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I actually watched this months ago - some weekend in the late summer when I was feeling rather ill and it was on one of the cable TV channels, I think. So it is well out of sequence as far as my reviews are concerned. But better late than never.

I saw it when it first came out of course, on the broken sofa in the damp basement kitchen which I shared with hollyione and three others in Brookfield Road, Bristol. At that time, we were mainly bemused by how little resemblance it bore to anything that we had previously understood as Doctor Who. But this time, watching it retrospectively with a knowledge of New Who, I was struck by the place which it occupies on the cusp between the two.

In many ways, of course, it isn't like either. The emphasis on action heroics, rather than quirky cleverness, puts the movie in a place all of its own by comparison with the rest of the TV canon. But obviously it does owe a great debt to the Classic series, while on the other side many of the things that seemed odd and alien to us watching back in 1996 have actually since been picked up and built on by Russell T. Davies. These are the backward-looking and (with hindsight) forward-looking aspects that I noticed on this viewing:

Nods to Old Who
  • Use of an updated version of the classic theme tune
  • 900-year diary (an appropriate update of the Second Doctor's 500-year one)
  • Stealing clothes from a hospital (Third Doctor - though of course also now the Eleventh)
  • TARDIS key design (Third / Fourth Doctor)
  • Offering people jelly babies (Fourth Doctor)
  • Long multi-coloured scarf in the hospital locker (Fourth Doctor)
  • TARDIS having a cloister room (Fourth Doctor)
  • Seal of Rassilon in the TARDIS (Fourth Doctor onwards)
  • The Doctor reading a copy of H.G Wells' The Time Machine (Sixth Doctor met him in Timelash)
  • Obvious actual presence of the Seventh Doctor

Paths laid down for New Who
  • The whole tradition of stories with a single, one-off companion - like several of the recent Christmas specials
  • Use of time tunnels in the opening and closing credits
  • The Master's ability to transcend his own body: here a snake, in Last of the Time Lords a ring
  • The TARDIS redesign, complete with flying buttresses around the console
  • Chang Lee walks all around the outside of the TARDIS after having seen how big it is on the inside, to check that it really is as small as it appears on the outside - like Rose in, um, Rose
  • The Doctor as a Jesus-figure - e.g. when he wakes up in the morgue wearing nothing but a shroud, and when the Master puts a device which looks like a crown of thorns on him at the end. (Arguably, this is also a nod to Classic Who, though, and particularly The Invasion of Time)
  • The Master hanging onto part of the TARDIS before he gets sucked into the Eye of Harmony - rather like Rose in Doomsday
  • Magic glowy floaty shit which comes out of the TARDIS and brings Grace and Chang Lee back to life
  • The general overblown hokey WTFery of the ending
  • Doctor kisses his companion - just like every New Who companion so far

All in all, there's a lot more resemblance to New Who than you might think, especially given that this film essentially turned out to be a failed experiment, which might well have just been left to stew in obscurity.

I'm not going to bother discussing the plot, because there isn't much of one, or the awful cartoonish travesty that is Eric Roberts as the Master. Dearie me! In spite of both, though, I actually found myself really enjoying the film overall.

Sylvester McCoy was just wonderful, and I absolutely love him for agreeing to be in this at all. I found his brutally, unnecessarily tragic fate quite moving, in fact, and felt that it had a lot more impact than dying at the hands of something alien and all-powerful would have done. Paul McGann sometimes came across as a sort of pastiche of all the major things the Doctor is supposed to be. You know - eccentric, Edwardian, wide-eyed, spouting technobabble, oblivious to how strange human beings think he is, etc. But then again, this was his equivalent of a first story, and on the whole I do like him even here. I think there was an emerging warmth and a deceptive boyishness in place which (as I've said elsewhere) he has gone on to build on successfully in the audio adventures. And even Yee Jee Tso as Chang Lee wasn't bad. His acting belonged fairly firmly to the goofy sidekick school, and I don't think the character was very realistic. But I guess I appreciated the effort to include a socially-deprived ethnic minority street kid as a character - and to show him towards the end spotting the contradictions in what the Master is saying to him for himself, helping to defeat him and coming over all honest and redeemed as a result of his experiences.

Best of all, though, I liked Grace! I liked that she was a fully-blown, properly-qualified surgeon, who was so dedicated to her job that she was prepared to race through hospital corridors in an opera gown in order to perform an urgent operation. That puts her well ahead of Martha in the grown-up and highly-qualified stakes, for all that Martha was introduced to us as the Doctor's equal ('Smith and Jones'). I liked how we were invited to frown upon the boyfriend whom she has at the beginning of the story for being unwilling to support her in pursuing her career. I liked that she was properly sceptical of the crazy guy who turned up at her house claiming to be an alien - but also entirely capable of accepting the extraordinary when given sufficient evidence for it. Heck, she even grasped straight away how the TARDIS must work - probably the first ever human companion (that I can think of) who has done this.

