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Doctor Who

The Movie

27TH MAY 1996







When it was first aired I raved about the TV Movie, before doing it to death with countless VHS viewings. Six years later, it became one of the first DVDs that I owned. With little to no restoration work needed and a whole host of special features ready made, it was an obvious choice for an early release on the millennium’s new medium. Nine years on, and the movie is “remastered, repackaged and reappraised with exclusive new special features” which take a retrospective look at the movie and its significance.


Unlike The Talons of Weng-Chiang and The Caves of Androzani

(which have been released alongside it as part of the Revisitations

1 box set), the TV Movie DVD has been deconstructed and then built

up again from scratch. Instead of a boasting just a new cover and an

extra disc, this two-set sees the bonus material from 2001 fused with

that of today and evenly spaced across the discs. On the first disc,

the main feature is now complemented by a commentary featuring

Doctors Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann, moderated by the voice

of the Daleks and Big Finish Executive Producer Nicholas Briggs.

Whilst this doesn’t contain any shockers the like of that found within

Geoffrey Sax’s lone commentary - for instance that he did the Dalek

voices last-minute, and no-one in the production team “…knew what

they sounded like”, hence their voices sounding so strange - it is far

more entertaining than the director’s 2001 effort, possessing the feel

of an informal podcast rather than a technical overview of the production.



Sax’s commentary is still included on the re-release, however, together with all the special features from 2001. The isolated score is still present and correct (and buoyed by four new bonus tracks, albeit quite bizarre ones) as are the two alternate takes, the BBC1 Trailers and all the multifarious publicity material that showed up over here on either the BBC or the Sci-Fi Channel back in 1996. The latter is presented a little

differently in this release, all

the contemporaneous bonus

material having been moved

onto the second disc and sub- divided into ‘pre-production’

and ‘production’ sub-menus,

making navigation easier. The

original interviews, TARDIS tours and ‘electronic press kits’ are then married up with VFX

tests from both June 1994 and March 1996, allowing viewers a telling glimpse of what might

have been had Amblin’s infamous Spider Daleks seen the screen, as well as VFX build-ups from the actual movie.



Nevertheless, the unarguable highlight of the release is Ed Handling’s hour-long Seven Year Hitch documentary, which candidly charts Philip Segal’s quest to resurrect Doctor Who; the making of the movie; and its reception. This incredibly thorough piece scrutinises everything from Segal’s pre-cancellation courting of the Beeb to Coast-to-Coast’s Spock gambit and Segal’s desperate deployment of the Steven Spielberg card. Even though I thought I knew it all, this documentary delves into previously unexplored territory, looking at Segal’s role in the abandoning of Adrian Rigelsford’s mooted 30th anniversary special, The Dark Dimension, which would have been a Five Doctors-style carnival of companions and monsters led by a fourth Doctor who’d never regenerated - effectively the antithesis of what Segal proposed to do, looking back instead of forwards.


Above: Former BBC1 Controller Alan Yentob discusses the series’ “Seven Year Hitch”


As well as politics, The Seven Year Hitch also looks at the writing of the TV Movie, which

is as frightening as it is interesting. Some early drafts saw the Doctor travelling the universe with Cardinal Borusa, searching for the Doctor’s lost father, Ulysses! Fortunately Spielberg dismissed that particular script out of hand, and English writer Matthew Jacobs was brought in to write his “Doctor Who am I?” interpretation, which ultimately become the story of rebirth that we would eventually see on screen. Even then though, matters were not straightforward, as each interested party insisted on having their say, and Segal’s idea to have incumbent Doctor Sylvester McCoy reprise his role at the start of the movie was met with resistance from all quarters, almost leading to the stunt casting of a celebrity old Doctor’ at one point. The casting of the principal Doctor was no less contentious, with actors as eclectic as Liam Cunningham, Michael Crawford and even Michael Palin all in the frame before producer Jo Wright forced Segal to watch Withnail and I. The rest, as they say, is history.


The Wilderness Years came as something of disappointment though. Though it does what

it says on the tin and looks at how Doctor Who was kept alive during the hiatus, at just under twenty-five minutes everything is skirted over too quickly. Much of the running time is wasted talking about Doctor Who Magazine and its comic strip, which is explored in much greater depth in the second disc’s Stripped for Action featurette, and the productions of Reeltime, BBV and even the 30 Years in the TARDIS documentary are given more screen time than the Virgin New Adventures, BBC Books and Big Finish. Whereas Big Finish are perfectly capable of producing their own in-house documentaries, at some point I would love to see an in-depth documentary focusing on the Doctor Who novels as for me, they were what ‘the Wilderness Years’ were all about.


Above: Former Virgin Editor Peter Darvill-Evans discusses the New Adventures in The Wilderness Years


Conversely, The Doctor’s Strange Love featurette was far more enjoyable than I expected. This eleven-minute feature sees writers Joe Lidster and Simon Guerrier and comedienne Josie Long critique the TV Movie in a refreshingly good-natured manner, hence the Kubrick homage subtitle: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the TV Movie. Lidster draws some intriguing parallels with Rose and the revived series generally, whilst Guerrier makes some interesting structural comments that left me thinking how much better the film would have been had he been the script editor! Oddly though, it’s the layman who makes the most piercing observations. As fans of the series, Lidster and Guerrier’s views are largely as one would expect, whereas Long is continually pulling things out of leftfield. Her wry comments about Chang-Lee’s Stockholm Syndrome are especially amusing, for instance.



