV 48 (August 1996).