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Doctor Who: The TV Movie

Production Code: TVM

First Transmitted

1 - 12/05/1996 (Canada) | 27/05/1996 20:30 (UK)

Plot

The Master is apparently exterminated by the Daleks on Skaro, and the Doctor agrees to take his remains back to Gallifrey in the TARDIS. The Master is not really dead, however, but has transformed into a shapeless morphant creature. He causes the TARDIS to make an emergency landing on Earth, in the city of San Francisco, in the year 1999.

The Doctor emerges from the ship to find himself in the midst of a street battle between rival gangs. He sustains gunshot wounds and, accompanied by young gang member Chang Lee, is taken to hospital for emergency treatment.

Surgeon Dr Grace Holloway attempts to save his life but, failing to understand his alien physiology, actually causes his 'death'. The Doctor later regenerates into his eighth physical form. The Master has meanwhile taken over the body of an ambulance driver named Bruce. This is just a temporary measure until he can achieve his ultimate goal: to inhabit the Doctor's body.

He gains access to the Doctor's TARDIS and, with lies and false promises, wins Chang Lee over to his side. The Doctor manages to convince Grace that he is the same man that she thought had died on her operating table, and that he is an alien Time Lord - albeit half-human on his mother's side.

Together they race against time to prevent the Master's scheme from bringing about the Earth's destruction at midnight on 31 December. They eventually succeed, and the Master is sucked into the Eye of Harmony within the TARDIS's cloister room. The Doctor bids farewell to Grace and Chang Lee - who ultimately saw the error of his ways - and departs in the TARDIS as the world celebrates the millenium.

Episode Endings

The new Doctor settles back in his armchair in the TARDIS control room to continue reading H G Wells' novel The Time Machine. The gramophone record that he is listening to suddenly gets stuck in a groove, as it did at the start of the adventure, and he exclaims: 'Oh no, not again!'

Dialogue Triumphs

Dr Grace Holloway : "But you have no recollection of family?"

The Doctor : "No. No wait... I do. I remember. We're lying back in the grass. It's a warm Gallifreyan night."

Dr Grace Holloway : "Gallifreyan?"

The Doctor : "Gallifrey! Yes, this must be where I live. Now, where is that?"

Dr Grace Holloway : "I've never heard of it. What do you remember?"

The Doctor : "A meteor storm! And the sky above us was dancing with lights - purple, green, brilliant yellow..."

The Doctor : "Grace, I came back to life before your eyes. I held back death. Look, I can't make your dream come true forever, but I can make it come true today."

The Master : "I always dress for the occasion."

The Doctor : "You want dominion over the living, yet all you do is kill!"

The Master : "Life is wasted on the living!"

Continuity

The Seventh Doctor now travels alone [various explanations for Ace's departure are given in books, webcasts, and comic strips - in several of them she dies].

The Daleks appear to have a legal system which includes trials and formal executions. They appear to have arranged with both the Time Lords and the Doctor for their mortal enemy to visit Skaro to collect the Master's mortal remains.

The Master's ashes have shape-changing abilities [Time Lords can obviously regenerate even when their bodies are severely destroyed, but are unable to regenerate into a full human body, assuming instead that of a snake-like being that can possess other beings].

We learn that Twentieth Century Earth is in the "Humanian Era". Other eras shown own the TARDIS's co-ordinates panel include the Sumaron Era and the Rassilon Era.

When searching for clothes in the hospital, the Doctor discovers a scarf similar to that worn by his fourth incarnation.

The Doctor has a new sonic screwdriver. The original was destroyed by the Terileptil leader in 17th century England. He also carries items associated with the Fourth Doctor, such as jelly babies and a yo-yo, and the Fifth Doctor's toolkit.

The Doctor is half human, on his mother's side. This is news to the Master. [And to us.]

The TARDIS has been impressively redesigned, and includes a [link to] the Eye of Harmony as a power source.

When the Eye of Harmony in the TARDIS is opened, it will have disastrous consequences unless it can be closed with a Beryllium clock. A Beryllium clock is being built at the Institute of Technological Advancement and Research in San Francisco as a way of celebrating the new millennium. Which [in this universe] takes place across the globe at exactly the same time.

The Doctor kisses a lady.

QV

The Doctor's Family

Location

San Francisco, Earth, 1999.

Trivia

Sylvester McCoy gives a dignified performance in his last appearance as the seventh Doctor.

