Saturday, November 23, 2013

Doctor Who Week: "The Doctor's Wife" (2011)

The TARDIS intercepts a Time Lord “communication cube” (first seen in “The War Games”), and the Doctor (Matt Smith) is jubilant because it means another survivor of his race could be alive out there somewhere.
With Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) in tow, The Doctor follows the cube’s trail outside the universe itself, to a pocket universe.
There, unfortunately, a trap awaits them all.
A dark force that consumes TARDISes has been luring Time Lords to a junkyard planet for generations.  The same dark force assumes control of the Doctor’s TARDIS, but deposits the ship’s soul (or consciousness) inside a humanoid woman, Idris. 
Then, the beast strands the Doctor on the planet, and heads back into the proper universe…to wreak havoc.
Now, the Doctor must team with Idris (Suranne Jones) -- the very soul of the TARDIS -- to build a “junk” TARDIS, escape from the pocket universe, and rescue Amy and Rory from the sinister and sadistic alien intelligence now controlling their every breath…

With over two-hundred stories already in its roster, Doctor Who continues to surprise and delight with the remarkable, emotionally-affecting, and unexpected “The Doctor’s Wife.”   Here, in the modern days of Matt Smith’s Era, the series turns every standing franchise precept upside-down and provides an entirely fresh perspective on the Whoniverse. 

The tale’s premise, in brief, is that the TARDIS Matrix gets put inside a human body and can suddenly tell the Doctor’s story from its own unique perspective.

The TARDIS stole the Doctor, not vice-versa, for example. 

And she doesn’t like the strays (the companions…) the Doctor brings home, except perhaps for the pretty one…Rory.

The greatest revelation of all, however, is that the TARDIS never takes the Doctor where he wants to go. She takes him where he needs to go (hence the title, “The Doctor’s Wife,” no doubt).  

This one throwaway comment puts the entirety of the Doctor’s history in a new and illuminating perspective  The Doctor needed to go to Skaro and that creepy petrified forest and dead city in the original “The Daleks,” in other words.  It wasn’t some mistake of fate…it was the knowing, guiding hand of the TARDIS.

Given this revelation, I would be fascinated to learn how the TARDIS feels about the Doctor’s span in the Time War, as the War Doctor.  How would the Doctor’s wife parse that service, I wonder?  Did the TARDIS also serve the cause?

"The Doctor's Wife" is also heart-breaking because the Doctor finally meets his match -- in terms of intellect, intelligence, stubbornness, and knowledge of the universe at large -- and then realizes he can’t be with Idris.  She must return to the TARDIS's "body," and, once more, the Doctor is alone.

After the Doctor himself, the TARDIS may be the most beloved “figure” in all of Doctor Who history, and to feature an episode that explains the universe -- and the Doctor’s own history -- from the ship’s perspective is nothing less than a brilliant conceit.  But to further parse the TARDIS as the Doctor’s wife -- his true north, whether he knows it or not -- is even more audacious.  

But what I truly love about this story is that it fits in beautifully with the Matt Smith Era's overriding theme: renewal of spirit.  

The Doctor is very old now -- perhaps senile, even -- and yet in the era of the Eleventh Doctor, he is constantly learning something new about himself and the universe.  

He hasn’t seen it all.  

He is no longer quite so world-weary.  

The universe still has the capacity to surprise him (and in turn, surprise us).  

What the Doctor really knows now is that he knows almost nothing at all.    

The TARDIS isn’t just a machine (even an intelligent machine…), it’s his wife, and so forth.

The old dog -- and, yes, the Eleventh Doctor often acknowledges his age -- can still learn new tricks (like how to be a husband), and still be changed (positively) during his travels.  I love that concept, and I love that it has been applied to Doctor Who.  Smith's exuberant, manic, mile-a-minute approach to the character represents a consistent tour-de-force.  Like Patrick Troughton, he is a brilliant physical comedian, but also an actor who can handle the dramatic scenes with unrelenting, heart-breaking honesty.

I was not expecting to like Matt Smith as The Doctor. But I have been won over.

Indeed, I have friends that are long time Doctor Who fans who actually refuse to watch the series because of his casting in the role.  

