Doctor Who (1996) (part 1 of 4)
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This movie, simply called Doctor Who, but known to many fans as “The 8th Doctor Movie”, “The Enemy Within”, or “That gawdawful American piece of crap,” occupies an odd place in the history of the Doctor Who saga.
The original series went off the air in 1989, with the 7th Doctor and Ace having beaten the Master, and walking off together. The new series, which features the 9th, 10th, and 11th Doctors, didn’t begin airing until 2005.
The Doctor Who movie aired on Fox in the United States in 1996, so it falls almost directly between the old series and the new. It features elements of both, and certain things which are unique to itself. It’s something of an odd duck to the rest of the shows, being neither the old series or the new, and while it isn’t without its charms, it has many, many failings.
These failings mostly center around the storyline. See, the obvious thing to do with this story, especially because it was directed at an audience who largely had never even heard of (much less seen) Doctor Who, would be to include an accessible villain. Someone obviously thought the Master was a good choice, and I guess he was okay, but certainly nothing special. The Daleks or Cybermen would have been much more interesting.
To make matters worse, most of the characters behave like idiots, the Master is extremely gay, and the eventual resolution to the storyline is completely confusing, not to mention a massive deus ex machina. And despite airing in 1996, the movie is set on New Year’s Eve, 1999 for no discernible reason.
There are good things, of course, like the 8th Doctor, and some of the throwaway nods to the fans, but for the most part, the clumsy story really drags down the movie.
By the way, if you want to see this movie and you live in North America, well, you’re outta luck. Due to rights issues, it hasn’t seen a Region 1 release, and probably never will. The good news is that if you have a region-free DVD player, you can pretty easily buy a copy of the Region 2 release.
And now, on with the show!
We begin with a shot of Skaro. For those of you who thought it had been destroyed at the end of ”Remembrance of the Daleks”, think again. A voiceover by the 8th Doctor informs us that the Master was captured by the Daleks, who executed him (in a helium environment, apparently, judging by how high-pitched their voices are as they say “EXTERMINATE!”). The Master’s final request was to have his remains brought to his (and the Doctor’s) home planet of Gallifrey. The Time Lords acquiesced, and the Doctor picked up the box with the Master’s remains to bring them back home.
So we’re not even to the opening credits, and already we have several problems. First, the planet of Skaro was, as I mentioned, destroyed in a previous episode. Okay, so maybe this takes place before all that, I don’t know. That’s part of the joys of time travel, I suppose. It excuses sloppy continuity.
Also, the Dalek voices are really high-pitched here. No exaggeration. It sounds like they’ve got Alvin and the Chipmunks driving them. From what I recall in the commentary, the director of the movie did the voices. I’m not clear why, but one would think he could have processed his vocals to sound, you know, menacing instead of hilarious.
Third, why would the Daleks allow the Master a final request, and then relay it to Gallifrey? The Daleks aren’t the most loveable, huggable species in the universe. Most likely they would’ve captured the Master, gloated a little, and then killed him without allowing for any last wishes.
Fourth, why would the Time Lords agree to this request? Surely they’d know it was a trap. Okay, maybe they wanted to get rid of the Doctor by sending him there, but come on.
Fifth, why wouldn’t the Daleks simply blast the Doctor as soon as the TARDIS landed? Showing restraint is not something they’re widely known for.
Sixth, why would the Doctor agree to do this, and then not make sure he had the box in his sight at all times? The Doctor isn’t stupid; he would’ve known the Master would find a way to come back.
Seventh, why wasn’t this a trap by the Daleks? It’s exactly the kind of thing they would have done.
So, basically, in the first minute of the movie we’ve managed to see seven rather stupid mistakes that are guaranteed to annoy most fans of the original series. Well done! It’s seldom a movie manages to have that many problems in such a short span of time. That’s one stupid mistake about every eight seconds! I am impressed.
On the plus side, they did at least reference the Daleks, however poorly, and they showed the Master having cheetah eyes, which makes sense given the events of ”Survival”, the last original series episode. But those are about the only positives in this scene.
