Fiction Reviews

Doctor Who: The TV Movie

(2021) Gary Russell, Target – BBC Books, £7.99 / Can$16.99 / US$10.99, pbk, 215pp, ISBN 978-1-785-94531-1


It’s December 1999, and strange things are happening as the new millennium nears. A British police box appears from nowhere in San Francisco’s Chinatown and the mysterious man inside it is shot down in the street. Despite the best efforts of Dr Grace Holloway, the man dies and another stranger appears, claiming to be the same person in a different body: a wanderer in time and space known only as the Doctor. But the Doctor is not the only alien in San Francisco. His deadly adversary the Master is murdering his way through the city and has taken control of the TARDIS. The Master is desperate to take the Doctor’s newly regenerated body for himself, and if the Doctor does not capitulate, it will literally cost him the Earth… and every last life on it.

I remember when this “TV movie” was first broadcast in 1996, in fact, somewhere in Hunter Towers is a copy of the Radio Times from that week with Paul McGann on the cover and the line “It’s time to return.”. There is also a DVD copy of this adventure lurking about, a gift to my children who were big fans of the rebooted Eccleston/Tennant era. Suffice to say it is still in its wrapper. Ah, well, what would you take from this one-off movie? I suppose McGann’s “look” as the Doctor, his outfit being the missing link between Jon Pertwee and Peter Capaldi, and the interior of the TARDIS, but that’s about it. The TV movie by McGann failed to achieve lift off, and he never appeared again on screen as the Doctor, except many years later in the mini-webcast entitled The Night of the Doctor which resulting in him regenerating into John Hurt’s War Doctor, because the universe was in the middle of The Time War, and needed a soldier rather than a Doctor, but at least that small episode gave McGann his proper place in Whology, something the TV movie failed to do as it came across as a pilot, and because it was co-funded by American TV network, Fox, there was a reluctance to embrace the Doctor’s history.

Gary Russell acknowledges that at the start of this “2021 remix” and his attempts to integrate this 8th Doctor into his own timeline, and right at the start we have the 7th Doctor fulfilling a mission for the Time Lords – is the new President really Romana? And he has to retrieve the Master’s remains from Skaro, because his arch-nemesis’ last will and testament decrees that his remains should be collected by the Doctor and returned to Gallifrey. Unfortunately, the Master has been executed by the Daleks and there is only a pile of ashes to be swept into a Gallifreyan Casket of Mourning, so perhaps that makes the job easier, although it doesn’t go as planned and the Doctor ends up on Earth as a new millennium is about to begin. Even worse, he is shot, and dies, but regeneration beckons. Sadly, those opening scenes are probably the best parts of the book. The Doctor, of course, is regenerated, the Master rises from his own ashes and wants to steal the Doctor’s remaining regenerations, and there is a larger threat to thwart as midnight looms. Russell does his best to iron out the flaws in the story, beef up some of the supporting roles and make the Doctor sound like Paul McGann. It is well-written, but suffers because of how poor the TV movie actually was – very Americanised, and the 8th Doctor taking ages to actually remember who he is, as well as being talky and slow, and then a rush job at the end.

Despite, the failure of the TV movie, McGann’s Doctor has lived on in flashback sequences, novels, and many, many audio dramas as well as comic strips. Now he lives on as a Target book, and Who fans will be delighted to add him to their collection. Perhaps it is better to gaze lovingly as the spine on the shelves rather than read between the covers, but Russell has done the best job he can with such poor material.

Ian Hunter


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