Well, it’s their loss. 

And what a loss.  

Matt Smith demonstrates beautifully the principle exemplified by William Hartnell: that the Doctor is an an individual -- and an alien -- of incomprehensible contradictions.  If Hartnell is the young one, with the physicality of an old man, then Matt Smith is the book-end Doctor: the old soul in the young body.  And the actor pulls off this conceit so beautifully.  He makes it look easy, but it must be exhausting.

I realize it is a controversial thing to say, but Doctor Who has never been better -- never more magical or more heartfelt -- than it has been during the span of this Eleventh Doctor (especially during the Amy Pond, Rory era..) 

Something new and remarkable has been added to this old show's creative mix: a sense of wonder.  Yes, that sense of was implied in the old stories, but the production design could never fully or adequately depict it.   

Here, we have the perfect blend of magical worlds -- well-visualized -- with a magical character.

The Doctor is not supposed to be magical, you say? 

Well, the Doctor has been a cranky old man on the run, a Loki-like force of disorder, a physically-athletic “Venusian karate” expert, a master chess-man, a war veteran, and an emotionally-isolated sensitive.  He has been seen as senile, arrogant, cunning, deceitful, and sad.  

Why can’t he be a vehicle for wonder too?  

The up-shot of this approach is that Doctor Who has never been more unpredictable, more accomplished, or better-realized than it is right now, on the Eve of the Fiftieth Anniversary.  That's something to celebrate, not nitpick.  

I'll go further, since this is the last post of my Doctor Who Week: Matt’s Smith Era is also the Golden Age of Doctor Who.  

So happy birthday, Doctor, you've earned the celebration of a lifetime...or eleven.

Doctor Who Week: "The Girl in the Fireplace" (2006)

When The TARDIS lands on a derelict vessel deep in space, The Doctor (David Tennant), Rose Tyler (Billie Tyler) and Mickey (Noel Clarke) investigate the situation, and discover a time door aboard the craft leading to eighteenth century Paris, on Earth.
There, the Doctor spies a young girl, Reinette in her bedroom, and realizes she is in danger from a strange Clockwork Man automaton.  He saves her from it, but the young girl imagines it all a bad dream, and fantasizes the Doctor as a protector and imaginary friend.
Since time on each side of the fireplace flows differently, when the Doctor next attempts to save Reinette (Sophia Myles) from a clockwork android, she is an adult, and remembers him from her childhood dreams. The Doctor also soon realizes that she is soon to become the infamous mistress of King Louis XV, Madame de Pompadour.
While the Doctor interfaces with 1700s France, Rose and Mickey discover that the clockwork androids are using surgically-removed body parts from the (dead) starship crew to repair the vessel’s massive damage.  The Doctor fears that the androids have set their sights on the one human brain they believe can power the ship’s computer: Reinette’s.
The Doctor attempts to save Reinette from a fate worse than death, but recognizes a kindred spirit in her, and begins to grow close to her…

In general, I’m not a big fan of stories in which The Doctor falls in love with a human being. 
For one thing, such a love affair doesn’t seem likely given the vast differences between species.  In “Rose,” for instance, the Doctor refers to humans, in a fit of rage, as “apes.”   This descriptor suggests how the character views the distance between his race, the Time Lords, and the human race.
Humans don’t fall in apes, and if the metaphor holds, Time Lords shouldn’t fall in love with humans, either. 
After all, how many apes -- even the most intelligent apes -- have you felt the desire to be involved in a physical romance with?
I’ve always considered it a bridge too far in terms of fan service to suggest that the Doctor might fall in love with and engage in a sexual relationship with a human, given the apparent -- and acknowledged -- gulf between species. 
I’m absolutely okay with Amy Pond and Martha Jone being hot for the Doctor, since he appears human (and also attractive), and since their desires for physical love go unrequited.  The Doctor rejects their attempts to become intimate with him. 
But otherwise, frankly, it starts to get icky. 
Already in the new series, we’ve seen the beloved Sarah Jane Smith ret-conned so as suggest she was always in love with the Doctor (“School Reunion”), an idea that feels cheap given the great and sturdy friendship the two characters actually shared during the eras of the Third and Fourth Doctor. 
I enjoy tremendously the sentimentality and nostalgia of “School Reunion,” but the idea that Sarah is a spurned “ex” who must come to terms with her displacement in the Doctor’s romantic life for a younger model (Rose) is an absolute disservice to Elisabeth Sladen’s strong character, who -- for many fans -- remains a 1970s feminist icon.  Does anyone else remember her discussion of female power in “Monster of Peladon?”
Of course, Rose obviously falls in love with the Doctor during her time with him in the TARDIS too, and has those feelings reciprocated even though a physical relationship never resulted until a human clone of the Doctor came into the picture.   
In the long run, I feel that this kind of material doesn't serve the characters, or the series itself.

