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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Action > Adventure > Time Travel > British TV > Doctor Who: The Movie (1996/BBC Special Edition DVD)

Doctor Who: The Movie (BBC Special Edition DVD)


Picture: B-     Sound: B-     Extras: A+     Telefilm: B+



Doctor Who fans often call the period between the BBC’s decision to put the show on hiatus (1989) to the arrival of the BBC/Fox co-production (1996) the “wilderness years”.  Indeed to many it must have seemed that the good Doctor would never return, and the story of the herculean efforts to get it back on the air unfolded in such a way as to make it more fantastic than the television movie itself.  This 2-disc set of Doctor Who: The Movie features the TV movie meant to pilot the character into a revival series, and a host of fascinating extras. 


The movie itself represents a mixed bag for Who fans.  It succeeds on the merits of its excellent cast and solid visual representation.  For devoted followers of the show, the TV movie delivers the goods in terms of Paul McGann’s excellent performance as the Eight Doctor.  Eric Roberst vamps it up as the Master, a rival Timelord and the Doctor’s deadliest foe.  Daphne Ashbrook ably plays Grace Holloway, the Doctor’s newest companion, and Yee Jee Tso turns in a great performance as Chang Lee, a slightly shady operator who falls in with the Master and must make a pivotal choice at the story’s climax.  Despite these excellent performances and some great ideas in the script, the story fails as a vehicle to recruit new Who fans, and at the time, this was it’s primary goal. 


A lot of the “magic” of Doctor Who would have been lost on the casual fan simply tuning in to see what all the “fuss” was about.  The inclusion of Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor at the movie’s beginning, and his eventual “death” and regeneration, had to have caused some head-scratching from casual fans.  Much as I love McCoy’s inclusion, it should have been handled more swiftly, and McGann should have been allowed to take center stage much sooner. Although it pleases me to no end as a devoted fan that Mr. McCoy got to be a part of the hand-off of the character to his successor, the script takes too much time getting there.  It’s difficult to discern just what the Master is up to, but in the end, the audience knows hat his business is mayhem, and that is enough.


McGann makes an excellent Doctor.  His look, delivery, and carriage scream “Timelord”, and he possesses real chemistry with his co-stars.  Seeing him, Ms. Ashbrook, and Mr. Tso together in character at the movie’s end can’t help but conjure images of what might have been had the film succeeded in spawning a new run of episodes for the show.


Despite its failure as a pilot, critical elements of this production seem to have influenced the highly successful BBC 2005 re-launch of the show, including the amazing “expansion” of the TARDIS (the Doctor’s time machine) and the shift of the Doctor from “irascible alien uncle” to “sexually desirable adventurer”.  At one point, the Doctor shares a passionate kiss with his companion, signalling a real break from the old role and opening the added dimension of romance for the character.  In the 2005 show this sexual tension between Doctor and Companion exists, but it does not truly develop until David Tennant takes on the role of the 10th Doctor in 2006, and his character takes on an even more romantic tone.


The extras in this set are top notch, and include a lengthy documentary on the twisted road producer Matthew Jacobs had to travel to get the project made.  A great feature on how the Doctor survived his “wilderness years” highlights the role the comic book series played in keeping the character alive.  In another feature, a trio of British fans react to seeing the TV movie, and provide some interesting insights into the mindset of the Doctor’s “native” audience.  This set will be a must for even casual Doctor Who fans, as it fills a huge gap between the cancellation of the old show and the beginning of the show’s current run of greatness in 2005.



-   Scott Pyle


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