Ah, Paul McGann, the first Doctor whose complete televisual saga as the Doctor has been documented on GallifreyArchive; I hope you’re honoured sir, I could have saved the best Doctor until last, but I didn’t. You only had two TV episodes, sure (and yes, I’m counting The Night of The Doctor) and it’s going to be sad to thing I’ll probably never be add another one of your episodes to the archive; (yes, I know I review near enough every Big Finish release coming out at the minute, but that’s not the point, I can’t add them to the Doctors pages at the top of the site because there’s just so many) but I’m droning on, so let’s just get on with the review!
The Doctor, nearing the end of his seventh life, is charged with transporting the remains of his fellow Time Lord, the Master, back to their home planet. Despite his precautions, his old enemy is not only not dead, but is out for revenge. Creating a timing malfunction in the TARDIS, and bringing the Doctor to San Francisco in 1999, the Master escapes and puts his plans into motion. The Doctor must find a beryllium atomic clock and stop the Master, but after being shot down by members of a street gang, how will he succeed?
If you’ve ever read GallifreyArchive before, chances are you know how I’m going to start this review, if you’ve not read anything on GallifreyArchive before, welcome, I hope you enjoy reading this review (and then you go and read every article I’ve ever written on this site too, all 171 of them). Let’s start this review of with my traditional Paul McGann confession; I bloody love his Doctor. I mean good ol’ Eight is definitely at the top of my favourite Doctor’s list. I’m quite glad to know that Leah, the new member of WhoTube channel Epic Who is also a massive fan of Eight. So anyway, now you know that I love Eight, here’s the actual reviewing part of the review.
Let’s start at the beginning of the story shall we? The Master is on trial on Skaro for countless crimes, which is understandable, he’s the Master; the Moriarty to the Doctor’s Sherlock Holmes, but why are the Daleks of all beings being the ones to put this Time Lord on trial? Whats more, why don’t they exterminate him and instead allow him to be vaporised into a goo? Personally, I feel like the start of the TV Movie was quite possibly the worst way that they could have started this episode. Fans of Doctor Who already know that the TV Movie was a coproduction between the good old BBC back here in Britain and Fox over in America; the whole plan was to see whether a more “Americanised” version of the show would perform well in the States, hoping this new market would help reinstate the show to its former glory. I know that the pre-title sequence has to have a lot of exposition so that all the new audiences who were watching the TV Movie would somewhat understand what’s going on, but I think it could have been done in a more creative way that properly honoured the shows past.
The TV Movie is the only episode of Doctor Who ever where the Doctor doesn’t regenerate at the end of a story, and we don’t actually start with Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor at the beginning of this; instead we get to see the final moments of Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor; a move that I feel probably wasn’t too well received by the American half of the production, but was well justified and the idea of bringing the Seventh Doctor back for his regeneration definitely was the right decision to make.
Admittedly, it’s rather obvious that Fox had a hand in producing this TV Movie just by the scale of everything; the first real proof of that is the Seventh/Eighth Doctor’s TARDIS, which is absolutely vast and gorgeous compared to the TARDIS’ we’d seen the Doctor own previously, personally, I think it would have made more sense for the newly regenerated Eighth Doctor to change the desktop of the TARDIS as I can’t really imagine what event happened in the Seventh Doctor’s lifetime for him to suddenly decide he wanted a really dark, gothic, expansive Console Room, surrounded by hundreds of clocks, but what can you do? I know so far I’ve only really criticised this episode, (so there you go people who think I see everything related to the Eighth Doctor is pure, unadulterated perfection, you’re wrong) but I have to give credit where credit’s due, the TV Movie likes giving subtle nods to the shows history; within the first three minutes we’ve already had Skaro, the Daleks, the Master and the Doctor eating a jelly baby; I love fan service like this.
Once the Goo Master as he shall be referred to, escapes from his prison of a small, locked chest, the TARDIS decides that the best place to safely land would be San Francisco in 1999. The Goo Master couldn’t possibly be a threat there could he? Why didn’t the TARDIS take them to some distant planet, dead and devoid of any life, where the Goo Master could escape to and be trapped on there as he wouldn’t be able to find a host? Silly TARDIS making silly mistakes. Oh well…
For anyone who has seen Doctor Who since the revival in 2005 and would like to go back and watch the classics, I really think that the TV Movie is a good segue. It really is a mix of both the old and the new. Once Chang Lee has gotten the Doctor shot, he pretty much becomes a companion to the Doctor, calling an ambulance and trying his best to make sure this old guy is going to be alright. Chang Lee is the perfect example of a redemption arc; and I would argue he has at least two redemption arcs in this one story alone. First of all, we see Chang Lee involved in gang warfare in the backstreets of SanFran, but since the TARDIS materialised in front of him and saved him from being shot, he decides to try and help the guy who seemingly saved his life. I know most people consider Grace Holloway (who we’ll come to later) to be the one true televisual companion to the Eighth Doctor (if you don’t include Cass from The Night of The Doctor), but I think Chang Lee also plays a big part.
