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.