“There was this one day when I was the Doctor…”

Yep, that one day is the movie, Doctor Who, sometimes called other things, but really just called Doctor Who, the only on-screen appearance of the eighth Doctor (at the time this was written–SM, Jan. 7, 2018). It’s somewhat better than I’d been led to believe. It starts quite strong, ends OK, and spends kind of a lot of time wobbling along a tightrope stretched over ‘American-style mid-1990’s action movie’ without a net. It actually falls off the tightrope a couple of time, but manages to climb back onto it and get to the end scarred but unbroken. Unbroken, that is, if you decide that even though a couple of events must have happened because you saw them happen, but you don’t accept the explanations given for why they happened since the Master is a psychopathic monster who will say anything to get to his goal and the Doctor sometimes just says stuff to distract people.

It’s been pointed out, fairly, that this blog, particularly in the Doctor Who posts, is pretty light on details. “Spoiler-free,” it’s been called. This is by design, though not out of any particular concern about spoilers. I just haven’t been interested in plot re-hashes, since there are lots of places to get them. But this time, a bunch of plot stuff is worth going over.

The story starts with a voice-over, describing the essentials of the Doctor Who background, and doing it both succinctly and in a way that gets the story rolling. We get to see the seventh Doctor. This wasn’t necessary, but it does touch the heart of this fan-boy, even if the seventh Doctor isn’t my favorite Doctor. It had been close to ten years since we’d seen the seventh Doctor, so there was no franchise reason to introduce him into the movie. Indeed, there was a powerful reason not to. He was on-screen for about half-an-hour, then he died! Then this new guy showed up, as the same character. Potentially confusing for the broadcast TV viewer. It worked well for the story, but was hardly necessary for an American adaptation, at least from a production point of view.

The characterizations of the two versions of the Doctor were well defined. All the major characters were good, actually. The eighth Doctor was quite good, as he came into himself, not knowing, choosing clothes, developing a personality. The Master was quite evil. The kid was a good evil henchman, and the lady doctor was a good companion.

The plot was… “oh, dear…” even for Doctor Who. It’s enough, really, that the Master escaped death, took over the TARDIS, and died at the end. It’s enough, really, that the Doctor figured things out at the last second, and then didn’t have time to implement the decision, so that he got tied up in a metal bondage gear Iron Maiden. It’s enough, really, that the threat was a high-stakes possibility that the end of the world was at hand, and that the Doctor was going to loose his future regenerations.

On the other side of the scales are a bunch of, “what/how” questions. How did the Master go from a small bucket of Dalek-imposed ashes to a nearly-transparent snake-like tube of goo? Why did it take a human to open the Eye of Harmony? Actually, those are about the only real questions from the story. There were some production choices I question. Glib dialogue, such as “I finally meet the perfect man and he’s from another planet!” while on a motorcycle ride through the rail yards of a San Francisco night. Not merely a strange line, but delivered apropos of nothing, you see.

There was a bunch of action-adventure stuff. Scenes of running around, shooting guns, ambulance-motorcycle chases. Except for the running around. Except not even that, so much. Not really Doctor Who-ey. But I’m glad to have seen it.

All that said, it’s not really necessary to see it now in the way it felt necessary to see when it was released. After all, in 1996, we hadn’t had new on-screen Doctor Who since 1989. Now we’ve have five seasons of really good stuff. This TV movie is good enough, but not the really good stuff. It’s an hour and forty-five minutes or so of good enough, and you can safely skip much of the second half, from, say the point where the Doctor walks through a window without breaking the glass, until, say, the female companion gets POSSESSED BY EVIL, which you can tell because her eyeballs turn black.

I’m glad it got made, however, I’m also glad there wasn’t a Fox-based TV series from it, especially given how the post-2005 series have worked out.

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