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die hard is a xmas movie | by maryann johanson

classic ‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “The Movie”

(all spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode! and no comments from party poopers — this is a love fest only / previous: Sylvester McCoy: “Survival”)
I figured: I’ll do this one first. Yes, it’s Doctor Who Americanized. Yes, it’s painfully bad. Yes, its canonicity is questionable, at best. But at least there’s only one of them — only one story with Paul McGann as the Doctor — and I can get it out of the way and get on to the real classic Doctor Who.

I wish there were more examples of McGann as the Doctor. I’m aware of all the other copious material featuring his Doctor — the radio dramas and the comic books and the novels — but it’s not the same: I want his Doctor on TV, done by the BBC. I wish we could see more of how he’d have handled the Doctor, because he has an intriguingly funky Willy Wonka/Lord Byron kind of vibe going on.

And also because life is short and he is hot:

And still, “The Movie” is, at times, an excruciating trial. I haven’t seen this in years, probably not since it aired on American TV almost exactly 14 years ago, in May 1996. And it’s even worse than I remember. Perhaps because while I see now how it serves as a bridge between the classic Who and the new show, it also suffers mightily in comparison to both, having neither the goofy charm and sly subtextual verve of the low-budget original nor the twisty timey-whimey trickery and complex darkness of the Russell Davies/Steven Moffat incarnations.

What does it have instead? I cringe to tell you:

• awful, tin-eared exposition about the Time Lords, regeneration, the two-hearts business, the TARDIS, and the relationship between the Doctor and the Master (intended, I suppose, to get virgin mainstream American audiences up to speed)

• at least half the running time ticking away with the Doctor unconscious, “dead,” or suffering from amnesia

• a car chase — well, a motorcycle/ambulance chase — that lasts for about 20 minutes, or feels like it does

• a physical fight, a knockdown brawl, between the Master and the Doctor

• a forced “romance” with the supposedly brilliant/actually idiotic “companion,” cardiac surgeon Dr. Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook, not that it’s her fault Grace is such a twit)

• wild coincidence paired with a ton of nonsense that suggests that the writer, Matthew Jacobs, had only heard rumors about Doctor Who and was not actually familar with the show (though I’m willing to believe that he was forced by Fox execs to water things down considerably).

That last deserves a lot of explanation. See, the story opens with the Doctor en route to Gallifrey to deliver the remains of the Master home, for the Master has been put on trial for his crimes, been found guilty, and executed — his last request was for the Doctor to bring him home. It’s preposterous enough that the Doctor would agree to such a chore, and it’s even more preposterous when you learn who prosecuted the Master and who asked the Doctor to perform this chore: the Daleks.

The Daleks.

I’d have thought the Master would be a bit of a hero to the Daleks, what with them all being so evil and bent on universal domination and stuff, but instead the Daleks went all Nuremberg trials on him. I would have loved to hear the rationale for their jurisidiction in this matter.

But the Master escapes his extermination, of course — he was only mostly dead, and mostly dead is a little alive — and he goes all mystical Goa’uld somehow and takes over the body of a San Francisco paramedic, Bruce (played by Eric Roberts, who gets to ham it up as the Master):

Meanwhile, the Doctor (still played by Sylvester McCoy) has gotten himself shot by stepping out into the middle of a shootout between two San Fran Asian gangs. That’s a bit of an intense turn for Doctor Who to take — the Doctor always seems so invulnerable, but of course this is just a way to force him to regenerate. (That’s why the Doctor didn’t bother to check the outside conditions before he stepped out, like he usually does — he typically has to at least get out of sight of the TARDIS before he gets into trouble.)

But then this really, really makes no sense: Lee Chang (Yee Jee Tso), one of the violent gangbangers, decides to hang around to help the Doctor (but not his fellow gangbangers), even riding to the hospital with the Doctor in the ambulance (which is where the oozy snakey Master hitches a ride, all the better to later take over Bruce’s body). And then Lee hangs around the hospital for hours, even though the police would be swarming around asking embarrassing questions of Lee regarding this gunshot “friend” he brought in (this is assuming that Lee was able to escape scrutiny by the police at the scene of the shooting).

Oh, and it’s obvious the cops have been all over the scene:

And did none of them wonder about the “police box” there? Apparently not. One policeman appears in a throwaway bit later in the story, but any serious police involvement is entirely absent here, which makes absolutely no sense at all.

Anyway, we have no idea what the hell Lee is thinking, why he’d go to such lengths for the Doctor. He just does, so that he can be around to become the Bruce-Master’s “companion”:

The Master needs Lee because, well, it’s hardly even worth going into, except that it involves the Eye of Harmony on the Doctor’s TARDIS — even though the Eye of Harmony is supposed to be on Gallifrey, from where it does the little thing of powering all of Time Lord civilization; this is like having Federation HQ suddenly be on the Enterprise. It seems that only a human eye looking into the Eye of Harmony can open it — which makes perfect sense: of course a human eye would be needed to make Gallifreyan technology work! (I wonder what Gallifrey did before humans evolved, because we came along way later than Time Lords…) Oh, and the Doctor couldn’t open the Eye because he’s only half human.

