At this point, after five seasons (and change) of dazzling new Doctor Who, it’s almost difficult to remember how lean the years were for the show after its cancellation in 1989. If I really project myself back to that time period, it reminds me that I shouldn’t take the new series for granted, because it can’t last forever. For a young fan in his twenties, each passing year with no new Who began feeling like an eternity. After seven years, we finally got something, and the results were this TV movie, which was co-produced by the BBC, Fox and Universal, and it aired on Fox in May of ‘96. Of course, seven years is nothing compared to the 15 years it’s taken for the TV movie to get a home video release in the U.S., and most fans had pretty much given up hope for any kind of domestic issue until last August when it was suddenly announced that the rights issues had been cleared up, and a R1 DVD loaded with bonus features was imminent. Who-ray (but not Blu-ray)!
Those aforementioned feelings of desperation were brought up to help illustrate how incredibly monumental the TV movie felt back in 1996. Not only was Doctor Who back, but it finally had boffo production values, there was the tease of a possible series provided the movie snagged some respectable ratings (which in the U.S. it did not), and perhaps more than anything else, Paul fucking McGann was playing the Doctor. I’d been a Withnail and I fanatic for several years already, and to my mind there was no better actor suited to bring the Doctor back to life. Indeed, I even recall telling my then-girlfriend a couple years prior during a Withnail viewing how McGann would make a great Doctor Who someday. I was likely stoned out of my gourd at the time, but that matters not.
So as you might guess, I have an enormous affinity for this film, despite its numerous problems. But it’s also interesting to note that nostalgia doesn’t necessarily have to play a part. I was talking with my Bullz-Eye compadre Will Harris the other day, and he was recalling how when he was a kid, he watched some Doctor Who, and knew instinctively it was something that he should like, yet it never really clicked for him. That all changed for Will in ’96 when he saw this movie and it turned him into a fan in one sitting. Of course, these days there are plenty of folks who really only know the show in its current incarnation, and one wonders how somebody who’s only ever seen new Who would react to this film. I’d like to believe favorably, but then again, it requires adjusting to a whole new Doctor, and some new series fans are slavishly devoted to some of the current Doctors to the point where they can’t be bothered with the concept if David Tennant isn’t on the screen.
Anyway, it’d probably be a good idea at this stage to talk about the actual film. Though it takes place in San Francisco, it was shot in Vancouver, and though it was filmed in ’96, it’s set on New Year’s Eve 1999. Right off the bat this presents a minor problem, simply because the planet went Y2K-crazy that New Year’s. The folks who made this movie did not have a time machine of their own, so they didn’t foresee the Y2K hysteria, and that’s something of a shame because it could’ve worked beautifully in this story. The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) is transporting the remains of the Master back to Gallifrey after his arch-nemesis was put on trial for his crimes by the Daleks and they exterminated him. It’s a fairly absurd piece of exposition, especially since the Daleks aren’t well known for their legal system, but it gets the story going, so whatever. As the Doctor kicks back in the TARDIS drinking tea and reading H.G. Wells, something goes wrong with the machine, and the Master’s remains, in a kind of ooze-like form, escape from their urn and infect the console, forcing the machine to make an emergency landing in San Fran.
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