It Was On The Planet Skaro: The Doctors Revisited (Paul McGann)

(43 comments)

As a piece of television - as a historical artifact, say, to be observed at some future date, - this is bizarre. It can only be described as a nineteen-minute DVD featurette for the TV Movie. To some extent all of The Doctors Revisited are DVD extras, and this one is one of those ones in the rather weird tradition of trailers for a thing you've already decided to spend money on. "Here's the interesting bits of what you just watched," essentially. Except actually put before the TV Movie.

As a result, it inevitably comes off as an apologia, which, to be fair, it basically is. Moffat's intro feels more selectively edited than usual. They have Marcus Wilson, who for a couple episodes now has seemed to be taking over for Caro Skinner in the job of being asked nicely to say something by the producer and then having the camera be turned on (I will be honest, I have no actual idea whether Skinner or Wilson were actually big Doctor Who fans who were expressing their genuine memories of the time or whether they are, like John Barrowman blatantly is, being briefed on Doctor Who lore and then put on camera), talking about how nice it is that they have Sylvester McCoy back. They have Sylvester McCoy footage on the TV Movie. The odds that they had McCoy on camera doing his party piece about how the biggest problem with the TV Movie was that he was in it are pretty high. They're clearly doing their damndest to spin the TV Movie into a credible way to entertain yourself for ninety minutes, though I imagine they ran commercials so it was more like two and a half hours.

For what it's worth, their defense is a good one. They set the TV Movie up to basically be read as the not entirely adequate pilot for a never-made American television series that could plausibly have evolved into something very much like the modern Doctor Who had it been allowed to run. This may or may not actually fit the reality of the production, but it works. They find enough little moments to show that are quite clever, at least. I'll admit, I had completely forgotten the gag of the Master convincing Chang Lee that the Doctor was secretly Genghis Khan. That's properly brilliant.

But in most regards, in hindsight, it's what it's not that's significant. For one thing, it's not a discussion of the Wilderness Years. Or, for that matter, an admission of them. This is in some ways genuinely sad, not least because they have Nicholas Briggs on there to praise Paul McGann's performance, but Briggs never actually gets to talk about working with him and helping shape that performance, which he did for the overwhelming majority of McGann's actual performance as the Doctor. And McGann is the only Doctor that Big Finish can say that about - most of the time Paul McGann has spent in his life performing the role of the Eighth Doctor has been for Big Finish. Instead the McGann era gets cut down to precisely ninety minutes, and they're not very good minutes.

To be fair, nothing else acknowledged the existence of non-televised Doctor Who either, so it's tough to complain as such. It's fair and within the rules of this program, at least: only the television show is being historicized. That's generally been the rule for things like this and Doctor Who Confidential. So it's not at all that it's unusual that all we talk about is the TV Movie, although it is awkward that we have to do twenty minutes about a ninety minute television program when our only three interview guests are two co-stars and a cameo.

But, of course, it also has the awkward fate of coming out just a few months before Night of the Doctor makes a significant addition to what we call the McGann era. And so this has the doubly odd fate of defending a position that it wouldn't have felt the need to defend just a few months later. They could have done something completely different if they'd had a second story, and they surely would have, except that the big surprise release of McGann's regeneration story hadn't happened yet. So we get the most utilitarian episode of The Doctors Revisited - one that turns out to be obsolete just three months on.

Comments

Alex Antonijevic 2 years, 9 months ago

Making a series of features that follow certain rules is tough and can sometimes lead to oddities like this. I remember reading an ongoing feature of the Top 5 episodes from each classic Doctor, so 1-7.

The Tom Baker entry was missing so much good stuff, and yet the Colin Baker entry was absolutely scraping the bottom of the barrel. When asked about this, the writer just said she had to follow the brief she was given. That was it.

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Blueshift 2 years, 9 months ago

Of course, it begs the question, what DO you do with a show like this once you hit the 8th Doctor? I mean, it's aimed at a casual audience for whom a show about books and CDs would be boring as there are no moving images. The narrative is no longer "Doctor Who came back for one episode in the 90s but it was crap so didn't get further and so it died forever", especially not in the middle of a celebratory run of shows. What else could you do?

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Lo-Fi Explosion 2 years, 9 months ago

You celebrate the fans that kept it alive, you celebrate all of those books, comics and audios. I can understand why the BBC would not want to make an advert for Big Finish, but they are all, in some way, part of the Doctor Who megabrand.

