Welcome to my movie blog, containing reviews and articles. I've been writing since 2004 - with a short break during 2009.


I have, in the last few weeks, positively overdosed on Doctor Who. I've got some sixty years of episodes to catch up on, so have been doing very little else. As part of this, I got the...singular pleasure of watching Paul McGann's outing in the "Doctor Who movie".

There are a lot of “fan complaints” I could make about this film, ranging from the significant (hang on, how many Laws of Time get broken in this film?) to the picky (the Master as a growling buff American with sunglasses?) These myriad nitpicks would be of some significance if not for one, basic problem – this film is lousy from anyone’s point of view. It renders any serious debate about the story’s canonicity pointless – it’s just not worth the effort. It’s like kicking a puppy with rabies because you don’t like its colour.

You can argue that this 80 minute special is Doctor Who in a nutshell. Few fans could deny the endlessly repetitive nature of the show – Doctor arrives, in ten minutes the world is in peril, in thirty minutes the Doc works out what’s wrong, before solving it in the nick of time. Has anyone ever sat through them all and counted how many times he’s actually saved the universe this way? A good episode of Doctor Who should make you forget how unlikely this all is. This film dangles neon arrows, just in case you miss it.

The Doctor meets with peril instantly, the world gets into a ridiculous level of danger within hours (what exactly is the Master’s plan again? If he destroys everything, then what’s the point of more life?), and not only have we “only thirty minutes left!”, the film is set at the Millenium so EVERYONE else is counting down as well. Obeying conventions are good, but doing it so obviously hurts – not to mention that Hollywood has done this one so many times before, just thinking about it is dull.

It’s not just the plot which is so conventional, it’s stupid. The Companion’s job is simple – she should be schooled in the arts of shouting “Doctor!” and “What is it Doctor?!”, asking exactly what the audience want to know so the Doctor can explain it for us, occasionally scream and be kidnapped, and generally be less interesting than the Doctor. And, at the same time, do it with sufficient charm to make us forget what a limited role she plays. Martha Jones, I forgive you. I have never loved you more than now, reeling from the irritating blip which was Grace Holloway.

It honestly isn’t because she gets to kiss the Doc. Honestly (see: no point in fan quibbling above). It’s because she saves the universe, gets brought back to life (hello Adric?), is relentlessly generic and has less personality than a Dalek. And because saving Doc 8 in no way makes up for her hurting Doc 7…

Something the old series does right is keep the companions in their place – they just ask questions; universe saving is left to our hero. I’m sorry Mr Writer, but showing her crying at opera is not sufficient character development to make me forget she’s a) rubbish and b) able to save the universe by crossing two wires in the Tardis.

And yes, because she gets to kiss the Doc a further two unnecessary times (I was seriously OK with the first time, I feel I could explain that away. It was 3 and (particularly) 2 which annoyed me...) At least her hospital colleagues, who call her “amazing Grace” behind her back, seem to loathe her as much as I do.

I initially thought the Asian hero-kid was kinda interesting, but he soon fell into generic territory too. Can’t even remember his name. If this film had been made today, Shia LeBeouf would be playing that role – the cocky kid with heart who can appeal to Da Youf (see: Shia in Constantine, Justin Long in Die Hard 4, Seann William Scott in Bulletproof Monk etc)

Similarly, despite some promising moments, bad guy The Master is inevitably a disappointment. Perhaps I just couldn’t get over the American accent (not that I have anything against it in theory, but whoever thought of transplanting a show about an old bumbling British genius-gent to San Fransisco deserves to be thrown to the sci-fi geeks. It’s not just being in America – it’s the fact that it suddenly became American I object to. Suddenly, from being a supernatural Miss Marple, it’s been Hollywoodised. Also, I protest that no Doctor worth anything ever has, or ever will, use the word vacation.) He almost got it. Like the best Masters, he’s more than a match for the Doctor, one step ahead of him most of the way and comes even more close to winning than anyone else. But someone has forgotten the things which make his character unique. I can’t even define what they are – all I can tell you is that Derek Jacobi got it spot on, and this feller didn’t. And even though local Master fan Friend 4 disapproved of him giving him the Doctor a few hearty kicks, I feel if he’d taken this approach earlier on he would have got much further.

All this should sound fairly familiar to anyone who watches the show – make it up as you go plot, annoying companions, so what’s new?

Well, despite the sameness of the elements, at the same time, this isn’t TV – and boy do they go out to prove it, with varying success. Generally, the CGI is well used, a step above the cardboard and burger boxes from the original, but not too too flashy. No, it’s the direction that made me snort with derision. Compared to the old series’ static camera, Someone Who Has Been to Film School has decided to make it “cinematic” in a pathetically naive and obvious way. Look at me, Ma, I can cross cut! When they did it in Birth of a Nation it was exciting. Just because you CAN murder someone to Puccini, doesn’t mean you should. It just means you’ve seen Oldboy, Clockwork Orange, Reservoir Dogs, or one of the million other films who’ve already done it and done it better. Just because you CAN crosscut a character coming back from the dead with Frankenstein, definitely doesn’t mean you should even consider it, because it’s naff, and always has been naff. And all that Millennium countdown crap? Seriously, it might have been OK had this been made in late 1999 when “the Noughties” were so terribly chic – but it’s from 1996, three years before all that unnecessary fuss, which begs the question why?