Yet sometimes -- as is abundantly the case with “The Girl in the Fireplace" -- a romance in the Doctor’s life is necessary, dramatically-speaking, because it reflects or suggests something crucial about the Doctor’s non-human nature (and not merely that he would romance an ape, given half the chance.)
“The Girl in the Fireplace” is a beautiful tale not because it is about a tragic, and unfulfilled love affair, but because it exemplifies the very nature of the Doctor’s existence in a way that his relationship with the companions simply cannot, given the limitations of our human viewpoint.  
The Doctor views time differently than we do, and lives an extended life-span by our standards.  So his time with Rose, or Donna, or Martha, is but a blip.  They age and die, and he is still young.   The Doctor tells us this many times.  We know it intellectually, but on a week-to-week basis, we don't really see it.  We see them together, not separated by time.
However, that very idea -- of being separated by fast-moving time and a long life-span  -- is expressed beautifully with the concept of the Time Door in this episode.  The Doctor appears in Reinette’s life when she is young.  But literally every time he sees her again, she is older…and different.  When he returns for her the final time, she is dead.  
She is gone, in other words, in the blink of an eye, a least by the Doctor’s (and audience's...) perspective
We see the companions in every adventure and so, in essence, we are on “their” time, and don’t experience their travels by the Doctor’s  perspective.  The magic of “The Girl in the Fireplace” (and also “The Eleventh Hour” and “The Girl Who Waited”) is that the writer has found a way for us to viscerally experience the Doctor’s life; as a man alone who out-lives all those around him.  He barely has time to make a move before it is too late.  Time robs him of his friends and companions.
Thus, the romance angle in "The Girl in the Fireplace" is actually a symbol for something other than physical love. It is a representation of the fleeting connection between the Doctor and any soul who isn’t a Time Lord.  
The Doctor wants to connect, but just when that connection gets interesting, the other person in the relationship grows old and dies.  
People complain a great deal about Moffat’s stories, and his stewardship of Doctor Who, but I admire his work because he writes emotional stories that help us experience what it might be like to be an ageless time traveler.  
Instead of focusing just on the fact that one can travel anywhere and anywhere, his work permits audiences to see that there are drawbacks too.  We learn that the Doctor visits other worlds, meets many people, and helps lots more.  But in the end, every day, he is alone, a solitary figure.  
This is a perspective we might have intuited in the classic series and even felt on occasion (like the Third Doctor's sad goodbye to Jo, in "The Green Death"), but in Tennant's era (under Davies stewardship),  it is the dominant theme, the story behind all the stories.  And no story captures that theme better than this one, penned by Moffat.
David Tennant, the tenth iteration of the Doctor, is especially strong in dealing with this sort of material.  He plays the most sensitive of all Doctors, and can express mourning, loneliness, and regret beautifully.  This makes sense in terms of the character’s overall “arc.”  He is a little further away from the guilt of the Time War than Eccleston’s incarnation, but growing ever more aware of how “alone” he is as the last time lord.   
Tennant is not my favorite Doctor -- I would vote for Patrick Troughton, Tom Baker, or to my complete and utter surprise, Matt Smith – but I like and admire Tennant's incarnation tremendously, and feel he is a great Doctor.  It is difficult to imagine a different actor pulling off a story like “The Girl in the Fireplace” or “Human Nature,” but Tennant is the right Doctor at the right time.  You can see in every performance his longing to connect, and his reluctance to connect. 
In the final analysis, “The Girl in the Fireplace” is a great Doctor Who story because it makes us feel the Doctor’s agony at being alone, and even share his viewpoint of human life going by at warp speed.  

