I know that it is a pretty widespread phenomenon. Doctor Who definitely has fans all over the place. I’m not altogether sure when it actually started to get noticed in the USA but it has been a favourite over here since, pretty much, day one. Day one was back in November 1963 and, thanks to my father being a science fiction addict, it was on in our house. I vaguely remember that the stories seemed to alternate between going to the future and going to the past. I could be wrong as it was over sixty years ago and, half the time, I can’t remember what I did last week. Personally though, I found the future adventures more exciting; the past was like a history lesson and was based on Earth while the future was aliens, monsters, and strange, faraway worlds. I remember past stories involving explorers like Marco Polo, Aztecs, Romans, Scottish Highlanders, and the Crusades.
I’m sure that, if I had another look at those stories, the histories are probably much better than I remember; I was a little kid and wanted excitement and not what they were teaching me in school! What I really, really wanted was the super scary, hide behind the settee, watch between your fingers stories. The Daleks, Zarbi, Cybermen, Thals, and Menoptera were what I tuned in for. Well, my father tuned in, I just sat and cowered…I mean watched! I particularly liked the Daleks and I’m not the only one. Undoubtedly, because, sixty years later, they keep cropping up. I used to make my own model Daleks out of Lego! I was pleased as punch when the toy stall selling little (about 75mm tall), plastic Daleks. They cost about twice my weekly pocket money but I was so keen that I would save up and get one a fortnight!
So I started watching in the William Hartnell era. I remember seeing the regeneration into Patrick Troughton. I remember seeing programmes featuring Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker but can’t actually remember their regenerations. But it was partway through the Tom Baker residency that I grew up, went to college, discovered a taste for a drink that was, round our way, known as a Chinese; half lager, and half bitter. I did go to college with a ridiculously long scarf, several metres in truth, courtesy of my mother. So Peter Davidson, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy all passed me by. But that didn’t mean that when Doctor Who, Doctor Who: The Movie, or Doctor Who: The Television Movie was announced I was going to ignore it. Just the opposite in fact even if it was seven years for most people and nearer twenty years for me since the last episode.
It was a feature length single episode so, at worst, it’d just be an hour and a half wasted or enjoyed depending on how it panned out. And there’s always that vague niggling feeling of how will they try and stitch this in with the TV series. Indeed, will they even try and fit it into the timeline? Let’s face it, previous cinematic outings played fast and loose with terms like continuity, cohesion, and timeline. Dr. Who And The Daleks (1965) and Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966) only had the TARDIS, the Daleks, and Peter Cushing as the Doctor (although spelt differently) in common with the TV series. And these films were put out while the series was on the air…they could get away with murder with a seven year gap!But they actually decided to try and get it to fit within the Whoniverse.
Sylvester McCoy was brought back for the first ten minutes or so. He only had eleven (short) lines of dialogue during that time before he went through a regeneration. This takes place following an emergency landing in San Francisco on the day before New Year’s Eve, 1999. The Doctor was transporting the remains of The Master back to Gallifrey following his execution by the Daleks. Obviously something goes wrong otherwise it would be able to fit the whole thing in a commercial break. So, The Doctor steps out of the TARDIS at exactly the wrong time and gets shot. Which, ultimately, triggers a load of lightning SFX and gurning which introduces Paul McGann as the new version of our hero. All these shenanigans allow The Master to escape and inhabit a temporary body. In this case it belonged to the ambulance driver played by the ever reliable Eric Roberts.
The list of actors considered to play The Master is long and varied; David Bowie, Steve Buscemi, Chevy Chase, Phil Collins, Tim Curry, Johnathan Frakes, and Leonard Nimoy are just a few. Similarly, there was an interesting list of people considered for The Doctor: Anthony Head, Tim McInnerny, Christopher Eccleston, Peter Capaldi, Tim Curry, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, and Billy Connolly all had varying levels of interest in the role. Paul McGann’s younger brother, Mark, also auditioned for the part. The reason why the net was cast so widely is, mainly, down to intentions of the companies funding the project. These were the Fox Network ($2.5 million), Universal Television and BBC Worldwide ($1.1 million each), and BBC Television ($0.3 million). As the majority of the funding was coming from the western side of the Atlantic, they wanted to make sure there was a good showing of American talent.
The ultimate intention was that Doctor Who: The Television Movie would be a backdoor pilot for a new series reviving the franchise. What form the new series would take and who would be in it was not thought too deeply about at the time. Nowadays some series are picked up for a third or fourth season even when the first season is still underway. Whether that indicates anything about a difference in production methods that have developed in the last twenty five years or whether the production company just didn’t have any confidence in the project is hard to tell from this point in time. In the end though, the film version didn’t garner enough enthusiasm on the moneyed side of the ocean. But the failure to launch wasn’t the nail in the coffin that everyone thought it would be.
We had to wait nearly a decade before it came over to Wales and took off in the way that it did mainly thanks to writer/producer/show runner Russell T Davies. Was it a complete redo-over? Not really. Coming firmly back to the UK brought us back to the style of the original format; half hour shows, story arcs going across multiple episodes, and mainly British talent. One thing that did carry on from Doctor Who: The Television Movie into the 2005 onwards episodes was the music. Big soaring orchestral arrangements of the original Ron Grainer theme opened and closed each episode and the incidental music throughout is outstanding. But as far as the actual story goes it is, I think, quite gratifying that Paul McGann’s Doctor was later integrated into proper Who lore as the immediate predecessor of John Hurt’s War Doctor. All good wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff!
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Former teacher, lecturer, homelessness administrator, pharmacy dispenser now happily retired, happily married, and a very happy granddad. I live next to the Mersey but on the side Daniel Craig and Taron Egerton come from rather than the side the Beatles came from!