Unsurprisingly, given all this, she works well with the Doctor, too. While he's staggering about the place being naive and amnesiac, she takes control of the situation, grasps what's at stake, and sets out to help him save the world - even shooting a cop's radio and nicking his motorbike keys when she needs to. She helps to smooth over his theft of a security pass at the big Millennium party by initiating the necessary small-talk. And once she has been freed of the Master's influence, it is Grace who manages to resurrect the TARDIS and free the chained-up Doctor. Best of all, at the end of the film, far from dropping her entire life and running off with the Doctor when he asks her to, she turns the question round and asks why he doesn't come with her instead. Now that's a properly independent and well-balanced companion.

Finally, I suppose I'd better say something about the so-called 'controversy' of the Doctor being apparently half-human in this movie. Personally, it doesn't bother me. It rests on what may well be a joke spoken by the Doctor and a mistaken inference made by the Master. Besides, continuity is over-rated. But I do get how it must have seemed upsetting in 1996, when there was no regular series, and this film was the One Big Hope for Doctor Who's future. And all the more so since it constitutes a clear and easily-quotable departure from the programme's old traditions, which could be fixated on in a way that hazier issues such as the shape of the plot and the essential values in the script don't lend themselves to so easily. All the disquiet about the Americanisation of the franchise and the worry about whether this film was going to do what all fans hoped it would, and re-ignite the series, could be crystallised down into hatred for that one obvious betrayal of canon. So, yeah, I get why people have been exercised about it - and just because I have the comfortable cushion of a whole new series sitting between it and me, I shouldn't dismiss how it must have felt at the time. On the whole, though, my basic response to the issue is 'whatever', and - like the Eric Roberts Master - I'm certainly not going to let it stop me enjoying the bits of the film which I do like.

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( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 13th, 2010 09:49 pm (UTC)
Oh dear, don't get too swayed by my upbeat positivity! I have left out lots of things which most fans get really annoyed about, mainly because I feel they've been written about quite enough already. But believe me, there is plenty of really quite rubbish stuff in this film. My best advice would be to keep an eye out for it on the cable channels, where it does crop up fairly regularly, and even then only watch it if you're at a bit of a loose end. Don't for goodness sake go out of your way to see it!
Dec. 14th, 2010 02:05 am (UTC)
Although there is a lot to criticise in this story, there is a lot of good stuff. I really like McGann in it, and Daphne Ashbrook, and yes, Yee Jee Tso. In fact it slightly annoys me that people go on about her so much and he gets so forgotten about! And it's one of McCoy's best performances too; in fact I actually think it's a shame he isn't in it more, and I could never have imagined myself saying when he was the incumbent Doctor!

There are also some lovely moments that just scream Doctor Who -- in particular the way he uses a gun as a plot device (hint; he doesn't point it at anyone else).

Eric Roberts? Less said the better, I think, and interestingly I have recently heard that on the commentary (on the newly released version in the Revisitations box set) it seems that neither McGann nor McCoy liked him very much -- of course they don't say anything nasty about him, but they don't say nice things about him either, which they do about most of the other major people!

"The Doctor reading a copy of H.G Wells' The Time Machine (Sixth Doctor met him in Timelash)"


(Sorry, I hate Timelash, especially the character assassination of Wells that it seems determined to perform.)

And I might say the same for the half-human thing! ;-)

In summary; the TV Movie is a curate's egg of a story IMO, but it is worth watching.
Dec. 14th, 2010 11:01 am (UTC)
I quite agree about Timelash - it is pretty unremittingly dire, isn't it? Not actually as bad as The Twin Dilemma, but not far ahead. Mind you, given how very little resemblance the character called 'H.G. Wells' bears to anyone who could possibly have gone on to become the author of the books we know, you could always reconcile it all to yourself by just saying that it isn't really H.G. Wells the sci-fi author at all, but just some random Joe who happens to have the same name. That work for you?

And yes, I agree generally that there is a lot more good stuff here than its general status in fan circles might suggest, and that both McCoy and McGann are definitely more than worth the price of admission. :-)
Dec. 14th, 2010 01:54 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately, all the HG Wells references in Timelash are a clear indication that we're meant to understand that his science fiction was inspired by his experiences with the Doctor. The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man -- all have clear "parallels" with the events of this story, though only superficially (the story is too stupid to indicate how much Wells's stories were social satire and genuine extrapolation). I can't just ignore that and pretend it was a different HG Wells. :-(

And that's without mentioning the lazy writer's insult to the audience when, at the climax of the story, the Doctor survives a certain-death situation. How? "Neat trick. I'll tell you later." There is NO EXCUSE for that (to put it mildly).