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Anthony Strand 2 years, 9 months ago

Like Lo-Fi Explosion says, the BBC might not want to spend a bunch of time promoting Big Finish, but I think doing so would make the most sense. To me, it almost feels like Doctor Who was a TV show for 7 Doctors, and then a radio show for one, and then back to TV. Obviously I know that isn't true (and indeed, the majority of McGann's audio work has been created post-2005) but 8's audios "feel" more official to me because he has so few on-camera appearances.

So bring Nicholas Briggs in to talk about some of the big storylines. Acknowledge that Cornell and Gatiss and Shearman all wrote audios for 8. There's a certain continuity of creators between Big Finish and the new series, which strengthens the case that 8 is a "real" Doctor, I think.

Also, there's a nice longish (30-45 minutes) featurette on the DVD for the TV-movie about the Wilderness Years, which was my introduction to the idea that the novels and comics and audios were something worth paying attention to. Specifically, I remember being intrigued by the discussion of the DWM comic "The Flood" and its aborted climactic regeneration. It made me very interested to read that stuff, and now I have.

Obviously that's directed at the most hardcore of audiences - and this, as you say - is aimed at a casual one. But I still think something like that could have worked pretty well. I'm sure there are a lot of like me who've never paid any attention to other formats. And also like me, all some people need is to know there are good stories out there in other formats.

They weren't going to talk about that in every Doctor Revisited, but 8 would have been the perfect time.

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Alan Moore 2 years, 9 months ago

While they would not have to promote Big Finish as such, the BBC did broadcast audios on Radio 4 / Radio 7 Extra, so a mention of the fact might have been okay, surely? Maybe they didn't want to have to pay for the rights to the audio outside of the UK.

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Jarl 2 years, 9 months ago

This special was hilariously bad. They couldn't even get McGann to come in, such a shame.

That said... familiarity breeds appreciation, perhaps. In the anniversary year alone I watched the TV Movie probably three times, once just to catch myself up on it, once with my mom to introduce her to it, and again with mom watching this special. It's peculiar, but the more I watch it, the more I enjoy it. Maybe everything that seemed like such a big problem the first few times I watched it just isn't so big a deal anymore, with the new series rendering everything kinda moot. Maybe I'm just falling in love with McGann's performance and a rising tide lifts all boats. It's not like I'm getting better at selectively remembering the movie, I actually do enjoy watching it nowadays.

Part of it, I'm sure, is my obscene fetish for the visual texture of 90s film stock television. I grew up with Law and Order and the X-Files, that's how television should look, to me, and the TV Movie plunges into that aesthetic gleefully. Remember the Cloister Room? Leaves blowing around, bats flapping about... what a crazy set.

Like any good episode of Doctor Who, the TV Movie has a scene where the show, seemingly without any guiding hand, comments on itself: The Doctor, gazing into the ceiling of the TARDIS (which was a cool effect, you have to admit) and declaring "There is no future!". That was adorable.

You know, the more I watch the movie, the more I actually come to appreciate its take on the Master. The "Evil eyes" that his victims get is a nice, creepy effect, and I love that he's a grammar nazi, something the new series picked up on with his appreciation for "decimate". While it's obvious that, had the show gone to series, they'd have recast the Master, I do think it's a shame we never got a "The Two Masters" with him and Ainley, or indeed will ever get a multi-Master story starring him, Simms, and Gomez. I mean, it's not like Roberts has visibly aged in the past 20 years, I saw him in some terrible martial arts movie recently and he still looks like a piece of driftwood with a wig on...

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Seeing_I 2 years, 9 months ago

The Master correcting grammar was wonderful, as was his filling in the appropriate psychological term "transference." Honestly Eric Roberts really steals the show for me. Not always in a good way....but he's never less than watchable.

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John Binns 2 years, 9 months ago

*Yes* way.

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John Seavey 2 years, 9 months ago

The way the Wilderness Years have been treated by the BBC still breaks my heart. When you look at the new series, it's pretty much a group of creators who either rose out of fandom during the Wilderness Years (like Cornell and Roberts) or who were profoundly influenced by those creators (like Moffat, Davies and Gatiss) taking all the best elements of the Wilderness Years, honed through years of experimentation, and unleashing them on the general public like an all-conquering juggernaut of memetic warfare...

And the books are all out of print and BBC Worldwide won't reprint them without first getting the authors to give up all future royalties, and the BBC shows no signs of ever being interested in getting Big Finish any kind of US distribution deal. It consigns an entire generation of Doctor Who, quite possibly the best generation, to the memory hole, leaving us fans who were around then to be viewed as ranting nutters by the people who don't have the chance to understand what we fell in love with back then. It's immensely frustrating.