Also, the Clockwork robots are magnificent and diabolical villains in terms of their appearance.  In some way, they are perfect monsters for Doctor Who: they drive the story from point to point, but don’t get in the way of character development.  And they’re scary as hell.
But I really picked us this story because it reveals best the Tennant Doctor.  
He is a man who wants to connect, but sees connection shut down at every juncture ("The Girl in the Fireplace," "Doomsday," "Human Nature.")  He is so shattered by this fact that by the end of his era, he is loudly embracing his alone-ness, and calling himself "Time Lord Victorious."  
Because of Tennant's remarkable performances -- and humanity -- you can see how that destroys him inside.

Doctor Who Week: Monster Gallery (The Eleventh Doctor)

Prisoner Zero ("The Eleventh Hour")

The Winder ("The Beast Below")

Ironsides ("Victory of the Daleks")

Weeping Angel ("Time of the Angels")

Saturnyne ("Vampires in Venice")

Silurians ("Cold Blood")

The Silence

Cybermat ("Closing Time")

Ice Warrior (sans helmet) in "Cold War."

The Great Intelligence ("The Name of the Doctor."

Friday, November 22, 2013

Doctor Who Week: "Rose" (2005)

A young woman in London, Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), unexpectedly discovers strange, living mannequins inhabiting the basement of the metropolitan department store where she works.  Rose is rescued from the hostile ambulatory creatures by a strange man who calls himself The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston).

After the Doctor blows up the store, thus destroying the mannequin threat, Rose becomes obsessed with him, and learns that the mysterious man has appeared again and again, throughout human history, in times leading up to disaster or strife.  He was present at the Kennedy assassination in 1963, and at the launching of the Titanic in 1912.

When she encounters the Doctor once more, Rose learns that he is an alien -- and a veteran of some cosmic war – who is hunting the master of those mannequins, or Autons: a giant being known as the Nestene Consciousness.  The Nestene, recovering from the same war, is planning to transform the Earth into one of its “protein” planets in direct violation of the Shadow Proclamations, and the Doctor is determined to stop it.

When the Doctor is captured by the Autons during a confrontation with the Nestene Consciousness, Rose comes to the rescue, and realizes that she possesses value beyond being a mere “shop-girl.” 

When the Doctor reveals his spaceship and time machine, the TARDIS, Rose decides to travel with him…

Doctor Who (2005 - ) made a triumphant return to television in the War on Terror Age, and the changes and updates to the series format reflect this historical context.  For the first time in his history, the Doctor is now a veteran, having served in the devastating Time War which destroyed Gallifrey and vast swaths of the galaxy. 

The other global innovation since 1989 that “Rose” reflects in terms of drama is the Internet.   Rose Tyler performs the equivalent of a Google Search in this episode to learn more about the Doctor, and she promptly discovers that there are web-sites devoted to the mysterious character. She is then able to track down a web master and get the skinny about him.  A discovery that once would have required a trip to the library and a table filled with dusty old books is instead a lightning-fast journey on the information super-highway.  In some ways, this aspect of the episode is a metaphor for the more pacey, more tech savvy new Who: It veritably races from discovery to discovery, and (delightfully) challenges the viewer to keep up.

Beyond these New Millennium touches, “Rose” -- again delightfully -- adopts a fresh stance in Doctor Who history: it dramatizes its tale from the perspective of the companion, not the Doctor.

We start this journey not with the Doctor landing the TARDIS in 2005 London, but with Rose waking up to the blaring of her alarm clock, and preparing to go to (joyless…) work at the shop.  The focus is thus on an “earthly” life giving way to a galactic one, and it is a remarkable re-vamp.  In many ways, this episode functions as a kind of Doctor Who fan’s “wish fulfillment” story.  It thrives on the notion of living one’s life, day–by-day, hour-by-hour, only to be plucked out of that monotonous routine and obscurity by a character who is God-like, and who sees the value in you that mainstream society, for whatever reason, simply can’t recognize.  We all believe we’re worthy of being the Doctor’s companion, don’t we?