I actually didn't mind The Twin Dilemma when I rewatched it recently -- like the TV movie, it's got some terrible rubbish, but some good stuff too. The first and last episodes are quite fun, though the middle two are feeble.
Dec. 14th, 2010 06:05 pm (UTC)
I liked Azmael, the elderly Time Lord, in The Twin Dilemma. But I thought the rest was just dreadful. Still, if there's one thing we Who fans certainly know how to do well, it is picking the good bits out of otherwise dismal stories!
Dec. 14th, 2010 10:41 am (UTC)
I'm surprised by how much I remember of the film, given that I haven't seen it since it was first shown. (I watched it at DocSoc and I think all our jaws were on the floor at the WTFery of it all.) I'd like to see it again in light of all that has followed it.

And yes, the 7th Dr's death was a real shame and shocker - the most powerful bit of the film for me.
Dec. 14th, 2010 11:04 am (UTC)
Yeah, it's definitely worth watching with hindsight. You can be much more sanguine about how it departs from the Classic tradition, because that doesn't really matter any more, but you can also enjoy spotting the things it did which were picked up by New Who a decade later.

Poor old Seven - but I'm so glad he got a proper death scene after all. It could so easily not have happened for him - just as, indeed, it never happened for Eight either.
Dec. 14th, 2010 01:41 pm (UTC)
Though as a fan I am glad Seven got a proper send-off, I nevertheless agree with those who say it was a mistake to launch a new version of Doctor Who with one actor only to have him turn into another after 20 minutes!

For the viewer not previously familiar with Doctor Who, it must have been weird and confusing (and not in a good way!).

Better to start, as RTD did, with the new Doctor already present. It keeps the information the new viewers have to process to a minimum.
Dec. 14th, 2010 06:09 pm (UTC)
I don't know - I thought that having Seven in the story allowed for some quite important and effective plot developments. The whole theme of the Doctor's physiology being so catastrophically misunderstood by human medical professionals that they actually kill him does a lot to get across what sort of character we are dealing with - and that couldn't have been done without also having a regeneration.
Dec. 15th, 2010 01:55 am (UTC)
That's a fair point. But I just think the movie overloads the new viewer with facts about the Doctor and his world. The Time Lords. The Daleks. The Master. The Tardis. Non-human physiology. Regeneration. The Eye of Harmony (not explained). Half-human (ugh).

Look how gradually RTD fed information to the viewers in his first series. Of course he had six-and-a-half times as long to do it, but even so, there's actually probably less backstory provided despite the addition of the Time War. He was careful not to confuse people with too much detail too quickly.

Of course, I'm saying this now, with the benefit of hindsight. I probably wouldn't have thought that way beforehand.
Dec. 15th, 2010 09:58 am (UTC)
Yeah, I do agree about the information overload. The Eye of Harmony doesn't matter so much, because it is clear from context what it does (at least in this story). But the random passing mentions of the Daleks and the Time Lords definitely lean towards what you might call 'fan-service', as opposed to 'building a decent stand-alone story'.

Edited at 2010-12-15 10:00 am (UTC)
Dec. 15th, 2010 10:53 am (UTC)
I imagine, also, that McCoy was paid more for his brief appearance in the movie than for the rest of his tenure as the Doctor :)
Dec. 15th, 2010 10:55 am (UTC)
Hehe - that is entirely likely! :-)
Dec. 14th, 2010 02:40 pm (UTC)
The 1996 movie was a highly anticipated life-line for those of us who were around for the demise and had lived through the 7 years of nothing in-between. It wasn't perfect, but for a group of starving fans it was certainly good. I've always felt that if it had been BBC produced they would have ironed out the kinks and a reboot would have followed. Being an American production, the emotional stakes to make it work just weren't there.

My favorite part was the very steam-punk look of the inside of the TARDIS. I love steam-punk and was thrilled that it is back for the 11th Doctor.

Grace: YES! to everything you said about her. I especially like that when she turned him down she said "Why don't you stay here with me?" Her life she had built was just as important as his was.

Chang Lee exploring the outside of the TARDIS: Actually, that was a nod to the past as well. Many companions have done that little dance, starting with Ian in 1963.

I also absolutely agree with you about the half-human bit. You are the only other person besides me I've ever seen say that the Doctor was kidding. I thought so at the time: Grace had put him on the spot and he made up something to distract the man. The use of it as a plot device by the Master could easily have been a misunderstanding of the facts.

