Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Nine Days Of The Doctor - Day 8

Presenting Nine Days Of The Doctor - Day Eight.

Paul McGann: 1996

Companion:Dr. Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook)

Comments: Paul McGann was four years and nine days old when the first episode of Doctor Who appeared on the BBC. Perhaps a little too young at the time to be hiding behind a sofa, he did quite literally grow up watching the show. Born and raised in Liverpool he attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts before embarking on a very busy film and television career. He is probably best known for playing the "I" in the film Withnail & I and had a small part in Alien 3, but let's not hold that against him - at least it wasn't Alien Resurrection. It's unfortunate then that he only got the one chance to play The Doctor on TV. Ironically his agent was worried that appearing as The Doctor would result in him being typecast and advised him not to take it. Even more ironic is that the agent who advised him on this was Janet Fielding, better known to fans of the show as Tegan Jovanka.

The story of the first attempt to revive Doctor Who is an amazing case of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. While the show had been cancelled in 1989 it was still generating revenue through the sale of videos and from licensing fees for merchandise such as books. Virgin Publishing had the license for a time and were not only publishing novelizations of classic episodes - as the previous licensee Target had done - but were printing non-fiction episode guides and new stories. When the BBC took back the license they also published new stories. Some of the earlier series were aired on BBC2 to generally good audiences. The BBC felt the market was there for a new series, but they felt they needed outside partners.

There were all sorts of rumour about possible productions. At one point Cinema Verity was reported to have acquired production rights for a new show - appropriate since Cinema Verity is the production company owned by Verity Lambert who was the very first producer of Doctor Who back when William Hartnell played The Doctor. Lambert supposedly wanted to start the series right from the beginning. Green Light/Lumiere Pictures acquired the rights for a time and were set to do a series or movie directed by Leonard Nimoy with Alan Rickman as The Doctor. This also collapsed in part because there were rumours that Steven Spielberg wanted the project. What the BBC got was Philip Segal who had been head of production at Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment. When Segal left Amblin he took Doctor Who with him. The project quickly became a partnership between Universal where Segal had first taken it and Fox.

The script that Segal put together was a bit of a hodge-podge. There were a great many "fannish" elements, as well as a great many things that the fans were bound to object to. Sylvester McCoy was brought back for a cameo appearance as the Seventh Doctor who was gunned down by a San Francisco street gang. The regeneration was triggered when a surgeon was confused by what she saw inside the patient (two hearts has a tendency to provoke this reaction). The Doctor had been sent to Skaro to recover the body of The Master who had been tried and executed by the Daleks for various crimes (the Daleks tend not to be interested in trials or crimes). Reincarnated as Eric Roberts (Segal had wanted Christopher Lloyd but the studios said he'd be too expensive - as it turns out, Julia Roberts' older brother cost the producers more than Lloyd would have). It was revealed that The Doctor was "half human" which was the reason why he was entrusted with the "Eye of Harmony" which powered his TARDIS. Worst of all The Doctor kissed his new companion and not a friendly peck on the cheek either.

No matter what else could be said about the new movie, one cannot fault McGann's performance as The Doctor. In dress he's very reminiscent of Pertwee's Doctor albeit less colourful. He's dressed in a black velvet frock coat, vest and ascot tie. Thankfully the "question mark" motif that had been forced onto The Doctor during John Nathan-Turner's time was nowhere to be seen. Initially at least he's not at his best - he has amnesia but soon becomes aware of the threat posed by The Master. We don't really get to know much about this incarnation of The Doctor (obviously), but he has an earnestness about him that works. It would have been very interesting to see where McGann would have taken the character. As for his "companion" in the movie, she is intended more as a temporary romantic interest - because Hollywood obviously wondered what kind of hero doesn't have a romantic relationship, particularly when dressed in "those" clothes. She's pleasant and competent, and mercifully not a screamer, but Grace doesn't have the depth that the sadly absent Ace developed. She's another character that gets things explained to her, which since the mass American audience didn't know that much about Doctor Who meant that she was being told about what the TARDIS did and how The Doctor traveled through time. It did give an opportunity for banter though. Consider this example of dialog:
Grace: I suppose you knew Madame Curie too.
The Doctor: Intimately.
Grace: Does she kiss as good as me?
The Doctor: As well as you.

When the Doctor Who movie premiered in Britain it was the second highest rated program for the week. Unfortunately it did not do well in the United States. Airing on Fox, and opposite the episode of Roseanne in which Dan suffers a heart attack, the show had been a ratings disappointment performing worse than any two hour TV movie aired in May 1996 and doing poorly when compared with other Fox programming. Fox refused to pick the show up as a weekly series (and as far as I can tell has never aired the movie since). Without an American partner the BBC was unwilling to take a chance with a new series either. Doctor Who was - apparently - dead again.

1 comment:

Linda said...

Fox has never reaired the Who movie, so far as I know. However, it has been rebroadcast in the States. I recorded it off one of the Encoreplex channels (I think it was the Mystery channel) earlier this year.