Thursday, 12 May 2016

Doctor Who: Step Back In Time - The 1996 Movie

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, we take a look at the underappreciated Doctor Who TV Movie... and it's about time!

Doctor Who fans have seen fit to split the history of the show into two neat chunks - the classic series and the modern incarnation. Yet where does that leave the TV movie made in the middle, the by-product of a co-attempt from the BBC and US network Fox to revitalise the franchise? As such, the so-called Doctor Who: The Movie often falls by the wayside. This is a shame as, while it is certainly not one of the strongest Whos out there, it really does have a lot going for it.

Chiefly, it lays a lot of the groundwork that the revived series would build on. There is a bigger budget, a companion with her own story arc, an emphasis on the mechanics of time travel... the list goes on. Sure, all these things are not honed quiet as well as they would be later on but The Movie should get the credit for introducing them.

On the other hand, the film struggles to nail its plot. Things are on much surer ground with the street-level crime and hospital drama aspects of the story than the sci-fi scheme, half of which doesn't make any sense while the other half is cribbed from classic Tom Baker story 'The Deadly Assassin.' For what it's worth, it sees the Master (who for some reason is now a snake made out of mucus) attempt to steal the Doctor's lives by using the TARDIS' power source, which will destroy the planet.

Such trifles can be forgiven, though, due to the brilliance of Paul McGann, by far the movies' greatest asset. A dashing, energetic romantic, he effortlessly sits alongside the modern Doctors, sharing their derring-do and deeper emotional complexity. The production tries its best to give him the least amount of time in the role as possible - McCoy is around for twenty minutes, then he is dead for another five, then McGann doesn't know who he is - but when he gets a chance to give his Doctor he is never less than spell-binding. Yes, we have all those hours of audios he has done for Big Finish and that glorious short from the 50th, but it is one of the show's biggest crimes that McGann's tenure as the Doctor is so short. He really deserved a full-length series. 

In contrast to how right McGann is for the part, the movie's biggest mistake is a misunderstanding of what Doctor Who is. It isn't the story of a Time Lord from Gallifrey with two hearts who can regenerate twelve times, as the stupidly-exposition heavy opening narration tells us. It's just about a man with a time machine, and the humans that accompany him. It is this central flaw which probably stopped the movie continuing on as a series, as planned. 

Yet without this noble yet misguided attempt at bringing back Doctor Who, Russell T Davies might not have got it so right with 'Rose' in 2005. So for that, and gifting us the fabulous Paul McGann, we shouldn't forget this standalone adventure in between the two perceived separate blocks of the series. Because the beauty of Doctor Who is that it is all one coherent story, and shouldn't be packaged into neat boxes. Humans - always seeing patterns in things that aren't there. 

The Eighth Doctor - energetic, easy-on-the-eye, but with an identity problem. Much like the movie, as a whole. 

If you liked this, read 8 Reasons Why The TV Movie Is Not As Bad As Its Reputation over at CultBox. 

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