Overall, I think the movie makes a great segue from Old to New Who. The empty years before and after are vague enough for the transitions to be smooth.
Dec. 14th, 2010 06:13 pm (UTC)
Ah, thanks for that about Chang Lee going round the outside of the TARDIS! I can well imagine Ian doing that, actually, though it's quite a while now since I've seen the first story and I don't remember that sort of detail about it now. So I guess Rose doing it in the new series doesn't need to be a reference to the movie at all - more likely it is just bypassing it altogether and referencing the Classic series.
Dec. 15th, 2010 02:05 am (UTC)
Re: half human. I have heard this argument before, but I don't buy it. Let me explain...

To me, if it was just the Doctor saying it, I could assume he was kidding. Or if the Master thought it, but it wasn't otherwise confirmed, he could be mistaken.

But the Master surmises it from information available to him, and based on this, guesses that Grace's iris print can open the Tardis, or the Eye of Harmony or whatever it was (it's been a long time!). And it works. If he was wrong about the Doctor being half-human, why did it work? No alternative explanation is given.

Add to that the fact that the Doctor claims to be half-human completely independently of this, and never says he was joking or anything, and there's only one conclusion:

The TV Movie is telling us that the Doctor is half-human. Which flies in the face of everything we learned about him prior to that.

Of course, as Penny says, continuity is overrated. And it seems to have been quietly forgotten since! But it still bugs me a bit.
Dec. 15th, 2010 02:16 am (UTC)
I do agree with you about how much we as fans appreciated new Doctor Who after 7 years, though! But one not-very-good movie later, I for one felt rather deflated. I enjoyed it, sure, but it was rather disappointing. If it had gone to a series, I would definitely have watched it and hoped for the flaws to be ironed out.

But as it became clear that no series was going to happen, the movie became rather more despised for not being what it could have been. If it had been better, maybe there would have been a series. But because it wasn't good enough, there might never be a series again.

Nowdays, of course, that's all history. With a very successful 5-and-a-bit years of New Who behind us, and at least one more to go (probably more than that!), we can view the movie more as a curiosity, without that baggage. And even without watching it again, I find I'm more forgiving of its flaws (as I am of the McCoy era, in part again because I know it didn't kill off the series for good). And that means I can appreciate the good stuff more. :-)
Dec. 15th, 2010 03:15 am (UTC)
I find I'm more forgiving of its flaws (as I am of the McCoy era,. . .

Interesting. I can easily forgive the 1996 movie because I was so starved for anything Doctor Who at the time. But I still haven't forgiven JNT for being the cause of that famine.
Dec. 15th, 2010 06:27 pm (UTC)
I'm a lot more forgiving of JNT now than I was at the time. Even then, I felt that he'd done some good for DW when he arrived, but had stayed too long. Now I know that he'd requested to be moved to another programme but his bosses had refused, and that they'd basically said they would cancel Doctor Who if he left, as they had no-one else willing/able to run it. In that situation, what would you have done?

Also, when not blaming JNT a lot of people blame Colin Baker or Sylvester McCoy. But it's interesting to note that the ratings for Colin's first year were virtually the same as the two previous years. The sudden and catastrophic drop in ratings happened when the show was taken off for 18 months -- which was of course not JNT's doing -- and they then stayed low for the next 4 years.

(They'd also fallen when JNT took over, but recovered a year later. But in both cases the drop happened immediately -- less people were watching the show from the very first episode of the series -- rather than a gradual decline as would be expected if people were losing interest in what they were seeing.)

So really, I think the way the show was treated was to blame. Given BBC interest, a showrunner who wanted to be there (and who was allowed to leave once he'd had enough) and good publicity, it could have still worked. And what do you know -- it has! :-)
Dec. 16th, 2010 02:00 pm (UTC)
I wasn't a big fan of this film still not really! Although Grace was very easy on the eye.

I think someone here got it right when they said that being American it was just not going to be as "right" as if the BBC made it - it did feel very American and it was obviously set there, and even when original Who had an American character the actress was English and so it felt right to us (Just like Patrick Stewart uses American pronunciations in ST:TNG,which annoys me but presumably not Americans).

Now are you going to rewatch the Peter Cushing films? ;)
Dec. 16th, 2010 02:40 pm (UTC)
Maybe at some point! They keep cropping up on the cable channels, too, so it wouldn't be hard. I'm quite fond of them in a funny way. I guess that because they are so obviously not part of mainstream Doctor Who, you can sit back and enjoy their technicolor silliness and massive deviations from the normal rules of the Whoniverse in a way that the 1996 movie doesn't really allow. My favourite bit is the way the Daleks decorate their base with tastefully-placed lava lamps in the first film!
Dec. 20th, 2010 07:42 pm (UTC)
yes indeed - groovy. I liked it when Bernard Cribbins was pretending to be a Cyberman too
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