DVD MOVIE REVIEW: Doctor Who: The Movie (Fox, 1996)

Wil Avitt
Wil Avitt's picture

As I've stated elsewhere on this site, I'm not a rabid Doctor Who fan, but I am a fan. I was only nine-years-old when the show's original run ended, and I wasn't a fan of British stuff when I was a kid (everyone talked funny, after all). When I was 25 the show was relaunched and, having long ago given up my prejudice of how Brits talk (though they do still talk funny), I gave the show a chance. I was immediately hooked and watched the show every chance I got. Christopher Eccleston's Ninth Doctor (there have been NINE?!) was phenomenal, and Rose was hot. The show was exciting, funny and even dramatic every once in a while. What wasn't to love? I was sitting on the couch, eyes glued to the set for the season finale, and that's when the Earth opened up at my feet. The Doctor started to get all shiny, and next thing I knew The Doctor was replaced by some skinny, geeky, Davy Jones-looking imitation! Well, I quit, at that point. This was my first experience with regeneration, and I didn't like it. I've since become an occasional Who watcher. If nothing else is on, I'll watch, but I've never gotten as into it as I was in the 2005-2006 first (26th?) season. Also, to be quite honest, David Tennent was pretty good ("The End of Time" was great) and Matt Smith is pretty good too (I just got around to watching the season 6 finale "The Wedding of River Song" and it was quite good, though for a season finale, it could have been better).

I've been wanting to get more familiar with some of the pre-Eccleston Doctors, but the BBC DVDs are so expensive I just haven't gotten around to it. Until now. Thanks to a local FYE that is closing down, I was able to get a few classic Who serials for fairly cheap. One of those DVDs I bought was the 2-disc Special Edition of the 1996 Doctor Who made-for-TV movie, originally broadcast on the Fox Network. I don't remeber how well or poorly this was hyped, though I do know (not yet being a fan) it flew completely under my radar in 96. So, maybe you saw it, maybe you didn't. I get the feeling it is a pretty obscure film, so if you haven't seen it hopefully this review can be of assistance.

The movie starts out with the Seventh Doctor (played by Sylvester McCoy, who was the last Doctor seen on television in 1989), en route to his homeplanet Gallifrey, having just captured his arch-nemesis, The Master. The Master manages to sabotage the TARDIS, causing it to crash land in San Francisco in 1999. The Doctor gets out to investigate and is hit by stray bullets from a gang war. He's rushed to the hospital by an ambulance, called by Chang Lee (played by Yee Jee Tso), the kid being shot at by the gang, where he dies and is then regenerated into the Eighth Doctor, played throughout the rest of the film by Paul McGann. The Master escapes, but instead of regenerating actually possesses a human being, played by Eric Roberts.
The film follows the new Doctor and his new companion, a doctor at the hospital named Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook) as they try to track down and stop the new incarnatiom of The Master before he can take over the Earth.

Reactions seem to be fairly mixed, from what I've read on Amazon. Personally, I liked it. The production design, especially the interior of the TARDIS, was amazing. It certainly stands up visually with what's being done on the BBC in current seasons. The acting was great. Paul McGann was a great Doctor, and I kinda wish more of his adventures had been made (as it is, this is the only canon appearance of the Eighth Doctor, apart from a few flashback cameos in the current series'). I also thought Eric Roberts did a fine job as The Master (though I missed the VanDyke that the classic Master used to wear in what few classic serials I have seen). Grace also was a great companion, I thought, though she was more of a love interest than a companion. It could have been interesting to see where a series could have gone with that kind of a Doctor/companion relationship.

The bottom line is, if you're a die-hard Dr. Who fan and HAVEN'T seen this movie, it is probably worth watching. Be cautious, though, there are some minor liberties taken with Dr. Who mythology, like the Doctor being stated as being half human and The Master having a "true" form that's like the water alien from The Abyss. Also, the movie is American made (as I mentioned, by the Fox network), so the story is Americanized and the Doctors are the only Brits in the cast. If you care about such things more than I, I can see that being annoying. However, if you're a casual fan, like I am, and especially a fan of newer Who, this movie is a must-see.