Doctor Who: The Movie was broadcast in 1996 in an attempt to revamp the long running classic sci-fi series. Made as a feature length effort rather than as a series of episodes as the show had become known for, the movie is set in 1999 and begins when what's left of the seventh Doctor Who (Sylvester McCoy) is brought to San Francisco. Here the Doctor regenerates into his eighth incarnation (Paul McGann) after he's promptly injured in a gunfight and he befriends a pretty heart surgeon named Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook). Of course, Doctor Who soon learns that The Master (Eric Roberts) is once again wreaking havoc with things and is this time bent on destroying the entire planet, so it's into the TARDIS they go to save us all from certain doom.
A lot of people didn't appreciate the efforts of writer Matthew Jacobs screenplay, as it's consistently criticized in certain fan circles for its rather large plot-holes and its tendency to jump from scene to scene out of convenience rather than narrative flow or logic. Revisiting the movie after not having seen it in some time, yeah, these complaints are still pretty valid ones. Much of the criticism stems from the fact that Jacobs was gearing his script towards an American audience (and intended as a pilot for a U.S TV series), and as many of us are well aware, American TV audiences and British TV audiences can and often do expect certain things. This resulted in an entirely different tone for this new Doctor Who, as the script concentrates quite a bit too much on the romance between the Doctor and, well, the other doctor, the lovely heart surgeon Holloway. Not a franchise known for love stories, this all feels rather forced and while McGann and Ashbrook are both fine actors and not at all bad in their parts here, their chemistry seems born of convenience and necessity rather than natural attraction.
As far as the requisite special effects are concerned, CGI was not used as well in the mid-nineties as it is these days and while James Cameron proved that it could be cinematically viable when working on a massive Hollywood budget, Doctor Who: The Movie wasn't doing that and so the computer generated effects here have not aged well. At all. In fact, they're generally pretty dire and will probably make fans yearn for the old school cheap effects that were seen on British TV for all those years. The whole thing is just bizarrely put together, pulling from successful nineties television series like The X-Files more than the classic and not so classic Doctor Who material churned out over the years, even going so far as to completely reinvent the TARDIS into something unrecognizable to established fans of the series.
What makes this work, however, is a really great performance from Paul McGann. Yes he does play up the bizarre romantic side of the character more than some of us probably want him to but he's got charm, he's got charisma, and if nothing else, you can see why Holloway's character would be attracted to him. He brings a good bit of fun to the role, and you can see why the powers that be cast him in this part expecting it to turn into something more - he has that screen presence. Eric Roberts is also pretty good as The Master. He's got the right sense of menace and nastiness to him and seems to be really putting himself into the part with all he's got. Often quite good at playing eccentric types, Roberts infuses a bit of effective humor into his part as well, and unlike the romantic aspect of the storyline, it fits naturally. The performances save this one, really. Even the supporting cast is quite good here, and as such, the movie is a lot more fun to watch than it would be otherwise. If you can get past the fact that this is an altered version of the Who that people love and accept it for the oddball entry into the series that it is, you can accept it as the goofy slice of pop entertainment that it is and have fun with it.
The movie looks okay in this 1.33.1 fullframe presentation that features nice color reproduction and a fair bit of detail in the foreground and the background of the image at all times. Presented in its original aspect ratio, there's a bit of murkiness and at times in some of the darker scenes and just a little bit more noise than you might expect to see but there aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts or heavy edge enhancement. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and overall the image is pretty decent on this DVD.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is of fairly good quality. The levels are well balanced and there aren't any problems with hiss or distortion to complain about. Dialogue comes through clearly at all times and the score and the ever important sound effects are mixed in with the appropriate amount of punch. It might have been nice to have this with a 5.1 option, as some quality channel separation and directional effects might have been fun, but that didn't happen.
The extras start off with a pair of audio commentaries, the first of which comes courtesy of Geoffrey Sax and honestly it's a bit on the dull side as there are too many spots where he simply clams up and doesn't speak. When he does get into it, he's got some good information on his role in this project and what it was like working with the various participants, but overall this track won't wow you. The second commentary brings together Paul McGann and Sylvester McCoy and moderator Nicholas Briggs for a much more lively discussion. Having both Doctors on board was a good idea and the two have a fun chemistry here that comes through in their talk. Briggs keeps the information coming at a steady pace and ensures that they stay on topic and we wind up learning a lot about their characters, their styles and their opinions on the series and this movie.
From there we move on to the extensive selection of featurettes starting with The Seven Year Hitch in which we learn of producer Phillip Seagal's efforts to bring the good Doctor back to the boob tube in a documentary that details his battles with the BBC and his quest to breath some new life back into the character. The Doctor's Strange Love is a round table discussion of the movie and how it's grown on certain segments of the Whoniverse over time, offering up some critical analysis and insight into what works here and what doesn't.
The VFX Tests June 1994 and VFX March 1996 featurettes are, as you could probably guess, a collection of special effects test footage clips. The first one shows off how the Daleks were created for the movie and the second is a collection of random CGI bits. The Behind The Scenes featurette is really a fairly random collection of material shot on the set during production mixed in with some bits and pieces involving the crew. It isn't deep but it does give us a look at what it was like to work on the production. More fun is Philip Segal's Tour Of The TARDIS Set in which the movie's producer gives us a personally guided tour of the TARDIS that was designed for the movie in which he shows off a lot of odd little touches and details we don't see in the movie itself.
Who Peter 1989-2009 is a segment that details Richard Pearon's efforts to keep the spirit of Doctor Who alive by editing and producing Blue Peter and its association with the Who series, while The Wilderness Years gives us a look into some of the books that were written for the series while it was off the air and the influence that some of these books would later have when Who was brought back. Stripped for Action - The Eighth Doctor gives us a look at McGann's take on the character, how he differed from other versions and what made him unique while Tomorrow's Times - The Eighth Doctor is a peek into the press coverage that occurred when McGann got the role, hosted by Nick Courtney.
Rounding out the extras are some trailers, a collection of alternate takes not seen in the feature, some alternate musical tracks, the movie's isolated score, an electronic press kit, a still gallery, some production notes, and some PDF material accessible via DVD-Rom drive. Menus and chapter stops are also included. All in all, this is a ridiculously comprehensive collection of supplemental material and there's enough here to please even the pickiest fan.
Doctor Who: The Movie may not be a universally loved fan favorite as it's got some pretty serious flaws, but it does benefit from a really fun performance from McGann and, as goofy as it all is, the feature is plenty entertaining. BBC's DVD release is a special edition in the true sense of the word. If the audio and video quality is decent rather than superb, the amazing selection of extra features certainly helps to compensate for that. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.