Origin : Gallifrey
(actor) Born : 14 November 1959 –Doctor Reign – 1996 – 96
“The universe hangs by such a delicate thread of coincidences, that it would be useless to meddle with it, unless like me you’re a Time Lord.” Eighth Doctor.
After a hiatus of seven years, Paul McGann was chosen as the Eighth regeneration of the Doctor; in a made for American TV special – which aired in May 1996.
Doctor Who : The TV Movie – as it was titled, was produced and filmed in Canada. The first time Doctor Who had been shot – ‘across the pond’. The TV movie, was intended to loosely continue the series narrative and backstory of the original show – but take it in new directions.
One of those new directions, was the Eighth Doctor; played by Paul McGann. McGann was – at that point, the second youngest actor (at 36 years old) – to accept the role; after Peter Davison (at 30 years old).
Doctor Who : The TV Movie with the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) transporting the dead Master ashes – back to Gallifrey.
Suddenly, a strange ooze pours out of the Master’s casket and enters the Tardis Console, forcing it to land in Chinatown, in San Francisco – on new year’s eve – 1999.
Exiting his Tardis to have a look around, the Seventh Doctor was brutally shot by a gang of street punks and rushed to the local Hospital.
Meanwhile, the ooze we have seen earlier has turned into a kind of energy-snake and slithered out of the Tardis and possessed an unfortunate Paramedic (Eric Roberts), sent to aid the wounded Seventh Doctor.
Unable to keep the Seventh Doctor alive, the Time Lord’s body is then pronounced dead and sent to the mortuary and put on ice; where it regenerates into the Eighth Doctor (McGann).
Confused after another regeneration, the Eighth Doctor steals a fancy dress Wyatt Earp costume, left by one of the Mortuary technicians, in the locker room and escapes.
“…..I love humans. Always seeing patterns in things that aren’t there!” Eighth Doctor
Meanwhile, the Master forcibly gains entry to the Tardis and opens the ‘Eye of Harmony’ the central powersource of the Tardis – itself. Leaving the Doctor, till midnight to shut it – or the Earth might be destroyed.
The Doctor picks up two companions along the way; Doctor Grace Holloway (who killed the Seventh Doctor) and Chang Lee (one of the gang-members involved in the shooting).
In a climatic battle, with the Master; the Doctor is able to shut the Eye Of Harmony. After the Master has fallen head first into it – and is seemingly destroyed. The Doctor then plans to continue travelling, after witnessing New Year’s countdown.
Having waited 6 years, it was something of a glimmer of hope when we heard Doctor Who was coming back. Therefore, we all could accept the failings and American-isation of Doctor Who (we lived through the JNT years). As it was hoped, a new series would spring from it – either American or British.
Unfortunately though, it didn’t – The American audiences didn’t really take to it, the British audience didn’t like the tonal change. However, there was enough British interest – to suggest a new series; would be reasonably successful.
In the end, it didn’t come to much – in terms of a new TV series but in it’s own crazy way; it showed that Doctor Who was too much of a British institution, to sell on – so easily.
As to McGann himself, he showed great potential in the role of the Eighth Doctor and the biggest letdown about the TV Movie is that he didn’t get the chance to develop and build on – his Doctor.
The Eighth Doctor wasn’t around long enough, to earn a trademark or personality tic. However, what we did see is that this incarnation of the Doctor was thoughtful, dynamic, good looking and modern in his outlook (like Peter Davison had been). This Doctor, was also no slouch in the action department either, giving the Master – a run for his money!
With a few more series under his belt, I firmly believe that Paul McGann could have given Tom Baker – a run for his money. In terms of the potential for McGann’s Eighth Doctor to develop.
My only criticism of the Eighth Doctor character, is that he was styled a little too similarly to Tom Baker – in terms of his look (hair and his outfit). I suspect this was done blatantly to play upto the American audiences. However, 70’s nostalgia was huge in the mid-90’s and we were all stuck in a nostalgic 70’s revival, as popular culture reached back – 20 years for inspiration.
Talking of the Doctor’s outfit, McGann was interviewed in 2009 and said that he had a short buzz cut hairstyle, as he had been filming a role that had demanded he keep his hair short. When he first went onto the set, he was hoping the Who producers would embrace this radical look for the Doctor.
They didn’t – and McGann was – in his own words “forced to wear a standard brown wig out of a box” which he found not only uncomfortable but itchy too. He also wanted to wear a leather jacket but ended up in a formal “wild west” style suit.
The leather jacket idea, the inter-changable Tardis control-room skins – as ideas; would be incorporated into the post-2005 series – with Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor.
The return of a new series was still 9 years away, so in the interim, Paul McGann did many audio adventures and had many novels written about the continuing adventures of the Eighth Doctor.
It was always suspected that this version of the Doctor would remain “non-canon” – as did the Peter Cushing’s movie version. So it was with much surprise, that the new (2005 onwards) series included references to the Eighth Doctor as “canon”.
What this means in terms of Doctor Who history – is, that McGann (at a stretch) could be termed the longest-serving Doctor at 9 years (1996-2005). even though McGann made only one screen appearance – but many follow-up audio and novel appearances.
Tom Baker had seven years – in the role, as Fourth Doctor. Appearing in seven full seasons; so that point – is readily up, for some further debate!
So, it was a shame that McGann didn’t get the follow-up; so richly deserved – and for me, the blame has to lie with the BBC. The Eighth Doctor’s TV movie, got a good reception – in the UK (even with the problems it was still new Doctor Who) with the but the BBC were seemingly unable (or unwilling) to pickup the Doctor Who baton and run with it.
McGann deserved a better crack of the whip and potentially, his Eighth Doctor could have become; the greatest Doctor ever!