Now if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ll know a few things about me. That I rather like Doctor Who, for example. Or that I don’t like to be too critical of the stuff I’m watching, because I’d much rather be positive in general.
These two principles might come in to conflict with this tape, as what we’ve got today is Doctor Who. No episode title, although my database lists it as ‘The Enemy Within’, this is the 1996 TV Movie, made by Universal and 20th Century Fox with BBC Worldwide.
It starts off with some deathly voiceover exposition. “It was on the planet Skaro that my old enemy, The Master, was finally put on trial.” “He demanded that I, The Doctor, a rival Time Lord, should take his remains back to our home planet, Gallifrey.”
Firstly, was there really even a point in having this happen on Skaro, since the programme was unable to use the Daleks themselves. All this stuff is just there to reassure fans that “Yes, the production team get it.” I think the exec producer, Philip Segal, called them ‘Kisses to the past’ but there’s so many of them in the first few minutes of the show that it’s more like huge, dribbly open-mouthed snogs to the past.
The only thing I’m glad they did, even though I believe it’s the wrong choice dramatically, was to have Sylvester McCoy reprise his role as The Doctor for the opening. He wasn’t my favourite Doctor, but I really wanted to see more of him in this.
The higher budget of the movie means the Tardis control room got an upgrade. Not sure the candles are a good idea, but otherwise it’s nice to see a new take.
Away from the Tardis, in San Francisco, there’s some gang related action in Chinatown, and one young man, Chang Lee, escapes getting shot dead when the Tardis materialises in front of him.
The Doctor is less lucky, and he does get shot as soon as he comes out of the Tardis. The gang leave, and Chang Lee helps the Doctor.
In the ambulance, the paramedic is played by Eric Roberts, so that’s a bit of a giveaway that he’ll turn out to be important.
The Doctor needs an operation, and the on-call surgeon is at the opera watching Madame Butterfly. So she has to rush back to hospital in her posh dress.
They’re confused by the X-Rays of the Doctor’s chest, as they keep showing two hearts, and as a result, the Doctor dies on the table.
Meanwhile, back home with paramedic Eric Roberts, he’s brought home some ambulatory slime, which morphs into some kind of snake. This is the exterminated remains of the Master from the opening voiceover.
The actual regeneration scene is a bit rubbish, frankly, consisting mostly of Sylvester McCoy gurning.
Paul McGann, now playing The Doctor, sits up, and his eyes are lit by a convenient ray of light. It’s a bit mannered.
Now completely taken over by the Master, paramedic Eric Roberts shows us how evil he is by straight-up murdering his wife. I have to say I’m not comfortable with the level of regular human violence in this film. Gang shootings, strangling/neck breaking just seem tonally wrong for a Doctor Who story. One of the many tonal things that I think the production just gets wrong.
I’m not convinced at the HR procedures in this hospital. Grace is hauled over the coals about the Doctor’s death, and her boss burns the x-rays showing the two hearts. Since the body has gone missing, he wants to just cover it all up and pretend it never happened. Grace doesn’t want to let this happen sop she quits.
On the way out, The Doctor catches up with her. After his regeneration he can’t remember who he is, and he spends five minutes being quirky and charming to Grace.
Meanwhile, The Master seems to have become the Masterminator.
Chang Lee, having been given the Doctor’s belongings after he died, goes back to the Tardis, and gets in using the key. There he finds The Master already there, who tells him that it’s his ship, stolen by The Doctor, and the Doctor has also stolen all his lives. He also, for no good reason at all, declares that the Doctor is half human because of his retinal structure. Another random plot point that fans got a bit upset about.
Grace still has a hard time believing the Doctor, especially when he starts telling her that the structure of the Earth is breaking down because the Master has opened the Eye of Harmony, yet another bit of show history that’s pointlessly namechecked. The programme is full of this stuff, so god only knows what the casual American viewer made of it all. There’s some pointless morphing to demonstrate the breakdown of reality.
For reasons that are never made clear, The Doctor needs a super-accurate clock, and luckily, elsewhere in San Francisco, there’s a big public event, tying in with the Millennium (did I forget to mention this story takes place on New Year’s Eve 1999?) where the world’s most accurate clock will be switched on.
So they have to get somewhere quickly, and luckily, The Master has turned up with his ambulance, and the Doctor doesn’t recognise him because he looks like Eric Roberts now, so he happily goes with him to get to the institute with the clock.
The timeline gets a bit strange now. The scene when the Master arrives at Grace’s house is explicitly shown to be at 9pm. The next scene, driving in the Ambulance, Grace says it’s half past ten. So that drive has taken 90 minutes. And presumably, whatever small talk has gone on between the Doctor and the Master has not tipped him off that his nemesis is right there. It’s only when the ambulance stops suddenly and his cool shades fall off that the Doctor realises who he is.