The invitation to travel with the Doctor is the invitation, indeed, of a life-time (or many lifetimes…), and there’s such rampant joy and energy in this premiere episode of the re-vamped series precisely because it recognizes that fact. 

In short order, Rose becomes one of the most beloved companions in Doctor Who history, and this fact has much to do not only with Billie Tyler’s wonderful, charismatic performances in the role, but the fact that her character is expressly the audience’s surrogate, asking the questions we would ask, taking the journey we might hope to take.

Looking back at the series premiere with eight years of hindsight, it’s clear too that “Rose” features a surfeit of dodgy CGI special effects.  And the scene with an Auton version of Mickey (Noel Clarke) sharing dinner at a restaurant with an oblivious Rose is absolutely cringe-inducing.  It sets too jokey a tone, it seems on retrospect.  We recognize from a distance -- and not even knowing Mickey very well -- that something is wrong with him, both in terms of appearance and demeanor.  How could Rose -- at close-up range, and having a long relationship with the same man -- not know that something weird has happened?

Nonetheless, this premiere episode works marvelously because it keys in on that basic human desire to live a fuller life, to see things no one else has seen, and to be recognized as special.  “Rose” is really about yearning, especially the yearning felt by young people to find a place in a world that seems to want to limit them to many unappealing or unattractive options. 

Christopher Eccleston probably does not get enough credit for his re-invention of the Doctor as a man who feels “tremendous guilt” over what he has done (in terms of combat in the Time War).  He delivers an amazing monologue in this story, wherein he describes how he can feel the very turn of the Earth’s orbit.

Imagine for a moment being that sensitive to life, to the cosmos, to change, and then imagine that you are called upon to destroy such life.  It’s practically heart-breaking.  

Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor is occasionally prickly and rude, but again, the Doctor isn’t human, is he?  Why do we expect him to observe our social graces?  This incarnation carries a tremendous moral burden, it is plain, and that alone makes him different from the Doctors we knew in the classic series.   Eccleston’s incarnation is the first post-War Doctor, we now know, and must contend with being alone, and having no one to whom he can confess his sins.  I have always felt that The Doctor befriended Rose in the first place because he knew she would make him confront his actions, and help him to understand or contextualize them.  She reminds him that there is good in him, and that “the promise” of his name – to be a healer – can live again. 

In terms of internal logistics, “Rose” does raise some questions.  At one point, the Ninth Doctor looks in the mirror at Rose’s apartment and seems to see himself for the first time, as if he has just regenerated.  

Yet later in the episode, we see images and artwork that suggests this incarnation of the Doctor -- Eccleston’s -- was also present at the launch of the Titanic, the eruption of Krakatoa, and the Kennedy Assassination. 

How could he have experienced all these previous adventures if he just regenerated into this new form? 

The obvious answer is that these are Eccleston adventures “yet to come” (meaning that they follow “Rose” in terms of series chronology, but simultaneously occur in older historical time periods).  Yet we also now know -- since Rose traveled with this Doctor right up through his next regeneration -- that this is not the case.  We never got an adventure at Krakatoa, Dallas in 1963, or aboard the HMS Titanic.

This scene could have been improved in two ways. 

First, we could have seen that it was a different incarnation of the Doctor in that art work and imagery (one of the previous eight).  Such a change would have the added bonus of letting long-time fans know that this is a continuation and not a re-boot.

Or secondly, imagine Rose’s surprise if she instead found an artist’s rendering of herself, standing next to the Doctor at Krakatoa, before she ever traveled with him.  That would have made for an incredibly dramatic moment, I think, and added to Rose’s sense of paranoia.

As it stands, these references to past Ninth Doctor adventures are a bit confusing, especially given the facts we know of the Eccleston Era.

Finally, I love that author and producer Russell Davies finds time in “Rose” to demonstrate the Doctor’s core decency.  He has the opportunity to destroy the Nestene Consciousness, but states instead “I’m not here to kill it.  I have to give it a chance.”  In other words, he is re-establishing his moral high ground. At the time (2005), we took this to be a re-assertion of the Doctor’s long-standing goodness.  Now, we might view it as a return to the promise he knowingly broke as The War Doctor.

