Review of Doctor Who – The movie (1996)

Neela Debnath

doctor 3 300x225 Review of Doctor Who   The movie (1996)In the run up to the 50th anniversary of ‘Doctor Who’ in November 2013, Neela Debnath with the help of BBC DVD, will be reviewing one story from each of the previous 31 series of the show. Each review will offer readers a snapshot from every series of ‘Doctor Who’ and celebrate the longest-running science fiction television programme in the world.

Doctor Who had been off the air since 1989 and this was the first attempt to revive the series. The show had been kept alive in the intermediate years through audio plays and novelizations but finally here was a ‘backdoor pilot’ that brought the Doctor back on our screens. It was to be a short-lived re-appearance.

Sylvester McCoy’s seventh incarnation was accidentally and unceremoniously gunned down by a Triad gang in an alleyway in San Francisco as he was coming out of the Tardis. He was promptly taken to a hospital when he ‘died’ and regenerated into Paul McGann’s eight incarnation of the Time Lord.

It was never really explained what fate befell Ace (Sophie Aldred) but according to The Sarah Jane Adventures, she runs a charity on Earth. In this television film the Doctor is travelling alone and there is no mention of Ace.

In prologue to the film we find out that the Master (Eric Roberts) has been put on trial and sentenced to death by the Daleks. As his last request the Master asks that the Doctor take his remains back to Gallifrey. On the voyage there the Master escapes and forces the Tardis to make an emergency landing on Earth in 1999 on New Year’s Eve – the cusp of a new millennium.

A race against time then ensues to stop the Master from trying to steal the Doctor’s lives and prevent the planet from being destroyed. The Doctor also needs a Beryllium atomic clock to mend his Tardis and save the day.

For one night only the Doctor acquired two new companions Chang Lee (Yee Jee Tso) and Dr. Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook). Both are quite fun characters and bounce off McGann’s Doctor nicely. Admittedly Lee is on the Master’s side until the end but he still has the makings of good assistant. He also reminds me of Mickey (Noel Clarke) in Nu-Who because of his naivety and the fact he is continually surprised  by everything.

Meanwhile Dr Holloway is a strong, intelligent woman who challenges the Doctor. She is older than some of the female companions the Doctor has travelled with in the past. Grace is a great companion. She is smart and does not need to be feisty. Her self-assured manner reminds me FBI agent Dana Scully from The X-Files – Scully was in turn inspired by Jodie Foster’s performance as Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs. Grace is the archetypal Nineties American female heroine and everything that comes with it.

It’s important to mention the kiss between the Doctor and Grace. It was a first for Doctor Who and caused controversy in some quarters. Funnily enough it has created a Doctor Who tradition. Ever since that moment the Doctor has been locking lips with his companions.

Along with these new elements, the film tries to reference the old series as well. It’s clear from the inclusion of McCoy, Jelly Babies and plenty of clocks that the show’s heritage has not been forgotten. Paul McGann even wears a cravat which harks back to the eras of William Hartnell and Jon Pertwee.

McGann is fabulous as the Doctor, he manages to slide into the role of the Time Lord effortlessly and make it his own. He’s intelligent and witty and always on the ball. It is a shame he was not asked to return to the role when the show returned. Nevertheless his successor was just as strong as the Doctor.

The film is a lot more swish and impressive with all the special effects. There are no wobbly sets in sight which is a welcome change. The pace is fast and it is essentially a story of the week. It’s a great adventure and has everything you could want. It was dangerous, thrilling and even sexy. It was the most glamorous Doctor Who had ever been.

Sadly, the pilot was never picked up and the show remained in the doldrums until 2005. Again fans were left to content themselves with Doctor Who in other forms of media. But the show was never forgotten. There was also a 1993 Children in Need special called Dimensions in Time to mark the show’s 30th anniversary. The episode featured all of the living Doctors and many of the companions… and the cast of the EastEnders.

There was also a Comic Relief Doctor Who parody in 1999 called Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death written by the current Doctor Who producer and head writer Steven Moffat. The episode featured Hugh Grant, Richard E. Grant and Joanna Lumley, among others regenerating in to the Doctor.

Following the failed success of the film, it would be another nine years before Doctor Who finally returned to our screens.

DVD & image credit: BBC

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  • DoctorWho50

    Finally, someone else who liked it.

  • skippy

    and both of you are entitled to that opinion…

  • JohnPReid

    Quite right,and good monicker

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