The second disc also features the second instalment of the Who Peter documentary, A New Regeneration, which looks at the support given to the series by Blue Peter during the hiatus and following the series’ return. There is a lot of ground covered here, both before and after the resurrection, and though it’s not something that I’m terribly interested in, I suspect that this feature will be a big hit with many.


Furthermore, as the eighth Doctor’s only DVD release - unless we are ever treated to the animated Shada - by necessity this set had to include his instalments of both Stripped for Action and Tomorrow’s Times. The former is the apotheosis of the comic strip commentary series; it’s quite clear from watching it that the DVD producers have been desperate to talk about these strips ever since they came up with the idea for Stripped for Action, and rightly so, I understand. Whilst I’ve yet to delve into the eighth Doctor’s graphic adventures, armed as they are with gay companions, Masters, Cybermen, and even nearly-regenerations, the general consensus seems to be that they represent a golden age for the DWM strip. The Radio Times adventures aren’t neglected either - fans of Stacy and Ssard will be pleased

to see Transformers legend Lee Sullivan appearing to discuss his work. Tomorrow’s Times is altogether more painful, mind - Nicholas Courtney may make for a great anchorman, but

as for the news he’s reading... oh boy.


Above: “In the battle for eternity, there can only be one Master...”


Turning to the TV Movie itself, I’ve always been a keen advocate of it. As a one-off Tuesday Night film, the story packages the Doctor Who concept in a fast-paced and action-packed narrative and its production values are up there with major motion pictures. This film should have blown away audiences stateside as well as at back home in Blighty - ‘should’ being the operative word.


Indeed, whilst the Doctor’s ‘Britishness’ may have been retained, the whole show has USA stamped all over it and through it. In particular, there is a very definite comic book feel - we have the origin story (the regeneration) and, of course, the arch nemesis (the Master). Even the way parallel scenes are often intercut is redolent of many graphic novels. With hindsight,

I would’ve had reservations about Doctor Who being produced this way in the long-term, but as a one-off it’s very refreshing to see the Doctor step out of the TARDIS into gangland San Francisco – I don’t recall the Doctor ever visiting contemporary USA in the television series.


“Who am I?”


The look and feel of the film is also

very striking – images of the Doctor

in the shroud on his knees whilst it

storms outside and the spectacular

TARDIS interior are unforgettable, and I’m probably one of the few people in the whole world who actually likes John Debney’s pompous title music and score.


CLICK TO ENLARGEPaul McGann’s portrayal of the Doctor is hard to gauge

on such a short performance. Here he comes across as

being a very energetic Doctor; more an amalgamation

of all of his previous selves than a distinctive new incar-nation. I suppose that in just under an hour on television he didn’t really have much of a chance, but thankfully he has had ample opportunity to showcase his character in the many Doctor Who audio dramas that he’s starred in since.


Of course, one thing that did stand out about his Doctor

on screen was his humanity; a concept made explicit by

the reveal of his apparent pedigree. The Doctor’s mixed

race may go a long way to explaining his obsession with

his “favourite planet”, Earth, but it is irrelevant so far as

the plot goes, simply rendering him a “knock-off Spock”

as Kim Newman so succintly put it. Less contentious is

the Doctor’s evident clairvoyance, which again smacks

of a page one rewrite, but at least does so in a charming fashion.


I never liked this planet, Doctor.


Eric Roberts’ Master is certainly imposing, and very well played, but he is much darker than the Master that we know and love from the television series. The Master that we see here is an evil reflection of the Doctor – whilst camp and playful, he is a selfish, hateful creature who thinks only inwardly. By turns Arnold Schwarzenegger and Anthony Ainley, Roberts’ Master dominates almost every scene that he’s in. To say that he was cast as a result of his repute and nationality as opposed to his suitability for the part, Roberts certainly does a sterling job of capturing both sides of the Doctor’s tortured rival.


Grace and Chang-Lee were two interesting characters too. I was particularly impressed with Chang-Lee – he struck me as having the same potential that Ace had; his dark scenes with the Master were some of the best in the movie in my view. Grace was more of a traditional ‘brainy’ companion in the mould of Liz Shaw or Zoe Herriot – well, apart from that kiss, that is! Looking back at those two brief snogs from today’s perspective, one wonders what the fuss was about, though in fairness even at the time I wasn’t up in arms. It didn’t anger me in the way that it did some, but then again it didn’t really seem all that important to the story; it’s just a sensational bit of gratuity.



All told, whilst this movie may not be everybody’s perfect idea of Doctor Who, for an eighty-minute slice it’s pretty damn good. Abounding as it is with colourful characters and thrilling set pieces, even today it still stands up as being a brilliant movie, and this comprehensive Revisitation release finally does it justice.


On a finale note, I’m glad that McGann has since gone on to prove what an effective Doctor he can be through Big Finish’s series of audio dramas, as if his journey would have ended here, I think wed all have felt massively short-changed; none more so than McGann, who so nearly became the “George Lazenby of Time Lords.”


Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006, 2010


E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.



In this story the Doctor is portrayed as being half-Gallifreyan, half-human - an area that subsequent television producers have steered clear of. In his novel Lungbarrow, Marc Platt explains that there is an ‘abnormality’ in the Doctor’s genetic coding; a ‘looming defect’ which his family tease him about - a human bellybutton. This suggests that there is indeed human DNA present in the Doctor’s make-up, and the novel Unnatural History posits that it may have been Faction Paradox that retroactively placed it there. This being the case, I think we can assume that following their erasure from history in The Ancestor Cell, the Doctor snapped back to being

fully Time Lord again.


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