Speaking of ‘Amazing’ Grace Holloway, our introduction to her character is somewhat jarring; we see her crying at the opera, which immediately makes me feel unable to relate to her seemingly extremely well-to-do upper class persona; I personally can’t relate to someone who goes to operas in extravagant gowns and cries at how beautiful the vocals are. We then see her rushing into hospital (or ER for you American readers) to start operating on our recently shot Doctor; meaning she’s incredibly intelligent and skilled. An opera loving heart surgeon; the most relatable of all the companions!* Anyway, we see Grace try and operate on the Doctor which, as all Whovians will know, doesn’t go according to plan. The fact he has two hearts instead of the much more common singular heart that humans have seemingly throws off Grace somewhat; would you look at that? She isn’t perfect. Once we learn she isn’t perfect, she pretty much kills the Doctor. Good job Grace.**
Whilst the Doctor’s seemingly gone, we get to revisit Bruce, the paramedic from the ambulance who drove the Doctor and Chang Lee to the hospital. Oh yeah, and the sleeve that the Goo Master slid up? That was Bruce’s jackets sleeve. And now the Goo Master is taking the form of a Goo Snake. Goo Snake Master. Good name, not so great concept. After Goo Snake Master forces himself down Bruce’s throat he is able to possess him (Remember guys, it’s not cool to force anything down anyones throat; if you find a willing partner to do that too, make sure you have a safe word, okay?) like the Master did in the Fourth Doctor story The Keeper of Traken. Nice throw back, well done.
Back to the Doctor in the fridge and one of the best regeneration sequences we’ve ever had in Doctor Who; the gurning regeneration; for anyone who doesn’t know what gurning is, google it. I rather like the parallels shown immediately after the regeneration between the Doctor and Frankenstein’s Monster (Yes, I’m that guy.) The idea of rebirth from death is one that Doctor Who has done multiple times, whether it be with the regeneration of the Time Lord himself or the reinvention of the show through its many eras is one that could be considered somewhat overlooked in the show itself, but I think is nicely portrayed here. For some reason in this expensive looking hospital, there’s a whole ward that seems derelict and unused but is thankfully filled with mirrors and dolls. Yeah, I’ve no idea why either. One thing I’m not too fond of though, is the parallels that are seemingly drawn between the newly regenerated Eighth Doctor and Jesus, with the white robes and the crucificial pose; I just don’t think there was really any need for religious connotations to be given to the Doctor at all.
One small scene I always enjoy with a new Doctor is the costume scene, where the new Time Lord decides what his trademark style is going to be. The Eighth Doctor decides to look through the lockers of people who work in the hospital he was pronounced dead in and steals their clothes, which are luckily mainly clothes for New Years Eve parties, meaning they’re allowed to be more decedent and flamboyant. This scene gives another throwback to the shows heritage, this time showing the Fourth Doctors scarf conveniently in someones locker as well as a Richard Nixon mask. Oh, how I wish the Doctor would have worn it for at least part of the episode. Surprisingly, this isn’t the last time that the Doctor will get a new set of clothes from the lockers of people who work in a hospital, as that is exactly what Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor does in his first episode, The Eleventh Hour. Coincidence? I think not!
Back with the Master formerly known as Snake Goo Master, who has possessed Bruce’s body and given him the most mesmerising emerald eyes; we see him seemingly kill Bruce’s girlfriend and forget to put on a shirt whilst looking out of a window. Who knew the Master was an exhibitionist? When the Master goes back to the hospital to try and find the Doctor, he portrays unMasterly like acting abilities, or should I say lack of. The Master is supposed to be a master of disguise, being able to blend in to any environment, take on any persona and go unnoticed; that was pretty much the whole plot premise of the Third Doctor’s run, but here, as he’s taken over Bruce’s body, his performance is jarring and wooden and just plain bad. It would have been nice to see the new Master don a fake beard or a perhaps a monobrow to try and go unnoticed as a call back to the Pertwee era.
The scene in the TARDIS where the Master hypnotises Chang Lee into giving him the Doctors things and then tells Chang Lee the lie that the Doctor is a Time Lord who stole the Masters body is a really great one; especially in this darker, more gothic TARDIS. This scene makes it seem like the TARDIS would have been much more suited for an ‘evil’ Time Lord and doesn’t really seem to fit the Doctor’s character at all.
Following on from this somewhat dark and sinister scene filled with hypnosis and threats, we’re treated to quite possibly my favourite televised Eighth Doctor scene; when the Doctor remembers who he is and where he’s from. Seeing the joy in his face as he recalls days with his father laying in the grass is rather touching, as it’s not often that we see the Doctor think so fondly of Gallifrey. This being the Doctor though, he suddenly shifts his focus from his family to his feet, declaring to Grace that his newly acquired shoes fit perfectly before bounding off like a child. I wish we had more televised McGann so we could have more little, silly, slightly romantic moments like this.