The Doctor's sonic screwdriver returns.

The movie was originally supposed to open with a voice-over monologue by the Master - hence the on-screen credit given to actor Gordon Tipple. In the version shown to test audiences this was replaced with one by Paul McGann as the Doctor. This too was eventually dropped and replaced with a different one by McGann when the producers concluded as a result of these screenings that American viewers unfamiliar with Doctor Who needed an introduction that would more clearly explain the premise to them.

Myth

This movie had the working title The Enemy Within. (Executive producer Philip Segal suggested to fans that if they wanted a title for the movie other than just Doctor Who, they could refer to it as Enemy Within. However neither Enemy Within nor The Enemy Within was ever used as a working title during production.)

Cast & Crew

Cast

The Doctor - Paul McGann

Dr Grace Holloway - Daphne Ashbrook

Chang Lee - Yee Jee Tso

Curtis - Dolores Drake

Dr Swift - Michael David Simms

Gareth - Jeremy Radick

Miranda - Eliza Roberts

Motorcycle Policeman - Bill Croft

News Anchor - Mi-Jung Lee

News Anchor - Joanna Piros

Pete - William Sasko

Professor Wagg - Dave Hurtubise

Salinger - John Novak

Security man - Dee Jay Jackson

Ted - Joel Wirkkunen

The Master - Eric Roberts

The Old Doctor - Sylvester McCoy

The Old Master - Gordon Tipple

Wheeler - Catherine Lough

Crew

Director - Geoffery Sax

Costumes - Jori Woodman

Designer - Richard Hudolin

Executive Producer - Philip David Segal

Executive Producer - Alex Beaton

Executive Producer for the BBC - Jo Wright

Film Cameraman - Glen MacPherson

Film Editor - Patrick Lussier

Incidental Music - John Debney

Incidental Music - John Sponsler

Incidental Music - Louis Febre

Producer - Peter V Ware

Production Manager - Fran Rosati

Special Effects - Gary Paller

Stunt Arranger - JJ Makaro

Stunt Arranger - Fred Perron

Visual Effects - Eric Alba

Visual Effects Producer - Tony Dow

Writer - Matthew Jacobs

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Doctor Who television movie is how true it remained to the spirit of the original BBC series. It could easily have been very different. One wonders how fans would have reacted to a movie in which the Doctor was the impressionable young grandson of the Time Lord President, his half-brother the Master was the Gallifreyan Minister of Defence and the Daleks looked like Cybermen - all of which ideas featured in the earlier, ultimately rejected versions of the script.

The movie as eventually made and transmitted actually went almost too far in the opposite direction. Executive producer Philip Segal - who in a number of interviews expressed strong criticism of the direction that Doctor Who took during the eighties and a determination to try to recapture its original essence - seemingly seized every possible opportunity to pay homage to the series' established mythology.

He commissioned a totally accurate replica of the original police box; he had the TARDIS interior liberally bedecked with the seal of Rassilon; he gave the new Doctor a costume reminiscent of William Hartnell's and very much in keeping with the series' traditions; he reintroduced the sonic screwdriver; he approved script references to the Daleks, Skaro, the Time Lords, Gallifrey and other key elements of Doctor Who lore; he insisted on using a new arrangement of the original Ron Grainer-composed theme music (even though this meant paying huge royalties to its US publishers); he made sure that the story adhered as closely as possible to established continuity; and so on.

Of course this is not to deny that the movie constituted an Americanised version of Doctor Who. This was always going to be the case. In fact, in focusing on these essentially superficial trappings - or giving 'kisses to the past', as he often put it - Segal to some extent missed the point of what really constituted the original essence of Doctor Who.

The original point of the police box, for instance, was not that the Doctor's time/space machine should have a quirkily anachronistic and eccentric external appearance, but that it should look like a familiar, everyday object, thus challenging viewers' preconceptions and encouraging them not to take their surroundings for granted. In this respect, the 1988 feature film Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, with its use of a contemporary American phone booth as a time machine, was arguably more true to the original spirit of Doctor Who than was Segal's movie.

Similarly, the original point of the various strange items carried by the Doctor in his pockets - the sonic screwdriver, the yo-yo, the jelly babies and so on - was to indicate his alien eccentricity and ingenuity and, more often than not, to solve a particular plot problem for the writers. In the movie, on the other hand, they appear to have been included almost gratuitously, simply because they were considered to be standard accoutrements of the Doctor's persona. If anything, they serve to indicate not his alien eccentricity but his British eccentricity.