The Doctor and Grace escape from the ambulance, and the Doctor steals a police motorbike, leading to a car chase, possibly the most un-Doctor Who thing imaginable, but this is a US TV Movie so it’s the law.
They make it to the institute, a very swanky looking building. It’s a celebration of ‘The Beginning of San Francisco Mean-Time’ whatever that’s supposed to mean. Having an accurate clock is very different to having your own time zone.
There’s more chasing and running around, and they arrive back at the Tardis, where Grace suddenly turns evil, possibly because of the stuff the Master spat at her in the ambulance. I’m not sure this is explained, but I’ve given up paying close attention now.
“There’s no time to waste” says the Master. “There’s time to change” says the Doctor. “I always like to dress for the occasion” replies the Master. This is deathless prose. Full marks for the distinctively Gallifreyan costume, but once again, mostly wasted on most of the audience.
The Doctor is shackled into an evil looking contraption that holds his eyes open, evoking A Clockwork Orange. I’m not sure that’s the kind of cultural touchstone the show should really be aiming for.
The Master enacts his plan to suck the life out of the Doctor, much as the production has been doing for 70 minutes so far.
The Master kills Chang Lee, when he starts questioning whether doing all this evil stuff is really the right thing to do. Then, after Grace (free from the Master’s influence) does some jiggery pokery with the Tardis console, she comes back to free the Doctor, and the Master throws her off a high balcony and kills her too.
Then the Doctor and the Master have a big fight, until the Master is finally sucked into the Eye of Harmony.
But The Doctor’s friends are both dead, until a bit of magical pixie dust comes out of the Tardis to bring them back.
Then it’s just a matter of saying goodbye. Chang Lee gets some advice to stay out of town next Christmas, and Grace gets another kiss, to go with the fireworks.
It’s hard to overstate just how disappointing this movie was. We all so wanted it to be brilliant, and it just isn’t. Paul McGann is perfectly good in the role, and could have carried a series effortlessly. The problems with the production start from the Exec Producer, Philip Segal, who was the one calling the shots, and with Matthew Jacobs, who wrote the script, and didn’t really have an interesting story to tell.
Oh well. Only another nine years before it’s back properly.
After this, recording switches to Channel 4 and Kubrick, a really interesting documentary about Stanley Kubrick’s ife and career. With contributions from, oh dear, Director Bryan Singer.
Full metal Jacket star Matthew Modine
Film Critic David Thomson
Malcolm McDowell talks about having dinner with Kubrick/ “He’d have pears or something when you’re just having the meat.” Kubrick said “It’s just food. This is how Napoleon ate.” This is possibly the most telling insight in the whole documentary.
Michael Herr, co-writer of Full Metal Jacket.
Lee Ermey talks about his performance as the drill sergeant, and how he’d often improvise some of the more colourful metaphors. “Stanley asked me after the take, ‘What’s a reacharound?'”
Kirk Douglas was in Paths of Glory, and Spartacus, the latter of which was Kubrick’s least favourite film because he didn’t have final cut, and he felt it was flawed.
Ken Adam was production designer for Dr Strangelove (as well as lots of Bonds).
There’s some behind the scenes footage of 2001, which is interesting, featuring Anthony Masters, the production designer.
Co-writer Arthur C Clarke talks about the story’s development. “I sold him six of my stories, and afterwards I bought five of them back because he only used one of them.” Clarke’s book, The Lost Worlds of 2001 is one of the best ‘making of’ books around, and is well worth seeking out.
There’s archive interview footage with Anthony Burgess, author of A Clockwork Orange. I’ve only seen the film once, and I have to admit, having long known about its reputation, and the fact that it was not available legally in this country while Kubrick was still alive (at his own request), when I finally saw it I was a bit unimpressed. But I think I just don’t think male violence on its own is a particularly interesting or noteworthy subject for drama. I prefer my films to be about people I can admire.
To tie it in with the previous programme, here’s the Clockwork Orange version of the eye opening brainwashing scene that was referenced in Doctor Who. How odd that both programmes were on the same tape. And yet how typical of this blog.
Diane Johnson was co-writer of The Shining. Another film I admire but don’t love.
Shelley Duvall talks about the frankly abusive treatment she got while making the film, accompanied by some footage from the Making Of documentary for the film.
Garrett Brown demonstrates how his invention, the Steadicam, works. Kubrick used to extensively on The Shining, particularly in the scenes where the camera is close to the floor, following young Danny Torrance as he rides his toy car around the hotel.
I think I’ve lost a chunk of the documentary at this point, as there’s a burst of static before the film comes back, just in time for the credits. I don’t know how much is missing.
After this, recording stops.
- VW Golf
- Thomas Cook
- Scrumpy Jack
- Stena Line
- Kodak Gold Ultra
- Stena Line
- Yellow Pages
- Daily Telegraph