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Celebrating 25 Years of Doctor Who The TV Movie: Then and Now

It’s okay now!

It turns out, every ridiculous, shocking, over the top bit in The TV Movie that horrified a lot of fans… is not so unusual now. New era Doctor Who has given us a clearer idea of what’s perfectly acceptable.

So now we can casually look back on this standard epic telling of the emergence of the Eighth Doctor and appreciate almost all of it.

Well, aside from the dodgy voices of the Daleks, but small niggles. Maybe Nick Briggs was unavailable as he had a class that day. 

But that TARDIS interior — good lord, that really was beautiful. Sylvester McCoy had the absolute best digs in the world! Oh, and he had a regular, respectable jumper. This was a happy, happy Time Lord.

Sure, the record skips and Slime-Master easily escapes through a rather irresponsibly constructed memento box, but hey, if you have an issue with the Master existing and surviving as a slime snake, well, I direct your memories to Last of the Time Lords, when the Doctor gets turned into a misshapen golem reminiscent of something out of Lord of the Rings. Who knows what the next evolutionary step might be? 

Probably Slime snake.

Setting down in 1999 San Francisco, in an alley, at night, in gang territory, is more or less standard operating procedure for the TARDIS. In fact, I’d imagine some of you might have wondered why some bad guys just don’t shoot on sight when some supernatural force like the Doctor’s ship appears out of nowhere. It’s got to be a jarring sight, and inevitably, you just know that one day, it was going to land directly in trouble. Ratta-tat tat, welcome to a dangerous inner city alley.

So much for Sylv’s new jumper. 

The ambulance arrives, introducing us to Bruce (Eric Roberts), who will soon have his snoring habit fixed permanently, along with his wife and all her randy, pesky questions, as soon as Slime snake enters his trachea. We also meet Chang Lee (Yee Jee Tso), who really just wants to pawn the sonic screwdriver.

We’re introduced to Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook), who loves the theater, but is clueless regarding two hearted aliens. This does allow Syl to have a disturbing death scene though, bless him.

Regeneration in the morgue is a good, chilling scene, only marred by the dopey, over the top acting of the attendant played by Will Sasso. Mr. Sasso was not taking his part seriously, but to be fair, he was young, stupid, and spent who knows how many seasons performing wackiness on Mad TV

So far, that racks up two negatives about the movie — Dalek voices and Sasso. Everything else is in order.

But drama ensues as we have the amnesiac Eighth Doctor wandering around a rather abandoned, wet, under construction section of the hospital in a sheet and a toe tag. He finds a cool outfit minus shoes, and starts stalking Grace. Fair’s fair, as she did help kill him on the table with drugs and probes, etc. 

Soon, she realises it’s all weird; takes him home with her; gives him shoes, thinking he’s nuts; they go walk in the park; he loves his shoes; starts to remember who he is. He’s so happy, he kisses her. A big ol’ smackeroo. Hardly shocking now. See: the Tenth Doctor.

The Master has fully taken over Bruce’s body, which will wear out eventually, but as we’d seen numerous times throughout the classic series, the Master can steal, co-opt, whatever, any body at anytime (like Tremas). It’s funny. It’s almost as if HE CAN NEVER DIE, NO MATTER WHAT.

The threat, beside the Master, is that the universe is melting or whatever and the Doctor’s got to step in, taking Grace with him via cop cycle to go to some party to grab a part from a giant clock. The Doctor seems to know a lot about the specific future of strangers at this gala New Year’s party with the big clock — a power he’s never exhibited before, but would again, in Series 1 and in Series 8’s Kill the Moon. Plus a lot of time talking about stuff like fixed points in time, etc., so nothing unusual there.

At one point, the Doctor precociously whispers in someone’s ear that he’s half human on his mother’s side. Back then, horrifying and unacceptable. But now, take your pick. You can go with “the Doctor lies”, or maybe you’d prefer “half human” over the Doctor being a billions-year-old immortal who’s not even a Time Lord at all?

It really is nice to have options!

The Master has now taken over the TARDIS, swaying Chang to be his assistant, showing him around the old girl, visiting the Eye of Harmony, or more likely the live link to the actual Eye that every TARDIS probably has. Dalek prison built with Time Lord tech, the Afterlife globe, the Confession dial… No, nothing unusual about a link to the Eye.

I think there are only two things left to mention… 

Eric Roberts in his full regalia as the Master. Many thought him over the top. 25 years later, I look back fondly on his restrained performance as the Master!

Finally, the turning the clock back to bring Grace and Chang back from the dead. 

Pick your poison. Pandorica, temporal grace… ah…


Now, in the myriad interviews conducted with the producers over the years, they cautioned us that there were even crazier ideas put forth, that might have been put in play had the show gone to series. The Doctor trying to find his father, who was Zeus or some god. Plenty of nutty stuff. But even then, compare it to the revelation of the Timeless Child and… who knows? If the Zeus stuff were well written…

So yeah, 25 years later, The TV Movie had an almost perfect record (you might disagree, but heck, at least it gave us Paul McGann), aside from the Daleks and Sasso.

Let’s all agree to just blame Nick Briggs.

Rick Lundeen

Celebrating 25 Years of Doctor Who The TV Movie: Then and Now

by Rick Lundeen time to read: 4 min
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