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The Friday Docback Mulls The Triumph, Tragedy, And Possible Necessity Of DOCTOR WHO: THE MOVIE (1996)!! + A New Season/Series 7 Promo Shot!!




Merrick here...
...with a look at DOCTOR WHO: THE MOVIE, a long-developed 1996 telefilm which once involved Steven Spielberg (who ultimately disassociated himself from the project).  After being re-shaped several times, this particular iteration of the TV movie was positioned as a “backdoor pilot” - relaunching / re-introducing the DOCTOR WHO universe in a more-or-less standalone tale which could later be followed-up with a proper series if well received.  
DOCTOR WHO: THE MOVIE ended up being the only new full-length DOCTOR WHO produced for television during a 16 year drought - it was the sole proper WHO produced since the show’s cancellation 7 years earlier, and Russell T. Davies’ Christopher Eccleston-starring revamp wouldn’t his screens until 9 years later.  
THE MOVIE stars Paul McGann as the Doctor - his only actual appearance in the role to date, although his Doctor’s saga was extensively chronicled in various ancillary media (comics, novels, audios).  Thus, McGann’s limited on-screen tenure as the Doctor does not make him “the George Lazenby of DOCTOR WHO” as some have asserted.  Instead, his Doctor is more or less acknowledged in ongoing series continuity, and exists in a broad range of his own adventures  -  with McGann’s likeness being used across multiple platforms (novel covers, comics), and as well as voicing the role a number of audio stories.  
But first...
Within the next few weeks I'd love to discuss a "Docbacker Favorite" DOCTOR WHO story. Regular Docbackers, lurkers, occasional contributors, EVERYONE:  register your story preference in the Docbacks below, and we'll make it happen.  I'll make a final assessment of the most-requested story and announce the final result on Monday June 11, and will announce the title next week.  Discuss and mull as much as you'd like, but please label your actual vote post with the subject line "EPISODE!" to make it easier for me to keep track.  Enjoy!  
Matt Smith with fresh duds and new companion Jenna-Louise Coleman (via ScreenCrush and BBC).  Image is EMBIGGENABLE

“Life is wasted on the living” - the Master, DOCTOR WHO: THE MOVIE 
The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) is charged with transporting the remains of the Master back to Gallifrey.  En route, we learn that the Master’s remains aren’t so dead...a revelation which interrupts the TARDIS’ transit to the Doctor’s homeworld.  The vehicle arrives on Earth (San Francisco, 1999) instead - materializing in the middle of a an Asian gang shootout, where the Doctor is critically (and somewhat unceremoniously) shot down.  Well intentioned efforts to save the Doctor prompt his regeneration into Paul McGann’s “Doctor” - a new iteration of the character who quickly sets out to thwart the Master’s dastardly scheme before Earth is more or less melted on New Years Eve, 1999.  Welcome to the new Millennium!
Before I set out on my epic undertaking to behold every DOCTOR WHO ever made (in whatever form they exist), I’d seen a few episodes from time to time.  Never enough to snag me...never enough to convince me to stick around for more.  How I ultimately became hooked on the show as a whole is well-chronicled HERE  - but I do recall that one of my earlier DOCTOR WHO exposures was, actually, this TV movie.  And it did nothing for me.  Which may be a significant reason a possible follow-up series never got the “go” - THE MOVIE does little to seduce the uncertain.  This does NOT, however, render the undertaking meaningless or insignificant.  THE MOVIE is merely an awkward artifact of an imbalanced era in the show’s very long history.  

