This one is….a controversial one to say the least. I don’t think there is a Doctor Who story quite as divisive or challenging for the fandom to handle as this one. As part of my research in to a new Doctor Who RPG campaign with my friends involving and starting with the Eighth Doctor as played by Paul McGann, I decided I wanted to understand and better get in the mindset of the Eighth Doctor as not much is really known about him TVwise unless you count the Big Finish audios (which of course I do because that’s badass). Therefore, I decided to take the opportunity to revisit the Eighth Doctor’s first adventure “Doctor Who: The TV Movie” otherwise known as “The Enemy Within”. Even the name is a good example of how tricky this story is. Half the fandom calls it “The TV Movie” while the other half calls it “The Enemy Within”. Which is correct? Does it really matter? Either way, this is one story that requires a little bit of an explanation before we dive right in to it. This story serves more or less as the bridge between the Classic Series and the New. After Doctor Who was originally cancelled in 1989, many attempts were made to bring it back from hiatus. To that end, in 1996 producer and writer Philip Segal made the strongest attempt by means of a back door pilot and if it was successful then a new show would be commissioned. All of the major players were in place and even Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy was available and set to pass the torch on to the new Doctor, Paul McGann.
All of the major networks passed on it except for Fox which of course anyone who knows and follows sci-fi television knows what a truly spectacular idea that is. In typical Fox fashion, they dropped the telemovie right in the middle of sweeps week in the U.S., so while the film was a success in the UK it was unfortunately DOA everywhere else and the show would languish in limbo for another decade before Russell T. Davies would successfully bring it back in 2005. However, none of that speaks to the quality of the movie itself. Is it truly any good or is it worth the ire and controversy that it receives? Well let’s take a closer look and find out.
After the Master (essentially Moriarty to the Doctor’s Sherlock Holmes) is tried and executed by the Daleks (don’t ask, I have no clue), the Seventh Doctor is returning home to his home planet of Gallifrey with the remains of his archnemesis. However, due to plot contrivance reasons the Tardis is forced off course and lands in 1999 San Francisco on the verge of the New Year. The Doctor is immediately wounded in a gang fight and later killed in a botched surgery to save his life by our token companion, Dr. Grace Holloway. As the Doctor regenerates from Seven to Eight, the Master has found himself a new (horribly acted) body and his own new companion in the young man who shot the Doctor, Chang Lee and threatens to destroy the world in his quest to steal the Doctor’s remaining regenerations to save his own life. As the clock counts down to midnight, can the newly regenerated Eighth Doctor stop his oldest nemesis and save the world?
Ok let’s get the positives out of the way because unfortunately, the negatives definitely outweigh them this time and they deserve to be mentioned with appropriate length. First off, we hit our main lead himself played for the last time on TV by Sylvester McCoy and the first time on TV by newcomer Paul McGann. McCoy is fine of course though I don’t feel like he gets as much as time as he should for his last story though his regeneration is really cool looking. However, Paul McGann is absolutely amazing as the new Eighth Doctor and is the shining light in the whole story. He’s energetic, fun, and definitely the classy romantic Doctor before the New Series Doctors came along and yet can deliver all of the necessary dramatic lines and weight when needed. He is a more than worthy successor to McCoy and it’s a terrible shame that he didn’t get as much time as he deserved on TV. Luckily, his career on Big Finish has soared with some of the best audio adventures ever written and it’s still continuing even to this day with “Doom Coalition” coming out in November. Not to mention that Paul McGann is an amazing guy in person. Believe me, I know:
Jealous much? So the Eighth Doctor is amazing, what else do I like? Well I love the opening for one. The titles, theme, and credits are really done spectacularly and are some of my favorites. I also really love the TARDIS here. It has a classy H.G. Wells vibe to it and it’s so different compared to any other Tardis we’ve seen. I would also say that the plot chugs along nicely at a brisk pace, keeping you interested and moderately invested until the very end with plenty of in jokes for old and new fans to enjoy. The companion Grace Holloway is also decent enough though a little underused and under acted though she does get credit for being the first onscreen kiss the Doctor had which was actually quite controversial at the time. Seems a little odd now thinking about it considering how many onscreen kisses the New Series Doctors have had.
What don’t I like? Sadly, most everything else. I HATE the Eric Roberts version of the Master shown here. As much as I think Eric Roberts is a decent and cool guy despite some of the schlock he is in (again, I know personally, see below):
, I feel like he is REALLY miscast as the Master. He does nothing throughout the movie except chew the scenery, spit on people, and make like he’s either the Terminator or a half-handed flamboyant Bond villain. It’s really distracting and it makes me glad that they picked much better actors and actresses for the role later on. The rest of the cast is pretty forgettable ninja Chang Lee as the other companion who is ok I guess. His acting is a little phoned and doesn’t leave much of an impression but it gets the point across ok I guess. The film had a very 90’s tone to it that for me gets really distracting and frequently a lot of things don’t make sense of terms of both the canon and actual science. Why the hell is the Eye of Harmony on the Tardis when it’s the size of a black hole and supposed to power all Tardises? Why the hell does glass turn in to a semi liquid as its exposed to a singularity? Why the hell are the Daleks trying and exterminating the Master when that isn’t their jurisdiction and why did they summon the Doctor to pop on by without one “Exterminate!”? Why can the Master spit people transforming goo from his mouth? And the biggest one of all: WHY THE HELL IS IT STATED HERE THAT THE DOCTOR IS HALF-HUMAN? *breaks glass* NO NO NO NO!! Now I’m completely aware that the books and audio dramas have gone specifically out of their way toretcon this and the New Series pretends like it never happened, but it was still a major WTF moment. There are frequently times like this that don’t make sense and really drag things down for me. If you aren’t a big Doctor Who fan, you probably won’t care as much or notice but for me it was REALLY distracting. I also didn’t like the Deus Ex Machina ending that much and the cheapo happy ending brought on by it. It felt very forced and while necessary, sort of cheapened what had been gone through to get to that point. The cinematography is meh, effects ok for the time, and the setting really cliche but for bringing the show back and an attempt to revive it in the 90’s, it could have been a lot cheesier. Finally, here’s a weird question for you: what does this movie and “The Passion of the Christ” have in common? The same musical composer John Debney. That was a major surprise to me. However, unlike Passion, the music here is completely forgettable minus the opening and a few key tracks here and there. All of this combines in to a weird and hodgepodge of a whole that serves as a good bridge between the old and the new and a great point for New Series fans to get in to the Classic Show but one that I don’t feel is a good episode all on its own.
FINAL VERDICT: This is a REALLY difficult one for me to pass judgement on it because there are some things I really love about this episode and there are some things I really hate about it. While the TV movie has some great moments, great Doctors, an amazing Tardis, and some good moments here and there, I don’t feel like it’s a good movie. The faults are there and easy to spot, Eric Roberts had no business playing the Master, and if you ever want to see me throw something at your head, just say the words ‘Half-human on my mother’s side.’ However, it’s still worth watching in my opinion for Paul McGann’s amazing Eighth Doctor and McCoy’s last TV appearance and regeneration if for nothing else. Difficult for a final review, but McGann definitely tips it over to the positive side for me if only just. Give it a watch and see what you think! — 6/10.
Until next time my fellow readers, ~Geronimo!!