The TV Movie

McCoy and McGann

Writer: Matthew Jacobs

Director: Geoffrey Sax

Cast: Paul McGann (Eighth Doctor), Daphne Ashbrook (Grace Holloway), Yee Jee Tso (Chang Lee), Eric Roberts (Bruce/The Master), Sylvester McCoy (Seventh Doctor), John Novak (Salinger), Michael David Simms (Dr. Swift), Catherine Lough (Wheeler), Dolores Drake (Curtis), Will Sasso (Pete), Jeremy Radick (Gareth), Eliza Roberts (Miranda), Gordon Tipple (The Old Master)

Synopsis

Reaching the end of his Seventh incarnation, the Doctor is charged with returning the remains of the Master to Gallifrey.  However, the Master is not dead and causes a timing malfunction in the Doctor’s TARDIS, bringing the action to San Francisco in 1999.  The Seventh Doctor is shot by a street gant and regenerates after his biology confuses his surgeon, Grace Holloway, while the Master takes over another body.  Recruiting Chang Lee to his side, the Master aims to get control over the Doctor’s body by using the Eye of Harmony.  Meanwhile, the new Doctor needs to find a beryllium atomic clock to aid him to stop the Master…

Production

It is perhaps surprising that an American TV company would have wanted to take a chance on Doctor Who in the years post-cancellation in 1989.  However, American TV producer Philip Segal was so keen that he spent a considerable amount of time trying to get the BBC to agree to an American version, finally getting approval in 1994.

The production was held up by various other factors, with the TV movie eventually being picked up by Fox, with the BBC having appointed a producer, Jo Wright, to look after their interests.  Wright would have various input in the project, at one point expressing a preference for Tom Baker to return as the Doctor, and also putting forward the notion that if Sylvester McCoy returned, he should not speak in the episode, as McCoy’s tenure was still firmly associated with the show’s decline in the BBC.  Additionally, the BBC also vetoed the idea of bringing back Ace as the Seventh Doctor’s companion, something Segal was apparently keen on.

Actors who auditioned for the role of the Eighth Doctor included Rowan Atkinson, Paul McGann’s brother, Mark, Tim McInnery, Anthony Head and Liam Cunningham, and Peter Capaldi was invited to audition, but declined as he did not feel that he would get the part.  I’m sure I’ve also heard that Christopher Eccleston was also invited to audition, but also declined.  Paul McGann, best known at the time for his roles in The Monocled Mutineer and Withnail and I was cast as the Doctor, with Sylvester McCoy returning for the transition.  This was apparently due to McCoy wishing to pass over the role properly to his successor.

Despite strong viewing figures in the UK, it struggled in the US, going up against Roseanne.  Fox decided not to take up the option of a series, and so McGann’s run would be limited to just one screen outing.  In 2001, he returned to the part for Big Finish productions, and has continued to play the part to the present day, fleshing out the adventures of the Eighth Doctor.  In 2013, McGann finally got to film his regeneration in the online and red button extra, The Night of the Doctor being released ahead of The Day of the Doctor.

Review

Seen through a modern lens, the TV Movie is actually not as terrible as received fan wisdom would tell us.  Amongst other things, it has a fantastic production value, some great central performances and looks familiar as being Doctor Who to an audience who have been brought up on the modern era of the show.  On the other side, it does have Eric Roberts as the Master, and some fairly big plot holes.  A massive talking point at the time was that the Doctor kissed his companion – something that doesn’t seem so much of a big deal today, as the Doctor has now been seen to have over 20 on-screen kisses, and I believe that the first companion not to kiss the Doctor since McGann is the recently departed Bill Potts.

McGann

On to one of the strongest parts of the episode: Paul McGann as the Doctor.  McGann is a fantastic choice to play the Time Lord, and nothing encapsulates this better than the infamous shoes scene.  He immediately commands any scene he appears in, which makes it understandable why some fans want McGann to return on screen.  Really, the fact that the story gives him short of an hour of screen time is nothing short of baffling – perhaps it was overconfidence that the series would be a success and a series would follow to show the best of the young actor.  I am all in favour of continuity and the fact that Sylvester McCoy returns at the beginning is great, but it does feel with hindsight that it detracts a bit from McGann. I like the ordinary nature of the Seventh Doctor’s death though, as I enjoy the irony of a man who was always a couple of steps ahead of his adversaries being struck down by a stray bullet due to not checking the TARDIS scanner.  The regeneration scene, intercut with scenes from 1931’s Frankenstein, is also fantastic, although the “WHO AM I?!?” scene is a bit over the top.

