Film Review: Doctor Who -- The Movie

September 6, 2015

 

Whovian Sunday   Doctor Who - The Movie is a mixed bag that will appeal more to Doctor Who completists but is scaled down enough for casual fans to enjoy. 
The Fox network made the film for television during a gap between the earlier Doctor Who serials from the BBC, which ran from 1963 to 1989, and the revival that started in 2005. It was intended to spark an American series reviving the character.


Paul McGann (Alien 3) plays the main character -- the time-traveling crusader and non-conformist called the Doctor. The Doctor is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey and travels in the TARDIS -- a shape shifting time/space machine that is bigger on the inside than the outside and is stuck in the form of a British police call box. He regenerates into a new form whenever he dies and has 13 lives.
The story starts with Sylvester McCoy, reprising his role as the seventh Doctor, dying somewhat anti climatically and becoming the eighth Doctor (McGann). His TARDIS crashes in San Francisco as New Year’s Eve of 2000 approaches due to interference from his nemesis the Master -- a renegade Time Lord and criminal played by Eric Roberts.
An alien race executes the Master but his essence survives as a blob-like creature reminiscent of the 80s' thriller The Host. The Master takes possession of an EMT while the Doctor is rushed to a hospital during his transformation. The Master, as it turns out, has used up all of his regenerations and intends to use the inner workings of the TARDIS to steal the Doctor's incarnations.
Fans of Doctor Who, or Whovians if you prefer, will spot inconsistencies between the earlier serials and the movie, which is considered a legitimate continuation of the series.
The first act of the film is surprisingly good. It well directed by Geoffrey Sax and makes terrific use of Billie Holiday's music. The anachronistic appearance of the TARDIS is different from its appearance in the rest of the series but seems to actually better fit the character and material. 
Unfortunately, the script seems to handle the science fiction elements arbitrarily by allowing literally any plot contrivance to occur-- pulpy super science effectively functioning as magic. To be fair, the rest of the series does not qualify as hard science fiction either.

The movie also breaks with tradition by introducing two potential sidekicks for the Doctor (a quirky female surgeon played by Daphne Ashbrook and an Asian gang banger played by Yee Jee Tso) and giving them compelling reasons not to want to stay on Earth. These characters proceed to not accompany the Doctor when he leaves Earth. Huh?
The special effects and general production values are competently executed, although the movie is at times more reminiscent of the Terminator films than earlier Doctor Who. 
The performances are alright, with a slumming Roberts having fun with his role. McGann is great but the filmmakers seem to be forcing him to channel Tom Baker -- an earlier, popular actor in the part.
Doctor Who -- The Movie is undemanding entertainment -- fun for Whovians and the uninitiated but lightweight. 

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