United Kingdom. November 23rd, 1963.
The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy the day before loomed in the air internationally due to his public figure. On a sleepy evening in the UK, a character that would prove to be timeless appeared in a serial series to below than the average ratings and nearly face cancellation. Yet, the second part of the series introducing the terrifying robotic alien beings was met with higher ratings and acclaim. From that day forth, countless novels, episodes, radio broadcasts, specials and fans have been made to all devote their love to a character that has inspired everyone for the past fifty years.
That character’s name is The Doctor.
Doctor Who has been one of the most beloved British characters alongside James Bond and Oliver Twist. The series has gone to create a following that even Trekkies would call a bit over the top. Saving the universe from Daleks, Cybermen and The Master while alongside companions like Sarah Jane, Rose Tyler and Amy Pond, our favorite Time Lord from Gallifrey for a moment gives up in his moments of anguish to his moments of bravery.
From First Doctor William Hartnell to the Forth Doctor of Tom Baker, the generation of 60’s Britain and 70’s America had a minor wise old man. From the Sixth doctor Colin Baker (no relation to Tom) to Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy, the 80’s had a marvelous time as young geeks found solace in a hero not many knew about. The revival of the Doctor with Ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston (my personal favorite Doctor) to new fan favorites Tenth Doctor David Tennant (second favorite Doctor) and Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith, the new Millennium to present day has made the Doctor go from a nerd culture to a mainstream household name internationally with younger Doctors giving perspective.
Wait a minute, what in the hell happened to the 90’s? That is where today’s film comes in with the made for television film, 1996’s Doctor Who: The Movie featuring the lost and forgotten Eighth Doctor.
The BBC teamed up with Universal Studios & Fox in order to make the television film that would revive the series, not only in the UK, but in the States as well. Paul McGann stepped in to tackle the role of the Doctor as he is stuck in San Francisco on December 31st, 1999 with amnesia and the TARDIS is damaged and needing a beryllium atomic clock to get in back in order. The Doctor teams up with Dr. Grace Halloway, played by Daphne Ashbrook, in order to save the world before the clock strikes midnight. The Master, played by Eric Roberts, the only American to play a major role in Doctor Who, returns to find the Doctor, has also returned to steal his body and take control of the universe by manipulating Chang Lee, played by Yee Jee Tso, who was present at the Doctor’s ‘death’ and has his sonic screwdriver and yo-yo.
The movie itself is an interesting case as it is just so campy. Not that it is a bad thing, but this is as close to a campy American version of this series as one can get because it feels so grounded in the campy action-adventure film of the 90’s alongside pulpy cheese fests like The Rocketeer and The Phantom. That is a compliment because campy films are one of my favorite guilty pleasures, so bias is expected. It features fast-paced action, giant set-pieces for the hell of it and goofy off the wall humor that is to be expected from any classic Doctor Who adventure. It has American touches from being set in the States with stereotypical cliches like the obnoxious fat guy to the emotionless security guards and gangs in San Francisco who run away from danger.
The film moves along quite smoothly with McGann’s nervous yet filled with delight Doctor running around hoping to make sure the day is saved and distracting people with Jellybabies while threatening to kill himself. Even better is that since the Doctor is without his signature tools of the trade, it is a more grounded in reality Doctor without losing the focus of why the Doctor is a outstanding character. Daphne as Grace is a bit of an annoyance at the beginning, but finds her footing in her short time as the Doctor’s companion. Serving as the audience surrogate for the unfamiliar American audience, Grace actually fills some holes that American would give a resounding “What the fuck are they talking about?” face while hearing. Tso as Chang Lee is very mediocre at best looking like he is their for a steady paycheck and wants nothing out of this film.
Now, as for Eric Roberts as the Master, he was having a goddamn ball. Eric Roberts knows how to be an asshole to a tee that casting him as the Master is far from a farfetched idea. The only downside that would be for fans would be that The Master is American, which I find is complete crap because he is also from Gallifrey and can be whoever he damn well pleases. It’s Eric Roberts at his most campy even arriving in a Fu Man Chu style outfit in the Doctor’s TARDIS, which for some reason looks like a more elaborate version of Legends of the Hidden Temple set, but I digress.
Doctor Who: The Movie did not succeed in television ratings, but it probably has to due with more unfamiliarity of the character rather than its content. It is odd writing that sentence now since the series has grown into a massive success around the world. The Eighth Doctor continues his life in novels, audio dramas and comics where he has become a cult favorite. Maybe one day he will return.
As it is the 50th anniversary of the character, I do have kind words to share.
The Doctor is a character for anyone to look at and aspire to be like. He sees the universe as a magnificent creation with stunning ideas and people of different walks of life coming together. He sees the flaws and perfections in people, admires them and never for a second regrets ever meeting them for the importance they have brought. He cannot guarantee the safety of others he knows that even is the wonder he universe holds, danger lurks around every corner, yet does whatever in his power to prevent harm. He embraces the now and embraces the past and views the world in a realistic sense while maintaining optimism. He is a lover and a fighter. He is a kid at heart and an old soul. He is an intelligent being that does not go out of his way to make himself better than anyone else.
He may be a 900 year-old Time Lord, but he is more human than anyone we could ever know.
You are and always will be…
Next week on Film A Week, the final animated feature to be chosen for Film A Week is here and it is a big one. Twenty five years ago, anime was given exposure in the West due to a anime that changed the way people and critics saw animation and created a game changer in the cinematic world. Hop on your motorcycle and get ready to enter a world that even myself has yet to explore. The world of… AKIRA.
Film A Week 38: Akira (1988)
Saturday, September 28th