The Powers That Be on DOCTOR WHO: THE MOVIE deserve unending kudos for their painstaking efforts towards NOT alienating existing DOCTOR WHO fans, and their approach here is, when all is said and done, not terribly dissimilar to Russell T. Davies’ run on the show years later (more on this below).  But if Davies’ WHO worked, and might feasibly have been influenced by this production, why didn’t this version catch people’s attention?  
In a wonderful moment of irony and symbolism, McGann's Doctor draws his first breath of life within the chilled darkness of a morgue's refrigerated storage compartment.  
Several reasons, I think.  Chiefly, as charming, compelling, agreeable, and utterly promising as McGann is in the role - the characters around him rarely interlock in terms of chemistry (an issue decidedly not evident in the Davies era).  Part of this is tonal - the companions here (Grace - Daphne Ashbrook and kinda/sorta Chang Lee -  Yee Jee Tso) often play their parts too broadly, or too over-the-top, to feel natural.  Thus, the “everyman connection” which has been the life-blood of the series since its opening story back in 1963...and is enormously critical in the 2005 + iterations of never fully established.  Leaving McGann’s excellently defined and performed Doctor to more or less shoulder the burden solo throughout much of his appearance.  Even when companions are at his side, there’s not enough charisma and energy between him and them to forge a dynamic which is interesting to viewers.  There’s little here to make us care.  
Compounding such derailment is Eric Roberts’ roundly misguided appearance as Bruce - a hapless EMT who ends up becoming the unwitting host to the Master, presented here as either a puddle of highly functional goop, or a spectral slime serpent which forces itself down people’s throats (in one of DW’s most inadvertently(?) porny gags). The Master taking such forms?  Is a new conceit to me - although maybe I’m missing some context at this early juncture of my viewing efforts.  Perhaps this decision would’ve been explained in the proposed series’ “bigger picture” - a great deal of development work had been done on an Eight Doctor reboot show, and the Master’s form (or lack there of)  may well have been part of these discussions.
Whatever the case, Roberts spins his human(ish) Master not as a deviant schemer or highly intelligent “Moriarty” to the Doctor’s “Holmes.”  Instead, Roberts imbues his role with a FLASH GORDONy, mustache twirling obviousness which affords the character no hint of charisma, no amount of charm or subtlety whatsoever, and feels painfully obvious and simple minded in its approach and interpretation.  
His Master is ripped from the pages of a comic book, and feels at odds with the tone writer Matthew Jacobs and director Geoffrey Sax were working to achieve around him.  
“Tone.”  There's that word again.  In the same way many DOCTOR WHO: THE MOVIE cast members never find their footing, the energy of the show itself feels a tad disheveled.  It’s never clear if it wants to be a melodrama, or a comedy, or an action piece.  And, to be fair, the best DOCTOR WHOs often embody all of these traits.  The principal issue in this instance is gear shifting  - how smoothly THE MOVIE flows from one sensibility to another.  Here, the show lurches between over-the-top humor and melodrama (the newly regenerated Doctor extending his arms in a lighting storm and shouting to the sky “Who am I?!?!”), juggles a vacant on-again, off-again romance, inserts a plus-sized INDIANA JONES-esque finale, etc.  The whole of THE MOVIE never feels organic - it’s comprised of different vibes which don’t connect.  It’s a grab-bag of touchstones and elements that are generally reasonable unto themselves, but are never formed into a smooth or functional pathway.  
As such, watching DOCTOR WHO: THE MOVIE might be a bit confounding to many viewers.  It sports a tremendous number of DOCTOR WHO elements, but is never comfortable in its own skin.  The reverse of this is:  at the time of its broadcast, THE MOVIE may well have been too DOCTOR WHOy for its own good in the eyes of casual observers...and not terribly well formed DOCTOR WHO at that.  DOCTOR WHO: THE MOVIE is a noble, and often extremely legitimate effort suffering from a whopping personality crisis.  
I’ve spent the last few paragraphs more or less disintegrating this production.  The truth of the matter is, I don’t hate it.  I just don’t think it works on the whole.  I’d argue that...if it did...we might’ve had many seasons of McGann-era DOCTOR WHO to make our way through here in these Docbacks.  
What a McGann-era Dalek could well have looked like if his series had progressed.  
An effects test from Amblin Imaging.
For all the pistons which don’t fire correctly here, there’s also some lovely work to be found throughout, which nicely teases the promise of what might have been.  THE MOVIE features a vast, complex, ornate TARDIS unlike any we’ve seen before or since in the DW mythos - carefully decorated with various objects and trinkets from throughout the Doctor’s adventures in time and space.  It’s an impressively sprawling complex evoking everything from a Victorian era study, to some sort of medieval castle, all accented with numerous Steampunk trappings.  Odd, unexpected, perhaps not entirely logical, but visually impressive.  
John Debney’s opening and closing theme music highlights the wondrous and, for my money, extremely underutilized “middle eight measures” of the original DOCTOR WHO theme.  

