Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Sci-Fi DOCTOR WHO (1996 TV FILM)


“He’s back–and it’s about time”–probably truer words never came out of FOX’s publicity department. Seven years after the BBC canceled their seemingly indestructable series, it arose with a youthful Doctor and a fresh American setting. While failing as a tv pilot, it still is a blast to watch and leaves you wanting more of the Doctor’s 8th incarnation.

“Doctor Who” begins with the execution of his arch enemy The Master by The Daleks on their home-world of Skaro. But The Master isn’t about to let a little thing like death get in his way, he requests The Doctor to steal his remains and return them to their mutual home-world. Faster than you can say “Gallifrey”, The Master has disabled his benefactor’s ship and causing it to crash in San Francisco of 1999. While his enemy escapes, The Doctor is accidentally shot; he regenerates into a new body but has no memory of his identity or past life. The Master is busying himself with his own evil plans; he plots to steal The Doctor’s remaining lives, with the destruction of the universe in the process.

Director Geoffery Sax nicely handles the passing of the torch from the 7th to 8th Doctor, ensuring the film stays in the all important continuity to keep fans satisfied. Sax and writer Matthew Jacobs also have done an excellent job in crafting a “Doctor Who” film for an audience who probably isn’t familiar with the series, making it entertainment as well as a painless primer. Giving The Doctor amnesia is also a nice plot device, it allows the audience to discover who he is as he rediscovers himself. The inclusion of The Master as the villain is another good idea, he is probably the easiest character to introduce to a new audience and his origin ties into The Doctor as well. 

The return of Slyvester McCoy as the 7th Doctor, albeit briefly, is a nifty treat. While he has little to do but essentially be cannon fodder, he stills gives his role a sense of quiet dignity as well as passing the torch to the latest incarnation. Anyone can see why veteran film/stage actor Paul McGann was the producer’s first choice as the lead. He gives his role a much needed shot of youth and vigor, all while keeping the character’s best attributes. Alternately fearless, kind, lighthearted, compassionate and filled with determination, he’s possibly the best actor to play the character in decades. He’s not only heroic, he incredibly likable; a man who’d make you drop your life in an instant to wander through space and time if he only hinted at the possibility. As The Master, Eric Roberts doesn’t fare quite as well–he spends most of the film never seeing a piece of scenery he can’t gnaw on. Roberts gives his character an overly cartoonish take, not someone you’d believe capable of destroying the fabric of reality.

While a well written intro for American audiences, Matthew Jacobs script has one flaw; the setting on the eve of 2000 dates the film. When in 1996, this was significant to the general public–but since the turn of the milenium really wasn’t a huge deal some of the film’s cultural zeitgeist is lost. Since a film like “Doctor Who” will be watched repeatedly by fans for years, pinning the plot on a specific event that turned out to be a bit of a humbug was rather unwise. 

It’s sad the 8th Doctor never progressed past this entry, he’s truly a worthy addition to the “Doctor Who” canon and Paul McGann is one of the best actors to portray the character. Even worse is the disappearance of the film; unless you live in the UK its highly doubtful you’ll ever get the chance to see it. With the massive success of the new “Doctor Who” series, hopefully FOX will jump on the bandwagon and at least give it a dvd release. Its the least they can do, as this film deserves to be seen and not consigned to the ether.        

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