Monday, August 19, 2013

Mostly Dead is Slightly Alive

Librarian in the TARDIS, Review 8.01

Title: Doctor Who the Movie
Written By: Matthew Jacobs
Team TARDIS: Eighth Doctor, Grace Holloway
Adversary: The Master
Originally Aired: May 14, 1996
Number of Episodes: 1

Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia) -
The Seventh Doctor is charged with transporting the remains of his fellow Time Lord, the Master, back to their home planet. But he is surprised to discover that his old enemy is not quite dead. The arrival of the Master not only costs the Doctor a life, but it spells near disaster for the Earth. Only the new Doctor can stop the Master and save the planet.

Side Note: 
Apologies for the lateness of this review. Real life last week was pretty awful for me and my fun geeky life had to take a backseat. But a certain little convention recharged my battery and I'm back and ready to rock and roll!

My Review:
Miracle Max: It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there's usually only one thing you can do.
Inigo Montoya: What's that?
Miracle Max: Go through his clothes and look for loose change.
  - from The Princess Bride (clip)

Well... if I want to find anything new to talk about with this one... I am so screwed. I don’t know how much discussion I can add to the myriad of reviews and analyses already out there. After all, if you want an Eighth Doctor TV story - this is pretty much it. But it doesn't mean that it’s generally well-liked, even though it has come up higher in fan esteem in recent years.

For a New Series baby like me, the TV Movie is more of a “bridge” between Classic Who and New Who. I suppose it’s considered part of Classic Who, so I can say that this was the second Classic Who story I ever saw (the first one was a version of “The Five Doctors” on YouTube that a fan had inserted New Series music cues into, as well as snippets of “The End of Time.” Not sure if that really counts, now that I think about it, but it was responsible for piquing my interest in Classic Who. Whatever gets you there, I guess). Most of the scuttlebutt I’d heard about the TV Movie prior to watching it was that it was utter and total crap, but Paul McGann was brilliant regardless, so I was a bit nervous going into it. Like my previous reviews of “Timelash” and “Silver Nemesis” - I came away from the TV Movie thinking “What were those fans smoking?”

Perhaps it’s nostalgia talking (all three years of nostalgia, in my case), but I think fondly of the TV Movie. I adore Grace Holloway - she’s a companion in the tradition of Liz Shaw and Barbara Wright and Sarah Jane Smith (on Tumblr, I actually said she's joined the "Dr. Liz Shaw Chapter of Awesome Female Scientist Companions"). Grace is an intelligent, accomplished woman with a career and a reputation within her field - and it’s clear how she got there. She has a determination and a tenacity that sets her apart from the other characters and it is her scientific curiosity that propels her into the events of this story, even though reason constantly tells her to run the other way. And she can do heart surgery in a beautifully flouncy opera gown - tell me that doesn't smack of badass.

I wish, I wish, I SO wish that Big Finish could get the rights to the character because it would be so fun to see Grace travel with the Eighth Doctor in a full-time capacity (even though she initially declined his offer to travel - well, so did Donna at first. Grace could TOTALLY come back and be a full-time companion! Big Finish could totally retcon this!) And Daphne Ashbrook is such an amazing actress and has such an enthusiasm for Doctor Who.  Daphne has been in Big Finish audios as other characters (there’s one where she flirts endlessly with the Eighth Doctor and another couple of Companion Chronicles where she plays a UNIT archivist along with Yee Jee Tso - also of the TV Movie. I've only listened to one of those Companion Chronicles - and there may-or-may-not be a review of that one forthcoming, so I’ll save that for later *tease*). I had the great pleasure of meeting Daphne at Gallifrey One and she has this immensely infectious personality that you just can't help but love.  I cannot say enough good things about her (other than go follow her Tumblr because it's a riot - you want to talk about "One Of Us"...  Unrelatedly - you should also follow Web Dalek as well)

