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False Dawn: Remembering The TV Movie (And What Could Have Been)

Paul McGann’s shorn head and a crystal from Metebelis 3. The first image of the new Doctor Who, an exciting and vibrant time in the fandom, and the first time the online community had something real to talk about. Back to television the Doctor was marching – but where had he been for the last 7 years?
The Virgin novels took Doctor Who into an adult sci-fi world of murder, rape, drugs, and sex. For those of us who grew up with ’80s Who, it was a welcome departure from over lit sets and bad anger. This new direction had been hinted at in the show’s past, but usually these things were overlooked in favour of focusing on the Doctor and his companions’ relationships with him. With the novels, we saw how Ace matured and explored the relationship between Chris Cwej and Ros Forrester; the only character not to have a meaningful relationship was the Doctor himself!
Philip Segal’s vision of Doctor Who inexplicably destroyed 33 years of continuity when the Doctor declared himself “half human on my Mother’s side”. Across the UK, Doctor Who fans shouted at their television sets as the Doctor claimed bastard heritage just 20 minutes after kissing Dr Grace Holloway. This earlier moment, however, makes much more sense. Why shouldn’t the Doctor, an intelligent humanoid, be attracted to another intelligent humanoid? In his earlier lives, we saw him as a Grandfather and a kindly uncle; the Fourth Doctor enjoyed very warm friendships with Sarah Jane Smith and Romana I especially. His relationship with Romana’s second incarnation is much more a meeting of minds – the impression given that Gallifreyans are attracted on this basis first and foremost. The subsequent incarnations of the Doctor enjoy relationships with his companions that are once again of the grandfather/uncle variety.

Much has been written about the The TV Movie/ The Enemy Within episode of the Doctor’s travels; whether it was canon, well-written, etc. Could it not be that without the half-human reference and non existent plot, “The Kiss” could have been a pivotal moment for the Doctor and his future? Whether the show had been commissioned by Fox or not, Dr Grace Holloway travelling with the Doctor at the end of the story would have influenced the upcoming BBC Books range.
Philip Segal had cited a plot arc of the Doctor searching for his (Gallifreyan) father, Ulysses. This was a concept cited in earlier attempts to produce a US Doctor Who series. But was this just hokey-pointless-backstory, rewriting what had gone before to draw in an American audience, or just there to link the episodes together in a poorly thought-out arc? To me, it could only have worked with the Doctor enjoying an intelligent will-they-won’t-they relationship with the lovely Grace as they avoided Cybermen and Ice Warriors, each saving the other’s skin. At the end of the day, who would care if the Doctor ever found his father? The guy’s a Time Lord – practically immortal! The Key to Time concept has more possibilities and that looked stretched at 6 serials! Throw in Grace (or even the Doctor) being kidnapped and the other searching for a couple of episodes to find them… That’s that arc exhausted and done.
All of the previous attempts at movies or American television series that Segal was involved with had a quest-style story arc. They also had one other thing in common – a dramatic overhaul of previously established continuity. Yes, the Master could have been the Doctor’s brother, and the Daleks could have employed humanoid exo-skeletons long before Battlestar Galactica’s Cylons.

So The TV Movie was broadcast, 9 million people in the UK watched it, and a lot more than that missed it on its US broadcast. Already the mooted series was in doubt, hope briefly shimmering in the form of this “backdoor pilot”. Discussions took place, the BBC wondered… and it took them 7 long years to find the answer. During this time, the influence of one story (featuring under 60 minutes of screen time by its lead actor) would shape the future of Doctor Who forever!
Of course, the Eighth Doctor sadly only exists in full story, plus The Night of the Doctor, comic strips, short stories, Big Finish audios, and BBC Books. In particular, the BBC Books have made the Doctor the last Time Lord and stranded him on Earth. Big Finish, meanwhile, has McGann starring in audio plays as the Eighth Doctor, taking him on new adventures, meeting new companions, and being affected by the Time War. While they have each (dramatically) taken him in a direction of their own, the potential of The TV Movie was always great despite its flaws. To the general public, Paul McGann will always be, as he himself predicted, the “George Lazenby of Doctor Who”; a sad waste of a very talented actor.
(Adapted from an article originally published on Kasterborous in 2005.)

Neibart Navarro

False Dawn: Remembering The TV Movie (And What Could Have Been)

by Neibart Navarro time to read: 3 min
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