Say what?

Yup, “The Movie” informs us that the Doctor is half human, on his mother’s side.

*facepalm*

This has got to be the meddling influence of Fox execs, who would “naturally” assume that American viewers would only be interested in an alien Time Lord if he was half human. (Mom was probably American, too. And a Republican. She was probably Sarah Palin.)

But I’ve skipped over so much! Did I mention that it’s December 30, 1999, and the mad evil demented plan the Master puts in motion will culminate at precisely midnight, ensuring the certain doom of Planet Earth and all of the cosmos, hence resulting in a millennial disaster, at least for those on Pacific Standard Time? Did I mention that the Doctor ends up getting “killed” by Dr. Holloway at her hospital because she doesn’t know he has two hearts (they never get around to opening up his chest, which would presumably have been evidence enough that he was at least some sort of anomaly of nature, and they don’t believe their X-rays)? And then he regenerates in a freezer in the morgue — simultaneously with the Master being reborn into Bruce’s body — which also occurs (in case the viewer were too stupid to understand what was going on) as a morgue attendant is watching the 1931 Frankenstein on TV? I mean, the regenerations and Frankenstein are intercut with one another: “It’s alive!” and the Doctor is rising from his gurney. It’s like Doctor Who for Dummies.

Fortunately, the Doctor is able to convince Grace that he’s the same man she killed in the OR, and even more fortunately, the beryllium atomic clock he needs to fix the TARDIS and save the universe is about to be switched on at a big New Year’s party, and by a stupendous coincidence, Grace is on the board of the smarty-pants organization that is throwing the fancy-schmancy atomic clock party that night, so everything works out so great that he has to kiss her:

She’s supposedly “amazing” — not as a kisser, I mean: the doctors and nurses all snicker at the idea of “Amazing Grace” being on call that night that the Doctor is brought in, but why? No clue. She’s obviously good enough — great enough — that the hospital administrator is willing to do some hugely illegal things to make sure she doesn’t get into trouble for “screwing up” the Doctor’s treatment — like covering up his death and theft of his body (as it looks to them) — but who knows why? It’s a secret.

But that’s what other people think of Grace. What does Grace think of Grace? Who the hell knows. She swings from thinking the Doctor is a mental patient to saying “I finally meet the right guy and he’s from another planet” with no interim anything. Why is he right all of a sudden? And if he’s right, why doesn’t she go with him, go travel in the TARDIS with him, when he asks her to at the end of the story? She’s quit her job (over the aforementioned adminstrator being such a jerk), her boyfriend has moved out… what’s left to keep her from a life of adventure and awesome sex with an alien Time Lord?

Who knows?

So what’s good here? It’s a bit of a stretch to get me to my prescribed lovefest realm, but here’s some stuff I like.

The TARDIS:

It’s beautiful: we hadn’t seen anything like this before, and even not much like it since. It’s Gothicky steampunk like the ship is on the new show (though I don’t think all the candles and open flames are the best idea ever), and it’s big. The old show hinted at the sheer expansiveness of the interior of the TARDIS, but beyond the console room (and one quick glimpse at the wardrobe), we haven’t seen any of the interior of the TARDIS on the new show. I can imagine entire stories — whole seasons, even — taking place within the confines of the ship. I wish they’d at least give us more of a looksee round its depths.

The Doctor. He can ride a motorcycle:

(though I always suspected he could).

He’s got some interesting bondage gear stashed away on the TARDIS:

And he makes strange and unusual though effective threats:

“Now would you stand aside before I shoot myself?” he tells a cop (having swiped the cop’s gun). This is probably the most Doctor-ish he gets to be here (though he does drop names like Puccini and Da Vinci and Freud, and that he knew Madame Curie “intimately”). Not very Doctor-ish: How he knows things about individual, nonfamous people, specific details about their pasts or futures that are just ridiculous (like telling one character, “Answer the second question on your midterm exam, not the third. The third may look easier, but you’ll mess it up.” WTF?) He’s not omniscient, and an ability to travel in time is not the ability to know everything about the past and the future.

We should be thankful for small favors, however: this was meant to be the pilot for an American Doctor Who series. Thank Rassilon the ratings were bad enough that Fox passed on it.

Random thoughts on “The Movie”:

• This is about as naked as the Doctor ever got:

Which is pretty naked for the Doctor.

• This is the last time the TARDIS key would look like this:

• As Whats’erface asked on Wormhole Xtreme, if they’re out of phase — or, as the Doctor notes here, “the molecular structure of the planet is changing” enough so that he can push his hand through glass:

How come he doesn’t fall through the ground?

• Oh, yeah, didn’t we say? The Bruce-Master can shoot killer KY Jelly out of his mouth as a weapon:

He just can, okay?

• And the Master, he loves to vogue, darlings:

• It doesn’t say “Humanian,” does it?

It does. *facepalm*

• Two stylin’ Time Lords:

(next: Christopher Eccleston: “Rose”)


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

IMDb

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