The Doctor: Wait, I remember! I’m with my father, we’re lying back in the grass, it’s a warm Gallifreyan night…

Grace: Gallifreyan?

The Doctor: Gallifrey.  Yes, this must be where I live.  Now, where is that?

Grace: I’ve never heard of it.  What do you remember?

The Doctor: A meteor storm. The sky above us was dancing with lights.  Purple, green, brilliant yellow. Yes!

Grace: What?

The Doctor: These shoes! They fit perfectly!

The other strength of the episode is the performance of Daphne Ashbrook as Grace.  She is recognisable to a present day audience as more similar to the modern series companions, such as Rose and Martha.  She is a very strong character, and the two main actors have such superb chemistry together that it allows you to overlook some of the story’s deficiencies.

paul mcgann and eric roberts

Speaking of the deficiencies, we come onto Eric Roberts’ performance as the Master.  This is a much-maligned performance in fan circles, when, in reality, the majority of his performance could be seen as quite menacing, especially when compared to John Simm’s performance in The End of Time.  However, the last act, when he is in the Time Lord robes in the Eye of Harmony chamber, he starts chewing the scenery.  There are scenes where he is great though, like when the Master has just taken over Bruce’s body, or when he’s at the hospital asking about what’s happened to the Doctor’s body.  I don’t think the costume he wears for the majority is terrible, but he does just look like a Terminator rip-off. It’ll be intriguing to see what Big Finish do with this incarnation of the Master when he appears in The Diaries of River Song Volume 5.

I always dress for the occasion.

The Master

The biggest issue I have with the TV Movie are the plot holes in the story.  For instance, it bugs me that it is never explained how the Master gets into the TARDIS.  I appreciate that the production was troubled, and the eventual production was extremely rushed – they were supposed to have a 30 day shoot, but this was cut down to 25 days to save money – and there were various scripts floating around.  To be honest, we should be grateful we got the story we did, as earlier drafts involved a more family affair, with the Master and the Doctor revealed to be half-brothers, and the story around Ulysses, the Doctor’s father and Borussa being the Doctor’s grandfather.  Looking at it, the half-human line suddenly doesn’t seem so bad…

Oh, and that TARDIS set is gorgeous.  Absolutely gorgeous.

Verdict: A good fun but flawed romp, recognisable to fans of the modern series.  McGann is the strongest part of the story, and it is a shame not to see more of him on screen. 7/10

Best Quote: The Doctor: I love humans.  Always seeing patterns in things that aren’t there.

Best Moment: Either the shoes scene, or the regeneration sequence.

Time and the Rani

TimeAndRani

Writers: Pip and Jane Baker

Director: Andrew Morgan

Parts: 4

Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Bonnie Langford (Melanie Bush), Kate O’Mara (The Rani), Mark Greenstreet (Ikona), Wanda Ventham (Faroon), Donald Pickering (Beyus), Karen Clegg (Sarn), Richard Gauntlett (Urak), John Segal (Lanisha)

Synopsis

The Rani takes advantage of a post-regenerative Doctor, the Rani hopes to take control of an asteroid composed of Strange Matter.

Behind the Scenes

Time and the Rani was the first story of the McCoy era, and the final Doctor to be appointed by producer John Nathan-Turner.  Following the show’s cancellation then return in the Trial of a Time Lord series, Doctor Who was in trouble.  The high ups at the BBC insisted that a new Doctor was appointed, making Colin Baker the only Doctor in the history of the show to so far be fired.  There was talk of Baker coming back for a regeneration but he wanted to have a final series, in which he would regenerate at the end.  The BBC refused, and so Sylvester McCoy played the Sixth Doctor in the episode’s opening scene.  Baker would finally get his regeneration story courtesy of Big Finish, almost 29 years after he played the role for the last time on television.

John Nathan-Turner’s appointment of the new Doctor would be more difficult as for the first time, the BBC demanded alternatives to the actor he was proposing.  McCoy passed the screen test against two other actors, and would go on to be cast, but Nathan-Turner was fearful that this act by the BBC would see more interference in the new series, however, his fears proved to be unfounded.  The production of Time and the Rani in particular was affected by the lack of a script editor – Eric Saward had left acrimoniously during the production of Trial of a Time Lord.  Andrew Cartmel would eventually be brought in, but unfortunately too late to affect real change to the script.  Cartmel went on to express disappointment that it was a story that didn’t really mean anything.  The script was affected by the uncertainty regarding whether or not Colin Baker would return, and had eleventh-hour changes made to it when it was clear that it would be an introduction for the Seventh Doctor.  This would be Pip and Jane Baker’s last contribution to Doctor Who on television.

