Doctor Who – The TV Movie Review (or “What Happens When You Unsuccessfully Try To Please Everyone”)

Seven years is an awfully long time to wait, especially as a youngster.

Between 1989 and 1996 there was no new Doctor Who, save for that embarrassing Dimensions In Time. People talked about the possibility of it coming back time and time again, but it wasn’t to be.

And then it was announced it was returning in the form of a US made TV Movie that could spawn new seasons for the show.

The story behind the making of Doctor Who: The TV Movie is an interesting one, but one that I won’t dwell on here. I suggest you watch the in-depth Making Of… documentary on the Revisitations version of the DVD because it is one of the best in the range.

Instead, I’m going to skip ahead and review the end result.

The final vestige of “Classic” Doctor Who, even though it’s anything but…

Doctor Who: The TV Movie Review: What’s This One About

It’s the American reboot that isn’t really a reboot. In terms of the plot, the Seventh Doctor gets shot, dies during a bungled surgery that he really should sue over, and then regenerates into the American idea of an “Eccentric Brit”.

His adversary is Eric Roberts playing the Master.

Oh goody.

And there’s stuff to do with the Doctor needing to find an atomic clock, him being half human and the universe ending or something…

Thoughts – The Ultimate Example of How Not To Do A Reboot

Ok, so the show has been off the air for six years and a company from across the pond wants to turn it into a TV movie with a view to making a new series.

Give the Doctor some credit, he's done a good job of redecorating

Give the Doctor some credit, he’s done a good job of redecorating

So it needs spiced up, it needs to attract a new audience as well as the old one and it needs to work as a launching pad. This is the starting point for a new era.

And so what do they do?

In an attempt to please everyone, they ultimately please no one. Indeed, they actually alienate everyone.

For the existing fans, they decide to start the story with Sylvester McCoy still as the Doctor. After all, you couldn’t just have a new guy in charge; oh no, that would never do. Instead, they devote an entire third of their 85 minute run time showing how the Seventh Doctor died.

And while it was mildly amusing and I’m sure people got a kick out of joking that it was his finest performance in the role, it was pointless.

Immediately, potential new fans become lost when they wonder why the guy they’ve been watching for 20 minutes has been killed. They might also wonder why he barely spoke.

Then for the next hour, some other guy is running around trying to remember who he is.

And all the while, the writers feel they have to hammer home the show’s basic – if at times incorrect – history through exposition, visual references to previous Doctors, repeated lines about how he has 13 lives and all about the TARDIS.

So new fans are lost, and most likely lose interest along with any potential connection they might have had with the character.

Meanwhile, existing fans – while I’m sure quite pleased to see little references to the show’s past and thankful that they did show the regeneration – are aghast at some of the changes they’ve made.

For example, why is the TARDIS completely different in design? Why would the Daleks give the Doctor the Master’s remains? What the hell are they doing  saying he’s half human? What’s he doing trying to pull Grace? Why is the Seventh Doctor eating Jelly Babies? Why does the TARDIS now contain the Eye of Harmony? Where’s Ace?

Actually no, that last question is one too far.

But the point is that this is a confused mess without effective purpose or direction.

And as a result, the show was once again put in cold storage, and for a long time genuinely seemed to be gone from our screens forever.

I remember watching this at the time with a glass-half-full outlook, not wanting to say out loud that I thought it was a load of crap, but I soon just said it anyway.

And what was worse was that people were quite excited about it at my school before it was aired, and then when it was, the talk of the playground was that it was shite and I was daft for liking this show so much.

Oh how wounded I would have been if I cared about peer pressure.

The Plot

In spite of the issues with continuity and the stupidity of having McCoy start out at the helm, I don’t really mind the first 20 minutes too much.

Noooooooooooooo!!!!!

Noooooooooooooo!!!!!

As someone who was a fan of the show already, I did manage to follow that bit, and the idea of the Master escaping the TARDIS and the Doctor being shot was ok.

But then it just fell apart.

All this stuff with Atomic clocks, Eric Roberts and his green eyes trying to convince “The Asian Child” that the Doctor was a villain (and I mean really, who’s going to fall for that?) and the universe breaking up at midnight was just insufferable drivel.

I just watched it, and I can honestly say I switched off mentally in the last 45 minutes. I know there’s something to do with the Master wanting the Doctor’s body and him placing the Doctor in some sort of medieval torture rack that prized his eyes open, but I can’t remember the specifics.

Taking a punt, I think the rest of it involves the Doctor looking for an atomic clock.

Gripping stuff.

The Acting Standards

I’m not too keen on the acting on display here.

This is an example of the sort of directing I hate. a) Nobody would stand that close, and b) Nobody would grin so inanely at a stranger

This is an example of the sort of directing I hate. a) Nobody would stand that close, and b) Nobody would grin so inanely at a stranger

While McCoy is pretty good in an understated way, Paul McGann suffers from being the Englishman in a cast of Americans. So he looks and acts like a caricature.

And because this is his one and only TV shot (2014 note: Or so we thought…), he never really gets he chance to get to grips with the character.

I mean, if all we saw of each of the Doctors was their first appearance, Colin Baker and McCoy would be looked upon far worse than they already are.

As for the rest of the cast – well Eric Roberts is just god-awful isn’t he? A shonky actor churning out a performance of an even shonkier villain. By a long way the worst Master.

