The Doctor:A meteor storm... t-the sky above us was dancing with lights! Purple, green, brilliant yellow... yes!
The Doctor:These shoes! [Stomps the ground happily.] They fit perfectly!
— The Doctor takes a brief moment away from remembering his dark past to rejoice on how awesome his new shoes are.
In 1996, seven years after its cancellation, there was a near-Herculean effort to return Doctor Who to the small screen. The lone fruit was a Backdoor Pilot TV special on Fox that sadly never got developed into a series. The finished product was notably very different from the original script, but we'll explain more about that later.Despite being made in Canada and set in San Francisco, it's remarkable how true to the old series this movie was, and how much of a precursor it wound up being for the new series as well.As we open, the Master has just been EX-TER-MIN-AT-ED by the Daleks (who now sound like cyborg chipmunks) for some random reason. note Then again, it's Daleks. Did they really need one? And the Seventh Doctor is charged with bringing his ashes back from Skaro, in spite of the planet being reduced to ashes previously. He's supposed to take them to Gallifrey for, well, maybe a really dignified and tasteful ashes-scattering ceremony over the seas of Rassilon or something.Before the Master's ashes can be returned, though, they turn into a semi-intelligent blob of amorphous goo. This blobby thing escapes from the little casket and wreaks havoc with the TARDIS controls. The TARDIS, the Doctor, and the blob crash-land in San Francisco, on New Year's Eve 1999. Unfortunately, they've landed in the middle of a Chinese gang war. Half a second after the Doctor sets foot outside the TARDIS, he's hit by two stray bullets from the shootout.One of the gang members, Chang Lee, is nice enough to call an ambulance. The ambulance arrives, with EMT Bruce. Bruce, Chang Lee, and "John Smith" are whisked away to the hospital, where "John Smith"'s physiology is sufficiently different from the human norm to cause a few raised eyebrows. Trauma surgeon Dr. Grace Holloway is called in (from a performance of Madame Butterfly, where she was weeping tenderly, while on call) to check out why the man seems to have a double-speed heart beat. And to see why every scan keeps showing two hearts. Even though the bullet wound is Only a Flesh Wound and pretty much harmless, Grace inadvertently does more harm than good when she starts poking inside the Doctor's arteries, and the Doctor dies on the operating table. From exploratory surgery. Congratulations, Grace! You're the first companion to successfully kill the Doctor!Chang Lee takes advantage of the confusion to swipe the Doctor's stuff. Bruce the EMT, for whom this must be sad but routine, ambles off home... completely unaware that the the Master has invaded his EMT outfit and has designs on the rest of him. At night, the Master slithers into Bruce's body and gives him some neat glowy green eyes.Anyway, the Doctor's death doesn't last, as is routine for Time Lords. Hours later, a very confused Doctor, now looking like Paul McGann and clutching his death shroud around him, escapes and wanders the hospital. He's suffering from a bad case of post-regenerative amnesia. The Doctor scares Pete the morgue worker half to death by appearing right when the guy is watching an old Frankenstein film. He then takes a moment to scream "WHO AM I?!" dramatically in the run-down wing of the hospital, while wrapped in that white shroud and showing off his half-naked torso. The fact that he Looks Like Jesus is neatly paired with shots of the satanic Master looking very serious.The Doctor swipes a Victorian costume from the employee locker room, explained as being there in preparation for the hospital's New Year's Eve fancy dress party, thus creating a new Whovian Iconic Outfit. note The screenwriters needn't have bothered with an explanation — wearing Victorian formal dress around town is, by San Francisco standards, only mildly eccentric.Now dressed, though still barefoot and sporting a toe tag, the Doctor tries to figure out who he is. The sight of Grace jogs his memory, and he follows her to her car, where she is even further freaked out when he extracts a stray bit of medical probe from his person and explains that he's the two-hearted guy she killed the night before. Grace takes this about as well as can be expected, especially considering she just quit her job over a Doctor-related coverup, and her boyfriend just left her for leaving the opera halfway through. But eventually, she takes him home with her (not like that... well... okay, maybe like that) and gives him her ex-boyfriend's shoes. The Doctor's memory is soon restored, and he snogs Grace a few times out of sheer joy, forever shattering the series' No Hugging, No Kissing policy.The Master, meanwhile, has paired up with Lee, and Lee is able to freely wander around the TARDIS (using the Doctor's key) because the TARDIS apparently likes him. The Master promises him gold in return for helping him, and the two open the onboard Eye of Harmony, thus