Monday 6 June 2016

Story 156 - Doctor Who (The Movie)

In which the Master is captured and put on trial by the Daleks. His last wish is for his old friend the Doctor to return his remains to Gallifrey. These are deposited in an ornate casket in the TARDIS. The Master is not quite dead, however, as a gelatinous snake-like mass oozes from the box and makes its way to the control console - sabotaging the ship. The Doctor is forced to materialise on Earth. It is December 30th, 1999, and the TARDIS has landed in the Chinatown district of San Francisco. When the Doctor emerges, he gets caught up in a local gang dispute and is shot. This is witnessed by young gang member Chang Lee. He calls an ambulance. Dr Grace Holloway is enjoying a night at the opera when she is paged to come into work. Her patient is the Doctor. Unable to comprehend his alien biology, she loses him. The Doctor is taken to the morgue, where he regenerates for the seventh time. Across town, the Master - still in his gelatinous serpentine state - takes over the body of the ambulance driver, a man named Bruce. He compels him to kill his wife, then he sets off to seek out the Doctor. Chang Lee has taken the Doctor's belongings - including the TARDIS key.

Chang Lee goes to the TARDIS the next morning to have a look around, and finds the Master waiting for him. He befriends the boy - claiming that the Doctor is evil and has stolen his body. He wants Chang Lee to help him stop him so that he can get his body back. Grace has resigned from the hospital, and on leaving she comes across the Doctor in the car park. He gets into her car and she takes him to her home. He is claiming to be the man who died, yet looks nothing like him - and she suspects that he is mentally unwell. The Doctor is suffering from post-regeneration amnesia. In the TARDIS, the Master has Chang Lee partially open the Eye of Harmony (it responds to the human eye - and the Master deduces that the Doctor is half-human). The opening of the Eye clears the Doctor's mind, and he remembers who he is - and how he came to be here. He realises that the Master will attempt to use his ship to destroy the Earth. The Doctor needs a component from an atomic clock to repair the TARDIS, and there just happens to be one about to be unveiled at a research facility that night to mark the new millennium. Grace is a patron of the establishment, and agrees to take him there. The Master and Chang Lee also attend, but the Doctor manages to get the component and he and Grace return to the TARDIS.

The Master has managed to infect Grace, and she comes under his power. The Master then sets about stealing the Doctor's body using the Eye of Harmony. This will pull the planet inside-out. His usefulness at an end, the Master kills Chang Lee when the Doctor starts to convince him that it is the Master who is evil. Grace breaks free of his malign influence and frees the Doctor, but the Master kills her also. The two Time Lords fight as the planet teeters on the brink of destruction. The Master falls into the Eye of Harmony and is destroyed. The TARDIS travels back in time - causing Chang Lee and Grace to be resurrected - then the Eye of Harmony closes. The ship materialises as everyone celebrates the New Year. Grace decides not to accompany the Doctor. He travels on alone.

This made-for-TV movie was written by Matthew Jacobs, and had its first UK broadcast on 27th May, 1996. It had its first screening in the US on the 14th of May, on the Fox Network. Viewers in Canada got to see it on the 12th.
Producer Philip Segal had been trying to get his hands on Doctor Who since the late 80's - initially to be a co-production between the BBC and Steven Spielberg's Amblin. Based in the States, he had been brought up in England and knew the show as a child.
Originally, his plan was to mount a reboot - an origins tale. The Doctor would be shown to be the grandson of President Borusa, and would set off on a quest to find his missing father - named Ulysses. Spielberg elected to pass on producing the programme, and Segal moved on from Amblin. With negotiations already advanced with the BBC, Segal was permitted to carry on with the task of bringing the show back. Eventually it was agreed that the new story would go out as a back-door pilot in the TV film-of-the-week strand. If successful, a full series would follow. It was also agreed that it would be a continuation from the series that had ended with Survival in 1989. As such, viewers would get to see Sylvester McCoy return to the role of the Doctor - to quickly regenerate into the Eighth Doctor. The BBC were not at all happy about his inclusion - feeling that it would tie the relaunch to a show that was deemed to have failed.

Both Segal and the BBC insisted that the Doctor should be played by a British actor. The person eventually chosen was Paul McGann. The US network was then permitted to cast an American as the Master - and they opted for Eric Roberts. The two companions cast were Yee Jee Tso, as Chang Lee, and Daphne Ashbrook, as Grace Holloway. The director assigned to the 85 minute movie was Englishman Geoffrey Sax. Production was based in Vancouver, Canada, which had played host to a number of genre series (not least of which were the X-Files and Stargate).
Sax found that the time and money promised to him was cut back as filming proceeded. The movie was screened against an important episode of the popular Rosanne series, and US ratings, whilst good, were not great. It did very well in the UK, broadcast as part of the Bank Holiday entertainment, following a massive publicity drive. The series was also in the news as Jon Pertwee had passed away a few days beforehand.
The decision was made not to proceed with a full series, owing to the US ratings and audience reaction.