The cast was relatively small for this story.  Bonnie Langford would return as Mel, who had been introduced in Terror of the Vervoids, part-way through the previous series.  Amongst the guest cast were Wanda Ventham, who had previously appeared in The Faceless Ones and Image of the Fendahl, while Donald Pickering had also appeared in The Faceless Ones and The Keys of Marinus.

Review

I will start with the positives.  Firstly, this is a strong directorial debut by Andrew Morgan, who would go on to direct Remembrance of the Daleks, which makes the episode look really great.  My favourite aspect of the direction was the bubble traps, which look fantastic.  Secondly, I also like Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor, despite his more comedic side that we see here.  His propensity to misquote proverbs is really nice and we do see glimpses of his darker, more Machiavellian side here. Thirdly, Kate O’Mara really gives a great performance here as the Rani, especially when impersonating Bonnie Langford, which can’t have been easy for her.  I’m not onboard with the story decision behind her doing it, but she at least gives it her all.

I feel the main problem with this episode is the tone.  The BBC were not keen on the violence that had been prevalent during the Davison and Baker eras, but similarly to the transition between Davison and Baker, I feel the production team made the decision to go too far the other way.  As I said above, I like McCoy’s performance as the Doctor, but there are moments when he is just too clownish.  Some of this is down to the scripting, and part of it must be down to McCoy’s background as a light entertainer, but it makes part really lose any dramatic impact and undermine an already weak story.

doctor_who_bonnie_langford_possibly_about_to_break_out_into_song

Speaking of the story, there are parts that seem to be completely dropped, like the ideas of the Rani kidnapping great minds from the past, such as Einstein, Hypatia and Pasteur, which I almost forgotten had happened until the Doctor was also captured to help the Rani’s plot.  As for Mel, I’m not entirely sure what she does in this story except scream – and her scream is really irritating.  The Lakertyans and the Tetraps are also really just forgettable.  I’m also confused as to why the Rani needs to dress up as Mel when she’s injecting the Doctor with amnesia anyway.  Surely all she needs to do is tell the Doctor that they’re both working on the same side, without having to dress up like her, which just leads to confusion with her own allies, the Tetraps.

On a side note, it is nice to get rid of the Sixth Doctor’s outfit quite quickly, however, I do feel that the question mark pullover is a bit over the top.

doctor-who-time-and-the-rani-costume-scene-new-sixth-doctor-sylvester-mccoy-300x234

Verdict: A poor episode saved by some strong direction and largely decent performances from McCoy and O’Mara.  It is let down by a pretty forgettable story though. 3/10

Best Quote: 

The more I get to know me, the less I like me

Seventh Doctor

Best Moment: Just visually, the bubble traps look beautiful and I love the idea of them.

Next time: The TV Movie!

The Twin Dilemma

colin baker

Writer: Anthony Steven

Director: Peter Moffatt

Parts: 4

Starring: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown), Kevin McNally (Hugo Lang), Maurice Denham (Professor Edgeworth/Azmael), Edwin Richfield (Mestor), Gavin Conrad (Romulus), Andrew Conrad (Remus)

Plot Synopsis

The Gastropods have taken over the planet of Jaconda and intend to cause a massive explosion to spread the eggs over the universe.  In order to do this, the leader of the Gastropods, Mestor, kidnaps two Earth child geniuses, Romelus and Remus to work on the equations to allow this to happen, meanwhile, Hugo Lang of Interplanetary Pursuit, is sent off to attempt a rescue.  The Doctor and Peri become involved following a problematic regeneration, and aid Professor Edgeworth, the former leader of Jaconda, who is actually a Time Lord, Azmael, to save the universe.

Behind the Scenes

The Twin Dilemma is widely believed amongst fans to be the worst episode of Doctor Who ever made and has come bottom of Doctor Who Magazine polls in 2003, 2009 and 2014.  Some quarters, including Russell T Davies, regard this episode as the beginning of the end of the show.  Part of this may be due to the fact that it immediately followed Caves of Androzani, which is often held as one of the best stories.  This is also the first debut story to be broadcast partway through a series since The Power of the Daleks in 1966.

