Although it seems hard to believe, we have reached the half way point in our countdown. And, as was bound to happen at some point, our first story conflict.
My number 25 is actually The Tomb of the Cybermen. But as this story has already been reviewed, I have to drop down my personal list and review my number 24. And you know what? I’m really pleased that this happened because it means I get to review a story that is much maligned and grossly underrated. A story that showed us what Doctor Who could look like if a bit of money were spent on it. A story that foreshadowed many of the ideas that a certain Russell T Davies would bring to the show nine years later. I am, of course, referring to Doctor Who The TV Movie (sorry but I refuse to call it The Enemy Within. A fan made title that doesn’t even seem to fit with what goes on in the story!)
So it’s 1996 and after seven long years of speculation and hope about the future of the show, Doctor Who was back. And this time, it was suddenly very different.
A joint Anglo/US/Canadian production, we were given a brand new Doctor in the shape of Paul McGann, a plucky American companion called Grace, a TARDIS that was bigger and more grand than anything we’d ever seen before and it was set not in a dusty quarry in Dorset, but Vancouver (doubling for San Francisco). I remember being incredibly excited before the movie was aired. My favourite show was back! But I also remember being a little worried. The Americans making Doctor Who? What would we get?
Honestly? A whole host of things to love.
Firstly, what we got was a Doctor Who story that looked amazing! To this day, the TARDIS interior has never looked as good. Gothic and imposing, here was a TARDIS that for the first time really felt bigger on the inside. And it had a wonderful steampunk console that was a deliberate nod to H.G. Wells “The Time Machine” (which incidentally, the Seventh Doctor is seen reading)
And yes, we got the Seventh Doctor back! What a complete joy to see Sylvester McCoy reprising his role. He’s only in for all too short a time, but he slips back into the part with ease and it’s just wonderful to see him again. And it was great to see that this wasn’t a reboot or a re-imagining. This was a direct continuation of what went before. Fan heaven! (But probably hugely confusing for new viewers, but more on that later). We get a new companion in the shape of Grace Holloway. Intelligent and resourceful, she compliments the new Doctor perfectly and is very much in the same mold as the companions we started to see in the post 2005 show.
And then of course, we get the Eighth Doctor. Paul McGann is only on screen for something like 50 minutes but he is a delight. The Eighth Doctor has his Third incarnation’s penchant for action, coupled with a wonderful childlike exuberance. The scene outside Grace’s house, where the Doctor is talking about Gallifrey and his mother and then suddenly changes the subject and says “These shoes! They fit perfectly!”, is one of my all-time favourites in the show ever. Paul McGann is electric in the role. He goes from charming to humorous to eccentric to deadly serious, all with perfect ease. In the short time he has available, he absolutely becomes the Eighth Doctor and you utterly believe he is the same Time Lord you already know and love. It is such a pity that we never saw more of his Doctor as I honestly feel that he would have become one of the all-time great Doctors (His audio adventures with Big Finish are fantastic and really show the depth that McGann would have brought to the role on TV)
Now, of course, there are many things that cause this story to be maligned. Like the fact that the story really makes little sense and rewrites some fundamental pieces of Doctor Who lore. The Eye of Harmony is now inside the TARDIS, for instance. (Although, having watch Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS recently, this re-invention seems to have stuck!)
And of course, this new Doctor is half human? Really? I remember shivering with disgust when I heard this for the first time. Oh God! The Americans have done a Star Trek on the Doctor. NO! He’s an alien and doesn’t need to be half human so we can “relate” to him. Of course, us fans have either chosen to forget this fact or come up with reasons that the Eighth Doctor might say this (Rule 1: The Doctor lies) for instance, but either way, this was a biggie when it comes to so-called canon.
And then there’s the Master, as portrayed by Eric Roberts. Now it’s not his fault, but he seems woefully miscast and if you thought that Anthony Ainley turned the Master into a pantomime villain, Roberts takes it to a whole new level! To be honest, this story needed a good monster, not the Master, with bizarre new powers and a penchant for overacting.
And there are other things like the “chipmunk” Daleks, but you know what? None of this compares to the fact that we got the return of the Seventh Doctor, a TARDIS that was truly spectacular and a new Doctor who was a pure delight.
The TV Movie showed us what Doctor Who could look like for the modern audience. However, although it worked for existing fans, new viewers didn’t relate to it and it didn’t lead to a new series. Who knows where it would have gone had it done so and it was a shame that we didn’t see more of McGann as the Doctor. But actually, if that had happened, we would never have had the delights of Eccleston, Tennant or Smith to look forward to, would we?
The TV Movie represented a brave new path for the show, something that is very topical given that I write this a day after hearing that Matt Smith is to leave the series (Don’t go, Matt! It’s too soon. We’ve barely got to know Eleven yet!)
And somehow, although we barely got to know the Doctor’s Eighth incarnation, he made his mark and I really hope that we see him return for one last outing in the 50th Anniversary Special. — Steve
Forging ahead, the Countdown moves to #24 next week.