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Anthony Strand 2 years, 9 months ago

I'll say that is possible to discover all of that stuff, but mostly through extra-legal means. That's what I did. I never saw Doctor Who until the new series came along, but now I'm working my way through the New Adventures. I had to download them to do it, but they are out there.

I didn't feel any guilt about that because that's the only way to get them. I'd be happy to buy "The Highest Science" from the BBC if they'd sell it to me.

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Jarl 2 years, 9 months ago

It's just a shame the orthodox fandom that was and still is the main creative force in the franchise treats the TV Movie in general and Eric Roberts in particular as such pariahs. I've not read every single 8th Doctor Adventure and listened to every single Big Finish audio, but have they ever brought back the Roberts Master? I mean, it's not like Big Finish couldn't afford him...

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Anthony Strand 2 years, 9 months ago

They haven't brought him back. In fact, the 8th Doctor has lately been facing off against a new incarnation of the Master, played by Alex MacQueen.

I know that there are rights issues preventing Big Finish from using the original characters from the TV movie (like Grace and Chang Lee) even if they wanted to. I doubt that extends to the Roberts incarnation of the Master (because, like the Doctor, he's a character from the classic series). I think they just decided to go in a different direction and cast a British actor.

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Daniel Tessier 2 years, 9 months ago

Nick Briggs has stated that rights issues prevent any use of Roberts as the Master. I don't know if they'd have any interest in using him if they could, though.

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John Seavey 2 years, 9 months ago

I know they're bootleggable, but really, there's no reason beyond institutional greed and intransigence that they're not more commercially available. That's annoying to me, even though I have a complete set.

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encyclops 2 years, 9 months ago

I bought The Highest Science either from Amazon or eBay, I forget which. Many of the novels are going for absurd prices (it's extremely tempting to try and sell mine, but I can't quite bring myself to do it) but if they're under 20 bucks I generally feel OK cherrypicking the ones I really want to read.

I'm sure that's not news to everyone, but it is an option. I don't really blame anyone for downloading them instead.

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encyclops 2 years, 9 months ago

Part of it, I'm sure, is my obscene fetish for the visual texture of 90s film stock television. I grew up with Law and Order and the X-Files, that's how television should look, to me

I felt something similar recently watching Ghostbusters. Everything about how that movie looks and moves seems like a sort of baseline for movies in my head. Earlier movies look like "the 70s" or "the 60s," later ones like "the 90s" and so on, but 80s movies in general and the ones around that time in particular are just where "normal" is calibrated for me.

The Roberts Master is really funny, actually. At the time it seemed like a crime, but as I said on another thread, I was so much older then.

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David Anderson 2 years, 9 months ago

According to Amazon, they're planning to re-release Human Nature and The English Way of Death. Ok - Human Nature has been free to read on the BBC website in living memory, but still it's nice that it's in print.

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ferret 2 years, 9 months ago

I've found the TV Movie has improved by not being "the last ever/latest Doctor Who" - as if being so meant it was more important that it got everything right, and more cringeworthy that it got anything wrong.

I don't know if I'm alone in this (badly described) effect, as Alien 3 had a horrible, horrible reputation until Alien 4 came along. Suddenly Alien 3 wasn't quite the pariah any more, not necessarily through a re-appraisal but because the pressure was now off it being the final and definitive end of the Alien franchise. It's allowed to be just "not very good" rather than some sort of crime against those who love the franchise.

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Sean Daugherty 2 years, 9 months ago

For me, the most shocking thing about the TV movie is just how well so much of it actually works. Not in the sense of "it was doomed from the start," but in the sense of "none of this looks, on paper, like it had the slightest chance of working." Casting Eric Roberts as the Master is probably the biggest example of this. He's never been on anyone's short list of actors for the part, but he absolutely devours it. He's a legitimate joy to watch, and he deserves to be remembered in the same lineage as Delgado and Ainley.

And so it is for much of the movie. The script, shockingly, "gets" Doctor Who better than anyone could have been expected. Ultimately, the production fells well short of great, and may or may not even reach "okay," but that's all down to its weird combination of embracing and distancing itself from the franchise's history, and a "crap, we're out of time" finale that fails to make much actual sense. But that last issue can be levied at a lot of modern Doctor Who, as well, so even that I find it difficult to hate the movie for.

