After years of absence, a beloved TV icon was finally returning to television, and anticipation was high; after years of waiting and badgering the BBC, Doctor Who was coming back.
Of course there was some trepidation. The actor that had been cast as the new Doctor was a bit on the young side, and attractive. Was this new version going to ruin everything? Was there even a point in resurrecting a show that had been off the air so long, and had been on the decline towards the end anyway?
I’m not talking about the triumphant rebirth of the series that was Russell T. Davies’ “Season 1”, starring Christopher Eccleston. In 1996, the BBC reached an agreement with Fox Television, and a Doctor Who TV movie was produced. Set in San Francisco, but filmed in British Columbia, it was the first new Doctor Who produced for the screen in nearly a decade, although books, comics, and audios had filled the vaccum in the intervening years.
The story was set during New Year’s 1999 and yes, it involved more kissing and car chases than Doctor Who fans were used to then. Unlike another San Francisco time travel tale, Time After Time, in this instance it’s pretty obvious that aside from some stock footage of the Transamerica Pyramid and the Golden Gate Bridge, nothing on screen takes place in the city. The climactic scenes which take place at the Institute for Science and Technology are actually at the Plaza of Nations in Vancouver, and even the news anchors are local to Vancouver, not SF. And it’s a shame, really, since it’s rare for this series to venture outside of the UK in its filmed incarnations—unless it is to leave Earth entirely. Paul McGann was the Eighth Doctor, and while he was admittedly prettier than some previous incarnations, he was and is a well-respected and talented actor. The movie was far from perfect, but not as bad the reaction of some fans would lead one to believe. Americanized, to be sure. Melodramatic in spots, and campy in others. But no worse than some classic episodes and specials of the original run.
Ratings in the US were poor but good in the UK, and we all waited to find out if this would mean a new series. It did not, and that’s too bad because a season of Eight would have been a wonderful thing. We do have at least a season’s worth of audio adventures with McGann, and more to come, but it’s still interesting to think what might have been.
SF/SF 42, April 2007