Cast your minds back, those of you who are old enough, to early 1996 when every Doctor Who fan’s dream came true – the series was coming back. Not only back but with a proper actor, Paul McGann! When his announcement was, erm, announced, this particular fan was ecstatic. Withinail & I has always been one of my favourite films and McGann held a certain special place so his appointment as everyone’s favourite Time Lord pleased me no end.

Despite the rather dodgy early pics of him, cropped-hair and holding the Key To Time in the 80s TARDIS console (if the expression had existed at the time I’m sure everyone would have been typing WTF???). But, dutifully as ever, the Radio Times came to the rescue with a cover preview (shared with The X~Files, rather annoyingly) and inside a glimpse of McGann all dolled~up, the perfect fan envisioning of the errant Gallifreyan.

Now, you have to remember, that the online~worldwide~internet~web did not exist at the time (well, it did but let’s have this discussion another time) so this was how we got our Who factoids at the time – in the press! Actual printed press. Yup, the mid~1990s might have well as been the mid~1890s as far as information was concerned and that’s where Doctor Who Magazine (other, lesser magazines were available) really proved invaluable (nothing has changed in that respect).

What struck me then was just how quick it all seemed to be getting done (though this, of course, was not the case as it was years in production). Within months of McGann’s announcement, there would be new Doctor Who. New. Seven long years and it would return, granted for a one~off but this would surely lead to more. Surely?

But the startling piece of info that emerged was not story~related but pertained to its release. It was announced that a VHS (that’s a video cassette for those who think that the “V” might stand for “venereal”) of the ‘film’ would be released BEFORE it was broadcast on the BBC. That’s right, before. For many of us “enthusiasts”, the return of Doctor Who would not be a shared experience but one of solitary confinement (insert your own jokes there, you filthy bunch).

As it turned out, the release was put back a week or so, reducing somewhat the exclusivity of the home video debut (it had, of course, already been screened in North America), resulting in numerous trips to HMV everyday to find out what the flip was going on (they also had a nifty free badge with it).

When I finally had the tape in my hand, it was a blisteringly hot and sunny May morning – not the ideal conditions for watching such an event. And so the first time I watched Doctor Who: The Movie (to give it the ‘proper’ title, *coughs*) was in my bedroom, around twenty past nine. Due to the sun I had to ensure ‘blackout’ in my room and used various boxes and the curtains to ensure the right environment for watching the event (something I still have to do these days).

I ended up watching it three times in a row, and then twice more that day (with friends – who all lurved it too). So sure was I that Doctor Who was back, so confident of its return proper and so very happy with the production. But, most of all, I was positive the new Doctor – Paul McGann – would usher in a new golden age. An announcement confirming more episodes was imminent, I felt.

And then the wait.

I couldn’t believe the wait. I mean, numerous magazines all featured it, there was a new range of books and the viewing figures were healthy. Just why were we waiting? Again, no internet, so we had to wait for the monthlies to tell us what the eff was going on. But info was scant and it was a long time until the official word came through that it wasn’t being picked up, months after most of us had actually worked it out.

Back to the dark times.

A time when Sliders was the time~traveling show of choice (or whatever they did on that bloody series). A time when Crime Traveler was something that the BBC thought was acceptable viewing on a Saturday night. But, on the plus side, the VHS releases would get a makeover with the new logo. Yup, that was the plus. As I say, dark times.

Now, fifteen years on, Paul McGann has a legacy with many fans citing him as “their” Doctor, firmly placed as a favourite in the hearts of many. This, I imagine, is a testament to his fine work on the Big Finish audios rather than the fifty-odd minutes or so onscreen in 1996. But that’s not to downplay his performance in The TV Movie. Regardless of how I now feel about the production and the, erm, “story” (slightly less enthusiastic than the Nineties me), McGann is most definitely the best thing about it.

This is probably why the rumour of his return abounds every other week – fans just want him back. If McCoy thought that he didn’t get a “fair crack of the whip” then McGann most surely did not. He deserves another onscreen outing for sure.

And, like Brian’s shoes he was so quick to fill, he fits. Perfectly.

