During the production of Season 26 of Doctor Who, it was revealed that the show was going off the air. Sylvester McCoy would be the last incarnation of the Doctor. At the end of Survival he and Ace walked off into the sunset while the Time Lord mused that “somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere else the tea’s getting cold!” The showrunner, John Nathan Turner, decided to end the show open ended. Even though the future was uncertain, he wanted Doctor Who to come back.
The period between the end of Survival and the beginning of the Relaunch in 2005 is known as the Wilderness Years. During that time novels featuring the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and new companions were published by Virgin. Their authors also wrote for the relaunched show, including showrunner Russell T Davies. But by the early 90’s, people within the BBC were talking with various production companies, including ones based in the United States, to bring Doctor Who to the big screen. When the dust settled in January 1994, Universal agreed to co-produce Doctor Who with the BBC. It still took another two years to write a script, cast it, and find a network to broadcast the final result.
Once everything was settled, Doctor Who the TV movie premired on Fox on May 16, 1996. The Seventh Doctor, now traveling alone with no mention of Ace, agrees to take the remains of the Master back to Gallifrey. Historically the two Time Lords did not get along, but as a result of Universal’s involvement and several script rewrites, the Master was put on trial and exterminated by the Daleks. Of course, things don’t go as planned. We see something weird happens to the case holding the Master’s remains while the TARDIS malfunctions. Unfortunately the Doctor lands right in the middle of a gang fight where he’s shot in the crossfire.
Luckily the Doctor is taken to a hospital where a team of cardiologists try to figure out why his heart rate is so high and his x-rays come out as double exposure every time. They call in Dr. Grace Holloway who unknowingly appears to kill the Time Lord. Gallifreyan biology has a different reaction to anesthesia. The Seventh Doctor tries to warn them but it’s too late and he dies rather violently on the operating table.
Inside the morgue, the regeneration process begins. The Eighth Doctor stumbles out with a bad case of amnesia. Some Doctors in Classic Who had regeneration problems, such as the Fifth Doctor, but the Eighth Doctor’s memory problems are the worse fans had seen. He finds Grace, who doesn’t believe he is the man she operated on the night before, until he pulls the probe out of chest that she had used.
As the Doctor acclimates to his new body, so does the Master. His silvery snake remains hitched to ride with the ambulance driver that brought the Doctor in. Unfortunately the Master kills him in his sleep and uses his body. He’s obsessed with finding the Doctor and stealing his regenerations. Grace and Chang Lee, who was part of the gang that shot the Doctor but called the ambulance, get caught in the fight between the Time Lords. The Master bribes Chang Lee with gold and makes him believe it was the Doctor that stole his regenerations and the Master is only getting rightfully back. They steal the key to the Doctor’s TARDIS. To lure the Doctor back, the Master opens the Eye of Harmony, something Classic Who fans heard mentioned and New Who fans saw in “Journey to the Centre the TARDIS.”
Overall I found the Doctor Who movie to be more camp than most of the Classic Series episodes I watched, especially the last act of the movie. But I selected well regarded Classic Who stories for this blog post so it’s possible there’s campier Doctor Who out there. I did love the TARDIS set and the soundtrack. New Who viewers saw the Eighth Doctor in “Night of the Doctor,” the minisode that introduced viewers to the War Doctor before the 50th Anniversary. The movie and the minisode are the only two appearances on TV for the Eighth Doctor, with an over 17 years before his regeneration, making him the longest running Doctor. Paul McGann still portrays his Doctor in audio form, however, for Big Finish.