The TV Movie

TV Movie producer Philip Segal was a lifelong Doctor Who fan. He wasn’t, however, very keen on the Doctor Who of the 1980s, feeling it had headed off in the wrong direction. Segal wanted to take the programme back to basics, return to its original spirit.

But just what is the spirit of Doctor Who? Many commentators across the years have tried to pin it down, usually unsuccessfully. In the end, it always comes down to the show’s ‘indefinable magic’.

Let’s have another go, though. And where does the modern person go for information on anything? Wikipedia, of course! This is the opening paragraph of Wikipedia’s article on Doctor Who:

“Doctor Who is a British science fiction television programme produced by the BBC. The programme depicts the adventures of a Time Lord—a time travelling, humanoid alien known as the Doctor. He explores the universe in his ‘TARDIS’, a sentient, telepathic time-and-space-travel machine that flies through the time vortex. Its exterior appears as a blue British police box, a common sight in Britain in 1963, when the series first aired. Along with a succession of companions, the Doctor faces a variety of foes while working to save civilisations, help ordinary people, and right wrongs.”

How far does the TV Movie tick these boxes? That first sentence is the trickiest as we’re talking about an American production set in America and filmed in Canada. But the producer, director and writer are British, the star is British, and there is at least one reference to cups of tea. Oh, and it’s a BBC co-production, so I think we’re OK there. It’s definitely about a Time Lord, because it tells us so in the opening lines, and a quick count finds ten mentions in all – and if that’s not enough, those swirly seal decorations demonstrate either that he comes from Gallifrey or he has really, really fond memories of his visit to Voga.

I’ve often bemoaned the fact that pre-2005 Doctor Who uses time travel very little in its plots. It’s the method of getting to the adventure, rather than being part of the adventure. That’s not a complaint that can be levelled at the TV movie. While I’m not precisely sure how its particular timey-wimey stuff works, it’s undoubtedly a major part of the film’s resolution, being responsible for stopping the Earth’s destruction and bringing Grace and Chang Lee back to life. OK, so it may not make *complete* sense, but I like Grace and Lee so I’m not going to complain (and while we’re here, let’s note that they tick the ‘succession of companions’ box too).

Is the Doctor a humanoid alien? He’s humanoid and half-human, but even half-human makes him half-alien and he does repeatedly insist ‘I’m not human! I’m not human!’ (and he should know).

The TARDIS is referred to as a “sentimental old thing”, and while the time vortex isn’t mentioned as such there’s temporal orbit which sounds similar enough. There’s a stunningly gorgeous TARDIS interior and a carefully crafted police box exterior.

Does he fight foes? Of course he does! Next to the Daleks, the Master is surely *the* Doctor Who foe. And it has the righting wrongs and helping and saving civilisations stuff, although whether Earth in the Year 2000 is worthy of ‘civilisation’ status is another argument entirely.
So, according to Wikipedia, the TV Movie has everything Doctor Who should have. In fact it has more! Daleks! 13 lives! Regeneration! Two hearts! Long scarf! Jelly Babies! It is so full to the brim with Who-goodness that it’s starting to overflow.

But… is all that stuff *really* the spirit of Doctor Who?

Did the original programme have any of it? Quick comparison – and for fairness, let’s take a story that’s also set in North America, The Aztecs.
It doesn’t really tick many of the boxes. No Time Lord, not much TARDIS (it’s just the transport), no multiple lives, multiple hearts or regenerations, no Gallifrey, no long scarves or jelly babies. There isn’t really a foe, and there’s no succession of companions, just the ones he’s always had. The Doctor doesn’t even go around helping people. He certainly doesn’t save any civilisations. Pretty much the most we can say is that it’s a British science fiction television programme produced by the BBC, but then so was Captain Zep – Space Detective so that doesn’t help a lot.
I think we’re back to ‘indefinable magic’.

Oh no, hang on! The Aztecs and the TV Movie *do* have something in common! The Doctor gets engaged to a human – the Doctor kisses a human! Hurrah! We’ve discovered something at last. That must be the true original spirit of Doctor Who! Goodness me. All these years Doctor Who has simply been about getting off with girls. And none of us ever noticed.

Memorable Moments

1. “We don’t have time for that. We’ve got to get moving on this.” She’s doing an operation – wearing a ballgown! Go go Grace Holloway! Gorgeous, clever and stylish too. (Next week: Grace washes the car dressed as a flapper.)
2. “I haven’t got any brakes!” Why has this gag never been done before?! Motorcycle drives into the TARDIS and keeps going for some distance before turning and driving out again. Brilliant.
3. “”I always dress for the occasion.” Wow. That’s a dress and a half. The Master: never knowingly understated. You have to admire a villain who stops to get changed halfway through an evil plan.
4. “”Thank you, Doctor.’ ‘No, no. Thank you, Doctor.” The kiss. Hated by many – but oh, you grumpy people, let’s not deny the Doctor this expression of joie de vivre just because it involves locking lips with a human.