Posts Tagged ‘Eric Roberts’

Join me now as we crash headlong into the main problem confronting anyone attempting to sample the whole breadth and depth of televised Doctor Who: the sheer lack of available material when it comes to the eighth Doctor, as played by Paul McGann. With only one ninety-minute movie to his credit, surely McGann is the invisible Doctor as far as the world at large is concerned – that’s not to denigrate the numerous comic strips, novels, and CDs that were produced (and continue to appear) about this version of the character, but McGann’s own self-deprecating appraisal of himself as ‘the George Lazenby of the Time Lords’ possibly overstates his importance in terms of the TV incarnation of the programme.

(Even the producer of the McGann movie was apparently pleasantly surprised to discover that the eighth Doctor was considered canonical, although it wasn’t until The Next Doctor that he actually takes his place in the succession of on-screen Doctors. Prior to this I had occasionally mused to myself that there was nothing to say that there hadn’t in fact been any number of unseen interim Doctors between McGann and Eccleston… not that they’d ever use that sort of idea in the actual TV show, of course…)

Then again, the existence of a Doctor who was both official and yet barely delineated was a boon to the makers of those same spin-off properties, and it would foolish to say they had no part in bringing about the programme’s eventual return. In any case, the eighth Doctor’s place in the series’ history is not our topic for today – the movie which constituted both his debut and swan-song is.

Technically there is a problem here, as I did set out only intending to write about stories which I have always really enjoyed: and I recall my initial impression of the movie mainly being one of bemusement, transforming into active dislike within the space of a year or so. But there’s nothing else available for this Doctor, and I don’t think I’ve actually sat down to watch the movie since before the series actually came back. Possibly, I thought, viewing it again now would reveal it to be a natural and organic step in the development of the series – the missing link between Survival and Rose?


The plot goes as follows (oh boy): the Master has been executed by the Daleks on Skaro, and the Doctor has been charged with transporting his remains back to Gallifrey. However the Master is not as dead as he appears, having transformed himself into a blobby snake thing, and manages to force the TARDIS to crash land on Earth at the end of the 20th century*. Walking out of the TARDIS, the Doctor is caught in the middle of a gang fight and gunned down.

Taken to a hospital, the cardiologist (Daphne Ashbrook) who attempts to make sense of the Doctor’s alien biology hashes it quite badly and he dies on the operating table, only to regenerate on the slab in the morgue. Meanwhile the Master possesses the body of one of the paramedics involved (Eric Roberts) – but this is only an intermediate step, his ultimate goal being to take over the body of the Doctor, no matter the dangers involved for the rest of the planet…

So, as I say, it’s a very long time since I have been able to muster anything approaching genuine affection for the TV movie as a whole – has this latest return to it done anything to change that?

Well, no. I still think that, in a unconscious moment of devastating candour, the movie reviews itself quite early on. The Doctor, who is not in good shape, finds himself in the hands of some well-meaning rich Americans, who promise to do their best to make him better than ever. However, they fundamentally misunderstand what makes him work and end up practically killing him instead. Substitute the TV show for the character and you have the movie in a nutshell.

This has never really felt like ‘proper’ Doctor Who to me – which is not to say that there aren’t some lovely isolated moments along the way, most of them connected with the performances of the two leads – after a surprisingly grim first act, most of it has a playful, intentionally romantic quality to it which even the 21st century series at its most sentimental has hardly ever tried to emulate. The focus of the plot solely on the Doctor and the Master – with a climax set entirely in the TARDIS – is arguably a misstep too. This is before we even get to the fact that the resolution of the plot is, by any conventional standard, incomprehensible gibberish, which even some of the characters don’t seem to understand (God knows what American viewers new to the series would have made of it all – the programme makes virtually no concessions to anyone unfamiliar with the set-up of it all).

And as for it being the missing link between Survival and Rose – the weird thing is that those two stories don’t actually need an additional link, in narrative terms they are remarkably close together in many ways. This story is just a weird detour off into some very peculiar territory, incorporating a heritage Doctor (all crazy hair and frock coat), a peculiar religious subtext, one of Eric Roberts’ less distinguished performances (surely one of the most erratic big-name performers currently operating – one minute he’ll be perfectly fine in a classy film like The Dark Knight, the next he’ll be easily the worst thing in a piece of trash like DOA), and a strange obsession with honouring past continuity while wildly innovating upon it.

Which brings us to a few key issues connected with the TV movie, which I shall conclude by briefly looking at:

The Kissing Thing: it’s strange to recall just what a big fuss got made about the Doctor kissing Grace back in 1996. I suppose the one and only way in which the movie anticipates the modern series is in its conception of the Doctor as, potentially, a romantic hero, as it’s become pretty much de rigeur for each new incarnation to have his own little osculatory interlude. In retrospect, it hardly seems worth going on about it.

