The TV movie (1996)

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This is a TV movie that was made for both the US and the British market. It was first broadcast on BBC1 on 27th May 1996. A brief and somewhat spoiler-ish summary of the plot: the seventh Doctor is charged with taking the remains of the Master to their final resting place. But, in stead, he ends up in 1999 San Francisco where, even after death, he has to fight for his remaining lives.

The good news:

The not so good news:

To expand on that last bit - and beware, there are spoilers ahead:

The TV movie set itself the seemingly impossible task of appealing to two entirely different audiences. On the one hand there were the existing Doctor Who fans, who were familiar with - or at least aware of - the 26 years of history of the series and were yearning for a continuation after the series went on hiatus in 1989. On the other hand there was the brand-new US audience that the BBC and Fox were trying to get interested in the series.

Does it succeed? Well, sort of.

I'm sure that the existing fan-base would have enjoyed the new Doctor, the regeneration scene, the jazzed-up Tardis and the other familiar things. At the same time, what's missing from the TV movie is much of what was unique about the original series. Serials like, to pick some from the much-maligned 1980s, 'Ghost light', 'The curse of Fenric' or 'Vengeance on Varos' were trying to do things that hadn't been done on TV before. Earlier serials like 'Pyramids of Mars', 'The robots of death' or 'The talons of Weng-Chiang' were taking the conventions of existing genres and twisting them into something new. To me, everything that makes Doctor Who what it is, that whole sense of play, of adventure and experimentation, is lacking from the TV movie.

Since the TV movie was broadcast on US TV at the same time as an episode of the sitcom 'Roseanne' that drew a great deal of interest, it never had a real chance on the US market. Would it have succeeded otherwise? Nobody knows, of course. For what it's worth - which may not be a lot - I don't believe that trying to fit into mainstream US entertainment, as the TV movie seems to be trying to do, is the best strategy, since the amount of US-produced mainstream entertainment is already overwhelming. There is a market in the US for off-beat television that experiments and takes risks, like 'Twin Peaks', 'Buffy the vampire slayer', 'Carnivale', 'Lost' or '24'. In my opinion that's the market that Doctor Who should be aiming for, and it has the best chance of succeeding if it stays true to itself.

My verdict:


An entertaining anomaly.

More about Doctor Who

An introduction:
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More "nice!" Doctor Who:
On-site link, opens in this window Doctor Who reviews: nice!

Similar stories:
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Original version of this review:
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More about this serial

Episode guides:
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Off-site link, opens in new window Behind the sofa
Off-site link, opens in new window Outpost Gallifrey

DVD reviews:
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