There have been many episodes of the new Who that are much, much better than “Rose,” but it seems churlish to complain about the quality of the inaugural installment, since it launched the series brilliantly, and is far, far better than any classic Doctor Who episodes/productions we got in the 1980s or 1990s. 

The kernels of greatness are here, and a new generation fell in love with Time Lord because of that…

Doctor Who Week: Monster Gallery (The Tenth Doctor)

Sycorax ("The Christmas Invasion")

The Krillitane ("School Reunion")

Werewolf ("Tooth and Claw")

The Beast ("The Satan Pit")

The Ood ("The Impossible Planet)

Cybermen ("Age of Steel")

Daleks ("Doomsday")

Macra ("Gridlock")

Carrionite ("The Shakespeare Code")

Judoon ("Smith and Jones")

Weeping Angel ("Blink")

Vashta Nerada ("Forest of the Dead")

Doctor Who Week: Doctor Who (1996)

While transporting the remains of his dead rival, The Master, from Skaro to Gallifrey, the Seventh Doctor’s (Sylvester McCoy) TARDIS experiences a “timing malfunction” and lands on Earth in the “Humanian Era,” on the eve of the new millennium, December 30, 1999

Unfortunately, the malfunction has been caused by the Master himself, who in a strange, slimy reptilian form, escapes from captivity and moves into the body of an unsuspecting American paramedic (Eric Roberts). 

Upon venturing out of the TARDIS, the Doctor is almost immediately injured in urban San Francisco’s gang violence.  He is rushed to a hospital, where a cardiac surgeon Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook) operates on him.  Unfortunately, he appears to die on the table, though he actually regenerates that night, in the morgue.

The new Doctor (Paul McGann) -- suffering from amnesia -- befriends Dr. Holloway, and together the duo must prevent the Master from opening The Eye of Harmony inside the TARDIS for the express purpose of stealing all the Doctor’s future lives…

Worse, the Master’s plan will destroy Earth’s future, meaning that the world will stop, permanently, when New Year’s Day, 2000, happens.

An American co-production with the BBC, the 1996 Doctor Who movie stars Paul McGann as the eighth incarnation of the Doctor, and also features a good-sized role for Sylvester McCoy, the seventh Doctor, who hands off the role to his successor with style and grace.

Like many Doctor Who serials of the classic series, the Doctor Who TV movie functions primarily in “pastiche” mode.  This means, essentially, that it skillfully pulls ideas from popular productions in the culture, and then blends them together in a new and frequently amusing fashion. 

The Paul McGann movie, directed by Geoffrey Sax pulls ideas from The Terminator movie franchise (right down to visual framing, at one point), the pre-eminent genre franchise of the day, The X-Files (in terms of an Earth-based mystery involving aliens), and also the increasingly popular post-modernism of horror genre films such as Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) and Scream (1996)

In terms of The Terminator (1984), the Doctor Who features two time travelers from another culture (otherworldly, rather than the future…) duking it out on modern-day Earth, while a human bystander is pulled into the action.  The Terminator and the Master both wear sun-glasses and leather, and both cause much destruction.  Both are also endeavoring to re-shape the future.

The X-Files, meanwhile, famously gave 1990s audiences “the black oil,” a kind of sentient ooze that would crawl up inside of human beings and take them over.  Those possessed by the evil of the black ooze on the Chris Carter would then also boast black eyeballs.  In The Doctor Who movie, the Master is seen as a kind of reptilian ooze, sliming to the TARDIS console, and down the throat of an unwitting EMT.  Similarly, those possessed by the Master (in this case, Grace), showcase the telltale black eyes of the oil.

Finally, the eighth doctor movie explicitly compares the Doctor’s regeneration to the famous “It’s Alive” moment of revival of the monster in James Whales’ Frankenstein (1932), which happens to be playing on television during the Time Lord’s regeneration process. 

