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Mar 25, 2005

"I can't make your dream come true forever, but I can make it come true today!"

I was twelve years old back in 1996. Old enough to be self-aware as a "Doctor Who fan", but still young enough not to have to view it all through the cynical eyes of an adult. Therefore, when the TV Movie came along, perhaps I allowed hope and optimism to overtake realism for a little while - I so wanted it to be a success, and to thus usher in a whole new series of the Time Lord's adventures to enjoy, something I hadn't had since I was five years old - it seemed an eternity ago even then.

I remember its release well. The first day the video was supposed to come out, mum drove me down to Worthing only for us to find that it had been delayed. Curse the BBFC! Still, the nice people at Volume One did take pity on me and gave me one of their promotional posters for free as a consolation - the "Time waits for no man - Except one!" one, which is still rolled up and stuffed away somewhere or other amongst all the junk in this bedroom from which I now type...

The following week, I got home from school in great excitement - it was the Wednesday before the Monday of transmission, if I remember correctly. This was the new release date, and just to make sure as soon as I got in from school I phoned up Volume One to see if they had it in. It was there! Mum, however, was less then keen on the drive down town. It was pouring with rain outside, and she asked me "Do we really have to go down today?"

Of course we did. And bless her, I think she knew that even as she asked, and she was soon off to go and put her coat on.

So one quick rain-sodden trip to Worthing later, and I had my hot little hands on the video that I would have given my life to see. New Doctor Who. It seems incredible to think, nine years later, how fresh and exciting and hopeful it seemed. These days, the TV Movie seems to be the shunned, half-mad relative of the series, hidden away in the attic, and embarrassment to the family name. But back then it meant everything. We didn't know - or at least, I didn't - that it would lead nowhere, that the decisions dictating that result had already been taken, and it would remain in isolation as a historical curio.

I loved it. I absolutely adored it, and watched it again and again over the next few days. And to be fair to my young self, watching it again this afternoon - that very same VHS tape, as my DVD copy is up in Norwich - I find that there is still much to like. The four leads are all extremely likeable, and McGann gives a charismatic sort of breathless energy to the Eighth Doctor. Not quite as mysterious as I prefer my Doctors to be perhaps, but I'm sure there would have been room for that side to grow and develop. I've never been overly keen on The Master, and Roberts makes a decent fist of a bad part, and I don't find him as irritatingly camp as others do.

But still... Perhaps it's just retrospective, but there is the feeling of something lacking about the TV Movie. It very much feels like a one-off, and it does seem caught between two worlds - attempting to be reverential and connected to the original series on the one hand, and trying to re-launch it for a whole new audience on the other. It's a problem I don't think Rose will have, because as far as I can see it's throwing its lot entirely in with the 'brave new world' angle, with the original series connections integrated in a much less clunky, less Sylvester McCoy-shaped way. Now, I like Sylvester a lot, he was my own personal link to the original series and back in 1996 I would have been devastated had there been no regeneration scene. But looking at it now, I can see why it shouldn't be there.

So there's a party, and the Doctor goes off all alone, and disappears off for another nine long years. Hard to believe it's been so long. This time, however, I am convinced it will be different - if nothing else we'll have thirteen episodes, and all the hype and excitement seems very different, on a much bigger scale, to me now than it did in 1996. Back then the BBC seemed almost unsure about what they had on their hands, perhaps because of the fragile nature of the co-production deal. But now, now they know what they've got an it's all theirs.

The TV Movie was an interesting curio, and not half as bad as some would claim, but it was ultimately a failure. Now, tomorrow, we have the revival we always dreamed of. It's taken a hell of a long time, but at last we got there.

Doctor Who eh? Blimey...

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