Doctor Who 27/05/96 – The TV Movie

There has never in the entire history of mankind been a topic that has caused as much debate as the 1996 Doctor Who TV Movie starring Paul McGann as the 8th Doctor. Concieved as a way of introducing Doctor Who to American audiences, as well as rebooting the series, the movie, made by FOX is something that has caused a great deal of controversy amongst fans of the original series. The movie shows us a newly regenerated Doctor fighting the Master on the eve of the Millenium.

There are a lot of good things about The Movie, and there are a lot of bad things so I’ve decided to split up the review.


• Straight away, we are treated to a narration by the 8th Doctor, telling of how, on the planet Skaro, the Daleks put the Master on trial for his various crimes, and not only that, but they offered him one last request, which was for the Doctor to bring his remains to Skaro. This raises several questions straight away, such as, why on earth are the Daleks putting the Master on trial? Why, would they grant him a last request? How would they contact the Doctor? How could they contact the Doctor and not try to kill him? Why would the Doctor agree to a request from the Daleks and The Master combined? Why do the Daleks have such high pitched voices? Why include the Daleks at all in this film?

As this was an attempt at reaching people who had never seen Doctor Who before, it seems sensible to include some things that audiences might recognise, hence the inclusion of the Daleks, the Daleks much like the TARDIS are instantly recognisable to most people, even if they’ve never heard of a sonic screwdriver or what Gallifrey is, and including them might help people form a link with the plot. But we never actually see them, and their voices are unrecognisable, so any connection that could have been made is lost. Not only that, but we find that they are in the practice of putting their enemies on trial, instead of, y’know, exterminating them, which is pretty much what they’re famous for.

• The Seventh Doctor’s death is one of the most dissapointing things in the movie, considering that this was supposed to be the most manipulative and prepared incarnations of the Doctor, it seems incredibly out of character for him to just walk out of the TARDIS into a gunfight. While it’s not the worst death The Doctor has ever had (that honour goes to the poor 6th Doctor banging his head on the TARDIS console) considering that this may be the first time new audiences see The Doctor it’s not the best introduction the character could have had.

• No umbrella. Considering the many references to previous Doctors, the fact that we see the 7th Doctor without his trusty question mark umbrella is criminal.

• It is revealed The Doctor is half human, which is clearly an attempt to remind American audiences of that other long running sci-fi show Star Trek. The whole half-human debacle makes no sense in the grand scheme of things, apart from helping people feel less disgusted when they remember that The Doctor and Grace are an entirely different species. Later Doctor Who stories have tried to retcon this, but nevertheless, it doesn’t fit into the plot and seems a rather pointless change to the character.

• The Master while possesing a human body can spit acid which can either paralyze you or put you under The Master’s control, this makes literally no sense, is never explained, and doesn’t fit with any previous continuity. I can accept that The Master’s will to live is so strong that he can turn into some sort of psychic snake and that he is incredibly charismatic and hypnotic, but he mentions several times that the body he is using is human, so where does the acid spit come from?

• Apparently the only way to open the Eye of Harmony is to have a human eye look into it. Wait, what? Why on Gallifrey would the Time Lords build something that could only be opened by humans? It’s not like the Time Lords were particularly chummy with humans.

• I’m still not 100% sure how Grace and Chang Li come back to life, it’s something to do with going back in time and the Eye of Harmony closing. I think.


• Paul McGann, obviously, is fantastic. Much has been said about how wasted he was in the plot and how much of a shame it is that he never got to be The Doctor for longer (in a visual medium at least). There’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said, but it really is a fantastic performance and one that seems to have set a template for the next Doctors.

• The TARDIS interior is probably my favourite thing about the whole movie, while all the previous redesigns were just variations on the original 1963 design, the movie’s TARDIS is magnificent. It’s huge and gothic, with candles and clocks all over the place. The central console looks amazing too, and still requires a sharp knock every now and then to keep it going.

• Considering that Sylvester McCoy era Doctor Who had quite possibly the worst opening credits out of all the various versions of the theme, it is refreshing to see (and hear) that the movie theme is an orchestral interpretation set to an opening credits sequence reminiscent of Tom Baker’s era. While it’s a bit of a departure from the electronic sounds of previous themes, I feel that it’s an appropriate start to the movie and immediately adds a cinematic touch to the whole thing.

• While casting Eric Roberts as the Master seems like an odd choice, I think he did rather well. While he is probably the worst of the Masters, he is by no means terrible. The Master is supposed to be charismatic to the point of hypnotic, which I think Roberts pulls off pretty well in the scene where he entices Chang Li to the “Dark Side”. But the main character trait of The Master is that he is (possibly unwillingly) ridiculously camp, something that Roberts manages to succeed in being without going over the top. His little flourish when he emerges wearing his Time Lord robes is pure Master, evil – but looking good.

• Ultimately the best part about the movie is that without it, we wouldn’t have the Doctor Who we have today. From the majestic orchestral opening credits with a TARDIS flying through a time tunnel, to the grand, architecturally impressive console room, to the romantic hook, it is fairly safe to say that had the movie not laid down the groundwork for the new-Who, we would have a very different interpretation of the character today.

Overall, I like it, while the property could have been handled better, it was still a valiant effort, and considering the BBC had fallen out of love with Doctor Who, I’m glad that somebody at least tried something new with it.

One Response to “Doctor Who 27/05/96 – The TV Movie”

  1. I think the t.v. movie is just awful and fans need to excise it from the canon of Doctor Who.

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