The TV Movie

Grace, I came back to life before your eyes. I held back death. Look, I can’t make your dream come true forever, but I can make it come true today.

The Eighth Doctor

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…

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.

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.

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

Gallifreyan?

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

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

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

What?

These shoes! They fit perfectly!

The Eighth Doctor and Grace Holloway

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

Cast: Paul McGann (Eighth Doctor), Daphne Ashbrook (Grace Holloway), Yee Jee Tso (Chang Lee), Eric Roberts (Bruce/The Master), Sylvester McCoy (Seventh Doctor – credited as The Old 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)

Writer: Matthew Jacobs

Director: Geoffrey Sax

Behind the Scenes

  • American television producer and fan Philip Segal spent a lot of time attempting to get the rights to make an American version of Doctor Who, eventually getting approval in 1994. There were various delays to production and Fox eventually took over.
  • The BBC appointed a producer, Jo Wright to look after their interests in the production. Among their input to production, they emphasised that they wished for Tom Baker to reprise the role as the Doctor and being reluctant to bring Sylvester McCoy back for a regeneration scene as his Doctor was inherently linked the show’s demise in the eyes of the BBC. They also vetoed bringing back Sophie Aldred as Ace, something both Segal and McCoy were keen on.
  • Despite strong viewing figures in the UK, the TV Movie struggled in the US as it went up opposite Roseanne and Fox ultimately did not option a series. McGann would return to the role for Big Finish in 2001, and would later get the chance to film a regeneration scene in 2013 as part of the build-up to The Day of the Doctor.
  • Jon Pertwee died a few days after the US broadcast of the TV Movie.

Cast Notes

  • Actors who auditioned for the part of the Doctor included Rowan Atkinson (played the Doctor in the Comic Relief parody The Curse of Fatal Death), Paul McGann’s brother Mark, Anthony Head (School Reunion), John Sessions (Mummy on the Orient Express) and Tim McInnery (Planet of the Ood).
  • Both Christopher Eccleston and Peter Capaldi were invited to audition for the part of the Doctor, however, both declined the opportunity. Both actors would play incarnations of the Doctor in the revived series.
  • Due to Fox owning the rights to the original characters (most notably Grace and Chang Lee), these characters have not been able to be used by Big Finish. Both Daphne Holloway and Yee Jee Tso have played alternate roles for audio plays.

Best Moment

Either the shoes scene, or the regeneration sequence.

Best Quote

I love humans. Always seeing patterns in things that aren’t there.

The Eighth Doctor

Time and the Rani

I’ve had enough of this drivel.

The Rani

Synopsis

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

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.

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.

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

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)

Writers: Pip and Jane Baker

Director: Andrew Morgan

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • Pip and Jane Baker’s final contribution to televised Doctor Who. Jane Baker passed away in 2014, whilst Pip died in 2020.
  • This story was effected by uncertainty about whether or not Colin Baker would be returning to the show and had to be changed at the eleventh hour when it became clear that this would introduce a new incarnation of the Doctor. The show also had no script editor following the departure of Eric Saward during the production of Trial of a Time Lord. Andrew Cartmel would be hired during production of this episode but too late to be able to influence this story. He would go on to state his disappointment that this story didn’t really mean anything.
  • Despite Sylvester McCoy being John Nathan-Turner’s first choice for the role of the Seventh Doctor, the BBC forced the production team to undertake a casting process and McCoy screen-tested, along with two other actors. Nathan-Turner was concerned that this would mean that the BBC would interfere more in production, however, these fears proved to be unfounded
  • As part of the casting process, Sylvester McCoy performed some of audition scenes opposite Janet Fielding, a former companion.
  • The BBC insisted that Colin Baker was fired as a condition for the show continuing to be aired. Baker refused to film a regeneration scene after his request for a final season or even a final episode was refused. Sylvester McCoy, therefore, is the only actor to portray two incarnations of the Doctor on screen.

Cast Notes

  • Wanda Ventham previously appeared in The Faceless Ones and Image of the Fendahl.
  • Donald Pickering also appeared in The Faceless Ones and The Keys of Marinus.

Best Moment

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

Best Quote

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

The Seventh Doctor

Next time: The TV Movie!