Also - it almost goes without saying, but I'm going to say it anyway - Paul McGann is so damn amazing! He plays the Doctor with such a spark and a twinkle.  Much has been said of the "These Shoes!" scene and I get giggly and joyful over that - but even before that when he's trying to remember who he is and wandering around the hospital with the morgue tag still stuck on his toe and invading Grace's personal space is really neat.  The Doctor's wanderings in the hospital (and I'm talking about the part after the whole "Who Am I?" thing) puts me in mind of the Fifth Doctor's regeneration in "Castrovalva" when he's wandering aimlessly around the TARDIS and leaving his companions to figure out how to fly out of a Event One.  He not quite the Doctor you know, but the principle is the same.  He's "restarting" - as it were.  He's a blank slate and his personality is arranging itself.  Of course, this being Doctor Who, there has to be some kind of crisis going on where the Doctor is needed, but he isn't quite up for the task.

No, the TV Movie is not perfect. But looking back, it was the perfect TV story for the so-called "Wilderness Years" and even paved the way for the 2005 revival. At the end of the 1980s, the people who wanted to keep Doctor Who alive really didn't know how to do it anymore. They did the best they could with what they had (and with tons of opposition coming at them, I might add). Ultimately, it got canceled and the show became a bit of a joke, but it was out of the public consciousness, except for the dedicated cohort of fans going to conventions and putting out fanzines and writers producing novels and comics and (later) audios. So, when the opportunity to make the TV Movie came along, everyone wanted everything in this sucker - and they kind of got it.  I can't fault them, really.  This was probably seen as the last opportunity to bring Doctor Who back to TV, so they figured that they had to throw everything upon everything into the story, which rarely ends well. And it turned out a bit wobbly, though Paul McGann was a very good Doctor - so much so that BBC Books continued the novels range, but with a new Doctor. And, Big Finish eventually got the license to produce audio stories with the Classic Doctors, including Paul McGann (which are pretty good).

My point in bringing this up is the the TV Movie served as a pre-reboot, restart button. Now that the Powers That Be know what not to do, they could learn from those mistakes and when the time was ripe for a revival, they were able to get the right people in the right jobs. It was a way to wash away all the jokes and bad feelings and preconceived notions that had been clinging to the franchise and preventing it from coming back properly.  But once they got all the fanboy wank out of their system (or something), things could calm down and set the stage for Doctor Who to return in 2005 - not only return, but to be a success (do you all realize that people like Neil Gaiman are already talking Series 9?? (scroll down a bit) 24 didn't get that many seasons!)  So, to all those nay-sayers who thought Doctor Who was dead, we say this.

And I read over those paragraphs and realize how negative that sounds. And I don’t want to be negative about this at all! There is plenty to love about the TV movie and it deserves plenty of praise for the behind-the-scenes things it contributed to the Doctor Who franchise as a whole.  And Paul McGann is flipping gorgeous and I love him to bits and if he gets even a short cameo in the 50th Anniversary Special, I will be ever-so pleased.

(Barring that, I can't figure out why Steven Moffat or Mark Gatiss or somebody can't work in a "The Two Doctors: Redux" special of some sort.  Even a short mini-series spin-off, just to give the Eighth Doctor a few more televised episodes or something).

Back in June, Daphne Ashbrook put together RegenerEIGHT - an epic (excuse me, EPIC) global rewatch of the TV Movie (of which your humble correspondent was a participant).  I thought it would be fitting to include the commentary from that event with this review, which also included Yee Jee Tso (Chang Lee), Gary Russell (author of several Doctor Who novels - one of which is my absolute favorite and I will be reviewing later) and Ken Deep (Head Chief in Charge of the Long Island Who convention in November). You can listen to the commentary with your DVD copy of the TV Movie, or just listen to it on its own.  Enjoy!

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 8.02 - All the universe of Big Finish... where do you want to start?

Previously -
Review 7.03 - Respecting the Past, Moving on into the Future

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