The new Doctor, Colin Baker, had previously appeared in Doctor Who as a Gallifreyan soldier, Maxil, in Arc of Infinity, with his character even shooting Peter Davison’s Doctor in this story.  Baker is widely believed to have got the part of the Doctor due to impressing the producer, John Nathan-Turner, at a party where he appeared to be holding court with a group of people.  Nicola Bryant remained as the companion, Peri Brown, following on from her debut in Planet of Fire.  

The story was written by Anthony Steven, who had a long writing career, spanning back to the 1950s.  This was his only episode for Doctor Who, and by all accounts he struggled to conceive and write this episode, leading to script editor Eric Saward having to hastily rewrite and edit the script.  The story was also beset with usual production problems with industrial action affecting studio shooting.

It is now known that John Nathan-Turner was looking to leave the show following the success of his tenure as producer since taking over in 1979, however, the BBC would not allow him to move on.  From this point onwards, he asked every year to be allowed to leave the show, however, on every occasion, this was refused.

Review

I’m going to be honest – I struggle to be critical of Doctor Who.  It is a show that I love and I really struggle to pick flaws in stories.  However, when confronted with an episode like The Twin Dilemma, this goes by the wayside.  It gives me no joy at all that Colin Baker’s debut story is awful.  It is fortunate then that he has been given the chance to redeem his Doctor’s reputation through strong work with Big Finish.

Right, with that out of the way, let’s address the major issue with the episode.  The production team made the decision to make the new Doctor too unlikeable.  The Sixth Doctor is such a stark contrast to his two most recent predecessors, Tom Baker and Peter Davison, and it feels like they decided to go drastically off the rails.  The issues I have with this culminate with the strangling of Peri, which is a step too far considering that the companion is supposed to be the audience surrogate.  For the record, I have no issues with making the Doctor sterner or not as amiable as some other – I like Peter Capaldi’s Doctor in series 8, for instance – but I feel that the production team here got the new Doctor majorly wrong.  There are moments where the Doctor almost seems to be back to what we would regard to be normal, but then he goes and does something like arguing with Peri and storming off in Part 3.  Then we get the famous quote

“I am the Doctor, whether you like it or not.”

This is a direct address to the fanbase and really rubs me up the wrong way – I can only imageine how it felt in 1984.

the twin dilemma

In addition to this, there seem to be poor decision across the board, especially with costumes.  The problems with Colin Baker’s costume are well documented and I won’t go into them here.  But costumes seem to be a major issue with this story, which really detract from the story and make it rather laughable.  The Interplanetary Pursuit uniforms, with their massive stars just look idiotic and impractical, and when Lang is given the opportunity to find a new outfit on Titan III, he manages to choose something worse than the Doctor.  The direction is also standard Peter Moffatt fare – that is to say quite bland and uninteresting.

doctor-who-the-twin-dilemma-review-jacondans-gastropods-aliens-300x175

The villain, Mestor, is also forgettable and occasionally incomprehensible, and that’s really all I have to say about him.  The other characters other than Lang are a really in the same mould.  Remus and Romulus are irritating.  Azmael is also a difficult character as we’re supposed to care when Mestor kills him, however, he is mostly memorable for kidnapping Romulus and Remus and threatening to kill them, which really robs his death of any emotional impact.  The only reason why Lang doesn’t suffer with the same thing is because we see much more of him.  Peri does not really do anything in this story either although there are some good moments when Peri bursts the Doctor’s pompous bubble.

This story suffers with really poor cliffhangers and resolutions.  The most effective one comes in part two, when we believe that the Doctor has died and the resolution is quite clever.  However, aspects like when Mestor captures Peri and threatens to kill her, but then finds her appearance pleasing, which completely undermines the initial cliffhanger.

I’ve got the joys of Time and the Rani next…

Verdict: A really disappointing episode, coming off the back of of one of the best.  The start of the decline that led to the hiatus in 1989.  Sorry Colin! 1/10

 

 

 

 

Castrovalva

fifth doctor

Writer: Christopher H Bidmead

Director: Fiona Cumming

Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), Anthony Ainley (The Master), Derek Waring, Michael Sheard, Frank Wylie, “Neil Toynay” (The Portreeve)

Plot Summary

The Doctor’s new regeneration has proved more unstable than previously, and looks to recuperate with the help of Tegan and Nyssa.  Meanwhile, Adric has been captured by the Master, who has set a  recursive trap designed to destroy the new Doctor’s mind.