The Twin Dilemma

A noble brow. Clear gaze. At least it will be given a few hours sleep. A firm mouth. A face beaming with vast intelligence.

The Sixth Doctor

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.

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.

The Sixth Doctor

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

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.

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

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)

Writer: Anthony Steven

Director: Peter Moffatt

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • Colin Baker had previously played Gallifreyan guard Commander Maxil in Arc of Infinity in which he had shot his predecessor, Peter Davison. Producer John Nathan-Turner is believed to have been convinced to cast Baker after seeing him holding court at a wedding.
  • The Twin Dilemma has the dubious honour of having a poor track record in fan polls. In Doctor Who Magazine polls held in 1998, 2009 and 2014 placed the story as the lowest rated televised story. This may be, at least in part, due to the problem in following one of the best received episodes, The Caves of Androzani.
  • Anthony Steven struggled with the conception and development of this episode, with script editor Eric Saward having to hastily rewrite the script.
  • The story was beset by issues relating to industrial action impacting studio filming.
  • This is the first story since The Power of the Daleks to feature a different lead actor to the one who commenced the Season, with The Twin Dilemma closing out Davison’s last season.
  • It is now well known that John Nathan-Turner was looking to leave the role of producer, however, this was denied by the BBC as there was nobody suitable to take the role. Nathan-Turner would request to leave the show every year until the show’s eventual cancellation in 1989.

Cast Notes

  • Colin Baker provides the voice of a Jacondan at Freighter Control in Part 3.
  • Albert C. Richardson previously appeared in The Chase and Genesis of the Daleks.
  • Edwin Richfield played Captain Hart opposite Jon Pertwee in The Sea Devils.
  • Kevin McNally would go on to appear in the audio drama Spider’s Shadow.
  • Seymour Green appeared in The Seeds of Doom.
  • Helen Blatch was a voice artist in The Deadly Assassin.

Best Moment

The story does improve slightly in its concluding part, where the Doctor realises that there is a point to keeping on living and saves the day.

Best Quote

Well, look at me. I’m old, lacking in vigour, my mind’s in turmoil. I no longer know if I’m coming, have gone, or even been. I’m falling to pieces. I no longer even have any clothes sense…Self-pity is all I have left.

The Sixth Doctor

Castrovalva

fifth doctor

Don’t you understand?  This regeneration is failing!

The Fifth Doctor

Synopsis

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.

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.

portreeve

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 unraveling the iconic scarf to enable him to find his way back to the console room, which symbolises the Doctor’s deteriorating mental state. 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

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)

Writer: Christopher H Bidmead

Director: Fiona Cumming

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • Peter Davison is the first of three Doctors cast by producer John Nathan-Turner and they had previously worked together on All Creatures Great and Small.  Nathan-Turner had been involved in Doctor Who on and off since 1969 and took a regular role under his predecessor as producer, Graham Williams.
  • Davison would be the youngest actor to take the part of The Doctor at the age of 29 until the casting of Matt Smith in 2009.
  • There were issues with the initially planned debut story for the Fifth Doctor, Project Zeta Sigma, which would ultimately prove to be unworkable.  Castrovalva was the fourth story in the season to go into production, allowing Davison to make decisions as to how his incarnation would behave before making this story.
  • Castrovalva is the first story in the history of Doctor Who to credit the lead character as The Doctor rather than Doctor Who.  This was at the request of Peter Davison and would remain until the cancellation of the show in 1989.  Upon the 2005 revival, the credit reverted to ‘Doctor Who’ for the first series, however, on the insistence of incoming Tenth Doctor, David Tennant, the credit changed back to ‘The Doctor’.
  • This story saw the airing of the episodes shift from the traditional Saturday broadcast slot to being aired on Monday and Tuesday.
  • The Master appears in disguise as The Portreeve for a large amount of the story.  He is credited as “Neil Toynay”, an anagram of Anthony Ainley.

Cast Notes

  • This story marks the fifth appearance of Michael Sheard (The ArkThe Mind of EvilPyramids of Mars and The Invisible Enemy).  He would go on to make his final appearance in Remembrance of the Daleks.

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