Friday 23 November 2012

702 Doctor Who - The Movie

EPISODE: Doctor Who - The Movie
TRANSMITTED: Monday 27 May 1996
WRITER: Matthew Jacobs
DIRECTOR: Geoffrey Sax
PRODUCER: Peter V. Ware
EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: Philip Segal, Alex Beaton & Jo Wright (for the BBC)
RATINGS: 9.08 million viewers
FORMAT: DVD: Doctor Who: Revisitations Box Set - Volume 1 (The Caves Of Androzani / The Talons Of Weng-Chiang / Doctor Who - The Movie)

The Doctor is summoned to Skaro to collect the Master's remains after the Daleks try & Execute him. The container holding the remains cracks and slime oozes out as the Tardis malfunctions and is set on course for Earth. The Tardis materialises in San Francisco on 30th December 1999 and is immediately shot down by a gang. He is rushed to hospital, while the Master takes over the body of an ambulance driver, where the efforts of surgeon Grace Holloway to save his life cause him to regenerate. The Doctor is initially bewildered but slowly gains his memory. The Master gains access to the Tardis and enlists the services of Chang Lee, a teenager who stole the Doctor's belongings to help him obtain the Doctor's body. Chang Lee gives the Master access to the Eye of Harmony that powers the Tardis which allows the Master to deduce the Doctor is half human. They come for the Doctor at Grace's house and take him to the research institute which is using a new atomic clock. They realise the ambulance driver is the Master and escape in a traffic jam, borrowing a police motorcycle to get to the institute, The Doctor steals a piece of the clock and they flee the scene returning to the Tardis where the Master is waiting for them. Doctor uses clock piece to repair Tardis. He needs to travel back in time to stop the Eye of Harmony being opened but finds the Tardis power drained. While trying to jump start the Tardis Grace is possessed by the Master and attacks the Doctor. Chang Lee starts to believe the Doctor so the Master kills him and uses Grace to open the eye so he can seize the Doctor's body, but causing chaos throughout the world as the eye's energies are unleashed. Grace activates the Tardis console, aborting the transfer of the Master into the Doctor's body, but Grace is killed by the Master before he is sucked into the eye. The Doctor takes the Tardis back in time bringing Grace and Chang Lee back to life before returning them to Earth and leaving to continue his travels through the universe.

Things that are good about the Movie: Sylvester McCoy. The Tardis set. Paul McGann. And I've got reservations about two of these. McGann is fab in this but he doesn't appear on screen until 20 minutes in and when he does he's playing the usual bemused/disorientated post regenerative Doctor. Yes it's great to see McCoy again but his stint at the start as the Seventh Doctor eats into his successors screen time. The new Tardis set, owing a debt to the Masque of Mandragora secondary control room and "Jules Verne" designs.

There's some interesting use of imagery throughout: eyes keep cropping up from the Master's (still Cheetah Planet affected?) eyes at the start through to the eyes giving away to Ambulanceman Bruce's wife that all is not well with the husband, to needing a retina scan to open the Eye of Harmony, the Eye of Harmony itself being shaped like an eye and the Doctor's eyes being forced open as the Master attempts to take his body. Then as the Doctor regenerates we get Frankenstein playing in the background as the Monster comes to life/Doctor comes back to life followed by some biblical Christ like images of the Doctor walking from the Morgue wrapped in a shroud which is continued later with the "crown of thorns" in the attempted possession by the Master sequence mentioned above.

Reaches for the hatchet.....