This is apparent from a very telling scene in which Grace and a jelly baby-wielding Doctor confront a motorcycle cop. 'He's British,' Grace tells the cop by way of explanation for the Doctor's strange behaviour. 'Yes, I suppose I am,' adds the Doctor - a significant comment that really makes very little sense within the fictional context of the series as opposed to the factual one (unless, that is, the Doctor - here established to be half-human - had a British mother!).

There are other ways in which the movie makes reference to supposed British eccentricities - a preoccupation that, perhaps needless to say, formed no part whatsoever of the BBC version of Doctor Who. Although it was by no means unknown for the Doctor to express a liking for tea in the original series - The Awakening comes immediately to mind in this regard - he certainly seems particularly partial to it in the movie, reflecting the standard US stereotype of the tea-obsessed Briton. It seems almost obligatory in US productions featuring a British actor to have one of the other characters at some point poking fun at his accent, and sure enough the movie has a scene in which Eric Roberts' Master is heard to do exactly that. And the Doctor's reference to the TARDIS having a 'cloaking device' certainly owes more to the quintessentially American Star Trek than to 'classic' Doctor Who, as does the whole notion of him being half human.

Opinions legitimately differ as to what does actually constitute the true essence of Doctor Who, but key elements often identified by commentators include: stories that work on more than one level, with deeper themes discernible beneath the superficial action and adventure; a greater emphasis on characterisation and well-plotted drama than on slick production and flashy special effects; and a scary, almost subversive quality that regularly sent kids scurrying behind the sofa and Mary Whitehouse complaining to the press.

The television movie possesses none of these attributes. The story works on only one, relatively superficial level; characterisation is minimal and the plot full of gaping holes, while lavish attention is focused on the impressive visuals; and, although there are undoubtedly some scary scenes, the overall approach is more formulaic than subversive, with the inclusion of many stock elements of standard US action/adventure fare - a violent gun battle (hastily pruned for UK transmission); a 'cartoon terrible' villain (to use Eric Roberts' own description of his incarnation of the Master); a youthful sidekick; a lengthy 'car chase' scene; a romantic involvement between the star and the leading lady; and so on.

Some commentators have suggested that the movie was aimed at the same audience as The X-Files - 'The producers were clearly chasing The X-Files... and wanted a slice of its success,' wrote Daniel O'Mahony in Skaro No. 13, dated summer 1997 - but if this was really the case then it went well wide of the mark, as the latter has a truly subversive quality and is one of the few American-produced genre series successfully to avoid most of the well-worn cliches.

The era of the original BBC series of which the movie is most reminiscent is, ironically enough, that of the eighties - the very era about which Segal has been so scathing in interviews. The emphasis on slick production rather than strong storytelling; the muddled plot; the poorly explained resolution; the numerous continuity references; the inclusion of familiar Doctor Who icons largely for nostalgia value; the use of a rearranged version of the Ron Grainer theme music: these are all features that the movie shares with eighties Doctor Who.

Ultimately, however, the movie should be judged not on the short-sighted basis of its degree of success in recapturing the original essence of Doctor Who, but on its own merits as an entertaining adventure updating the series' format for an international audience of the nineties. Viewed in this light, and notwithstanding misgivings about the coherence of its plot, it can only be judged a triumph. 'This production has surpassed my expectations and is one hundred percent what Doctor Who should be like in the 1990s,' enthused John Connors in Skaro No. 13. 'Pile-driving excitement, powerful drama, strange goings-on and a sense of humour... If it doesn't end up in my all-time... top ten, I shall be very surprised. Everyone involved in the conception, development and production of this deserves absolute praise and gratitude.'

There is a great deal to admire in the movie, including the stylish, imaginative direction by Geoffrey Sax. 'A lot of credit must... go to [him]...,' suggested Michael Evans in Matrix Issue 53, dated autumn 1996. '[His] merging of parallel scenes (the Doctor's regeneration versus the takeover of Bruce, or better still the Doctor finding his new costume while Chang Lee roots through the seventh Doctor's belongings) was lovely. His composition, such as the unshowy use of two half-faces during the turning of Lee, was the sign of a director who was interested in his material... Notwithstanding the budget, Sax made this one of the best directed pieces of Doctor Who ever, and it was certainly the best lit; moody without just being dark, and making terrific and unusual use of colour.'