overloading the TARDIS and wreaking havoc on Earth.The Doctor senses this, and decides that he must, simply must have a beryllium atomic clock to repair the TARDIS. As luck would have it, one is being inaugurated that very night, at a posh party that Grace (even MORE luckily) has tickets to. There's a traffic jam, so the Doctor swipes a police motorcycle by threatening to shoot himself.The Doctor finally gets his hands on the beryllium atomic clock, after pissing off half the fanbase by confusing the script's first draft with the final product and thus randomly claiming he's half-human. The day is saved from being wiped out by an overloaded TARDIS going boom.Oh, and the Master tries to steal the Doctor's body while blowing things up, the Doctor is put in bondage gadgets, the Master tenderly kisses Lee on his forehead for no reason, and the Eye of Harmony eventually saves everyone by sucking the Master into its core. The Doctor reaches out and tries to save him, but to no avail. The Master gets killed Deader Than Dead for real. ... For a while. (Like anyone believed for an instant that would stick. Although, it wasthe Time Lords' doing that time.) You know, the usual for the Master.And Grace and Lee both die, but the TARDIS revives them... somehow, and the three return to San Francisco at the stroke of midnight. As a parting gift, the Doctor gives Lee a bag of gold dust and sends him on his merry way. The Doctor asks Grace to come with him, and Grace asks the Doctor to stay with her. They figure that it won't work out either way and just say a sweet goodbye. And with the world saved and the Master safely dead, the Doctor...Oh, cruel world, you have got to be kidding us! Nine more years before we see him again?!Yes, Fox Network had to be ruddy gits and turn down the attempt to produce an official revival of Doctor Who, despite good criticism of the movie. The series would not return once and for all until 2005, when Russell T. Davies managed to enstate a revival of the series with much greater production values.As for why it wasn't picked up by Fox? Despite great ratings with males for the day it aired, it had little-to-no female demographics, and that made its marketing potential look rather one-sided and unexploitable to the fullest. (Which is blamed on Fox's decision to run the movie against David and Darlene's wedding on Roseanne.) Fox disliked this, for some reason. And so, Doctor Who was put back into limbo for almost another decade. Meanwhile, the adventures of the Eighth Doctor would continue in literary, comic book, and audio format, with Paul McGann reprising his role in the latter up to this very day.However, McGann did not get flagged down for a role in the 2005 revival, and admits he wouldn't have been up for the task even if he had. Davies's master plan for the new series involved a Darker and Edgier characterization of the Doctor, in direct contrast to Eight's romantic, cheery, and warm personality established here. To avoid breaking character or having to explain the abrupt change in his personality, Davies had the Eighth Doctor regenerate off-screen, and started things fresh with the Doctor's ninth incarnation, who would assume the darker persona Davies wanted. Eight's adventures would be left to the novels, comics and audio dramas, which chronicle his transition into this personality, but the actual cause of his regeneration was for over seventeen years one of the great unsolved mysteries of Doctor Who — that is, until a mini-episode entitled "The Night of the Doctor", made during the Eleventh Doctor's tenure and seemingly making the 8th Doctor's Big Finish Doctor Who adventures canon.The "half-human" thing has been brushedaside and declared non-canon a few times in the new series, though. It has been either accepted, ignored, or Hand Waved by various non-canonical Expanded Universe works. And remember, the Doctor lies...Watch it here.
All There in the Manual: The novelisation goes to great lengths to try and explain away the more egregious plot holes, and doesn't do too bad a job of it either.
The Nth Doctor, by Jean-Marc Lofficier, details just about every single attempt to get Doctor Who back into the public eye. None of these succeeded, but many plot points were reused in the TVM. For example, one storyline had the Master taking over Gallifrey with his own army of specially-modified Daleks (i.e. not Davros' Daleks), which is to them a major crime. This is why they have him on trial. Granted, we probably would have learned this had the TVM resulted in a series, but alas...
Arbitrary Skepticism: Grace comes off a bit like this; one minute, she's floating the possibility that the man with two hearts and blood that is 'not blood' is some kind of (presumably hyper-advanced) 'weird genetics experiment'. The next minute, when he's claiming to be an alien, she's screaming that he's a lunatic and running away from him in terror. Oh really, Grace? Granted, the Doctor's not exactly presenting his case as well as he can at that point but it's not like her explanation is any more plausible.
