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.
As we have explored in the previous articles, Doctor Who had had something of a hiatus from around 1990 when it was officially cancelled – until 1995, when a joint collaborative effort between BBC and U.S. Fox network produced a pilot for an intended American TV series – which aired in May 1996.
Paul McGann was chosen as the Eighth regeneration of the Doctor; and Sylvester McCoy returned to hand over the baton to him.
The TV movie was produced and filmed in Canada, The first time Who was shot on location across the Atlantic.
The TV movie was intended to loosely continue the series narrative and backstory of the original show – but take it in new directions. It’s primary focus was to gauge interest in a big budget TV series remake, so was written with this in mind, as it went off kilter in a number of areas.
It opens with the Master – (presumably the Anthony Ainley Master), being tried on Skaro by the Dalek’s (Skaro was destroyed in Remembrance Of The Dalek’s – 1988). The Daleks exterminate the Master but not before his last request – for his enemy – the Doctor, to take his ashes back to the Timelord homeworld of Gallifrey.
Quite why the Dalek’s were trying the Master, executing him and then allowing the Doctor – (their mortal enemy!) to pop by and pick up his ashes is anybody’s guess, but I would suspect it was done more for dramatic effect than tie-ups with the original series narrative and previiusly established lore.
So, the Seventh Doctor is travelling alone with the Master’s ashes – in a newly fitted out Tardis. Different Tardis control rooms seem to be able to be downloaded in like “skins” on a computer (this is covered in more detail in the Nu Who series). 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 years eve – 1999.
Exiting his Tardis to have a look around, (This is where things got horrible for Sylvester!) the Doctor is brutally shot by a gang of street punks and rushed to the local Hospital. Although not mortally wounded, at this point, the fumblings of the human Doctor’s in surgery (not realising they have a two hearted alien on their hands!) – “kill” the Seventh Doctor on the operating table. He even tries to remonstrate with them, before they knock him out with drugs.
As much as an ending for a Doctor (and some were poor), this was about as horrible as it got really. Sylvester McCoy, for all of his faults deserved a much better send off after being such a good sport and returning to film it (see Colin Baker regenertion saga). In some ways, Sylvester’s end is more pointless than Colin Baker’s, because unlike Baker’s regeneration; they had the use of the preceding actor and this was – seemingly, the best transition they could come up with.
Meanwhile, the ooze we have seen earlier has turned into a kind of energy snake and slithered out of the Tardis and possessed one of the Paramedic’s (Eric Roberts), sent to aid the Seventh Doctor.
So the Master has yet again cheated death. Meanwhile, having been lumped in the morgue – ready for an autopsy, the Doctor – (apparently due to having been anaesthetised) finally begins his regeneration and becomes Paul McGann.
Then, happening across a locker in the Hospital; he finds a fancy dress – Wyatt Earp costume and steals it – hence the look of the Eighth Doctor.
“…..I love humans. Always seeing patterns in things that aren’t there!” Eighth Doctor
Meanwhile, the Master gains entry to the Tardis and opens the ‘Eye of Harmony’ the central power of the Tardis itself (explored further in the new series) leaving the Doctor till midnight to shut it or the Earth might be destroyed.
In a climatic battle with the Master, the Doctor is able to shut the eye, after the Master has fallen head first into it and is seemingly destroyed.
It may sound like I hate this TV movie, being something of a Who purist – I don’t.
I think it was lazy writing in some respects but I understand it wasn’t written for long time UK fans, it was written with the intention of re-booting Doctor Who specifically for the American market.
Having waited 5 years, it was something of a glimmer of hope and I could accept many of its failings – as it was hoped a new series would spring from it. Even if, it was going to be American produced.
Unfortunately though, it didn’t – The American audiences didn’t really take to it, the British audience did however, but by this point they were Who crazed maniacs and would have took anyone in the role.
In the end, it didn’t come to much in terms of a new TV series but in its own crazy way it showed that Who was too much of a British institution – to sell on so easily.
As to McGann himself, he showed great potential in the role and a new series (even produced in the UK) would have been an interesting spectacle – featuring McGann. His Doctor was thoughtful, younger, quite dynamic, good looking and modern in his outlook (like Peter Davison had been).
With a few more series under his belt, I firmly believe he could have given Tom Baker a run for his money.
My only criticism of the Eighth Doctor character, is that he was styled a little too similar to Tom Baker in terms of his look (hair and his outfit). But I guess we must remember though that this was the mid-90’s and we were all stuck in a nostalgic 1970’s revival, as popular culture reached back for inspiration. It was evident in the movies of the time (Full Monty – amongst other things) and even more evident in the music of the era.
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.
Some of these ideas would be incorporated into the look of the Tenth (now including John Hurt) Doctor – Christopher Eccleston and more recently, by McGann himself – posing in a blue leather jacket in photo shoots at the Armageddon Pop Culture Expo in Auckland, New Zealand in October 2010.
The Eighth Doctor must have been a really forgiving dude, as his companions in the TV movie (and probably on into a new TV series) were Dr Grace Holloway (who botched the operation on him and killed the Seventh incarnation of the Doctor). Chang Lee, an asian youth (who had been running from the gang that shot the Seventh Doctor) who finds the TARDIS key and lets then lets the Master in, to wreak his dastardly plans.
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 series included references to the Eighth Doctor, so making it “canon” and that Christopher Eccleston was insinuated to be the Ninth incarnation (not withstanding the later revelation of John Hurt’s Doctor incarnation inbetween which made Eccleston the Tenth!).
When the new series began in 2005, with Eccleston in the role it was confirmed in Rose – 2005 that the ninth Doctor had just regenerated and a picture also surfaces, showing an unconfirmed Doctor on board the Titantic (most likely the Eighth). It was also covered later in the David Tennant episode Human Nature – 2007 as the Eighth Doctor’s likeness appeared as a scribble in a notebook that he had made of all of his previous incarnations.
What this means in terms of Who history is that McGann could be termed the longest serving Doctor at 9 years (1996-2005) even though he made only one screen appearance – but many audio and novel appearances. Even with the Nu series retcon of the War Doctor (John Hurt) as an incarnation between Eighth and Ninth (or now Tenth).
Tom Baker had seven years in the role as Fourth Doctor doing 7 full series. So that point is readily up for some debate!
So, it was a shame that McGann didn’t get the follow up he so richly deserved and for me, the blame has to lie with the BBC. The Eighth Doctor’s TV movie got a really good reception in the UK but the BBC were seemingly unable or unwilling to pickup the Who baton and run with it.
The BBC did though, recycle many idea’s from the TV movie for the new series including : The changeable Tardis control room, the eye of the Harmony and the McGann suggested short hair and leather jacket look for the Ninth Doctor.
McGann deserved a better crack of the whip and potentially, he could of became the greatest Doctor – ever.