Very surprised Murray Gold hasn’t more fully incorporated this heroic movement into his scoring score for current WHO.  
There’s a casual and unexpected moment in which the Master corrects Grace’s grammar - one of Roberts' only moments of subtlety in the entire picture.  If he’d been encouraged to follow this approach throughout, his appearance...and this tale as a whole...might’ve fared far better.  In a similar vein, a provocative sequence in which Grace realizes the full extent of the Doctor’s uniqueness (shortly after they visit her home for the first time) clearly illustrates the potential chemistry between actress Ashbrook and McGann, as well as highlighting the dramatic truth the duo may’ve found if the impact of this moment had be sustained or replicated more frequently. 
Alas, there are many anomalies and logic gaffs afoot here...perhaps some were intended to be answered in the largely developed but abandoned TV series follow-up, perhaps some represent perplexing meddling for the sake of meddling.  For example, the Doctor is half-human here, on his mother’s side? Spock?  Furthermore, he now seems to possess a sort of perceptual screen - “I know you” he’ll insist to other people, before looking into their souls to share with them their innermost yearnings and fears.  If the TARDIS cooperates with folks based on whether it “likes” someone, as the Master suggests here, why is it showing bad guys the way to the Doctor?  UNLESS, one might argue, it’s trying to facilitate a chain of events it perceives must unfold?  Strange moves all.  Some promising (I don’t find the Doctor's ability to read people particularly irrational, as it would make sense for someone who is so much a product of time and space to be “plugged in” to some greater temporal/metaphysical awareness), all...a tad disoreinting.  
Longtime fans of DOCTOR WHO might also note flourishes and touches which may well have informed (even if subtly) the WHO of later years.  The Vortex featured in this movie, while not exactly similar to the Vortex featured in RTD’s subsequent iteration, begins to feel recognizable as “modern” WHO.  At one point, a yellow/orange regenerative energy heals characters in an aesthetic pointedly recalling the regeneration effects featured in current WHO.  Happenstance?  Perhaps...but present none the less.  The notion of a mammoth TARDIS control area is introduced here and carried through both the Davies and Moffat eras, as is the vehicle's Steampunk-flavored control island.  There’s a “real world” approach to settings here, applied in ways not frequently utilized in previous WHO (hospitals, back alleys, etc) -  which strongly portends the Davies/Moffat era sensibility of tremendous, galaxy-changing adventures happening right under out noses and in the most unlikely, or least suspicious, of places.
The score by John Debney, John Sponsler, and Louis Serbe introduces soaring orchestral motifs into the WHOverse - utterly abandoning the original show’s  previously clunky, plinky scoring approach in favor of big, broad, boldness.  In a very real sense, it is in this movie, and through this score, that DOCTOR WHO first asserts itself as the sprawling, rambunctious, and passionate adventure ultimately advanced in its 2005 + iterations.  While THE MOVIE doesn’t seem as widely known as it probably should be, and is certainly not roundly appreciated by those who are aware of it, it’s difficult to escape the sense that this story very much represents a metamorphosis...or coming of age transition...of the show into the DOCTOR WHO we know today. 
For all its quirky qualities and aggravating missteps, DOCTOR WHO: THE MOVIE...matters.  What would RTD’s show have been like had this movie not shifted certain conceits and templates into place?  Would it have been the same show?  Or quite different?  Would RTD’s iteration have moved forward at all?  Or, was it always, and simply, fated to do so?   How would the slightest shift in the chain reaction caused by this picture impact 2005 + WHO?   THE MOVIE was far from a failure when transmitted...although it was not the rousing success some of corporate entities were hoping for.  Had it not been made...if it hadn’t kept ‘the home fires burning’ so to speak...what might’ve become of DW?  Would the franchise be where it is today?  Or, might the television component of the franchise have slipped into oblivion...never again to be formally revisited?  It’s impossible to know such answers, but these are fun and interesting notions to ponder all the same.  
Differences can be made, even by something imperfect...especially by something imperfect.   When all is said and done, truisms don’t get any more DOCTOR WHOish than that...
DOCTOR WHO: THE MOVIE is available via THIS two disc set here in the U.S., and THIS offering in the U.K.  



