Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Doctor Who

directed by Geoffrey Sax

Doctor Who poster  
This Doctor Who movie seems to have been written for people who have never come across Daleks, Cybermen, or that blue police box. Since it's such a British institution this can only mean that it's been made accessible for a mainly American audience. The film goes back to basics with a plot that features the Doctor's old arch-enemy, the Master (Eric Roberts).

Sylvester McCoy plays the 7th Doctor, who is relaxing in the Tardis whilst he transports the Master's remains back to Gallifrey. The Master has used up the last of his 13 regenerations. But mere death doesn't seem to be enough to stop him, and he finds away to escape his confines and cause trouble.

The Tardis is done out in a beautifully retro style, with candles and a cloister sharing space with vinyl records and wat could be a posh 1930s living room. It certainly doesn't look like the sophisticated hi-tech time-travelling spaceship it's supposed to be. However a malfunction leads the Tardis to pitch down in the mean streets of San Francisco, 1999. Chang Lee (Yee Jee Tso) is caught up in gang violence, and as the Doctor touches down he ends up in the thick of it. He's taken to hospital, but they aren't prepared to believe him when he sits up and gasps that he's not human.

Only Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook), the Puccini-loving cardiologist, has her suspicions. She's not used to losing her way when it comes to anatomy, but the Doctor's double heartbeat has her confused. And she's not the only one to wonder what's going on: Paul McGann's version of the Doctor emerges confused and full of angst, thanks to the effect of human anaesthetic on his Timelord physiology. McGann also brings a certain intimacy and enthusiasm to the character, not to mention a whole new style.

Unfortunately style isn't something the Master does well. Given the chance to change, he dresses like a panto Ming the Merciless, without any of the subtlety and understatement. And he acts the same way he is dressed. The Master dupes and bullies Chang Lee into helping him with his plans to steal the Doctor's lives. Naturally there's also a race against time to save the planet and stop the Master, just as the world counts down to the millennium celebrations.

The special effects are, on the whole, quite minimal. But they don't let this movie down as much as the absurd posturing of the Master and the hackneyed blandness of the plot. Predictably the theme of time crops up frequently, but the story isn't exactly making any profound statements about this topic. It's more of a mantra that's repeated in order to remind the audience just who this is all about, in case we mistake it for a contemporary crime drama.

McGann has a tendency to overact, but nevertheless he makes a likeable timelord. There's more romance than you might expect, and this doesn't chime well with the way previous Doctors have behaved. He is an alien, after all. However, in spite of having only a brief stint as the Doctor, McGann makes quite an impression. It's just a shame that this story didn't have a bit more punch, and that it didn't hold closer to its British roots.

Film Details

Decade: 1990s

Categories: Films

  Science fiction

Classification: 12

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FAQ About Time Travel cover    

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Three guys are discussing time travel when they discover portal to the future.

2 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson