The Doctor honours the last request of his old enemy, the
Master, by taking his exterminated remains back to their home
planet. But the Master is far from dead. The creature he has
become forces the TARDIS to materialise in San Francisco,
1999, where he plans to steal the Doctor's body...
other Who story better suits the format of DVD than
this one, with its glossy production values and splendid picture
quality. However, this BBC/Universal/Fox co-production has
been accused, quite fairly, of possessing rather more style
the plot is slight, as evidenced by the fact that the last
two minutes of the final countdown take a whole six minutes
to elapse. A fusion of ideas from Spearhead from Space
(the hospital scenes) and The Deadly Assassin (the
Master seeking to renew himself using the powerful Eye of
Harmony), the script contains holes that beg several questions.
How does the Master get into the TARDIS (does he use the Doctor's
spare key)? Why should the Earth end at precisely midnight
(is it because the destructive influence of the Eye of Harmony
takes slightly longer than three hours to achieve its full
effect, having been opened since just before 9.00pm)? Is it
a coincidence that this near catastrophe happens on the eve
of the new millennium (or did the TARDIS home in a replacement
atomic clock)? How is it that Grace (Daphne Ashbrook) and
Chang Lee (Yee Jee Tso) are brought back to life (is it a
side effect of travelling back through time while the Eye
is open)? It's possible for the viewer to concoct answers,
but then the viewer shouldn't need to.
Sax's energetic direction helps enormously by diverting us
from the script's deficiencies and accentuating its strengths.
However, since the TV movie was aimed at audiences that were
not necessarily familiar with the show, the opening scene
of the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) in the TARDIS was
a mistake. It would have been better told in flashback after
the newly regenerated Doctor (Paul McGann) has regained his
memory. Just think how much more effective Chang Lee's first
view of the awesome TARDIS interior sets would have been then.
Americanisms also prove annoying. I have no problem at all
with the US setting or with the Master's new body being American,
but the Doctor should have remained free of such influences.
Instead, he calls his TARDIS's chameleon circuit a "cloaking
device" and calls himself the "guy with two hearts" when "chap
with two hearts" would have been more in character.
Roberts's interpretation of the Master has come in for some
stick over the years, but I believe that he hits upon just
the right combination of sinister threat and camp self-mockery.
His reputedly ad-libbed line with which he corrects Grace's
grammar provides one of the movie's funniest moments. The
actor seems to understand the tone of the show perfectly,
although his interview and the director's commentary (among
the special features) disagree as to whether Roberts had seen
any Doctor Who previously.
McGann steps into the role of the Doctor with apparent ease
that belies his nerves about taking on the part. His interpretation
has been likened to Tom Baker's, though I think he resembles
no incarnation more than Peter Davison's: he shares the Fifth
Doctor's primary characteristics of vulnerability, self-sacrifice
and comparative youth. McGann also adds an excitable nature
that gives his Doctor a propensity to speak without considering
how insane he might sound. Daphne Ashbrook more than holds
her own as his companion, Grace, providing a believable and
fan furore provoked by those infamous kisses exchanged by
the Doctor and Grace proved to be a lot of fuss about not
very much at all. Sure, we have never known the Doctor to
possess romantic inclinations before this on the TV series,
but then he has just regenerated. And he might have
re-awakened this aspect of himself following his experiment
with humanity in Paul Cornell's New Adventure, Human Nature.
revelation about the Doctor being half-human also caused controversy,
but in fact it makes a lot of sense. It explains his fondness
for Earth, his rebellious streak, and the difficulties he
always experiences with regeneration. Yes, this differs from
what has gone before, but then such is often the case when
a new creative force (in this case executive producer Philip
Segal) takes the reigns. The changes of direction and style
that we witness in the TV movie are no greater than those
that occurred between The War Games and Spearhead
from Space, between The Horns of Nimon and The Leisure
Hive or between Dragonfire and Remembrance of
flawed gem is backed up by a wealth of extra features, including
three trailers (two from the BBC and one from Fox); contemporary
interviews with the stars, Geoffrey Sax and Philip Segal;
a brand new interview with Segal; a behind-the-scenes compilation;
and two brief alternate scenes. The latter interview with
Segal proves to be the more revealing, as he discusses his
disappointments as well as his triumphs. I was surprised to
learn that he regrets being compelled by Fox to cast an American
as the Master and to include the aforementioned romantic elements.
feature-length commentary by Geoffrey Sax confirms just how
pivotal his role was in making the movie as exciting and comprehensible
as possible. Ideas of his own, such as having the newly regenerated
Doctor humming Puccini, and inter-cutting him with the Master's
newly possessed body, help to lend the plot cohesion. It is
also, um, interesting to hear Sax's opinion that all the Christ
imagery was unintentional - what, even Grace's plainly heard
reference to the "second coming"?
are further options of playing the movie with the incidental
music score isolated or with fascinating on-screen text information.
The isolated music does not include songs heard in the background
during the course of the film, but these are included as additional
tracks, as is an instrumental version of "Auld Lang Syne",
which was recorded for the movie but never used. Oddly, a
few stray sound effects remain (erroneously, I presume) on
the isolated soundtrack.
on-screen text reveals, among other nuggets, details from
previous drafts of the movie's script. Many of these defy
logic to a far greater extent than the version we ended up
with, so perhaps we should be grateful. There's another intriguing
difference of opinion, this time concerning the sunglasses
that Eric Roberts wore during many of his scenes. The text
states that he wore them to minimise his use of uncomfortable
contact lenses, whereas the director's commentary states that
this is a false rumour.
a shame that more deleted scenes could not have been included.
The old Master's original last request, performed by Gordon
Tipple for the pre-credits sequence but ultimately replaced
by McGann's voice-over, is described by the on-screen text
but not actually featured on the DVD. The same goes for a
scene in which the Master and Lee were to have been confronted
by security guards just before the Master "slimed" them.
mind, though, because what we have here is the best collection
of features on a Doctor Who disc to date. Although
not the strongest story on DVD, the movie is a fresh and epic
showdown between the Time Lord and his arch nemesis.
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