Oh, why did we need the comedy fat guy again? I recognise him from a million other lousy movies. Surely they know that the only person allowed to provide amusement on the show is the Doctor himself.

The sorry, who? Because there’s someone I haven’t mentioned yet. Partly because you should save the best ‘til last, and partly because he’s only a minor character in the story of how an ordinary nurse saves the world. And partly because I wanted to establish quite how generic this film is.

Because that’s what Doctor Who is. Barring the odd brilliant episode brilliant for its brilliance alone (Blink anyone?), the thing that sets this show apart is the Doctor himself. But for him – say the X-men were solving all those world-ending problems instead – the stories would seem as thin as they are.

(by the by, does anyone think it’d be a really fun game to transplant “world saving teams” into other “world saving teams” plots? Partly because the Doc would whup Torchwood by saving the 21st Century When It All Changes far more efficiently than them, and partly because it would be fun to see how Heroes, The X-Files, The Men in Black plus the entire Marvel/DC back catalogue fared in the face of the same dangers. Incidentally, if I was in mortal peril, I’d be crossing my fingers for anyone except Torchwood (because they’re incompetent) or Constantine (because he has a bad track record with dead friends and allies, and a 50% survival and sanity rate is the closest Hellblazer gets to a “happy ending”. Also, the person in trouble usually ends up betrayed, dead and/or eaten by demons in hell…) Most Doctors would probably be OK, but I’d be slightly alarmed if a modern one showed up – they waste extras and supporting characters at quite a dramatic rate.)

And it’s the sheer loveliness of both Doctors involved which makes me think it isn’t all bad. The Tardis interior is glorious – far more cosy and lived in than the others*. Gothic is good.

*On a scale of one to three, where 1 is “David Tennant is da best and I luvvvv Rose” and 3 is “I’ve seen every episode at least three times, read all the spin offs, own all the annuals and have built my own Dalek”, I score a two. Or maybe 1.75, but I’m working on a two.

I love the fact he has a spare key – in fact, I love the fact the key design has stayed the same (mostly because I watched Planet of the Spiders, featuring said key, directly before this mess) – beats the modern key style by some way. I love the fact he appears to have bags of gold just lying about.

And even if this Master, companion and adventure are enough to make us envy a period of brief amnesia ourselves, this Doctor, like all his predecessors, lift the story out of the dirt whenever he opens his mouth. It’s a pity he never got to stretch his talents over a proper run, because it is likely he would have proved fantastic (maybe, before Paul McGann gets to old, they could start filming some adventures with him at the same time as the normal series, and slip them in chronologically? It’d allow for a more cohesive continuity with the future, it would be fun to see history building up in the background. You don’t even need to do the Time War (in fact, please don’t…), just have it lingering ahead. You could do it in a completely different style. Why are you pratting around with Torchwood? HERE’s your Doctor Who for adults, just waiting to happen. The film has set a more leisurely, dark style already – now trash all the “modern” elements and create a romantic epic 8th Doctor arc, to contrast with the fast-paced-editing, moping and very-hipness of the modern stuff…)

In a timeline sense, it’s horrible to think that Sylvester McCoy settling down to read his book is the last moment of proper happy piece and quiet he’s going to have for at least three regenerations (messy deaths, Time Wars, destructions of Gallifreys, bereavements, returns of Masters, departures of Masters and whatever emotional grindmill Russell T. Davies has planned for series 4 are all in his immediate future). I have a funny feeling the Doctor actually had something to do with H. G. Wells, but it could just be a hunch. Still, it is nice (wrong word…different) to have a Doctor killed by accident, not in the midst of saving something - more heroes should go out this way.

There are lots of good things in here, but they are buried very deep beneath every thing which I could conceivably criticise. I can’t forgive it for cruelly exposing everything we’ve always secretly known was lousy about this show. You may, at this point, be saying “all you’ve really done so far is criticise it from a fan viewpoint when you initially claimed this was pointless!”

True. I have been – bad Cinecism! That still doesn’t mean you should risk it. This isn’t a Constanine situation, where the fans nitpick and groan about what is basically a solid film – only a fan could find anything redeemable here at all. It may just be the worst film I’ve ever seen. It’s up there with The Bulletproof Monk for stupidity and lack of imagination.

Overall analysis: Doctor Who is the longest running sci-fi show on TV. Unless you’re a completist fan, in which case it’s (unfortunately) a must see, there’s over 80 years of decent episodes you could be watching instead. Start somewhere else, anywhere else. Even Daleks in Manhattan is better than this.


Will said...

Hey Emily, how are you doing? I just wanted to let you know that I have a new quiz up on my blog if you want to come and try it.


Man, that sure sounded like comment spam.

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