Reaction from UK fans was decidedly mixed. Whilst McGann's performance was praised, along with the massive new TARDIS set and the higher production values, elements of the plot left fans cold.
Things they didn't like:

  • The kiss between the Doctor and Grace.
  • The "Americanisation" - with the "car chase" particularly noted. It's actually a motorbike / ambulance chase, but hey ho.
  • The reappearance of Skaro when it was destroyed midway through the McCoy run.
  • The lack of Daleks on screen - only their helium-induced voices being heard.
  • The companions being brought back from the dead.
  • The Seventh Doctor's less than heroic death.
  • The idea that the Daleks would grant the Time Lords / Doctor any kind of request.
  • The Eye of Harmony is supposed to be on Gallifrey.
  • The Star Trek-y "cloaking device" instead of the Chameleon Circuit.
  • And - most importantly - the Doctor being outed as half-human.
In general, the story was felt to be just a little bit too low in incident, and it should not have been a regeneration story - as McGann takes too long to get involved. There were too many continuity references thrown in - which would have turned off the casual / new viewer.
As I write this, the movie has just celebrated its 20th anniversary, and it has been re-evaluated in a slightly more positive light. McGann has gone on to become a popular audio Doctor, and in 2013 we got to see his return on screen - albeit for his demise, as he regenerated into the War Doctor.

Things you might like to know:
  • Eric Roberts counted himself a fan of the show, as he had watched it whilst living in London when he was younger.
  • Matthew Jacobs was the son of actor Anthony Jacobs, who had played Doc Holliday in The Gunfighters.
  • The initial voice-over at the start of the movie was to have been spoken by Gordon Tipple, who played the Master pre-extermination. This version was shown to a test audience who did not react favourably. The lines were then given to Paul McGann. This still proved confusing, so new lines were written - as appear in the broadcast version.
  • The video was released before the UK broadcast. It was delayed slightly due to some cuts that were called for. For many years UK audiences saw a sanitised version of the shooting of the Seventh Doctor. In Australia, it was the sound of the Master snapping Bruce's wife's neck that caused offence.
  • The title "The Enemy Within" has sometimes been attached to this movie. This arose when fans asked Philip Segal for a title, as it is simply annoyingly known as Doctor Who. "The Enemy Within" never at any time appeared in any production documents.
  • Russell T Davies was obviously never a fan. When the series returned in 2005, reference to the Eighth Doctor was deliberately avoided until his eventual appearance in John Smith's journal of impossible things, in the third series story Human Nature / Family of Blood.
  • Earlier, in his Queer As Folk, the Doctor Who fan character Vince judged prospective boyfriends on their ability to name all the Doctors in order - and McGann was said not to count.
  • The new series has, of course, brought Skaro back as well. Davros simply states that the Daleks created a new one.
  • The half-human Doctor was intended to explain why the Doctor spends so much time on Earth. This has never been revisited. If the Woman in White from The End of Time is, as RTD implies, the Doctor's mother then this idea has been totally nixed.
  • The snogging of companions has become de rigeur since 2005, though they are never quite what they seem. It is Cassandra within Rose who snogs the Tenth. Martha is actually getting a biological transfer, and Donna kisses him just to shock him and so save his life when he is poisoned. It's only when we get to Amy that the companion is actually wanting to seduce him. The Doctor's initial kiss with Grace is definitely non-sexual in nature. He is just overjoyed at having his memories return. He does, however, follow it up with another kiss that is more out of affection.
  • The Eye of Harmony being on board the TARDIS has now been picked up. It is implied that all TARDISes have one - linked in some way to the main one on Gallifrey.
  • This incarnation of the Doctor shows an ability to not only know peoples' futures - but he then tells them about it as well.
  • The Master was supposed to be shown physically deteriorating throughout the story, but the prosthetics irritated Eric Roberts' skin, so were dropped.
  • For many years there was a rumour that Spielberg lost interest when he found that they would not be remaking old stories - such as the lost classics. This was not the case
  • Segal had wanted Terrance Dicks to work on his pilot, but the US studios insisted on one of their writers.
  • Actors under consideration for the Doctor included Rowan Atkinson, Derek Jacobi, Paul's brother Mark McGann, and a certain Mr Peter Capaldi - who ruled himself out.
  • After the reboot idea had been ditched, one draft was set at Hallowe'en, and had the Master raising the dead to form an army. Before it became a regeneration story, there would have been a trip to a period of Earth's history in the opening section - ideally WWII, or perhaps the American Civil War.
  • The BBC vetoed a return for Sophie Aldred as Ace.
  • As mentioned above, the BBC did not want to use McCoy. When Segal insisted on the continuity link with the old series, the BBC asked for it to be Tom Baker instead - thus wiping out Doctors Five, Six and Seven.
  • At one point McGann says that Time Lords have 12 lives. This mistake was picked up on, and so the number 13 had to dubbed over the filmed dialogue.
  • Trailers for the movie on the Fox Network included footage of the Time Lord space station from Trial of a Time Lord - even though it wasn't going to be seen in the movie.
  • Fox's copyright rules have stopped their version of the Master, Grace and Chang Lee from appearing anywhere else (apart from Grace in some comics). Tso and Ashbrook have appeared in Big Finish dramas - but playing other characters.

1 comment:

  1. Re the “Americanisation” reference about car/motorbike chases. I’ve been watching Jon Pertwee’s first and second seasons online (did they call them “seasons” back then?) Lo and behold, car chases, motorbike chases and even car/helicopter chases! It’s odd watching it again because I didn’t pick up on this at the the time, but the showrunners were clearly going for Bond type action sequences. There’s a lot of well choreographed fight sequences too. Anyway, to the fans who grumbled about car chases in the movie, I say go and watch Ambassadors of Death or the Daemons. It’s all in there!