REVIEW: Revisitations DVD box set [ft. The TV Movie]
The Revisitation Box – Paul McGann audition
McCoy & McGann team up for new audio
Paul McGann in Waking The Dead


  1. This is one of those aspects of the Fandom that has mystified me for years. But that's probably because I'm a American fan…

  2. Superb article Cameron. There is much to be admired about the TV Movie. The plot is, alas, not amongst them.

  3. It's hard to believe that it's been 15 years since the TVM aired. I still clearly remember back in 1996 having a houseful of friends over to watch it. I've never understood the hate that some fans have for this movie (besides maybe the half-human thing, which I felt was shoe horned in there at the network's insistence). I felt that it stuck fairly well to the lore of the Whoniverse, and Paul McGann was just brilliant. The fact that this was his only TV outing as the Doctor is just borderline criminal, but at least we got the Big Finish Audios to enjoy. Paul really did get the short end of the stick, and I can only hope they find a way to put him back on the show one day (50th Anniversary perhaps?)

  4. I for one was 12/13 when this was aired. I absolutely loved it, and kept an open ear for news of a follow up series. Alas it was announced on the radio a few months later that it was not to be. Personally i loved this film at the time and i still love it now. Shame the new show makes very little reference to it in any form.

  5. I always assumed the "half-human" thing, which really was a one-off line in which the Doctor tells a scientist a "secret," was just the Doctor messing with a guy. Sort of like the way Matt's Doctor told Clyde in SJA that he could regenerate 512 times. It always surprised me the outrage that line engendered. McGann's Doctor seemed the type who would throw something like that out there just to get a rise out of someone. In any case, I have a soft spot in my heart for the 96 movie, as I think it represents a clear and important evolutionary step between the classic Who and the new Who series.

  6. Yes, but there is a scene in which the Master and Chang Lee are looking into the Eye of Harmony and see an image of the newly regenerated Doctor, and then it shows his retinal structure, which is human. The Master then proclaims "The Doctor is half human". So it apparently wasn't just a case of the Doctor messing with the scientist chap. It was something deliberately planned for the potential new series, and I always felt it was to gear the show more toward the existing Trek fanbase in the US by making the character more Spock-like. This is probably why they also refer to the Chamelion Circuit as a Cloaking Device. Still, I think the film got more right than it did wrong, and I agree it makes a bridge between the old and the new series. Interestingly enough, RTD loves this movie and says that it has some of the best moments of any Doctor Who ever made. I couldn't agree more.

  7. I grew up in the 80s and my two favourite shows were Doctor Who and Star Trek The Next Generation.

    I liked both shows and I think the suggestion that the half-human thing was to make the show more Trek-like is BS.

    The most popular half-human character in Star Trek was Spock and the Doctor is nothing like him except perhaps in intelligence.

    I don't know the behind the scenes reasons why the half-human thing was introduced but for me it was a revelation; another piece of the puzzle about who the Doctor actually is. The series title is a question and part of the strength of the series is that there is a certain mystique about who the Doctor actually is. Over the classic series they revealed pieces of his history and eventually revealed his homeworld and fellow Time Lords. Successive Time Lord stories led to an erosion of their mystique and as a result a degree of erosion of the Doctor's mystique.

    To me the revelation in the movie that the Doctor was half-human was something that allowed me to look at his history throughout the series in a whole new light. His fascination with and protectiveness towards humans made more sense in spite of his occasional disgust with them. Also it made me wonder about who his family were. Who was his mother? Was she from the past/present/future? Was she from Earth or a colony world? For me at least it made the Doctor more mysterious instead of less.

    Aside from their two hearts and ability to regenerate Time Lords have always been depicted as more or less human in the way they think/feel as well as look.

    The mystery about the Doctor isn't really about who he is now but his past/who he was/what he did before we got to know him. Over the decades we've been given snippets but never the whole picture and that's how it should be. Being half-human is a snippet that raises more questions than it answers.

    It's not that different than the revelation in the classic series for the first time that the TARDIS had many rooms and was much larger than had previously been depicted. It was a retcon that worked because there was nothing in the previous history that contradicted it except that it had never been shown/mentioned before.

    I had some issues with the plot of the TV movie but the half-human thing was never one of them. Leela hooking up with Andred at least showed a precedent for interspecies relationships between Time Lords and humans.

    I've always subscribed to the notion that Susan was the Doctor's granddaughter and never liked attempts to retcon that out. The current series has also depicted the Master as a child. Therefore it's reasonable to assume that the Doctor was once a child and had a mother and father and later became a father himself and eventually a grandfather.

  8. For what it's worth, and because it is the social movement website of choice, I have started a group on facebook named Bring back the 8th Doctor.

    If anything it's just there to show that there are still fans of McGanns performance out there. I wasn't so hot on the story, or the half human thing but I really can't fault McGanns portrail of the Doctor.

  9. Oy! There was nothing wrong with "Crime Traveller"!! Just because it wasn't Doctor Who 😉

    I liked DW:TM though. I even liked the orchestration of the main theme.


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