Right the Master's on trial by the Daleks and has requested the Doctor is going to collect his remains after his execution? Hmmm. Now I could maybe get the Daleks being a bit miffed with the Master over the failure of the Frontier in Space/Planet of the Daleks invasion but any Dalek action in retaliation against that would have begun & ended with the word "EXTERMINATE!". And if the Daleks are putting anyone on trial it's Davros we want to see post Revelation of the Daleks. Even if we allow them the conceit that they might put the Master on Trial surely the first thing they're going to do when he shows up is Exterminate him good and proper. We'll let the trial taking place on Skaro, destroyed in Remembrance of the Daleks, pass because it could quite easily have happened prior to the planet's destruction. I suspect the answer actually is that this is a huge trap for the Doctor set by both the Master & the Daleks, who've given the Master the ability to turn into this slime monster thing that can take over other people's bodies - cos he certainly wasn't able to do that before. yes, he could take over other people's bodies, there's form there in Keeper of Traken, but the slime monster thing? That's there because someone in special effects has gone "we can do this really cool moving liquid thing just like they did in Terminator 2" and someone else has gone "woooo, yeah, that'll be really cool!" and we've all gone "You've just ripped off Terminator 2".

That's not the only Terminator 2: Judgment Day rip off in the film either: the chase with the ambulance and the police motorcycle owes a lot to that film.... far more than it does to Doctor Who, Ambassadors of Death & Planet of the Spiders not withstanding.

The Doctor is half human now..... do you know what, out of all the things the Movie did I can probably cope with this the most. Yes it goes against all the ideas presented in the New Adventures that Time Lords are "loomed" (don't ask) rather than born, which rules out the possibility of the Doctor having a human mother. But it does neatly explain his fondness for Earth. The kiss between him and Grace is more of a shock as the Doctor has taken very little interest in affairs of the hearts before. But I suppose he might suddenly.....

The Eye of Harmony: OK when we last saw the Eye of Harmony it was located on Galifrey as the source of the Time Lord's power but yeah I can go with each Tardis having one, tapping into that power. It was a little less literal in the eye department the last time we saw it though. And needing a human to open it? That's not going to prove useful in most Time Lord Tardises is it?

Then there's the ending. Oh dear. Right from the very start the Doctor has been you don't go back and reverse events that have already happened. In Earthshock he doesn't go back to save Adric. And yet here time gets wound back to bring Grace & Chang Lee back to life.... It's not as if the Doctor goes back in time to make it happen either, the Tardis going back in time a bit seems to do it which is just mad.... Time flows normally inside the Tardis no matter what direction it's travelling. Any situation where we see something that has already happened on screen undone sits very *VERY* badly with. "And with a click of their fingers it never happened". Doctor Who has one previous example of changing what has already happened: Day of the Daleks. But in that instance the Doctors actions, in preventing the Dalek invaded world from coming to pass, are undoing interference with Time the Daleks have already committed.

I think in many ways the Movie serves as a lesson on how *NOT* to bring back Doctor Who. McCoy's twenty minutes at the start are a fan pleaser but they don't help to establish the new Doctor as a character at all, quite the reverse in fact by eating into his screentime. Then a considerable proportion of the rest of the film is taken up by the bemused post regenerative Doctor. Contrast this, when we get to it, with how Russell T Davies did things in Rose.

Cast: Being an American production you wouldn't expect the cast to have any prior or future links to the program. Sylvester McCoy obviously served as the Seventh Doctor, though according to the information text on Doctor Who - The Movie Revisitations DVD the BBC had been keen for the past Doctor part to have been taken by Tom Baker. This, along with Tom's proposed prominent part in Dark Dimension does tend to show the BBC's lack of faith in the incumbent Doctor. Replacing him is Paul McGann, famed for his appearance in Withnail and I. He has several brothers, all of whom are in the acting profession. Grace Holloway is played by Daphne Ashbrook an actress with a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine credit to her name as the title character in the season 2 episode Melora. The Master/Bruce the Ambulance Driver is played by Eric Roberts, the brother of film actress Julia Roberts. His wife Eliza Roberts plays his on screen wife Miranda.

Location filming for this story, and the studio recording, took place in Vancouver, Canada, which is rather flatter than the San Francisco setting for the story. At that time Vancouver was a popular area for TV series to be filmed in with genre series The X-Files being filmed there.