Now we move onto the opening credits, which should look familiar to anyone who’s watched the new series, since they’re quite similar. I must say, the opening titles are nicely done, and they kept the original series theme, which kicks ass. Perhaps they might be getting back on track with the fans at this point?
As the credits end, we see the TARDIS spinning through space, looking all CGI and kind of cool. Cut to the interior, which bears a great deal of similarity to the new series interior, and none at all to the original series. I actually like this interior; it’s very roomy, spacious, and rather cool looking, as well as not being quite as confused as the new series version. Plus it comes with a record player. Because the Doctor loves his vinyl!
Also in the TARDIS is—hooray!—Sylvester McCoy as the 7th Doctor! I always liked the 7th Doctor, especially once he was teamed up with Ace. He got some of the worst stories (”Ghost Light”, “Greatest Show in the Galaxy”, ”Doctor Who: Delta and the Bannermen”, “The Happiness Patrol”, “Paradise Towers”… When it comes to doing a recap of his episodes, I’m spoiled for choice), but he was always entertaining on screen, and he and Ace worked wonderfully together. Ace is sadly missing in this story, but so is the Doctor’s question mark sweater and question mark umbrella, so that’s a reasonable trade-off.
The Doctor takes what’s left of the Master, which apparently fits inside a small box, and locks it up next to some candles [?], and then retires to the console room to listen to jazz and read The Time Machine, by former TARDIS passenger H.G. Wells.
Ah, but all is not well on the TARDIS. There’s a faint shaking, some noise, and then the Doctor’s teacup falls to the floor, breaking into a thousand pieces and allowing me to create what I call The Praxis Teacup Rule. This rule stipulates that anytime you see a teacup (or coffee cup) suddenly fall over and break, it means trouble’s a-brewin’! Examples include this and the rule namer, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (a favorite of mine). A corollary of this rule would probably include the vibrating water cup in Jurassic Park.
The box holding the Master breaks open, and slime oozes out. Yes, the Master is apparently now one of the Founders. He oozes along the ground until he reaches the TARDIS control console, causing a malfunction (I know that’s what it is, since there’s a sign saying “Critical Timing Malfunction”). The Doctor reacts and tries to get the TARDIS to land so he can figure out what’s going on. He also gets to look shocked, surprised, nervous, and scared when he sees the Master’s empty box.
Meanwhile, down on Earth, three Chinese-American boys are running from someone/something, and my heart skips a beat. Oh, my. My, my, my. Yee Jee Tso as Chang Lee. Goodness, he’s quite hot. Looking at this guy, I might have to kick Adric to the curb. Sorry, math-boy, but Chang Lee’s got it goin’ on!
Chang Lee and his redshirt pals hop a fence, and shoot at a car that’s chasing them. Their bullets make sparks (like fictional bullets do), but cause no real harm. The people in the car drive off, and Chang and his buddies celebrate, until some bad guys pop up from behind boxes to shoot at them.
Hang on here. Chang and his buddies were apparently up to something, and running from someone in a car. So that someone would have had to have known they would hop a fence and hide in this one particular alleyway, and arranged for armed men to come here and wait for them. Okay, I guess it could be a place Chang and the boys always hide, but I’m not quite buying it.
The other two boys get shot (and presumably killed, though Chang seems supremely disinterested in them), and Chang’s about to get his ticket punched, when the TARIDS suddenly materializes between him and the bad guys. The bad guys kindly wait until it’s done arriving, and then shoot the hell out of it. As soon as they stop, the Doctor walks out, gets shot in the shoulder, and falls over.
Argh, did the writers never watch the show?! The Doctor a) would have heard the bullets hitting the TARDIS and b) would have looked at the monitor to see what was happening outside and c) not walked out into the middle of gunfire! This really ticks me off. This is completely out of character for the Doctor, and a stupid way to kill off a beloved character. Well, okay, he doesn’t die right here in this scene, but the way he does die is even stupider, so I’m really trying to pretend it doesn’t happen.