There's Grace attending an opera even while she's on call. (Though since she's an opera fanatic it's possible this was her only opportunity to see this particular show and she decided to risk it.)
The doctors use X-rays to look at the Doctor's heart(s) and think it's an error in the machine, but apparently never used a stethoscope on the Doctor, which likely would have told them right away he had two hearts.
Bruce the EMT says they can't treat the Doctor until Lee signs for him. Although it's not said what exactly Lee is singing for, hospitals are required to treat you in life threatening situations, even if you don't have insurance, so if Bruce had actually refused to treat the Doctor he could have gotten the hospital into legal trouble.
The Big Damn Kiss: The one with the fireworks in the background especially, although the first one probably counts too since it was the first time the Doctor was ever shown snogging anyone.
And again when the Master kills Grace.
Big Damn Movie: Inversion. This is probably one of the simpler stories in Doctor Who, not to mention being shorter than many classic series (and a couple of new series) serials. There is the whole 'the world is about to end' part of the plot, but then for the Doctor that's just a regular Friday.
Big Lipped Alligator Moment: A cop on a motorcycle drives into the TARDIS and comes out moments later to go god-knows-where while the Doctor and Grace look on.
Big "NO!": The Doctor does this immediately after regaining his memories and realizing the Master's trying to kill him and seize his body.
Bittersweet Ending: Earth is saved and the Master is defeated (for now), but the Doctor leaves Grace behind.
Body Horror: Bruce undergoes this when the Master takes his body. According to the DVD commentary, the Body Horror was to get progressively and dramatically worse over the duration of the film as the Master's body decayed, but this concept was ultimately toned down, as Eric Roberts proved allergic to the prosthetic they planned to use.
The Doctor's regeneration counts too, being one of the few times we actually get to see his face twist and morph from one form to the next.
The Master: [Swanning in wearing a Time Lord robe and striking a pose] I always dreeeeeess for the occasion.
Cassandra Truth: The Doctor has a hell of a time trying to convince Grace of anything:
Firstly, the Seventh Doctor tries to tell Grace not to operate on him, because he's an alien and it'll kill him. She doesn't listen. He dies.
Secondly, the Eighth Doctor tries to persuade Grace that he's both an alien, and that the world is going to be destroyed at midnight if she doesn't help him. She tries to get him committed, and it takes getting acidic vomit being spat on her arm by a dead paramedic with unnaturally green eyes possessed by an evil Time Lord to convince her that maybe there's some validity to his story. To be fair to Grace, though, he's not exactly presenting his case as effectively as he could this time.
Chain Link Fence: When Chang Lee and his friends are running from the gangsters at the beginning.
Cloud Cuckoolander: This is the Doctor we're talking about here; but, even so, Eight is one of the loopier Doctors.
Comically Missing the Point: The Doctor hears that an ambulance summoned to take him to a psychiatric ward has arrived, and happily concludes that it's going to take him straight to the beryllium clock he needs to save the day. Of course, it's being driven by the Master anyway, so it's academic, but still...
Continuity Nod: As mentioned above, quite a few, jelly babies and mentions of Gallifrey being the most obvious.
The Master's deformed eyes resemble the cheetah eyes he acquired in the Doctor's previous TV adventure, "Survival".
Continuity Reboot: Was considered to become a form of this during pre-production. John Leekley had plans in progress for remaking the First Doctor's tenure, alongside renaming old foes like Cybermen into "Cybz". Leekley's scripts were not well received by any of the production companies, so he was removed from the project in September 1994.
Corpsing/The Living Dead: Daphne Ashbrook had a hell of a time keeping a straight face in the scenes where Grace is supposed to be dead. Although you won't catch her giggling in the final cut, she gave her autobiography the slightly spooky title of Dead Woman Laughing because of it.
Creator Cameo: As mentioned on the DVD commentary, director Geoffrey Sax voices the Daleks during their cameo in the opening sequence.