The Movie was the brainchild of executive producer Philip Segal who'd carried it with him through employment with several TV organisations including Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, hence the origin of the "Steven Spielberg does Doctor Who Movie" rumours. Indeed American interest in the series may have played a part in the initial 1989 cancellation and certainly helped to spike the proposed Dark Dimension 30th anniversary story. Both Director Geoffrey Sax and Writer Matthew Jacobs was English: Jacobs had even visited the Doctor Who studios when his father Anthony Jacobs appeared as Doc. Holliday in The Gunfighters.

Although well received in the UK, the movie didn't do so well in the US and didn't lead, as hoped, to a series being developed. As I said at the top I like the two actors playing the Doctor and I like the Tardis set but much of the rest of I'm not that fond of. However I've heard about some of the proposals for doing Doctor Who for a US audience and what we got is far, far better than some of them believe me. And if you don't check out the documentary on Doctor Who - The Movie Revisitations DVD which lays out in full the story behind this production. I think for me personally it marks a point in the years following Survival where Doctor Who passed from "It could come back" to "that's it, we're done with TV Doctor Who". It turned out I was a little bit wrong....

Doctor Who - The Movie was novelised for BBC Books by Gary Russell, former The Famous Five actor (he was Dick Kirrin) and Doctor Who magazine editor (1992-1995). The Video release of this story, (20th May 1996 iirc - the Internet is vague, but I can recall buying a copy on my first day working for Bacon & Woodrow It wasn't, it was 22nd May two days later, with thanks to m'learned colleagues and Doctor Who Toybox), caused some controversy: In February, three months before, all existing Doctor Who videos were withdrawn from sale. At that point Hand of Fear, released 05/02/1996, had only been on sale for two weeks making this a hard to find item. The video contained more footage of Sylvester McCoy being shot than was show on UK television. The video, by nature of it's early release, is also missing the caption shown before the UK broadcast dedicating it to Jon Pertwee who died May 20th 1996.

The first DVD release of this story occurred in the UK on 13 August 2001 with a commentary track by director Geoffrey Sax. A clash of dvd distribution rights between the BBC and Universal, who produced the story in the USA, prevented it's release there. Doctor Who - Revisitations was released in the UK on 4th October 2010, adding new special features and a Sylvester McCoy/Paul McGann commentary to the restored film and releasing it with new versions of The Talons Of Weng-Chiang & The Caves Of Androzani. A US DVD release of the Movie finally followed on 8th February 2011.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Interregnum 1: Adventures & Dimensions

In many ways the early 1990s was a great time to be a science fiction fan@ Star Trek: The Next Generation ruled supreme in the USA and eventually, three years after it started, came to the BBC. TNG begat a number of sequels (DS9, Voyager, Enterprise) but it's also the catalyst for the televised science fiction boom: Babylon 5, Stargate, X-Files, Sliders, Space: Above and Beyond..... during the 90s everyone got in the act. Really the only thing missing was Doctor Who.

Not that the early 1990s wasn't a good time to be a Doctor Who fan! The videos swung into a regular pattern of two every other month and were *finally* in episodic format and moved away from the Pertwee/Baker stories they concentrated on. Target continued to novelise books and when they ran out of TV stories they, under new owner Virgin Books, followed the successful Star Trek book line from Pocket Books (and reprinted by Titan in the UK) and started producing original fiction for the Seventh Doctor continuing the series in New Adventures from June 1991 and later with the Virgin Missing Adventures from 1994. The New Adventures started out in trusted and well known hands with John Peel, lauded for his recent adaptations of Hartnell Dalek stories, writing the opening book. The second was written by Terrance Dicks and you can't get a book more authentically Doctor Who than writing "by Terrance Dicks" on the cover. Incidentally his book, Exodus, is probably the closest to the TV version and the easiest to turn into a television production. Former Target editor Nigel Robinson produced the third book, Ghost Light script writer Marc Platt the fifth and script editor Andrew Cartmel the sixth with Ben Aaronovitch contributing later. But new names started creeping in as well, and they're names you might recognise too: Paul Cornell wrote the fourth book, Revelation, and became the first person to be repeat commissioned on the range. Mark Gatiss wrote the eighth book, Nightshade, with references back to the Quatermass series. Gareth Roberts writes the 11th book, The Highest Science, and later found his niche on the Missing Adventures line writing season 17 Tom Baker stories. Gary Russell & Matt Jones both provide later books as does one Russell T Davies already gathering a following for his cult children's series Dark Season (1991) and Century Falls (1993). All these names will reappear later..... And while we're on the subject of Children's television it's worth mentioning that on ITV a series called Press Gang was airing, also gathering decent reviews, by a young writer called Steven Moffat....

