“Doctor Who”, “The TV Movie”, “The Enemy Within”, whatever you want to call it, “the Movie” featuring the Seventh Doctor regenerating into the Eighth is a… interesting and unique look at the franchise at a time it was all but dead. I actually quite like it, but then I’m a big fan of Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor audio dramas, so it’s just nice to see him visually in the role. As this features the Seventh Doctor so much I couldn’t skip it for the Regeneration Marathon, which means I’ll have to come up with something else for the Eighth Doctor next year when I do a “first stories” marathon… ANYWAY, with all that being said, let’s take a look at the TV Movie…
The Doctor is charged with transporting the remains of his old nemesis the Master back to their home planet, but 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 stop the Master, but after being shot down by members of a street gang, can he focus on his foe while also dealing with a case of post-regeneration amnesia?
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters:
It’s Paul McGann as The Doctor… visually! It’s so rare that the next review covers the rest of his total on-screen time…
The Doctor (Paul McGann) – The Eighth incarnation of the Doctor, freshly regenerated and lacking any memory of his past self… but that’s okay, he still remembers how to have fun!
The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) – The Seventh Doctor has lived a long life, full of actions that his predecessors and immediate successor wouldn’t have the stomach to do. With that comes ego and pride, and you know what comes after pride…
Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook) – Grace is a surgeon in San Francisco, minding her own business and looking towards the new millennium… until her world comes crashing down around her…
The Master (Eric Roberts) – The Master has learned some new tricks since he was last seen, including the ability to transform into some sort of… lizardy snake thing and possess people… Good for him. He now seeks more regenerations, so I guess the snake possession has its limits, or he just doesn’t want to walk around in human bodies forever. Either way!
Chang Lee (Yee Jee Tso) – A young gang member in San Francisco. His future doesn’t look bright, anyway you slice it, unless a time travelling blue box materialises and saves him… Yeah right!
It’s still weird that they rebooted Doctor Who but kept the previous Doctor in the opening quarter… (lucky though!)
The best thing about “The Movie” is Paul McGann. You can (often rightly) criticise the film in many ways, but you can’t say they didn’t cast the right guy in the lead. He’s so likable, ignoring his possibly over-acting at the very start, he soon became energetic, silly, serious and “dashing” across the story. I’m not sure about the spoiling people’s futures thing he does (let’s call that a post-regeneration after effect, given he never does it again in any medium…) or the brief return of jellybabies, but overall a really great, enjoyable performance.
Eric Roberts goes full-on, Emperor Palpatine-levels of cheesy super-evilness, and I find it hard to fault him on that, because it’s hilarious. I don’t know if that was the idea, but it is, so there. Extra points to the scene in the ambulance where The Master corrects Grace’s grammar, despite everything else that’s going on at the time.
Say what you want about his “death”, but Sylvester McCoy does still put in a good performance here, for what little time he has. I retroactively don’t mind his less than stellar death, as in the expanded media such as the audios and especially the books, the Seventh Doctor becomes more and more “Godlike” and willing to tackle big, universe-ending threats and doesn’t really treat his companions well during all this. He ends up travelling alone at the end, then, after fighting Gods and Demons, gets accidentally shot in an alleyway by some thugs. It’s the last death this incarnation would want, and I think it’s a suitable punishment for a Doctor who went closer to edge than any before him. His fear when on the operating table is a sad final scene for him, he knows his time is up, and he probably wishes he had more time to do things, as most of us do, in the end…
Although there are some parts of the plot that aren’t great, the general idea of The Master wanting to take The Doctor’s remaining lives isn’t so bad, and the setting of the turn of the millennium is a good one, especially given Doctor Who wouldn’t air during that time period, so at least we got a significant story taking place at such a significant time. The elephant in the room is the whole “Half human, on my mother’s side” thing, which I never minded, to be honest. We see Andred marry Leela and the two settle on Gallifrey, so I don’t see why The Doctor’s dad couldn’t have fell in love with a human and brought her back to the Time Lord homeworld. The Doctor could still be born on the planet and raised to be a full Time Lord, no different from any other, and is therefore still the mysterious alien visiting Earth and other places. All it really does is give a reason why The Doctor is so interested in our planet, he has an interest because he found out his mother was from there. Why not? Oh well, it’s definitely no longer a thing now, so there you go!
Grace Holloway is somewhere in the middle for me. She’s fine as the clueless (to time and space stuff) assistant who ends up helping The Doctor at the end, and her and The Doctor’s kiss is still a big moment for the show, whether you like it or not (I certainly see it as a kiss of excitement rather than romance, that doesn’t come until a couple of incarnations from now…) The thing is, I can’t really remember a scene where she stood out, so… As I said, this should be in a “middle” section, if there were on in this review template (but it doesn’t happen very often, so there isn’t one!)
Oh he’s bad alright…
First thing’s first, the general look and feel of the “Movie” is very cheap 90s American TV show (that was filmed in Canada, but you know what I mean)… probably because that’s exactly what it is! It feels odd, and somewhat nostalgic to me, but still odd. It feels nothing like the series that came before it, and nothing like the series that comes after it, it’s very much a unique bridge connecting the two halves of the show’s 50+ year history, just a very cheap and wonky bridge.
There is also quite a bit of dodgy American (probably Canadian as well) acting, including Yee Jee Tso’s Chang Lee… and well, Eric Roberts as well to be fair, but at least his is so bad it’s good, in my eyes! Yeah, a lot of the extras and brief characters just aren’t very good.
While I mentioned not having a problem with the half-human thing, I did and still do have a problem with the entire Eye of Harmony being inside The Doctor’s TARDIS, but there you go. I guess it’s lucky it is otherwise the Doctor would have been screwed once Gallifrey vanished in the Time War!
I know they had to keep it book-ended so it could stand alone if it didn’t get picked up as a series (which it sadly didn’t), but the ending still feels weird that neither human wanted to travel the stars with him, Grace especially. I mean, I guess it should probably happen more often than we see it, but still! A small thing, but I thought I’d mention it…
Lightning, weird face contortions, Frankenstein references… it’s an odd regeneration scene, that’s for sure!
Beyond the regeneration, a lot of the continuity from this film is all about retroactively making it fit in. The strange green snake thing The Master uses is later named a “Deathworm Morphant” and it ends up causing trouble for other humans and mutating in the Eighth Doctor comic story “The Fallen”. The Sixth Doctor audio story “The Apocalypse Element” sneaks in a few references to Gallifrey and Eye of Harmony artefacts being opened by an iris scan, and makes it out to be a pretty common thing. Although plenty of post-2005 stories have made jabs at the idea that The Doctor is anything other than 100% Gallifreyean, there has yet to have been an actual explanation as to how or why The Doctor would be or claim to be half-human at this time…
Grace never became a full-time companion, but did reappear in the Eighth Doctor comic mentioned above, “The Fallen”, as well as comic anthology / 50th Anniversary celebration “The Prisoners of Time”.
Now you’d think I’d be giving this a really high mark given how much more is written in the “Good” column, but what is written in the bad is the mood, effects and acting, which is pretty significant. Still, Paul McGann raises the bar quite a bit, and I can find enjoyment in some of the cheesier elements. It’s not that bad! … it’s just not that great either… (for the record, I have no doubt I’ll watch it again, down the line…)