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 9 months ago

I'm still dismayed that Moffat had a chance to properly bring McGann to the big screen, rather than the small online one... and he blew it. While it was properly delightful to see him at least, it still missed the point of actually HAVING him in the damn special. :-(

Really? You used archived footage and a crappy CGI head replacement WHEN YOU HAD HIM IN THE DAMN STUDIO? Seriously... the mind boggles.

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Anthony Strand 2 years, 9 months ago

Yeah, that's the most puzzling thing. It would have nice for him to play the War Doctor role, because there's reason 8 couldn't be the guy who fought in the Time War (his romantic nature makes it even more tragic, I think). Moffat could even have still done the "one I forget" stuff in "Name" and have it work on a meta level.

That said, I love "Night" so much that I don't mind the way it turned out. And John Hurt is a lot of fun. But if the 8th Doctor bits at the end of "Day" were new, it would have been a wonderful little touch. And it wouldn't have stuck out too badly.

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Kit 2 years, 9 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Kit 2 years, 9 months ago

It really would have stood out against the all-archival-footage nature of the other Doctors, and likely made it much harder to keep the secret around his appearance.

If they had shot new McGann for that scene, then it should have been irresistible to shoot extra McCoy during Five-ish and have an inexplicable THIRD Seven show up. (Except Moffat said the two Sylvs was a mistake, not a delightful injoke about his trend-setting tendency for his later self to meddle in his earlier self's affairs. Booo.)

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encyclops 2 years, 9 months ago

I don't know if I'm alone in this (badly described) effect, as Alien 3 had a horrible, horrible reputation until Alien 4 came along.

That's a good analogy, I think. I like all four movies for different reasons, but it's far less horribly depressing for Ripley to end her saga as a fascinating hybrid rather than a martyr.

The movie is shockingly like modern Who in all sorts of ways. I think this blog covered in detail the idea that "Rose" was the movie done right, and I don't disagree, but they have way more in common with one another than they do with classic Who. And frankly it took me a while to warm to modern Who too, so there you go.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 9 months ago

Two Sylvs?

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Jarl 2 years, 9 months ago

During the "ALL THIRTEEN" scene, we see classic series Seven and movie Seven both doing their thing.

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 9 months ago

Yes... that was a bit strange. But, Kit, the "all Thirteen" Doctors was the big secret, aside from McGann -- and since the special was released a ways AFTER the minisode, there'd really be no need to keep the "secret" of McGann afterwards.

Really, all you had to do for Seven and Eight was shoot new footage -- they still actually look like their Doctors, at least. Poor Colin and Peter.

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Anthony Strand 2 years, 9 months ago

Also, they presumably would have shot it at the same time as "Night of the Doctor", maybe even on the same set, so the shoot itself wouldn't have compromised the secret any more than it already did.

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William Silvia 2 years, 9 months ago

I'd say you do 5-10 minutes on Doctor Who fandom in the wilderness years, 5-10 minutes on Big Finish with a slight emphasis on Dark Eyes, 2-3 minutes on "Scream of the Shalka"...

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ferret 2 years, 9 months ago

Peter/Colin could have recorded new audio also - it's not like they haven't had the practice!

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David Anderson 2 years, 9 months ago

I thought I read somewhere that Russell Davies was part of a conspiracy not to draw the continued existence of Big Finish to the attention of the BBC marketing people? Might Moffat be too?

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 9 months ago

Yep... all dismaying, and, really, a profoundly strange decision on the part of Moffat.

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Ombund 2 years, 9 months ago

Hmm…I can understand not liking some of the decisions but I think they’re all perfectly sensible from a production viewpoint. All the things you’re talking about would have cost money and you just need to read an account of the making of Night of the Doctor to see how they were already running on budget fumes by that point. Further sets and wages would have been out of the question. And as Kit says, having some of the Doctors appear in archive footage and others not would have looked weird and frankly pointless. What would you gain from 2 seconds of new McGann or McCoy in Day of the Doctor? It’s a case of spending the money where it’s most effective.

I also think it was absolutely the right decision not to use McGann in Day. One consideration does have to be that showing Eight in that light wouldn’t suit the character as established in the various spin-off media, but more importantly bringing back McGann as the focus of the main 50th event would serve to alienate the sizeable casual audience the special was aiming to attract. That audience wouldn’t know Eight but they would know that he’d been an actual televised Doctor and so they’d be left feeling like they’re missing something. Using Eccleston would have been fine, as he’s firmly a part of the mainstream experience of Doctor Who. But in his absence the most satisfying alternative is doing what they did and introducing a whole new incarnation no-one – mainstream audience and fan-alike – has ever seen before. Plus, this way the show’s mythology was broadened, we got the experience of watching Night (which was, I’m not ashamed to admit, some of the best 8 minutes of my life), and we got to see the fabulous John Hurt in Day.