By that point we'd had a repeat season which started in January 1992 featuring The Time Meddler, The Mind Robber & The Sea Devils. In February of that year Tomb of the Cybermen was found in Hong Kong and returned to the archives while towards the end The Restoration Team showed off the first of many pieces of technological insanity to marry colour from an off air US NTSC video to sharp b&w film picture to produce a colour version of the Daemons which was repeated followed by Genesis of the Daleks, Caves of Androzani, Revelation of the Daleks & Battlefield, concluding in May 1993.

Rumours were then flying around about a planned 30th Anniversary special: It would reunite all the surviving Doctors in a script written by Adrian Rigelsford, a fan turned writer who at the time was producing reference works which are now viewed as somewhat dodgy due to the providence of interview material used, and under the trusted eye of director Graeme Harper. However this project was cancelled on orders from on high (for reasons which wouldn't become clear until much later). It's a shame because they were planning to film at Royal Holloway College, University of London while I was there doing my degree.

What we got instead was a documentary, Thirty Years in The Tardis, aired on 23rd November that year covering the show's history directed by fan Kevin Davies. Davis had worked on the animation sequences in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, produced the game graphics end title sequence for Terrahawks and produced the much lauded Don't Panic documentary on Hitch Hikers. Here he married interviews with specially shot footage recreating key scenes from the show's history. An extended version would be released in 1994 on video as Doctor Who - 30 Years in the Tardis which is due to get a DVD release shortly alongside Shada and many assorted oddments that couldn't be included on previous DVDs.

But what you won't see on Video or DVD is Dimensions in Time, a two part special made for Children in need uniting the casts of Doctor Who and EastEnders. Returning from Doctor Who are Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor, Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor, Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor, Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor & Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor with (deep breath) Sophie Aldred as Ace, Carole Ann Ford as Susan Foreman, Deborah Watling as Victoria Waterfield, Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Richard Franklin as Mike Yates, Caroline John as Liz Shaw, Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, Louise Jameson as Leela, John Leeson as K-9, Lalla Ward as Romana, Sarah Sutton as Nyssa, Nicola Bryant as Peri Brown, Bonnie Langford as Mel Bush and Kate O'Mara as Rani. For all bar McCoy, Courtney, Sladen & Leeson it would be their last appearance as these characters.

The show was filmed using a new 3d process relying on motion that would be invisible for those watching without glasses but give added effects for those who had them hence some of the odder effects like the heads of the first two Doctors flying round the room.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately depending on your point of view: I take the latter) the contracts for the actors for this show stipulated that this was a production for charity and as such was not for commercial release so it has never been released on Video and will never be released on DVD. Even more fortunately my video copy has gone missing! Sadly YouTube came to my rescue. I watch this so you don't have to....

..... and that was excruciatingly bad. Blipvert scenes cut together so rapidly you haven't a hope of telling what was going on if the plot made any sense whatsoever. Dire.

And what's worse is that the vote, for which Eastenders character would help the Doctor, went the wrong way. It obviously should have been Big Ron, instead of Mandy, because the actor that played him had been an extra in Destiny of the Daleks. One of the other then current members of the Eastenders Cast with Who form, Mike Reid (The War Machines) gets a brief moment on screen and the experience obviously didn't put Louise Jameson off the soap because she joined the cast a few years later.

To think we got this (mercifully) brief rubbish instead of a new feature length Doctor Who episode!

And then the rumours about an American TV Series remake/pilot movie started rumbling loaded and louder.....