Behind the Scenes

The man who followed Tom Baker into the TARDIS was always going to face a tough task.  Baker had been the Doctor for seven years, through the reigns of three producers: Philip Hinchcliffe, Graham Williams and John Nathan-Turner.  Nathan-Turner had worked on the show on and off since 1969, but began working on the show on a more permanent basis during the reign of his predecessor as production unit manager.  He became producer of the show for Baker’s final series, where he changed a great deal – the costume, the title theme, and the introduction of the question marks on the Doctor’s clothing.

The new Doctor, Peter Davison, had worked with Nathan-Turner on All Creatures Great and Small, and had a growing fame as a result of his role as young tearaway Tristan Farnon.  Davison would be the youngest Doctor to play the role at the time, a record that would stand until the casting of Matt Smith in 2009.  The new Doctor’s TARDIS would include three companions, with Janet Fielding, who had debuted in the previous and Sarah Sutton, who had first appeared in the penultimate Tom Baker episode, The Keeper of Traken, joining Matthew Waterhouse.

The Fifth Doctor’s first story was caught up in production problems as the planned Project Zeta Sigma proved to be unworkable.  This perhaps worked in Davison’s favour, as Castrovalva was the fourth story that went into production and allowed for him to decide on how he was going to play his Doctor.

Castrovalva has a place in the history books as being the first episode to credit the title actor as “The Doctor” rather than “Doctor Who”.  This would continue until the cancellation of the show in 1989, and then would return after The Christmas Invasion, on the insistence of David Tennant.

portreeve

The story would see the Master in disguise again as the Portreeve, and would be credited as Neil Toynay, an anagram of Tony Ainley.  This also marked a change from traditional broadcasts of Doctor Who to twice weekly, away from its traditional Saturday evening broadcast slot. Finally, this marked actor Michael Sheard’s fifth appearance in Doctor Who, having previously appeared in The ArkThe Mind of EvilPyramids of Mars and The Invisible Enemy, and he would go on to appear in Remembrance of the Daleks.

Review

Castrovalva can be split into a story of two halves – the story of trying to find the Zero Room and the story of Castrovalva – which are both plans to unravel the new Doctor’s mind by the Master.  This is something quite unusual in terms of modern episodes featuring the Master, as run times tend to mean he has only has one plan.  Anthony Ainley’s Master here is really quite menacing, especially in the first two parts when he captures Adric.  The makeup on him is also pretty good and the reveal of his disguise as the Portreeve in part 4 is handled really well.

This is also the most turbulent regeneration story that we have seen to date – the Fifth Doctor seems almost completely unhinged and it is his hunt for the Zero Room to help stablise his new body that occupies most of the first two parts of the episode.  We get some fantastic quotes about regeneration in the beginning, especially:

That’s the trouble with regeneration.  You never know what you’re going to get.

The Fifth Doctor

There’s also the symbolism of the new Doctor unravelling the iconic scarf to enable him to find his way back to the console room, which symbolises the unravelling of his mind. We also get Davison revisiting his past incarnations, which is quite good fun and the first time this really happens in the ‘classic’ era of Doctor Who.

In the Fifth Doctor era, there is always a problem of the companions.  Many critics of this part of the show’s history claim that the TARDIS is too full and that many writers do not know what to do with all three companions.  To a certain extent, this is true of Castrovalva, however, I find the use of Adric to be quite creative and Bidmead does do a good job of giving Tegan and Nyssa something to do to help the Doctor’s regeneration along.  This does make sense too, as these are the Doctor’s newest companions, so they should be thrust almost front and centre with the new Doctor. Despite this, it does seem a bit bizarre that Tegan is so doting over a man she barely knows.  Whilst making my notes, I noticed a similarity between the trap the Master has Adric in and Ebony Maw torturing Doctor Strange in Infinity War…or maybe that’s just my mind in geek overdrive.

Adric trap

Another strong aspect of this story is the idea behind the recursion trap, in which Castrovalva folds in on itself to keep the Doctor entrapped.  This does so perfectly encapsulate the idea of Doctor Who dealing with science fact, rather than some of the ludicrous stories that became common in the late Tom Baker era.  All in all, most of Bidmead’s work here is good, despite the two earlier parts being less interesting than the second two parts.

Verdict: A good introduction to the Fifth Doctor, whose post-regenerative trauma leads to quite an interesting story.  7/10

Best Moment: A toss up between the Doctor looking at his new face in the mirror and the moment they realise the nature of Castrovalva’s trap.

Best Quote:

I’m the Doctor.  Or I will be, if this regeneration works out.

The Fifth Doctor