This past week marked 25 years since the UK broadcast of the 1996 Doctor Who TV Movie. Today is another Bank Holiday Monday in the UK, so what better time to recollect that momentous event. He’s back! And it’s about time…
Doctor Who returning to BBC1 was a very big deal. After Part 3 of Survival was broadcast in December 1989, only repeats of the show were broadcast on the BBC. Some six and a half years later this feature length episode broadcast on 27th May 1996 was NEW Doctor Who drama. Not a documentary. A continuation of the fictional story. As someone who had only discovered the programme a few years previously, thanks to those repeats, this was an opportunity to watch Doctor Who on a live broadcast.
If I remember correctly I visited the Doctor Who Experience in Llangollen a couple of days before. There was an opportunity to purchase the VHS of the story but that would’ve ruined the thrill of watching it live. Similarly, the novel of the film was also available. But again that would’ve spoiled the experience of watching it for the first time.
I had only recently begun reading Doctor Who Magazine and unsurprisingly there was a lot of coverage of the TV Movie. Reading articles and letters that shared people’s thoughts on the various elements of the story was the 90’s equivalent of scrolling through Twitter. It was a time of great excitement. There was a special magazine. Radio Times also had a special souvenir supplement. For a brief period there was also an Eighth Doctor comic strip in the Radio Times and also in Doctor Who Magazine. Then we had a new range of Eighth Doctor Adventures books. It was a wonderful time and all triggered by the TV Movie.
Doctor Who: The (TV) Movie
Debates from 1996 still rage today. Many have questioned the inclusion of Sylvester McCoy into the story, for instance. Personally I thought it made perfect sense. This was a very new version of Doctor Who, filmed on location in Vancouver instead of on the streets of London or the quarries of south east England. So there needed to be some connection to what had gone before and the Seventh Doctor provided that. When Doctor Who returned again in 2005 this was once again a solely BBC Production so it didn’t need that connection. It also benefited from not kicking things off with the Doctor failing.
Another point of discussion was the Doctor and Grace kissing. Times had changed with society being more open about relationships during the 1990’s. So it seemed perfectly logical that Doctor Who would also show characters kiss and after ‘Rose’ it certainly became more frequent. In retrospect the TV Movie was the perfect transition point between the classic series and what would follow in 2005. Yes it felt odd having a high speed vehicle chase in Doctor Who in 1996 but by the time we had another in 2006 for ‘The Runaway Bride‘ it felt appropriate. Even if it did involve the TARDIS!
The production team on the TV Movie also delivered an impressive TARDIS interior set. This helped us rethink what was possible, with the previous versions being variations on the same theme. Again it provided the transition to the bolder coral look of 2005-2010 and the elaborate 360-degree sets of Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi that followed. The TV Movie therefore left a significant legacy.
Doctor Who: The TV Movie is something I always come back to. Unsurprising really as there have been purchases of the VHS videotape, the Novel of the Film, two DVD releases, one Blu-ray and a recent Target novelisation re-release. It is a lot of fun, with great action, a wonderful new Doctor and an all-round gripping adventure.
Paul McGann returning to the role of the Eighth Doctor for ‘The Night of the Doctor‘ in 2013 was one of the most exciting moments of the 50th Anniversary celebrations. I still remember my elated reaction whilst watching the video on my phone in the staff room of the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff! Thanks to Big Finish audio adventures Paul McGann has kept the Eighth Doctor alive. Some of those audios are truly fantastic. Seriously, check out the fourth series! Even Eric Roberts’ Master has been treated to a Big Finish boxset recently. But those stories could not have been told without that one night 25 years ago.
So although the TV Movie didn’t trigger the television series that we all hoped for in 1996, the importance of that moment 25 years ago shouldn’t be underestimated. Would Doctor Who have returned in 2005 had we not had the TV Movie? Maybe. Would it have been as good if we hadn’t? Who knows. What is unquestionable is that the TV Movie did launch a whole lot more new Doctor Who. For one night only Paul McGann was the Doctor and it was brilliant!