PLEASE NOTE: Due to the sheer wealth of material included on the Revisitations box set, the reviews will split into three; one for each story. The second review – for The Caves of Androzani – can be read HERE and third review – for The Talons of Weng~Chiang – can be read HERE. First up…
DOCTOR WHO: THE MOVIE
Yup, that’s its official name. Of course, most of us just call it the TV Movie (TVM for the lazier). Or McGann’s Moment. (Nah, nobody calls it that.) It was interesting to note that on the Doctor Who Confidential, announcing Matt Smith as The Eleventh Doctor, more time was given to McGann’s portrayal of the Time Lord than both Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy combined. A testament to the actor’s performance of Gallifrey’s finest.
I can still remember my sheer joy on a lurvely day in 1996, popping down to my local HMV (other retailers were/are available), waiting for it to open so I could snaffle up the first Doctor Who story in seven years. (If you aren’t aware, the TVM was released on home video before it screened on telly – I know, insane!) Imagine, then, my dismay to find out its release had been set back a few days. Bah! I should have had the internet, they would’ve known.
So, a few days later and armed with my shiny new logo pewter pin~badge (free with the VHS no less!), I returned from the aforementioned high street retailer to watch a brand new episode of Doctor Who. At 9.30 on a blisteringly hot and sunny May morning – just the way one should watch it! I ended up watching it four or five times that day. I was so happy that, not only, was my beloved show back (and you have to remember that being a fan in the 90s was not something that one would admit to in polite society) but it was good. Damn good. And, to my early~twenties mind, I was sure it would return for a full series.
Of course, it did return but not quite as soon as I’d hoped.
My opinion of the TVM has changed somewhat over the fourteen years since its original transmission (that sends shudders down my spine thinking just how old it is now). The story, such that it is, falls apart in the final third (a problem cited by many, including those involved) and the “fan~pleasing” start is almost laughable. So many continuity references in the first thirty seconds – Skaro, bang! The Master, bang! Daleks, bang! Time Lord, bang! Gallifrey, bang! It’s like a parody of a fan~fic (I imagine, I’ve never actually read any).
There’s more horrendous errors to come but I’ll concentrate on the two positives about the TV Movie – Paul McGann and the TARDIS. I’d been a fan of McGann for some time (Withnail & I being one of my favourite films) so his casting was perfect. He played it expertly and I sincerely hope that he gets at least one more onscreen chance to shine. The TARDIS was beautifully realised and shot dynamically (though what the eff the flippin’ Eye of Harmony was doing the Cloister Room is anyone’s guess). But, sadly, these two positives pale in comparison to the denouement that was an affront to all that is Doctor Who.
The TV Movie holds a very strong place in my memory. Not for the production itself but for the build~up (I was more excited back then than I was for the show’s eventual real return in the Noughties – the irony!) and the joy I felt at my show coming back.
The TV Movie and its VAMs cover a mighty two discs and the gang, as usual, pack loads of trouser~tighteningly fab stuff on here. The main feature, The Seven Year Hitch, covers Philip Segal’s protracted labour of love trying to get his version of Doctor Who onscreen. He comes off very personably and it’s clear he loved the show and dearly wanted to make it, despite the initial reticence from the BBC. The corporation certainly do not come off well in this report and I was amazed that, considering how much the BEEB “hated” Doctor Who, they managed to choose the right actor for the part.
It’s a fascinating record of a very turbulent time in Who~story, told admirably by the main players. My only criticism of the piece is the rather mundane style of the specially~recorded interviews. Compare the settings of the interviewees here with those in the accompanying DVDs in this set, The Talons of Weng~Chiang and The Caves of Androzani – much more imaginative and interesting on the eye. Still, a small point and a rare lapse of judgement on behalf of the normally top~notch production team.
Of course, one could argue that the main extra here is actually Who Peter: 1989-2009, the ‘sequel’ to the award winning first installment covering Blue Peter’s involvement with Doctor Who. This time it’s more of a look at how producer Richard Marson kept the flame so fervently alive by doing features related to the show. I was never really a fan of Blue Peter so I feel liked I’ve missed out on a whole bunch of Who goodness. Highlights include Christopher Eccleston’s appearance (pity they didn’t go ahead with the planned giant whooppee cushion routine) and the revelation of Mark “The Guv’nor” Curry as The Doctor.
The love and attention to detail onscreen is matched by those behind the doc and I feel it’s a pity that both parts are assigned to only DVD. One would hope that these two wonderful pieces could receive an airing on ‘proper’ telly at some point – just too good, too informative and just too damn fun for the limited audience it will receive from these releases.
Another one of the main documentaries, The Wilderness Years, takes a look at the time when Doctor Who was not on our screens (not live anyway) and how the show migrated to home video, books and audios. Very interesting to see some clips from fan films but one wondered why 30 Years In The TARDIS (a wonderful BBC 2 doc looking at, well, thirty years of the show) couldn’t have been included. Likewise McCoy’s home video (all the rage on the new DVD releases) Bidding Adieu would have made an appropriate accompaniment (it even gets mentioned) but I can only assume that ‘rights issues’ interfered.
The Eighth Doctor also gets his time in ‘comic’ form covered in the ongoing series, Stripped for Action. As someone who doesn’t delve into that sort of thing, it makes for a fascinating study of, what appears to be, a very intricate and thoughtful series of stories. A marvelous advert for the strips.
A new feature to the DVDs is The Doctor’s Strange Love, where we find writers, Joseph Lidster and Simon Guerrier, having a chat with comedienne, Josie Long (below), about the slightly less than “good” bits about the TVM.
It’s something I’m sure we’ve all done, sitting about having a go at something we love. And the gang clearly do lurve it and find great joy in mocking some of the dialogue. Personally, I was surprised they didn’t pick up on The Doctor’s question, “Are you any good at setting alarm clocks?” to which Grace (a flippin’ Doctor!) replied “No”. Then, “I’ll try”. Incidentally, just how does one become “good” at alarm~clock setting? Great extra and I hope there’s more like this on future releases.
Of course, some of the big “talking” points, if I may use such a disgustingly redundant phrase, accompanying the TV Movie are: the Paul McGann audition (see pics of it HERE); the visual effects tests; and the commentary. The audition is compelling. Despite a script that sounded like it was built by computers who searched for the most contentious threads on various online forums (Scrolls of Rassilon? The Doc’s dad, grandfather and, dun~dun~duuuunn, his brother), McGann has brill~skills written all over him. A shame there were no other auditions available but this sole contribution is terrific.
The effects test includes a brief snatch of those two words that should never appear side~by~side, the infamous ‘Spider Dalek’. Absolutely horrifying but I’m grateful that the archives have thrown up such an intriguing oddity. Finally, the commentary – it’s got two flippin’ Doctors on it! It makes for a pleasant enough listen though it does feel a tad stilted at times, mainly because Paul McGann falls into the trap of watching rather than commenting.
The actor admits that he hadn’t seen in many years which begs the question, why didn’t someone make him watch it beforehand? Annoyingly, he doesn’t really add any insight into the TVM leading to numerous occasions where he asks what’s going on. Having said that, his remarks about Eric Roberts did make me chuckle; with regards to costumes McGann states, “Eric would elbow anything he thought was effeminate.”
Even if you have the original DVD release of Doctor Who: The Movie, this has enough extras on it to really make it feel like a Special Edition as the cover proclaims and a commentary with two Dr. Whos is just to juicy to ignore.
The Revisitations DVD box set is released on Oct 4, read more about the seven~disc set HERE