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Tuesday, 13 July 2004 - Reviewed by Gilmore Williams

Now I’m going to be controversial with this one, as many will know that this is one of my favourites.

The TVM is Doctor Who with the budget it deserves, and in fact a lot more. Even the new TV series will not have a budget to match this. The effects, even though nearly eight years old, stand up to scrutiny today. The plot does make sense of a kind but the story is fast paced and does not allow you to think to carefully about the flaws. I always just allow the film to carry me through in great fun.

The Movie begins with the voice over provided by Paul McGann that sets the scene for the 7th Doctor to be carrying the Master’s remains. Full marks must be given to Philip Segal for using the Doctor Who theme, it’s very effective, and the roaring build up to the title appearing gives me shivers even now. Sylvester McCoy puts in a fine performance in the little he is given to do. The scene in the TARDIS is wonderfully relaxed and has a nice atmosphere to it. The TARDIS interior is incredible, the console stretching into the ceiling is far more effective, if anything it’s perhaps a little too large, and there is a slight lack of scale involved. The Master has now formed into a jelly like mass that later becomes more reptilian, this too is effective though not explained.

As we know the Doctor is shot and taken to the hospital where he is rushed into treatment. On the way in the ambulance we are treated to Chang Lee filling out the Doctor’s name as “John Smith”. Another of Philip Segal’s nods to the past, in many ways he has got a little carried away with this, the bowl of jelly babies in the TARDIS, and the over emphasis placed on the Doctor’s reading of The Time Machine. None of this detracts from the film but could have been more subtle I think. The Doctor goes in for treatment to have the bullets removed and X-rays taken showing his hearts, a nice piece of continuity. Grace is called and it is her putting a probe into the Doctor’s body that eventually kills him. I have never really cared for the scene in the operating theatre as I find it rather graphic and just a little distressing, and the story could do with it being reduced in content. The Doctor eventually is taken to the morgue where he is later to regenerate. This is where the direction of this story is done so well, the Master’s evil possession of a human body is mixed with the regeneration of the Doctor. Also the inter-cut scenes of the Doctor awaking and Frankenstein coming to life are well done and a good touch to the story. At last – Paul McGann is the Doctor! Some would say that the film should have started with him, in many ways it was good to see the seventh Doctor out, in retrospect I’m not sure the future of the series under fox would have been different in either case. 

And the film really does become worth watching for Paul McGann’s first and apparently only time out as the Doctor. He puts in an excellent performance slipping easily into the role and establishing his own character in the short screen time available. Everything is right about this Doctor, the personality, the looks, the costume, all works so well together. Initially the Doctor wanders the hospital in a daze although I have never understood where he is, it appears to be an abandoned part of the hospital – I wish we had beds lying around like that in the NHS!

The story picks up again the next day, the Doctor searches through lockers at one point pulling out a scarf – another of Segal’s moments. This scene is also effectively combined with the less innocent searching of the Doctor’s stolen possessions by Chang Lee, who gains access to the TARDIS. The Doctor meanwhile settles upon his clothing and goes to the hospital where he meets Grace and eventually goes to her house. The scenes in the house are McGann’s best, his Doctor at rest and his interaction with Grace help define his character in the time available. The joy of life shown by the Doctor in the outdoor scenes is too very well done and then there is the kiss. Actually done very well, this slots well into the film and does not interrupt the flow, as Doctor Who goes this should really feel like it cuts across the gain, and yet it doesn’t. McGann’s Doctor carries it off well and it is very chaste and acceptable. The Doctor is now half human, and again, I find this acceptable even though I had always been under the impression that unless told otherwise, he was fully alien. But the calm of the story starts to fall away and the action theme starts to settle in. There is the memorable glass scene which I can never forget because as an eleven year old it was so effective. The “By midnight tonight this planet will be pulled inside out” line is delivered perfectly and with excellent gravitas.

When the Doctor and Grace are trying to escape the Master and Lee there is the confrontation with the policeman. At this moment the Doctor manages to get the gun off him but unlike so many American heroes he threatens to turn the gun upon himself. One can only thank that this was done, as the Doctor threatening someone innocent with a gun would have been a far greater transgression than the kiss. The motor bike sequence is completely unnecessary but is still fun but this rather makes the film into action, which Doctor Who is not really about in that way. In the Institute forTechnological and Advanced Research (How many times have I seen this film?) we get more of the friendly banter between Grace and the Doctor as they fit into the crowd while trying to steal the chip. At his point was another new development for the Doctor, the ability for him to be able to sense someone’s future, the point of this is unclear and just seems to be there to make the Doctor appear more alien.

The last part of the film takes place in the TARDIS. At this point I mention the Master and Chang Lee. Eric Roberts plays the Master, and he is given the opportunity to play the Master his way. This Master is not another Delgado clone, and really that seems a more realistic idea, I like the Roberts’ Master but he should have lost the coat because the Terminator idea falls in too much with the motorbike chase making it appear like a copy. The dialogue for the Master is very over the top and the delivery of the lines clearly shows that Roberts was having far too much fun doing the part. This new Master seems to relish death and generally having rather a lot of fun making his way through the film. I don’t mind this, but I can see why others dislike it. The character of Chang Lee never really leaves much impression as an individual and seems to follow along with the Master until the ending. At no point is he even bothered by his friends getting killed at the beginning of the film which is more than a little odd.

The final scenes set in the TARDIS are effective as the Master attempts to take the Doctor’s lives (somehow…) and the final battle between him and the Doctor over the eye of harmony are very well done. The Doctor does offer the Master his hand, not much but it is inkeeping with his character. The only part of this film that I have never really managed to swallow is the idea of the TARDIS bringing Lee and Grace back to life. The film would be better served by them not actually dying but only being stunned as they were in the novelisation. At the end of the film Lee leaves and the Doctor kisses Grace goodbye, gratuitous maybe but it is a warmer and more realistic departing of two characters than in many other Doctor Who stories. And then it’s all over, too soon the eighth Doctor comes to an end, we would have to wait years before audios were to appear, books were written but never the same as being on TV. The movie was more than most could expect, it actually feeds into continuity unlike more other proposals, and it did keep the flame alight, as Segal put it, for that night, because without it we would probably never have seen the merchandise we see now, the books, CDs and probably not even the new series. And as a last note, the thump on the console to get the TARDIS to start - that counts for a lot, this isn’t the perfect starship enterprise, it’s Doctor Who!