The Eye of Harmony Thing: not long after the movie broadcast I was asked by a somewhat puffed-up acquaintance if I’d spotted the continuity error. ‘Which one?’ I enquired, rather drily. ‘The one where the Eye of Harmony used to be on Gallifrey but now it’s in the TARDIS,’ came the reply (where, according to Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, it has remained). Well, personally, given that the Eye is supposed to be a singularity and thus have a rather tenuous relationship with the standard laws of physics, I have no issue with it being in two places at the same time (or even many places, assuming the Eye is the power source of every TARDIS), or indeed looking radically different.

On the other hand, I am somewhat bemused as to what the Eye of Harmony actually does in the TARDIS these days – if it is still a source of infinite power, and the ultimate motive force of the vehicle, then why have there been a couple of stories kicking off with the TARDIS needing to be refuelled? But I digress.

The Half-Human Thing: Here we go. If the Doctor kissing has now become much more acceptable to an informed audience, the idea of his being half-human remains beyond the pale. A stony silence has descended with respect to the whole concept, almost as if it has been stricken from the collective consciousness of fandom.

Well, I think a sort of a fix is possible, if you go with the theory – which had some currency at the time – that it’s only the eighth Doctor who’s half-human, due to there being human DNA in his body at the moment he regenerates, the duffers at the hospital having pumped him full of human blood. (While we’re on the subject, the fact that Grace’s probe remains in the Doctor’s body post-regeneration is interesting: does this mean that if you kill the Doctor by stabbing him through one of his hearts, and leave the knife in, every time he regenerates the new incarnation will instantly die for the same reason? Thoughts about the usefulness of a stake through the heart as a method of killing, not to mention the ancient and obscure in-universe connections between Time Lords and Vampires, instantly occur to me. But I am digressing again.)

This does mean dismissing the Doctor’s line about being ‘half-human on [his] mother’s side’ as a joke, which may not have been the makers’ intent, and is a slightly odd coincidence. It leaves us with only the Master’s comment that ‘The Doctor is half-human. No wonder…!‘ It’s the ‘No wonder…!‘ part of the line which invites speculation. It could be the Master is assuming the Doctor has always been half-human, and the meaning is ‘No wonder he keeps visiting Earth,’ or just ‘No wonder he’s so weird.’

None of this explains the business about the Eye of Harmony not opening for Time Lords, only for humans. The audios had a valiant stab at retconning this, but I think it’s really one of those things best left as a mystery of time (i.e. swept under the carpet of awkward continuity issues).

The Doctor’s Precognitive Powers Thing: this is just cobblers (it’s been even more fiercely ignored than the half-human plot point). God knows what they were thinking of.


*The Obligatory When’s It Set Discussion

I’m going to stick my neck out on this one and suggest the story happens on the last two days of December, 1999. Controversial, I know.

What is perhaps more interesting, and less facetious, is the issue of when the Master’s ‘execution’ at the start of the movie takes place, given it occurs on the planet Skaro. Skaro was destroyed on-screen in Remembrance of the Daleks, but the date at which this occurs is not given.

Now, going solely from what we see on screen: given the Doctor’s meetings with the Daleks occur out-of-sequence, there’s no reason why the trial and execution couldn’t occur at any point in Dalek history, long before the planet’s destruction – the Master’s history with the Daleks is much less extensive than the Doctor’s (as far as we know), but given the manner in which he arguably lets them down at the end of Frontier in Space, I would suggest that from the Daleks’ point of view the trial occurs post-2540 (which is when that story is set).

This still doesn’t explain the oddity of the Daleks actually putting someone on trial at all, given they are normally quite happy to kill people out of hand whenever it suits them: they  certainly don’t respect any outside authority in moral matters. Nevertheless, they do the same to Davros at the end of Revelation of the Daleks, which perhaps gives us a clue – both the Master and Davros have a history of potential utility to the Daleks, so it may be that the ‘trial’, rather than a legal proceeding, is more a sort of assessment as to whether it’s worth keeping him alive as a potential ally.

Complicating all this is the fact that an abandoned Skaro appears on-screen again at the beginning of Asylum of the Daleks. Given the Daleks apparently ‘withdrew from history’ prior to the Time War, it would be odd for the history of their homeworld to remain accessible to time travellers, but on the other hand, it seems entirely reasonable for the apparently-cataclysmic temporal upheavals of the Time War to have somehow restored the planet (which is in ruins anyway) – so I would suggest the Asylum scene is set in the post-Time War history.

Rusty Davies has made an apocryphal contribution in this area, suggesting that the TV movie occurs in the very final days before the Time War begins in earnest, with the Master having been handed over for execution in an attempt to appease the Daleks (the ‘Act of Master Restitution’) – presumably their getting the remains back afterwards was part of the deal. (This presumably gives the eighth Doctor quite a short tenure before the war catches up with him!) Nevertheless this still places the TV movie as pre-War, and so Skaro can only be there if the Daleks have already been engaging in a little surreptitious rewriting of the timelines (a little-known side effect of this sort of behaviour is a sudden rise in the pitch of the voice).

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