Doctor Who (1996): What If?


I’ve been blogging about Doctor Who all week, specifically NewWho, and so I’ve decided to take some time out of my weekly hectic life to sit back and go through OldWho. It’s been enjoyable watching all of the random episodes, but to do it orderly will perhaps be my cup of tea. I’ve decided to start with the television movie that came out a long time ago, cleverly titled Doctor Who. Some people acronym it as TVM (the television movie) but I decided to be clever and say it’s just the 1996 Doctor Who when the 90s were that weird period when Doctor Who pulled a crack in time and never existed.

I sat down to watch this film after re-watching some of Eccleston’s series one bits, the best NewWho series in my opinion, and it felt really weird too when I remembered Grant’s ‘Ninth Doctor’ (the Shalka doctor) and the flash series thing he did. I feel the 1996 movie is this weird, weird film as it’s caught between NewWho and the death of OldWho, literally in the middle of this bottomless chasm of NoWho. It feels weird to be watching it, but actually watching it, it feels somewhat… American. I’m going to downright say that the general vibe I got was this was an American film .

It was co-produced between some American production companies and the BBC, Paul McGann is English although his companion is American. Sylvester McCoy shows up as the seventh Doctor (who I have a soft spot for) but the general feel here is American. It was filmed in America, for American audiences to try and jumpstart an American series. I’ve read giant What If? walls of texts on Who fan-forums and they’re all either drifting into the abyss of nerd-dreamdom or poorly written with little internet jokes between it all.

The film, itself, isn’t Doctor Who. No mater how hard I try, I just can’t sink myself into this film and how it embodies the canon of Whoverse. There’s just these little spins on things and the visuals don’t all add up. It might be that this is the Eighth Doctor’s first and only television showing. The TARDIS is different and we’re not given enough time to familiarize ourselves with such an uncanny environment. It takes time, you know, I was skeptical (British spelling) of  the opening theme of NewNewWho and it took a while to warm on me before I loved it. The show is horribly cluttered with Amy Pond sitting around being a plot device, but the theme is good.

I think that’s why I can’t enjoy this television movie as such, since we’re not given enough time to settle into its world. Yes, it’s a film, but these sort of new twists on old ways take weeks to develop in our head boxes. If the whole of Series One of NewWho was shown in one weekend, it would suck given we’re not given enough time to breathe and speculate. Doctor Who fans, from my experience, absolutely rave and jump around and spend hours dissecting, arguing, discussing, laughing, cracking jokes and going mad over these few hours of television. Simply put: I’m not sure Doctor Who can apply to a film context.

Don’t get me wrong, perhaps Tennant or Eccleston could do a movie, but we’re familiar with those guys. We’re used to the TARDIS they owned and Rose and Martha and Donna, so on and so forth. Doctor Who is a show of consistency, of love for its own canon and gags, which is ironic given the companion of Series Five is inconsistent to the nth degree and serves no purpose to the character other than to move the story forward. The film was used to jumpstart a television series, which would be great, but I feel it would work best in reverse.

It’s odd saying this and then realizing every ‘new Doctor’ opener is essentially one big unfamiliar jump into the unknown. We know this guy, we know his TARDIS but he’s changed his face. I think whenever people change their faces, then it takes a while to get used to them. I would know this given my experience with plastic surgery and Los Angeles. Making a film with a new face, new TARDIS, new Master, new canon, new production values and a new environmental vibe all creates dissonance. Doctor Who is more about the history of the show rather than the show itself, like Duke Nukem Forever should be more about its long history than the game itself.

I feel McGann’s Doctor never gets room to breathe even in the film, he somewhat mopes about but I still like the whole arching story. We get a guy running around an unfamiliar place with a new pair of retinas and a new nose on his old friend. The Master’s role in the story is inserted very well, although I feel the ending lacks that little punch given it’s a film and can’t open up/tease something. The film was supposed to jumpstart a new series, but it couldn’t lead directly into one. It’s why it ends with the companion refusing to follow the Doctor, given how reluctant everyone was to invest in the new series.

Given the new direction of things, it would be pretty easy to get into this figural ‘series’. The new production values could take McGann anywhere and perhaps Eccleston may have never happened. Maybe, just maybe, Moffat wouldn’t have ruined the series and World War Three may never have happened along with Voyage of the Damned. Saying that, though, it means Blink and Midnight and End of Time wouldn’t have taken place. I’m somewhat… thankful this film fell  through the floor, although it’s still interesting to wonder what if it didn’t. Paul McGann, the eighth Doctor, given the timing he could’ve been my Doctor.

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