With the 60th anniversary of Doctor Who approaching in November, it’s a good time to revisit some older productions from the Whoniverse. Doctor Who: The Movie is an integral piece from the franchise’s history, linking together the classic and revival eras. The film is a good piece of production, though perhaps it took some time for fans to appreciate it. So let’s enter the TARDIS, go back in time, and talk about the only canonical Doctor Who movie to date.
Not a noble end for the 7th Doctor
Doctor Who: The Movie is the third live-action film in the Doctor Who universe, but the first canonically linked to the series. It serves as a transition point between the final season of the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and the adventures through space and time with the new and younger Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann).
The film begins right after the Doctor has captured and imprisoned the Master and is transporting him to Gallifrey. After an emergency landing in the middle of San Francisco’s Chinatown, the Doctor is shot exiting his TARDIS. At the hospital, doctors try to save him but discover that he has two hearts. This confuses them and the Doctor dies on their watch. His body is taken to the morgue, where after some time it regenerates from Sylvester McCoy – the Seventh Doctor into Paul McGann – the Eighth Doctor.
To be honest, when I first saw this scene, it was funny, but now I feel that it’s a lackluster way to say goodbye to such an iconic regeneration of the Doctor. The Seventh Doctor was a clever, funny, cunning person and very good at strategic thinking. Saying goodbye to him in such a strange and unexpected way (especially since he could have checked what was going on outside before exiting his TARDIS) seems like a farewell that should have been better. Fortunately, his recent appearance in The Power of the Doctor did him some well-deserved justice.
Doctor Who: The Movie has a very cheesy story with great moments
Despite the fact that this film was intended for television, it is not as bad as some may think. After the regeneration from the Seventh Doctor into the Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann was fantastic as a Doctor who is “stoned” after regeneration. Meanwhile, The Master in the form of goo has escaped from the TARDIS and possesses Bruce (Eric Roberts), an ambulance driver.
Leaving the hospital, the Doctor is discovered by Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook). He tries to prove to her that he is the same man she tried to save, but of course, like any normal person she doesn’t believe him at first. While trying to explain the truth to Grace, The Master opens the Eye of Harmony inside the TARDIS and the Doctor is flooded with memories of him and the Master. It’s then that he realizes that he is back and looking for him. He now must close the Eye of Harmony to prevent the destruction of the Earth, which will weaken the fabric of reality and bend it to the Master’s will.
Leaving the hospital the Doctor and his companion meet The Master and Lee (Yee Jee Tso), who stole a few objects from the Doctor as he lay wounded. The Doctor doesn’t immediately recognize The Master, but when he does, he and Grace escape from the ambulance.
The Doctor gets into the TARDIS, installs a clock, and closes the Eye, preventing reality from being destroyed again. Unfortunately, the damage to the Eye is so extensive that the Doctor must turn back time to before The Master opened it, in order to stop it from destroying Earth. As he attempts to do so, The Master possesses Grace’s body, knocking him out.
The Doctor is chained over the Eye, preparing to be obliterated, having given all his remaining regenerations to the Master. The Master promised Lee that he would reward him for his help, and his “reward” was a sad death.
Just in time, Grace regains consciousness and prevents the destruction of Earth by repairing the circuits in the TARDIS. She frees the Doctor but in revenge the Master kills her. This causes the Doctor to kill the Master, pushing him inside the Eye of Harmony. In doing so, he closed the Eye and turns back time a few minutes before Lee and Grace died. It was a sad moment for the Doctor, but fortunately, everything ends on a positive note.
With the Master dead and Earth safe, the Doctor is ready to leave and wants Grace to be his new companion. She refuses and kisses him goodbye. The entire film ends with the Doctor traveling in the TARDIS in his new costume, ready to explore the deepest corners of the universe.
It’s a long time before Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor returns
Until the release of “The Night of the Doctor “in 2013, Paul McGann’s Doctor had not been seen on screen since the film’s release. His return pleased many fans because, although his appearance was small in both the prequel to “The Day of the Doctor” and “The Power of the Doctor,” McGann has many fans thanks to his audio series. In his interview with RadioTimes McGann stated about the movie,
“I remember thinking Doctor Who is now finished and I’m probably partly responsible for it. It’s funny to tell now, but at the time, I really was like ‘It’s me and Peter Cushing. We’re in the naughty room. No one’s going to mention our names when they talk about Doctor Who.” (via RadioTimes)
Even though McGann himself said this movie was the reason his career as Doctor Who was over, we now know it was just the beginning of another beautiful journey.
I think the film was a good product of the time in which it was released, and it worked well as a made-for-TV production. With that said, Doctor Who: The Movie is an enjoyable movie for fans to watch, especially those who don’t want to watch the classic era, but want to watch something that directly connects to the revival.
My rating for the film:
★★★½ / ♥♥♥♥
Doctor Who: The Movie is available for purchase on DVD or Blu-ray, and available to stream on Britbox. Have you seen this film before? Did you enjoy it? What did you think about it? Let us know on our Twitter or The Cosmic Circus Discord.
And if you haven’t already, check out our theory of how multiple Doctors could appear in the 60th-anniversary specials, arriving this November!