The movie has excellent production values all round, as Graham Howard pointed out in TSV 48, dated August 1996: '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 [an] 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... Special mention must go to what was probably the most expensive of the [sets]: the new TARDIS interior. The idea of giving the TARDIS a Wellsian The Time Machine-type feel in which old-world charm would contrast with a highly advanced technology initially appealed, [although] 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.'

One particularly positive aspect of Matthew Jacobs' script is that it contains some great material for the Doctor, which has him acting very true to form: an incident where he threatens the motorcycle cop by turning a gun on himself - behaviour far removed from that of a typical American hero figure - is a wonderful example. His elegant, Byronesque costume and hair are also superb, and thankfully a complete departure from the uniform-like, question-mark-bedecked look of the eighties Doctors. Paul McGann himself is magnificent, turning in a stronger debut performance in the role than any of his predecessors bar Hartnell and making one long to see him in action again in further stories.

'Imagine this were a four part story to launch a new BBC series,' wrote Michael Haslett in Skaro No. 13. 'We'd be ready to make excuses for a new Doctor, reminding ourselves that it takes time to settle in the role, for an actor to find his feet and for a writer to find his actor. All the more remarkable, then, that McGann, a reluctant Time Lord if ever there was one, should immediately get a firm hold on what it is to be the Doctor. Evincing traits of toothy Tom Baker and potty Patrick Troughton but most of all something daringly unique to this eighth incarnation, McGann provided a crucial balance to the proceedings.'

Eric Roberts' Master, although very different from the Roger Delgado and Anthony Ainley versions, is also wonderful. Tim Munro, another contributor to Skaro No. 13, was highly impressed:

'Curiously enough, watching him makes one realise the vast mistake that was made with Ainley's Master, [specifically] that the actor was never allowed to put his own stamp on the part. So much of Ainley's portrayal was dictated by how the role was already perceived that he was usually left playing a crude caricature of [Delgado's original], rather than building his own interpretation. In contrast, Roberts plays the part entirely his own way, paying his dues to the past without being hidebound by it, and so... brings to the role much that is fresh and uniquely his own, giving us a progression in the character... This Master retains the charm, wit, genius and guile of his predecessors, but he's also a far more unstable, unpredictable personality... as truly, satanically evil and frightening as he's ever been played.'

Daphne Ashbrook's portrayal of Dr Grace Holloway is also excellent, as Evans affirmed: '[She] brought a real lightness of touch to her performance, successfully mixing comedy and drama, often in the same scene... She even got to out-Doctor the Doctor, as Lalla [Ward] used to, and basically gave the impression that this was a role she loved playing. Her scenes with Paul McGann captured all that was good about the most successful Doctor-companion relationships, but redefined that relationship too into a mutual need and enjoyment of each other's company.'

The two most contentious aspects of the movie, in terms of Doctor Who continuity, are the fact that the Doctor kisses Grace - '[This] is completely (and I mean completely) out of character,' asserted Edwin Patterson in TSV 49, dated November 1996 - and that he reveals himself to be half human. Evans, however, took issue with those who considered these developments inappropriate:

'A contrived love interest was quite definitely not what was presented... Chaste yet genuinely affectionate, these kisses seemed perfectly natural within the Grace/eighth Doctor relationship. In this movie it would be unthinkable that, after coming through so much, the Doctor and Grace wouldn't share a farewell kiss. In fact, by comparison, it makes some previous partings, such as the Doctor's goodbye to Todd in Kinda, seem unnaturally hollow... Doctor Who stories can no longer get away with having no emotional impact on the characters.'

If the movie has a central theme, it is that of regeneration and rebirth. The scene in which the new Doctor 'rises from the dead' and emerges from the hospital mortuary wrapped only in a shroud is a clear reference to the Biblical story of the resurrection of Christ (the mortuary attendant actually cries out 'Oh, God!' before collapsing); and this is carried through into the climactic scene in the TARDIS cloister room where the Master attaches to the Doctor's head a device that looks like a crown of thorns and effectively attempts to 'crucify' him above the Eye of Harmony.

Regrettably, as the movie ultimately failed to lead on to the hoped-for series, the Doctor's 'second coming' proved to be a relatively short one. It was nevertheless extremely welcome and worthwhile. As Evans put it: 'It was good to have him back, if only for one night.'

< Dimensions in TimeEighth DoctorMain Index >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.



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