On paper, the TV movie failed. Set in San Francisco rather than contemporary England, but filmed in Vancouver, it retains the ancientwhoquestionable, but otherwise strictly ’90s special effects: there are back alley shootings, underworld gangs, and a villain in cold tones. “A numbing disappointment,” according to the Radio Times, he also got terrible marks in the United States. Therefore, Docteur Who remained buried for nine years, and to this day McGann remains the actor with the shortest term as a Doctor.
But, as the film turns 25, there’s a growing consensus that it wasn’t the absolute disaster that it sometimes claims to be. There have been growing efforts to rehabilitate him in the collective spirit, with think pieces revisiting his legacy and fans happily singing his praises.
“It’s something I’ve always looked at with affection,” says Rik Moran, head of publications at the Docteur Who Appreciation Society, the oldest who fan club. “There was great potential if he had been taken over as a driver for a series. … If I have to watch a piece of Nineties TV, it’s the quality of the other TV shows that were at the time. Doesn’t sound different to me from an episode of The X-Files. »
That it looked like a lost X-Files episode and no Docteur Who may have been one of the film’s problems. Seen in 2021, Doctor Who: Le film was fine, even if it was flawed – its few shortcomings made it simply unsuitable for the mission it was supposed to perform.
In terms of the plot, it holds up. The doctor (played by Sylvester McCoy in the first few minutes) is transported to Chinatown in San Francisco, where he is shot dead. In a wonderfully spooky streak at the hospital morgue, he regenerates as McGann, but the new incarnation suffers from amnesia. Meanwhile, his prolific alien enemy, the Master (Eric Roberts – yes, Julia’s brother) returns with evil plans in mind. So far, so Galiffreean. But the problems started as soon as the film premiered in the United States on May 14, 1996.
This date may not ring a bell on its own, but check out old TV listings and you will see that Doctor Who: Le film aired at the same time as the penultimate episode of the eighth season of Roseanne. In 1996, Roseanne was not only one of the most popular sitcoms in the United States, but also one of the most popular TV shows in the country. A Weekly entertainment analysis puts it on par with scoring monsters such as IS, Seinfeld, and a small show known as Friends. This particular Roseanne The episode drew 20.97 million viewers, compared to just 5.6 million for Docteur Who.
Fans knew the bell had rung, “We saw the US ratings and we thought, ‘It’s over, it’s not going to happen,’” Moran said.
As disappointing as it may have been for the faithful, the lack of interest among American audiences in the film at the time is hardly surprising. Imagine yourself as an American in the mid-90s. The internet is not yet high speed, which means that Tumblr culture is not a thing. You haven’t been exposed to any memes or gifs about Docteur Who. (The BBC has reached an agreement to distribute Docteur Who on American TV in the ’70s, but it was far from a prime-time monster.) Chances are you’ve never heard of it. Docteur Who, or you might just be vaguely aware of it as some wacky British import. On a Tuesday night when you’re tired and looking for some reliable entertainment, are you going to tune in to a proven sitcom like Roseanne, or a special offbeat television set in an elaborate fictional universe you know nothing about? I will be the first to admit that in this situation I would go with the first.
But some people have plugged in. Not a lot, but some. And what did they see? Basically a long, solid Docteur Who episode with a new track and a budget of $ 5 million – an astronomical sum for the franchise. In the late 1980s, “the stories were there,” Moran recalls, but producers “didn’t always have the money” to keep them going effectively. But while a budget increase sounds good in theory, it ultimately worked against the film’s best interests.
Docteur Who is famous for its low cost aesthetics. Far from ruining the program, this is part of its appeal. The show has an ironic quality, as if it is aware of its own eccentricities and invites you to revel in them. The elegant finish of the 1996 film makes it too serious, bordering on rigidity. In show, Docteur Who it’s… well, a lot. There are a lot of stories, taglines, concepts, and characters – all of which are much harder to digest in this high octane version.
Journalist Kim Newman, who wrote about the film for The independent upon its release, noted that “much of popular British television can only benefit from the strength of the American approach”, but that Docteur Who, in this case, was “really hurt” by such an influx of cash. Twenty-five years later, he sticks to that assessment. “I think the production expenses – very poor in terms of film and television in the United States – helped remove some of the eccentricities that make the show perform at its best,” he says. “A lesson from Russell T Davies [one of the architects behind the 2005 reboot] obviously learned was to move closer to the production values of American television but to root the show in Britain.
None of this should be taken as an indictment against McGann’s performance, however. He was brilliant as the Eighth Doctor, infusing the role with the perfect blend of naivety and impending melancholy. It’s a shame we never got to see him more as the Lord of Time. “Paul McGann might just be the best actor ever to be chosen as [the Doctor]”Newman wrote in 1996.” He’s the miraculous survivor of a production that otherwise doesn’t quite work out. In fact, Newman now sees McGann’s performance as a precursor to the doctors we’ve seen in the ongoing reboot, from actors like Christopher Eccleston, Matt Smith, and Jodie Whitaker. “It’s obvious that McGann fits in with the way the role has been played since 2005, going to a prominent man established or on the verge of breaking up,” he says. “Or, now, woman. “
New whoSucceeded where the 1996 film failed. Not only is the show still going strong, but it has generated several new generations of fans, including – yes – across the Atlantic. Interestingly, he wooed Americans precisely by trying less to bow to them – he’s firmly rooted in his British origins, with nicely understated production, outfits at the intersection of the wacky and the dapper, and the locations of distribution. and filming do the rest. But it’s also worth remembering that the 2005 version was not immediately a runaway success. Christopher Eccleston, the first actor chosen as the protagonist of the rebirth, had the second shortest run in the series, with only one season. I lived in France between the mid to late 2000s, and it wasn’t until David Tennant was firmly established as a Doctor that the show began to gain the attention of international audiences. Things hit their peak with the Matt Smith era, which began in 2010 – a good five years on. whothe resurrection.
One thing the 2005 reboot always had for it, however, was a strong sense of tone and aesthetics. Yes, some elements changed along the way, but the show knew what it intended to do from the shift: elicit a sense of childish wonder in viewers and play with the eccentric freshness of the Doctor.
With a production that didn’t quite know what it wanted to be, Doctor Who: Le film struggled to take off. We now know that Americans were able to love the Doctor – many of them did over the past 16 years – but not then, and certainly not like that. Trust a time traveler to need a few taps to get it right.