As we go back to the Master and Chang Lee, we get to see what is actually my biggest gripe with the TV Movie. Classic Doctor Who fans will know that the Eye of Harmony is the nucleus of an artificial black hole created by the Time Lords to provide the energy for both Gallifrey and their ability to time travel, which was pioneered by Omega. For some reason though, the Doctor has the Eye of Harmony in his TARDIS, using it to supposedly power that instead. To me, this raises two points; one, how did the Doctor move the Eye of Harmony into the TARDIS without anyone noticing, and two, how the hell is Gallifrey being powered with its power source missing? These are the sort of questions the writers should have answered before plonking it into the TARDIS.
After The Eye of Harmony scene comes quite possibly the most controversial short scene in Doctor Who’s history. The scene where the Doctor, an ancient Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous kisses Grace Holloway; a human woman from Earth. Luckily, when the TV movie first aired I was about a month old, so I didn’t get to witness the backlash and the uproar that this caused, but I’ve been told it was big. What’s more, the writers decided that having the Doctor seemingly romantically interested in someone wasn’t enough; oh no, they had to do something even more terrible in some peoples eyes. They decided to announce that he was half human.
I know that people have a love/hate relationship with the TV Movie, and I can see why some people are seemingly on the fence about it. Now my job on GallifreyArchive is to be as critical and as fair as possible, and the TV Movie has its flaws. One such flaw is that Grace calls an ambulance to take both her and the Doctor back to the hospital at 9:00pm; and then when the ambulance turns up and the Doctor and Grace are in the ambulance it’s apparently 10:30pm, now I don’t know about you, but in my experiences, the emergency services don’t tend to take 90 minutes to get to a call. Then again, I live in tiny England, in America that could easily be the standard.
There’s not really enough to say about what I’ve just witnessed as I type this to warrant its own paragraph, but the Master spits on Grace which happens to be acidic and the Doctor stops him with a fire extinguisher. That is such a Doctor Who sentence.
The chase scene between the Doctor and the Master is so high octane and fast paced that is just screams American drama; I don’t think we’ve ever really had a high speed car chase since either. Probably for a good reason; Doctor Who doesn’t seem to fit hand in hand with high octane car chases (or motorbike and ambulance chases).
The TV Movie is filled with great moments, such as the police motorbike entering the TARDIS, waiting for a few moments and exiting the TARDIS, all tricks and variations to the typical “It’s bigger on the inside” scene when someone new steps inside the famous blue Police Box. Once the Doctor and Grace are seemingly where they belong, Grace doesn’t seem at all phased by the notion of the Doctor’s impossible machine, instead she just talks about scientific theories of how it’s possible. It’s quite obviously somewhat suspicious, but the Doctor turns a blind eye because he’s busy. Some people would say that having that happen is very out of character for the Doctor, but I disagree; like he says in The Pandorica Opens “Never ignore a coincidence; unless you’re busy, in which case, always ignore a coincidence.” Of course, it transpires that the Masters gooey spit is actually able to control Grace because it’s a good twist for the plot and she knocks out the Doctor whilst under the Masters spell.
“I always dress for the occasion.” Oh that line. That performance. That awful camp Master saying that Chang Lee is like the son he always wanted but never had. It’s rather understandable why they never asked Eric Roberts back to play the Master.
The climax to the episode, with the Master prying open the Eye of Harmony again which for some unknown reason closed using Grace’s eye is somewhat lacklustre in my opinion, with both the Doctor and the Master frozen to the spot and Grace sent to do all of the work again. There’s a small snippet of a few shots that are totally a missed opportunity though, when the Master goes through the Doctor’s memories, we see the Seventh Doctor at the state he’s in at the beginning of the TV Movie and the Eighth Doctor’s brief time with Grace. It would have been great to have had short glimpses of all of the previous Doctor’s to cement this episode really into the previous canon.
The conclusion of the story, with the Doctor, Grace and Chang Lee in the TARDIS, all alive thanks to some magical kindness from the Eye of Harmony is rather sappy, but has one last moment to show just how badly they want you to know that this Doctor Who is the same Doctor Who that the British people had seen on our screens since 1963, with the TARDIS needing a good hit to get fully working again.
Chang Lee’s departure makes him seem like he’s not interested in any of time and space at all, and his heart and soul is solely in fame and fortune. The Doctor’s gift to him of the bags of gold dust were extremely kind on the Doctor’s part, but Chang Lee’s immediate departure after getting his somewhat ill-gotten gains made his character seem much more self-centred than he could have been portrayed. Likewise with Grace’s departure, it seems so odd that after the rollercoaster ride her and the Doctor have had that she would have declined to go in the TARDIS; leaving the Doctor once again alone, with his TARDIS, travelling through time and space.
Overall, the TV Movie isn’t the best example of Doctor Who; but if you see it as a tester episode for the type of storylines and characters we’d eventually get in 2005 with the revival, it’s not that bad of an episode. Sure, the Master was camp and not at all like the Master, but the main point still stands, Paul McGann is a brilliant Eighth Doctor; it’s just a shame that the TV Movie was the only time we got to see him shine on TV for a whole 17 years. Thank god for Big Finish.
The rating system on the Gallifrey Archive is achieved on a scale of 1-10.
For The TV Movie, I will give a rating of:
*For any Americans reading, that was sarcasm.
**That was sarcasm too.