Can you believe it? It’s already been twenty years since the world was introduced to Paul McGann’s first (and only) full Doctor Who adventure. To mark the occasion, the 85 minute Eighth Doctor TV movie finally arrives on Blu-Ray. But, after all, this time, is this latest release still worth your money?
These days, it’s easy to take for granted that Doctor Who is a constant on our TV screens. But twenty years ago, Doctor Who: The Movie was the first new episode in seven years. Our current year-long hiatus pales into insignificance by comparison. Fans had been eagerly anticipating the long-awaited return of The Doctor and the TV movie impressively received over 9 million viewers in the UK. However, it was a production with a long and complicated history, and it would be another nine years until the show fully returned again in 2005. The “Americanization” of the project has been far from a secret and it was not met without criticism. As such, the TV movie is an essential – if at times unremarkable – piece of Doctor Who chronology.
The story begins with The Seventh Doctor taking The Master’s remains back to Gallifrey after being exterminated by the Daleks on Skaro. However, death means little to The Master, and he forces the TARDIS off course to San Francisco, 1999. The Doctor gets shot down by a street gang and, following some botched surgery in hospital, regenerates into The Eighth Doctor. It also transpires that The Master has a new body, but he needs The Doctor’s to keep on living. The race is on to stop The Master and save the world before the turn of the millennium. Cue a lot of action, technobabble… and yes, even a little bit of romance for good measure.
“I love humans. Always seeing patterns in things that aren’t there…”
The movie itself is a mixed bag. There’s plenty to love, but also plenty to question. Paul McGann shines as The Eighth Doctor, completing owning the role despite only having about an hour of screen time. The TARDIS also looks better than it ever had before. The Gothic-inspired set is fantastic, with a grand and epic scale that befits its role in the movie’s climax. The cinematography, too, is a marked improvement over the preceding series. The juxtaposition of Frankenstein in the regeneration scene is genius and the special effects throughout are impressive. But it’s not perfect. Eric Roberts as The Master is perhaps a bit too camp, the narrative is more than a little muddled, and the supporting cast aren’t always as convincing as you might hope.
The TV movie’s biggest flaw though is that it doesn’t really seem to know what it wants to be. There are lots of references to the show’s mythology for devoted fans – but arguably too many for casual viewers. The inclusion of Sylvester McCoy, while welcome to give him an on-screen send-off, perhaps was also to the movie’s detriment. One has to wonder how things might have been different if Paul McGann had been the only Doctor in this episode. Yet, for a story so rich in Doctor Who lore, it seems keen to ruffle a few feathers. We may be used to it now, but The Doctor and his companion kissing was hugely controversial at the time. Perhaps it’s for the best if we don’t get into the “half human” thing, either…!
“These shoes! They fit perfectly!”
It’s not all just about the movie though. Is it worth shelling out your hard-earned cash on this new Blu-Ray edition? The answer could be yes or no, depending on your circumstances. Disappointingly, unlike previous Blu-Ray releases, the TV movie is merely upscaled rather than fully remastered. But on a more positive note, there’s a lovely reversible cover and wealth of bonus content across the two discs. From audio commentaries to behind the scenes features, there’s enough to get a good insight into the movie’s production history.
However, if you already own the Special Edition DVD version of the TV movie, there’s, unfortunately, nothing you won’t have already seen before. The only truly “new” addition is The Night of The Doctor from 2013’s 50th-anniversary celebrations. While it’s a nice inclusion and effectively makes this Blu-Ray a “complete” Eighth Doctor package, it’s still only short and already available elsewhere. Picking up a copy of The Day of The Doctor is likely not only a cheaper option but also more relevant in the context of the story.
All things considered, Doctor Who: The Movie on Blu-Ray is a context-dependent recommendation. If you’ve never seen it before and want to give it a look, then this is as good a version as you can buy right now. If you already own a copy, however, there’s really nothing new to see here at all. It’s certainly difficult to shake the feeling that this version is a wasted opportunity for the episode’s 20th anniversary, yet at the same time, it’s not bare bones enough for those who are first-time viewers. Much like the movie itself, this Blu-Ray is a fairly confused and unremarkable release – but not one that’s completely irredeemable.