To provide us with a little more variety in the content of this blog, I am going to be posting reviews of works connected, in some loose way, with Phoenix Roleplaying. I have some of my previous reviews on my other blog.
So let us begin at a beginning, or what was supposed to be one:
Phoenixians will no doubt have strong feelings about FOX due to the way that they handled a certain pair of Joss Whedon shows. The work I am reviewing today proves that FOX was mishandling science-fiction long before Firefly.
Doctor Who's first TV run came to an end in 1989 with "Survival", but there was still strong interest in the show, particularly in terms of VHS. In 1996, a television movie was jointly produced by the BBC and FOX, with the aim of becoming a "backdoor pilot" for a new TV series. The BBC (I am citing Doctor Who Magazine's "The Fact of Fiction" here) was only willing to go ahead with a full TV series with continued US backing and FOX needed decent US ratings to provide it.
So what did FOX do? Schedule the US airing against a highly popular sitcom (Roseanne) that had ended the previous week's episode on a cliffhanger... The rest is history - the ratings were not that good.
We would have to wait 9 years to get more TV Doctor Who.
The first canon Doctor Who I ever watched was Doctor Who: The Movie (I'm going to refer to this from here on in as the TVM, one of the common terms for it among fans) back in May 1996. I saw it a second time sometime later and this is now the third time I have watched it - a decision to do so in light of the upcoming 32nd series.
The initial set-up, as narrated by Paul McGann goes like this: The Master, an evil Time Lord with a line in hypnosis, mass extortion and stealing other people's bodies, is executed by the Daleks for his crimes. As his last request, he asks that his remains be taken back to Gallifrey, the home planet of the Time Lords, by the Seventh Doctor, played by Sylvester McCoy.
Of course, the Master being a guy who doesn't quite do dying like everyone else, gets out of his container and forces the TARDIS, with a highly ornate interior that puts the white console room of the classic era to shame and arguably beats both of the new sets, to land in San Francisco, on 29 December 1999. The Doctor pops out from the TARDIS, then gets shot by some gangsters.
The three bullet wounds weren't lethal, but when red-haired cardiologist Dr Grace Holloway, confused by the Doctor's X-rays and the beats of his two hearts, decides to do some exploratory surgery, the results are fatal. Placed into a morgue locker, the Doctor regenerates.
The Master has, in the meantime, escaped and is out to get a new body: the Doctor's. Our Time Lord must stop him from destroying the planet in his attempt to do so...
There are a few things wrong with the TVM that make it far weaker than "Rose", the Ninth Doctor's opener and the start of the current era (for me, DW is one series, not two).
Firstly, the first half hour. It's badly paced, dumps a lot of information at you and has Sylvester McCoy rather underused - serving to get shot, make a few statements and then die.
Secondly, Eric Roberts' Master. His delivery is jarring, he has some truly poor dialogue that made me laugh for the wrong reasons and he just doesn't look the part. The Master may be a complete and utter psychopath, but he's an urbane one. More like Jack Nicholson's Joker than Heath Ledger's (I may be in a minority by actually preferring the former's portrayal).
Thirdly, I don't like the theme music.
Fourth, the TARDIS police box is too wide for my liking.
Before we go on to the positives, it's worth mentioning that the scenes where the Doctor snogs Grace caused an absolute outcry among fans back in the day and still resonate, even after Ten seemed to have gotten to fourth base with Madame de Pompadour and Amy actively tried it on with Eleven.
I'm personally going to put it down to post-regenerative confusion.
After a first half where I was starting to lose the will to carry on with this, things get a lot better in the second. The Doctor fully gets into gear, Grace starts doing some decent stuff (her behaviour during the motorcycle scenes reminds me a lot of later rouge-tressed companions, Donna and Amy) and things genuinely get a bit more exciting.
Paul McGann is a great Doctor, something evidenced by the popularity of his Big Finish audio dramas, which he still does.
There are some great touches in the TVM, including the 900 Year Diary, the Doctor stealing clothes from a hospital (cf. "Spearhead in Space", "The Eleventh Hour") and a really rather good climax, not counting Eric Roberts.
In summary, poor first half is balanced out by a good second half. What we might have got remains unclear. What we do have now though is much better.