Development Hell: Oh, Jesus. How can we begin to describe this? The concept for a revived series first started in 1989, but the BBC rejected it. Eventually, multiple companies were involved — at first, it was Universal, the BBC and Amblin Entertainment. Steven Spielberg himself was a fan of the concept, or at least the overly energetic way the old series was once described by one of the fellows trying his damndest to get this movie made, and wanted it done quickly. This was 1994. The script for the pilot at the time, according to Word of God, would have featured the Doctor and his Grandfather Borusa. The Doctor would have gone on a journey to find his father, Ulysses, and discover that the Master was his brother. The original audition Paul McGann read this script for can be found on the 2-disc set. However, the proposed script was pretty much a knockoff of Indiana Jones, which Spielberg hated. He left the production, and the producers struggled to keep it quiet from the BBC while they found a home with Fox. The Fox TV Movie department. To keep the BBC happy with this change, the pilot-turned-movie was then changed into a pilot-turned-movie-turned-backdoor-pilot. Should the ratings be high enough in America, the whole thing would be picked up for a series. The ratings were alright, but sadly, not with the right demographics... and this is an abbreviated version of the hell it went through.
Disposable FiancÚ: Grace's boyfriend, who apparently dumps her for having the audacity to do her job, and then plunders her home and steals the furniture. Jerkass variant indeed.
Grace's establishing moment is when we see her crying at the opera. This is lampshaded on a DVD featurette.
The Master, believe it or not, gets one of these. Perhaps the only moment in the Movie where he really seemed like the classic Master.
Grace: I suppose you knew Madam Curie too. The Doctor: Yes, intimately. Grace: Does she kiss as good as me? The Master: As well as you.
Although this exchange from the climax is also cited by fans in summing up both the Doctor and the Master:
The Doctor: You want dominion over the living, yet all you do is kill! The Master: Life is wasted on the living.
Extremely Short Timespan: The entire plot unfolds from the evening of December 30, 1999 to shortly after midnight on January 1, 2000.
Eye Scream: The contraption the Master sticks the Doctor in at the end, which holds his eyes open A Clockwork Orange style for the sake of the Master's nefarious purposes. Apparently, it really was at least as unpleasant for McGann to film those scenes as it looks. His eyes really were held open, tears streaming down his face, with all that wind blowing around, the works. According to Daphne Ashbrook, she didn't even hear him complain once.
Fake Shemp: The Master (played by Gordon Tipple) was briefly seen on Skaro prior to his execution. The cage obscured most of his face. Originally, Tipple's Master provided the opening voiceover narration but his lines were replaced by Paul McGann's Doctor in the final cut. As a result, Word of God appears to have no problem with fan assumptions that this incarnation is actually intended to be the Anthony Ainley incarnation of the Master. Or that it may as well be him.
Fat Comic Relief: Pete the morgue worker speaks to the Seventh Doctor's then-dead body as though it were a spa attendee, faints slapstick-style upon sight of the resurrected Doctor, and (among other comedic antics) has the following conversation with Grace:
Pete:[standing in front of the open freezer after the Doctor regenerated and walked out] It wasn't the same guy. Grace: Sounds like you saw the guy stole the body. Pete: He was wearing a shroud and a J.D. tag on his toe. Grace: Somehow, I don't think the Second Coming happens here. Pete: Right. You think he's gonna go to a BETTER HOSPITAL? You know what? I'm going home. Grace: Hey, Pete. Stop by psychiatric and pick up some more mind altering drugs. Pete: Okay, sure.
Finger Twitching Revival: The Doctor does this as he's Waking Up at the Morgue. The shot alternates with Frankenstein's Monster coming to life in the black-and-white movie the morgue attendant is watching. Yes, they tried to make the Doctor out to be quite spooky. Afterward, he escapes the morgue via Barrier-Busting Blow, maintaining the spookiness factor, and then we see him looking confused and clutching his shroud tightly around himself and flinching when the morgue attendant screams and faints when he sees him.
Fingore: At one point, the Master pulls off one of his fingernails and flicks it aside.
Hidden Depths: Grace shows off some sci-fi savvy when she steps into the TARDIS for the first time. The Doctor is impressed.
The Doctor: Grace, this is a Type 40 TARDIS, able of taking you to any planet in the universe, and to any date in that planet's existence. Temporal physics. Grace: Oh, you mean like interdimensional transference? That would explain the spacial displacement we experienced as we passed over the threshold. [beat] The Doctor: Yes, if you like...
Later, she successfully jump starts the TARDIS' console and time rotor by herself, without the Doctor's help.
Jerkass: Brian, Grace's quickly-ex-boyfriend. We only see him for about ten seconds, but he just seems to ooze "self-centered, smug git". Then, he moves out and takes away a whole bunch of stuff from their apartment. And, it seems, this isn't the first time he's hassled Grace over her career.