IN THE COMING WEEKS - Jumping Continuity With: 
Kinda (Davison, Story #118) 
Snakedance (Davison, Story #124) 
The Five Doctors  (Davison, Stroy #129) 
-- titles definite but sequence may flux slightly due to the arrival of upcoming DVD releases --




Glen Oliver




Google + 










"The Impossible Astronaut"

"Day of the Moon"

"The Curse of the Black Spot"

"The Doctor's Wife"

"The Rebel Flesh"

"The Almost People"

"A Good Man Goes To War"

"Let's Kill Hitler"

"Night Terrors"


"The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe" (2011 Christmas Special)  





"An Unearthly Child" (Story #1)

"The Daleks" (Story #2)

"The Edge of Destruction" (Story #3)

"Marco Polo" (Story #4)

"The Keys of Marinus(Story #5)

"The Aztecs" (Story #6)

"The Sensorites" (Story #7)

"The Sensorites" (Story #7 - full DVD release) 

"The Reign of Terror" (Story #8)

"Planet of Giants" (Story #9) 

"The Dalek Invasion of Earth" (Story #10)

"The Rescue" (Story #11) 

"The Romans"  (Story #12) 

"The Web Planet" (Story #13) / SHERLOCK - "A Scandal in Belgravia" (Story #4)

"The Crusade" (Story #14) 

"The Space Museum" (Story #15) 

"The Chase" (Story #16) 

"The Time Meddler" (Story #17) 

"Galaxy 4" (Story #18) 

Mission to the Unkonwn (Story #19) 

"The Myth Makers" (Story #20) 

"The Gunfighters" (Story #25)

"The Tomb of the Cybermen" (Story #37) 

"The Seeds of Death" (Story #48) 

"The Colony in Space" (Story #58) 

"The Daemons" (Story #59) 

"Day of the Daleks" (Story #60) + Preview of the DotD Special Edition

"The Three Doctors" (Story #65) 

"Carnival of Monsters" (Story #66) 

"Invasion of the Dinosaurs" (Story #71) and SHERLOCK: "The Reichenbach Fall" (Story #6) 

"The Android Invasion" (Story #83) and SHERLOCK: "The Hounds of Baskerville" (Story #5) 

"The Face of Evil" (Story #89) 

"The Robots of Death" (Story #90) 

"The Talons of Weng-Chiang" (Story #91)

"The Sun Makers(Story #95)

"Nightmare of Eden" (Story #107) 

"The Awakening" (Story #131)

"Frontios(Story #132)

"Resurrection of the Daleks" (Story #134) 

"The Caves of Androzani" (Story #136) 

"Time and the Rani" (Story #144)

"Paradise Towers" (Story #145) + New WHOvian Documentary / Newsbits

"Dragonfire" (Story #147) 

"The Happiness Patrol" (Story #149) 


Merrick's Personal Journey With The Doctor (How Merrick Got Hooked On DOCTOR WHO)

DOCTOR WHO Title Sequences & DW At Comic-Con 2011

"The Crash of the Elysium" (Manchester version - interactive DOCTOR WHO adventure)

Why Eccleston Left, Here Comes Caroline Skinner, And Season/Series Six Part 1 on Blu-Ray And DVD

New Trailer For Season/Series Six Part 2





1) a Docback should be about completely open and free discourse regarding all things WHO with, obviously, some variation on subject matter from time to time - the real world intervenes, discussions of other shows are inevitable, etc.)... 

2) matters of SPOILAGE should be handled with thoughtful consideration and sensitivity.  Posts containing SPOILERS should clearly state that a SPOILER exists in its topic/headline and should never state the spoiler itself . "** SPOILER ** Regarding Rory" is OK, for example.  "** SPOILER ** Battle of Zarathustra" is fine as well.  " **SPOILER** Why did everyone die?"  Is NOT good.  
And, above all... 

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In short, it's easy.  Be excellent to each other.  Now party on... 
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