Doctor Who

Written by:
Matthew Jacobs
Directed by: Geoffrey Sax
Starring: Paul McGann
Year: 1996
Video Availability: Try


"It was a request they should never have granted."

When I reviewed the TV Movie on my old Who site, I went through lots of structured analysis to put my finger on what exactly I didn't like about it. Intertextuality, visual juxtaposition, canonicity... who really cares? All that you need to know is that seeing it again, it's unremittingly awful. Dire. Atrocious. Dia-bloody-bolical.

Now, reviewing it again I was not only accused of xenophobia, but misplaced xenophobia: the people working on it were not Americans, but Canadians. It matters little, as they're presented on screen as Americans, and must be rated as such. For anyone not aware of the exact nationality of the producers, then this is, to all intents and purposes, an American production taking the battered corpse of Doctor Who and well and truly shafting it. It's televisual necrophilia.

What I never realised before is the total lack of narrative cohesion. It's just a series of set pieces thrown together with no real depth or feeling. There are no real characters in it, just identikit "wacky staff nurse" and "valley ambulance man". And as Sophie Aldred pointed out, the dress with Grace was just an excuse to show off her (very nice) boobs.

What I can't get over is how fanwanky it all is, too. The Rassilon era! A tray full of jelly babies! The Doctor reading H.G. Wells! It's all appalling! What is Sylvester even doing in it anyway? Why build a new series when it's so obviously based on fan appeal? It's nice to see him regenerate, but surely US "newbies" would be better off just seeing McGann as the Doctor straight?

Next comes Fat Pete the wacky, zany "humorous" morgue attendant. "John Doe, on the toe." "Party on!" Who ate all the pies - YOU DID!!!!! God, I hate his guts!! And that's a lot of guts to hate! Now the Master's turned into a jelly snake in some CGI cobblers. Basically, it's a complete bastardisation of everything that Who stood for! There's even a regeneration set to an ironic juxtapostion of Frankenstein. Who said Americans couldn't do irony? (That was ironic, do you see?)

This is absolutely dire, a "you've just filled your own pants" recreation of one of the best-ever television series. "You have to get me out of here before they kill me again." I once actually thought Eric Roberts was good as the Master, you know. I know, I know, but please forgive me, I also once laughed at a Police Academy film. Everyone can make mistakes. Anyway, the quote? Paul McGann. Yes, he's playing "Doctor lite", a one-note, production line "Wacky Johnny Foreigner Limey" gubbins. McGann's Doctor is a poseur, a self-consciously "eccentric" man, a bewigged would-be "character" who's really about as outlandish as your Uncle Phil.

The music? I'm not saying it's bad but apparently Keff McCulloch watched this and said he could do a better job. It's probably well constructed and all, but far too bombastic and operatic for what really is at heart just a hacky SF runaround.

Good bits? Yeah, McGann, he could have been decent. And the Tardis interior. Bad bits? Absolutely everything else. The BBC hired out Who as their bitch, ready to be whored for a few cents by whichever company made this travesty. It's TV Movie of the week! "What's in it for me?" "You get to live." Even Terry Nation could write better dialogue than that.

I mean, I'm not saying this TV Movie (and it is a TV Movie, with all the implications that holds) is bad, but I once saw a webchat where JOHN NATHAN-TURNER justifiably slagged it off. I mean, JOHN NATHAN-TURNER can put this down! He's the man who made Battlefield, The Trial of the Trial of a Time Lord and Silver Nemesis - and even he can justifiably slag it down.

And so, I must mention the most contentious thing about the movie - the kissing. Now, I once had a debate with a fan about this and, as expected, I got the old "you must be afraid of girls" rhetoric. When I questioned this, he told me that "but I can't think of another argument to oppose you, so it must be that!" I was being rigidly defined as a prude due to his lack of imagination! Let's get this out of the way: I have no fear of kissing women. I don't think it's "dirty" or "shameful" at all. By the same token I have no fear of sex, and only recently did I aquaint myself with a young lady - I was banging her like a trooper! All of which is fine and dandy, but it doesn't mean I want to see McGann humping Grace over the console like a randy Alsatian.

No, what I hate about the kissing and the half-human stuff is not a fear of women or change of continuity. It's just that as soon as a new team get their hands on it, they feel a need to homogenise it into a recognisable cult series. I said cult. WHY does the Doctor have to have a "romantic interest"? (Answer: to fulfil the demographic so they can sell Nike trainers) WHY does the Doctor need to be half-human? (Answer: Because, dude, this is, like, so one of those sci-fi series. It'll be so like Star Trek that way).

I once read a review with Eric Roberts where he said what a big fan he was of the series - AND I BELIEVED HIM! I mean, that's the sort of thing everyone always says when they take a part, but I actually believed it. At least Daphne Ashbrook admitted she didn't give a shit more than worrying about her pay cheque (check) in the Bidding Adieu documentary. Her constant yelling and shrieking is consistently annoying, and the silly bint even describes the Doctor as "British" in that American "I really mean English" way. Still, I'll say this - I wouldn't half! Just as long as I didn't have to listen to her speak at any rate.

There's such a fundamental dichotomy at the core of this one. In one sense it's from the outside looking in, a group of TV movie American actors and characters being drawn into the carazee and wacky world of this zany limey. On the other hand it's an English guy patronising a load of plank dumb Yankees. Neither party is satisfied. Shall we party like it's 1999? No, let's not. Professor Wagg? He's a wagg, innee? If I had a chance to kick him in the nuts I'd pay a grand to do it, no problem.

Let's tell it the way it is. Or the way it isn't. This isn' Doctor Who. It might be called Doctor Who, it might feature a character called the Doctor, but it isn't Doctor Who. It's an attempt to make a completely different series, but picking at the bones of Doctor Who because they haven't got any original ideas of their own.

The ethereal, unfocussed and just plain stupid plot is diabolical, and only McGann is any good. "Who - am - Iiiiiiiii?" "This can't be... how it ends!" He gets lots of decent, "Doctorish" moments, even if all around him is dross. And I've never understood how, when he shines the light in the Master's eyes, the Master changes direction mid-jump - how is that physically possible?

And so, it ends. If there's one positive about this travesty, then it's that it's pacy. It never seems to drag, but instead it's a rattle-neck pace of noise and vision. Substance? Fergeddaboudid!

Grace and Chang Lee are killed by the Master, but brought back to life by the Tardis travelling back in time. It's 1999 all over the world simultaneously, and the Doctor kisses Grace to a full firework display. The Master is eaten by the Tardis, which belches afterwards. You know the weirdest part? All of the above is true. You couldn't make it up, could you?

This is, quite simply, the most undignified fate that was ever poured over the series. An Americanised sacrilege that defiles all that we remember as being good about Who. It's dumb, asinine and utterly soulless. There is nothing from the original run of the series that even approaches how bad this is. Yes, not even Battlefield, which seems like Hamlet in comparison. Dire.
(and it doesn't even deserve that)