Daphne Ashbrook meanwhile provides exactly the sort of performance you’d expect from an actress whose career floundered with guest spots in stuff like Perry Mason and Jag. That’s not to criticise her, it’s just that it’s her level and so it shows the level of the production as a whole.

The rest of the cast were mainly middle of the road American/Canadian actors, with the guy who works in the morgue standing out as particularly poor.

Random Observations

  • Why wouldn’t the Doctor – especially one as clever as the Seventh Doctor – check the scanner before leaving the TARDIS? He usually does that? Of course, it’s typical that the one time he doesn’t, he walks out into an ambush by Chinamen with guns. I hope he learns from that mistake.
  • The way they choose to kill off McCoy is bizarre. So he’s fine after the gunshot wound, but he then falls foul of the most incompetent hospital staff in the world. First of all, they just assume he doesn’t have two hearts, despite the irregularity of his heart beat and an x-ray that shows he does (and is quite clearly not a double exposure). Then, on the operating table,
    What's that sound you hear? It's the sound of a certain Superfan kicking his television in for the second time in 12 years

    What’s that sound you hear? It’s the sound of a certain Superfan kicking his television in for the second time in 12 years

    he tells them “No, I’m not human, this won’t work on me, please don’t operate” and they do it anyway, rather than take a moment to think “What did he say?“. Then, when they appear to be killing him, the medical staff use the heart paddles with reckless abandon before he wakes up again and screams. After that, they try one more time to resuscitate him before declaring him dead.

  • Apart from being a stupid way to die, it was a baffling display by the surgical team.
  • Now when the Doctor regenerates (which he does through the power of gurning) he manages to break down a thick metal door in the morgue. I ask you this simple question – how did he do that? Where does his power come from, and considering when the door falls down his arms are wrapped up in his sheet, what did he use to do it?
  • And why is the morgue in such a state of disrepair?
  • Of course, the imagery is suggestive of the Resurrection of Christ, but it’s so blatant and stupid that I don’t plan on taking that any further.
  • One of the most obvious misses here is the lack of mystery and wonder about the TARDIS? Surely any reboot must involve the wonderment of an audience identification figure upon entering the TARDIS the first time. See “An Unearthly Child” and “Rose” for more on this.
  • Why is there a Fourth Doctor scarf in a locker? Who is supposed to get excited seeing that?
  • While I’ve read people talk about how cringe-making some of the exposition is (in particular the stuff about 13 lives and the Doctor’s epic info dumping to Grace about the TARDIS and who he is), I felt the worst part of all was the “Who….Am….Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii” line. Embarrassing.
  • The direction leaves a lot to be desired; I mean, the scenes where we see through the Doctor’s eyes in the Waiting Room are weird. Why would people be staring at him while being less than a foot away from his face?
  • One thing I’ve always wondered – and I ask if anyone else has done the same (they’re bound to have) – is whether the Master’s trial on Skaro comes after Frontier in Space? It would make a lot of sense to Dr Who Canon if that was what happened to the Delgado Master and explains how he ended up like he did in the Deadly Assassin.
  • On the whole it’s just so of it’s time and overly dramatic.
  • Like Sylvester McCoy and Colin Baker, Paul McGann’s best stuff is – unsurprisingly – his Big Finish work. I must admit I’ve only heard a small selection of his stories, but in the ones I have heard, I’ve not been unimpressed by his performance.
  • It would be nice – as a flashback scene – if we see McGann regenerate into John Hurt in the 50th Anniversary special. That would fill in that particular gap nicely. (2014 note; hey, I called that one)
  • To give it a small amount of credit, the sets are nice. They must have spent some money on this.
  • DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #135

Doctor Who – The TV Movie: Final Thoughts

Well the ranking of #135 really surprises me, because my assumption was that Doctor Who fans young and old shit on it from a great height.

As an 85 minute TV Movie, it’s not particularly terrible, but neither it is any good. It’s the sort of thing you could expect to see on Channel 5 on a Saturday afternoon

The big problem though – and it’s on this that The TV Movie must be judged – is that in terms of what it set out to achieve, it’s a massive failure.

The writers couldn’t grasp the concept of the reboot and so it’s no surprise that nothing more came of it

As I said above, they tried to please everyone, and ended up pleasing no-one.

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5 Responses to Doctor Who – The TV Movie Review (or “What Happens When You Unsuccessfully Try To Please Everyone”)

  1. Slavin Ivanov says:

    Congratulations, Stuart! You did it! And now you’ll have to sit through New Who.
    How do you feel about it? BTW I started following your blog about an year ago.

  2. Andrew Kerr says:

    Well done on the blog so far (and your recent output rate!)- hope you move on to Dr Who episodes up to date and not just stop dead at ‘classic’ who like other blogs such as ‘Wife in space’ have done. Brilliant stuff – the whole site!

  3. Ralph Burns says:

    I seem to love this for all the reasons you hate this!
    But cheers for reviewing all the classic era stories. I’ve enjoyed reading them over a few days while being laid up with the lurgy. I’ve not always agreed with the opinions, but I have been entertained by them, which is the mark of a good reviewer.

  4. burp says:

    “It would be nice – as a flashback scene – if we see McGann regenerate into John Hurt in the 50th Anniversary special. That would fill in that particular gap nicely.”

    um, lol

  5. niallfraserlove says:

    Also why dose the Master dress up like Jafar from Aladdin at the end? And why do people hate the Doctor kissing a woman but don’t care about the Master a grown man kissing an underage Chinese boy?

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