Hello all, I’m Rob, inaugural column and all, very exciting! What I’d like to do with these is to offer reviews of sci-fi movies, released on DVD for fans of the site who might want to consider buying them, but don’t know if they are worth the value, in the same way the Newt and his crew review toys and other pop culture paraphernalia. While I will occasionally review newer DVDs, I also want to give some love to older, less known movies that the casual watcher may not be familiar with. My rating system will break the DVDs down into 3 categories: Skip it, Watch but don’t buy, or Pick it up now.
So here we go! My first review 🙂
What’s that, you say? A New Doctor who movie! Does this contain the death of beloved, bow-tie wearing Matt Smith all ready? Has the series been restarted once again?
Let me explain.
New Doctor Who fans might be confused by this release, especially American fans for whom Doctor Who is only recently exploding in popularity. Sure, a portion of American Who fans have seen some of the older Who episodes, and for most of them images of the scarf bedecked 4th Doctor Tom Baker, or celery garnished 5th Doctor Peter Davidson may be as familiar as leather clad Chris Eccleston or besneakered David Tennant, but even the most dedicated new American Who fan has probably never seen, let alone heard of Paul McGann, other than in quick flashes in a few New Who episodes, and as a bonus figure in the 11 Doctors’ toy pack.
So what’s the deal with this film?
This movie is a perfect example of why Doctor Who is, and always should be, a British institution. In the mid 90’s Doctor Who had fallen on rough times. Incomprehensible plotline and poor budgets lead to the series ending in 1989. Who fans were crestfallen, although it did mean that a lot of really bad story ideas were kept from ever seeing the light of day.
And so the series was in limbo, until 1996 when the BBC decided to team up with hip, American TV network Fox to produce a back door pilot for a new, joint US/Britain Doctor Who series to be shown on Fox and the BBC. A noble idea, and one that could have worked, if the BBC had more control over it, and Fox never came near it.
The 7th doctor, Sylvester McCoy, is summoned to the Dalek home world of Skaro to pick up the remains of his old foe The Master, who has been sentenced to death by the Daleks. The Doctor, travelling in a TARDIS whose revamped interior looks more like a steam punk wet dream than the hodgepodge control rooms new fans know today, gathers up the remains of his old foe inside a small box, which he locks with his sonic screw driver, and goes off to read a copy of The Time Machine, whilst munching on some
Gummi Jelly Babies.
While in mid flight, the Master, now a transparent CGI snake, breaks free of the box, and gets into the TARDIS’ controls, forcing it to crash land in San Francisco, smack dab in the middle of an Asian gang war. Upon walking outside of the TARDIS to investigate what happened, the Doctor takes several bullets to the chest, and collapses on the ground.
Not the most dignified of Doctor Who deaths, you say? Hang on, it gets worse. The Doctor is rushed to a hospital where beautiful Doctor Grace Holloway, who has rushed from an opera performance in a low cut dress that would have made Peri Brown proud, attempts to save his life. Now, why call in a cardiologist to help a gunshot victim? Because he has two hearts of course, and since no one knows this until later, Grace botches the surgery, and the Doctor dies thrashing on the table to a wonderful opera sound track.
Later, his regeneration delayed by the anesthetic, the Doctor emerges from the morgue as the 8th Doctor Paul McGann, whose memory has been lost due to the long regeneration time. Stumbling around the hospital, he manages to find a Wild Bill Hitchcock costume, bond with Grace, and then run afoul of the new Master, played by Eric Roberts. Yep, old sneaky snake slid down the throat of Eric Roberts and took over his rapidly decaying body, hoping to capture the Doctor and steal his remaining regenerations for himself.
What follows is a nonsensical romp through San Fran, with the Master infiltrating the TARDIS and the mind of the young Asian street punk Chang Lee, who helps the Master in return for not killing him, er, I mean, for bags of gold dust, er, I mean, because they’re friends. Yeah, not real clear on why these two team up in the first place. Eventually the Doctor is captured by the Master, who, having discover that the Doctor is half human (yep, that was part of the plot) uses Chang and Grace to open the Eye of Harmony, the black hole at the center of Gallifrey that has, for unexplained reasons, been placed inside the Doctor’s TARDIS. Chang and Grace are killed, but the Doctor manages to escape and force the Master into the black hole, destroying him for now. Then, for reasons that no one can explain, Grace and Chang are brought back to life, and they leave the TARDIS, and the Doctor, who fails to tempt Grace to stay with him, leaves Earth, while listening to music and finishing reading the book his last incarnation had started.
This film is, in a word, a mess. Not that it doesn’t try hard to pull it together, but it just has too much going on to make it really worthwhile. The problem is it tries too hard to try to connect to too many people. For fans of the old Who, it tried to drop in too many little bits and pieces of the classic show to try to show its street cred. But at a certain point you stop caring how many sly references they make to Tom Baker, and start wondering if they know anything of substance about the actual show itself. The fact that Skaro is still around (it was destroyed in Remembrance of the Daleks), the Eye of Harmony is in the TARDIS ( It was under the capital on Gallifrey. Apparently the Time Lords just gave it to the Doctor, a disgraced Time Lord, to power his outdated TARDIS with?) the Doctor is half human (on his mother’s side) and the Master is a goo spitting baddie in a big leather coat and sunglasses (who goes from menacing foe to campy diva) and you get a film that really just kills it for classic fans.
New Who fan will also be confused by this film. Especially because those fans who have seen Doctor Who rebooted correctly, and John Simms play a fantastic new Master to make any Whovian proud will not understand how the directors got this film so wrong. Plus, even new Who fans with little classic knowledge of the show will be confused by the inconsistency of the film, and by the several elements that just do not seem to belong.
This is a special edition re-release, although for US fans this is the only release. Fox and the BBC argued for years about distribution rights, meaning that only British fans could buy the original DVD release, and US fans had to pirate it off the internet, or get a region free DVD player like me.
To be fair, this DVD is chocked full of bonus material, including 2 commentary tracks, one by director Geoffrey Sax, and one featuring Paul McGann and Sylvester McCoy, moderated by Nicolas Briggs. Why Briggs? Because in a movie where you barely mention the Daleks, you want the guy who voiced them to have his say.
This DVD also includes several documentaries, although most are rather short. There is a brief tour of the new TARDIS, chocked full of throw away hidden features that show that the producers did their research into what was in the show, but not what actually made the show work.
The one feature that is worth watching is the The Doctor’s Strange Love, where a group of fans and writers sit around and chat about the show for 15 minutes. They do address some of the problems with the film, but in the end they all love it, even though they raise some serious problems with the episode, including the fact that it ends on such a strange point no one knew where the story would go from there.
Package: 5/10 (it’s shiny)
Film itself: 2/10
Commentary tracks: 7/10
Bonus features: 6/10
Total Score: 4/10 (yes I rounded down, it deserves it)
My Recommendation: Watch it. What!? I know what you’re thinking, but if you really call yourself a true Who fan you have to pay your dues and watch this film, if for no other reason than the fact that if Davies ever gets focused enough to do a movie over the Time Lord/ Dalek Time War McGann is going to be in it, and you need to know some things about the guy. Plus, if it is any consolation, McGann’s doctor is not bad, he’s just trapped in a bad movie.
The casual fan will probably want to skip this, and I do not recommend buying this unless, like me, you enjoy forcing your friends to watch old Doctor Who episodes to MST3K them together.