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David Anderson 2 years, 9 months ago

If one were to look at the series from an outside perspective, it's remarkable that a seven minute web episode is considered a significant addition to the Eighth Doctor's era by so many fans. (Including me.)

I wonder whether, when Phil publishes his essay in the Eighth/Ninth Doctor book, it will take longer to read the essay than the episode lasts?

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Kit 2 years, 9 months ago

since the special was released a ways AFTER the minisode, there'd really be no need to keep the "secret" of McGann afterwards.

The minisode was released a week early because spoilers were about to escape - it was meant to come out the day before An Adventure In Space And Time, I think.

they presumably would have shot it at the same time as "Night of the Doctor", maybe even on the same set, so the shoot itself wouldn't have compromised the secret any more than it already did.

But many, many more people worked on Day Of The Doctor in post than on Night, thus increasing the chance of leaks.

I agree with Ombund's last paragraph, too.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 9 months ago

My defense of Alien 3 and attack on Alien 4: http://aaeblog.com/2012/06/23/for-whom-an-alien-heat-makes-festival-part-3-alien3-and-alien-resurrection.

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encyclops 2 years, 9 months ago

Nice. I can't disagree with anything you said about either film. I still enjoy Resurrection, though; the hybrid is a poor design but a creepy, compelling concept, and Weaver brings so much power to bear on that cloning lab scene -- really, everything she does here -- that even the worst moments are elevated as a result. It's a return to motherhood, but also it trades abortion for filicide, so you know. I will say that Alien 3 ended up with maybe a little more running around and yelling toward the end than was necessary; it's pretty compelling up to that point and afterward but seems to sag a bit there.

Getting back on topic: I'd agree the martyr ending is thematically stronger; I just would hate to have missed out on hybrid Ripley. Also on topic: Paul McGann!

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John Seavey 2 years, 9 months ago

He might be--certainly, it's a separate hobbyhorse of mine that apparently the BBC don't trust people to understand that "Doctor Who--The Lost Adventures" is different from "Doctor Who" for branding purposes. (Moffat has brought this up as a reason not to do further McGann stories, that he'd be worried about "confusing" people with two separate series featuring people as the Doctor.) If that's the level of thinking going on, it may well be smart to hide Big Finish from the people making top-level decisions. :)

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Blueshift 2 years, 9 months ago

No, I think Moffat was bang on with that, especially in a regeneration year. I had normally intelligent friends who were confused by even the very clearly defined John Hurt (IS HE THE NEW DOCTOR????) and McGann (IS HE THE NEW DOCTOR????). I can understand wanting to clearly have one Doctor, one show.

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David Anderson 2 years, 9 months ago

The reasoning behind Davies' conspiracy was that the BBC marketing people might start wondering why someone else is making money out of Doctor Who, and nobody wants a repeat of the end of the Virgin New Adventures and the start of the BBC books.

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David Anderson 2 years, 9 months ago

I think it would have felt wonky to have one or two past Doctors played by live footage, and others from archive footage. Especially if Eccleston wasn't doing live footage.

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Galadriel 2 years, 9 months ago

For what it's worth, this American would like to remind others that BBC Radio streams on iPlayer free worldwide, including Big Finish programs. They actually had Hornet's Nest series on at the end of December.

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John Seavey 2 years, 9 months ago

@Blueshift: But those things were...well, Hurt was intended to be confusing. It was a shock twist, a person who showed up calling themselves the Doctor that we'd never seen before. Confusion and uncertainty was, in fact, the intended reaction. :)

And McGann...I can understand him being a bit confusing, he's the least-well known of all the incarnations to a casual fan (one DVD, all his books out of print, his audios only available through an obscure British company with no distribution deal). And the show was put out under the "Doctor Who" logo. But if the BBC were to start a new spin-off series, called "Doctor Who: The Lost Adventures", starring "Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor", I think that would be a very different animal. Heck, if they wanted to make it clear even to the dullest individuals, they could open each episode with a framing sequence where Capaldi reminisces about an adventure he had "a few regenerations ago", and then cut in to the adventure. Even that, I think, would display a lot of contempt for the audience's ability to figure things out, but it'd still be quite doable (adds maybe one day's shooting to Capaldi's schedule as he knocks out all the intros). The whole "branding" thing to me feels like a non-starter.

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