Out of Continues: The Master's whole motivation, not spoilered because it's made clear from the beginning: Having run out of regenerations, the Master wants to steal the Doctor's. (Or, as he put it, "I NEEDTHE DOCTOR'SBODY"!)
Put on a Bus: Reportedly due to rights issues between the BBC and Universal, Grace and Lee haven't even been mentioned in the new series (though Grace did reappear a couple of times in the "Doctor Who Magazine" comic strip, and was given a mention in a Sarah Jane Adventures novelization).
Quintessential British Gentleman: Okay, so the Doctor's always been a bit of an anglophile, but the movie and the Eighth Doctor really takes it Up to Eleven. Dresses like a Victorian poet, oft-stated fondness for tea, highly eccentric — it's a wonder they didn't have him save the day with a crumpet, a bowler hat and a copy of The Times, really.
Grace: Wait! He's... British.
The Doctor: Yes, I suppose I am!
Quote Mine: The line "I finally meet the right guy, and he's from another planet" comes out of absolutely nowhere and is often considered to have been put in the script solely for this purpose.
Real-Life Relative: Eric Roberts' actual wife plays Bruce's wife, whom the Master strangles.
Reckless Gun Usage: The Doctor shows he's an Actual Pacifist by threatening to shoot himself in order to commandeer a policeman's motorcycle. However, when Grace wants a word with him, he starts pointing the gun vaguely in the direction of the policeman while looking the other way. It's not even clear if he's actually aiming at the cop or if it's simply slipped his mind that the object he's holding is a gun.
When Grace takes the gun off him, she shoots the radio on the cop's motorbike — and seems very shocked by it, implying a bit of this trope was involved as well.
Refusal of the Call: Grace turns down the Doctor's offer to travel with him. Then, in an interesting turnaround, she offers him the chance to leave with her instead; he considers it, but ultimately refuses.
Scaled Up: The Master turns into a cobra-thing that forces its way down Bruce's throat.
Scenery Porn: As mentioned below, the interior of the TARDIS. Having a budget meant they could really play with the whole Bigger on the Inside thing, and boy did they ever.
Shirtless Scene: When the Doctor is wandering around the hospital after his regeneration, wearing nothing but a shroud draped in a way that shows off his chest.
Steam Punk: The re-vamped TARDIS interior is all brass trim and wood panels and it's completely gorgeous. The New Series would draw its inspiration from this console room much more than from the classic series' stark white console room.
Sticky Fingers: Chang Lee, who's very insistent on stealing the Doctor's personal effects before he even has any idea whether they're valuable. The Doctor indulges in quite a bit of theft as well.
That's What She Said: The Doctor innocently remarks, upon obtaining the MacGuffin, "See? I told you it was small." Grace raises an eyebrow and says, "What is it they say?" But apparently she just means "good things come in small packages."
Trauma-Induced Amnesia: The anesthesia almost stopped the Doctor regenerating entirely—when he did regenerate it had been several hours since his death, and as a result he was unable to even remember his own name when he came to.
Villainous Breakdown: After spending the movie as both coldly methodical and campy, the Master completely loses it when the Doctor escapes his chains.
Wag the Director: A mild example. According to the DVD commentary, Eric Roberts brought his own makeup crew (although this is justified as he proved allergic to the makeup and prosthetics originally used), and oversaw the lighting and framing of all his character's shots.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Fans of the established series were left wondering what had happened to Ace between the show's cancellation and the movie. This never has been addressed within the show, though the Expanded Universe has given her several different fates.
According to The Sarah Jane Adventures, she became a charity worker when she returned to Earth, though the circumstances behind it weren't stated.
Mildly averted when the Doctor installs the beryllium clock and closes the Eye of Harmony, but still doesn't avert the vaguely defined universal disaster. When Grace protests that it's only 11:48, the Doctor replies, "Yes, but there's no context!"
You Have to Believe Me: The Doctor gets a bit hysterical immediately after he realises the Master's loose, in his TARDIS and planning to suck the Earth through a black hole and steal his body. Unfortunately, this doesn't help him convince Grace of this. Although to be fair to him, he'd just very suddenly recovered all his memories and was presumably knocked a bit out of joint; his later attempts at trying to convince her of this are a lot calmer and more rational, but by this point she's not believing a word he says.
You Make Me Sic: The Master wants to make sure Grace knows that "good" can't be used as an adverb.