At one point the film explicitly cross-cuts from the Monster’s hand twitching to the Doctor’s hand undertaking the very same motion.  The allusion is intriguing, but it ultimately doesn’t serve as anything beyond a recognition of the fact that the makers of the movie are aware of pop culture. Is the Doctor being compared to a monster? Is his regeneration, monstrous?  It’s a nice allusion a beloved old film, but nothing more.  The moment would have worked better if the Master’s resurrection had been intercut with footage from Frankenstein.

Although Paul McGann is splendid in the role of the Eighth Doctor and certainly deserved his own long run in the role, his TV Movie isn’t especially good.  It looks like what it is: a cheap TV production circa the mid-1990s.  The special effects haven’t aged particularly well, the acting is generally pretty bad, and there doesn’t seem to be much by way of budget which could show audiences anything special.  Most of the action is very tame, and the details surrounding the Eye of Harmony are quite confusing. 

Alas, the 1996 Doctor Who movie also adds some baffling new ideas to the long-standing canon. 

First among those is the Doctor’s surprising revelation that he is half-human (on his mother’s side).  This is a shock to say the least, and may not be accepted as canon by fans.  I suspect this was a bone thrown to American producers so the character would seem “relatable,” or some other such nonsense.

Secondly, the Master -- though described as a rival Time Lord -- is depicted in his natural form as a kind of snake or reptile.  We see his reptilian eyes, and his coiled, snake-like body, at points.  What’s this about?  If he is a Time Lord, are all Time Lords reptilian?  If the Doctor and The Master are both Time Lords, why are they physiologically so different from one another? There are no doubt fan ret-cons for this mystery, but no explanation appears in the movie.

Finally, since when is the TARDIS’s chameleon circuit known as a “cloaking device?”

Despite such stumbles, this Doctor Who TV-movie makes an honorable attempt to continue faithfully the ideas and characters of the franchise as seen on the BBC series, circa 1963-1989.  The Doctor’s old sonic screwdriver makes an appearance, for instance, and the series even resurrects an old logo from Jon Pertwee’s era.

Similarly, the film went to the trouble of casting Sylvester McCoy for the pre-regeneration scenes, thus establishing a direct link between seventh and eighth Doctors.  Had the filmmakers not taken this step, the TV movie today would likely be remembered as completely apocryphal (like the Cushing films of the 1960s).

It’s also fair to state that this Doctor Who movie pointed the way towards the re-invention in several regards. 

For one thing, we get a very attractive, young, leading man-type Doctor in Paul McGann’s incarnation, as we later get with Eccleston, Tennant, and Smith.  No grandfatherly or father types, as was the case with Hartnell and Pertwee.

Also, the interior of the TARDIS is redesigned here and for the first time actually looks gigantic, much as it would in the modern era.  But the central column is clearly recognizable, as it remains to this day.

Last but not least -- and this is probably the most controversial touch -- there’s a hint of romance here between the Doctor and his companion, Grace.  On more than one occasion, the duo locks lips, and, well, you can pretty easily sense the desire.

Once more, the new series has picked up on this dimension, with the Doctor and Rose falling in love, and Martha Jones also falling hard for the Time Lord. 

In the original series, the Doctor never made eyes at any of his beautiful male or female companions…and there were many, to be certain.  In the new show, there seems to be a hint of romance or attraction between the Doctor and virtually every companion (well, not Rory…).    

Today, contextualize the McGann movie as a not entirely-effective missing link between the original series and the new series.  In many ways, it is more nimble and fun than the last seasons on BBC were, but some aspects -- like the acknowledgment of the Doctor’s human half -- seem way off.  The film’s plot-line is also muddled, and the Doctor’s solution to the closing of the Eye of Harmony doesn’t seem to make sense in light of what we know about time travel.

Doctor Who would not reach its full potential, again, until 2005, and yet I’m still grateful to have this 1996 movie in the catalog.

Finally, there is one visual composition in this TV movie that I absolutely love.  An amnesiac doctor wanders through an abandoned wing of a San Francisco hospital, and sees his reflection for the first time…in eight mirrors.  We get eight views of him with his new face, because, of course, this is his eighth incarnation.  I love that moment.  It’s as if the mirror is explicitly reminding him of his long and noble history…

Doctor Who Week: Monster Gallery (Ninth Doctor)

Nestene Consciousness

The Slitheen




The Empty Child