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Doctor Who: Twelve for Twelve – TV Movie (Eighth Doctor)

Reviewed by TGT writer Andrew Newby.
This movie gives us the onscreen debut of the 8th Doctor as played by the multi talented Paul McGann – known to Whovians for this film, and more widely, for 8th Doctor enthusiasts, his audio portrayal of the Doctor in many Big Finish dramas where the 8th Doctor is really scrutinised and played out in depth.The movie gives us a feature length glimpse of the 8th Doctor’s first 2 days of being, following his regeneration from the 7th Doctor as played in the opening scenes of the film by Sylvester McCoy.

Building up to the the 8th Doctor’s arrival, the 7th Doctor had been on a journey from the planet Skaro headed to Gallifrey to carry out the Master’s final wish, for his remains to be taken there (The master had been given a capital sentence at a Time Lord Trial on Skaro). The 7th Doctor has sealed a small casket containing the remains with his sonic screw-driver and sits back to enjoy reading H.G Wells’ The Time Machine surrounded by dozens of alarm clocks set differently in an impressively vast Tardis console room, sipping tea to the sound of a wistful love song playing on a gramophone, the gramophone record gets stuck on the word ‘time’ at which point the Master’s essence has managed to break through the sealed casket and slip inside the TARDIS core. This causes the TARDIS to malfunction and to make an automatic emergency landing.

On stepping out of the TARDIS in downtown San Francisco (30th December 1999) the 7th Doctor is promptly shot in the shoulder and leg as he unknowingly steps into the middle of a gangland dispute. Sylvester McCoy at this point has uncharacteristically long hair which is possibly an indication towards the Eighth Doctor’s new appearance.

The Doctor is rushed unconscious to hospital where the fun begins!

Though the Doctor’s wounds are non-grievous his heart(s) cause a great deal of confusion for the medical teams who can only attribute an x-ray showing his two hearts as a fault with the machine producing a ‘double exposure’. The Doctor’s extraordinary heart rate causes the medical team to call their Cardio specialist, a key character to the film, Grace, who having been seated at the opera watching Madame Butterfly, rushes into the operating theatre (with Madame Butterfly playing on CD) to explore the Doctor’s heart. The operation using fibre optic wire goes spectacularly wrong and the Doctor is pronounced dead and wheeled to the hospital mortuary.

Inside this icy booth is where we see the regeneration between McCoy and McGann from 7th to 8th Doctor respectively (the process the 8th Doctor later tells us was disrupted by the anaesthetic used to operate on him). The regeneration visibly is nothing too astounding involving extreme face manoeuvring until McGann is seen lying inside the blue mortuary shrouded in just his bed sheet. The Doctor now makes his break for freedom and causes a supervisor to be scared out of his wits as the Doctor beats open the refrigerated cell with supernatural strength (this or the Doctor is being clever and using the bed as a tool) the sealed door is punched outwards until it is forced open.

Now we have the arrival of Paul McGann as the 8th Doctor, shivering onto the screen creeping fearfully barefooted in just his white bedsheet around a darkened deserted part of the hospital, softly whistling Pacini’s Madame Butterfly.

Paul McGann could rightfully claim a place as a top Shakespearean actor the way he captures an audience with the passion of his delivery of monologues and soliloquies, I would say he is the Doctor (Audio dramas very much included) who bears the most mental torture than any other and his depiction of such is very impressive. (A listen to Zagreus shows the Doctor’s terror of a myth as well as a reality) The Doctor is literally scared of his own shadow at this point, he has already recoiled in fright glimpsing at an old black and white frankenstein movie clip, and is alarmed to see his reflection from a set of mirrors that he stumbles into as if drunk. He sinks to his knees and screams to the thundering skies ‘Who am I!’ His vision becomes distorted, as his thought process includes the Master, who by this point has found a new body, namely in the form of Bruce the ambulance attendee who accompanied the 7th Doctor to the hospital together with Lee, a misguided teenager that attended to the Doctor following his shooting.

The 8th Doctor now manages to find a cloakroom and a few lockers. He looks around for clothes and in the first locker he opens finds unmistakably a Fourth Doctor’s scarf! Long and distinctively multicoloured. Although some might say this film was being pitched at Americans, this is a gift only for the Whovian pure of heart.

The Doctor ignores the scarf however and descends upon a Wild Bill Hickock fancy dress outfit, basically a long sleeved ornate waistcoat, made of felt like material with a slight sheen to it. Wild Bill Hickock is a character in American folklore, a mercinary, actor and gunslinging gambler. One nerdy fact i came upon was that Bill Hickock found shot dead, had a set of cards in his hand becoming known as ‘dead man’s hand’, dead man’s hand consists of aces and eights! (It’s an eight thing) Moving on the Doctor makes his way in his new attire to the hospital reception, and studies a clock that is at 11.57 until it switches to 11.58 (thinking 8’s again) and manages to find Grace as she is leaving having quit her job over an argument regarding the x-ray of the Doctor’s 2 hearts.

The Doctor then embarks on a process of engaging with Grace and asking her to help him find out who he is and in doing so trusts her with knowing a lot of impossible sounding things. He goes about this in an exasperated way, clearly showing frustration but also eagerly embarking on any returning thought that helps him know more.

The Doctor scampers around Grace childishly full of excitement at being a newly regenerated Doctor on a walk along San Francisco Bay, he’s both ecstatic and nervous, stuttering towards comprehension about himself. He then has a eureka moment and kisses Grace. It’s more out of surprised joy at knowing ‘I am the Doctor!’ but Grace asks him to kiss her again, so in a sweet way he innocently obliges.Something that fascinated me about McGann’s style showed twice during the film. There is a point where the 8th Doctor realises his eyes are being used like cameras and he must keep them shut, McGann with closed eyes pours out torrents of lines at speed, which I think must be a difficult skill as an actor. And later in the movie McGann must keep the ‘Eye of Harmony’ (described as the power source for the entire Tardis structure) open by force with a torture device fitted to him that keeps his eyelids open at all times. There are passages where McGann speedily recites lines without blinking at all which I imagine might equally be a complex feat.

Eventually Grace believes the Doctor and forms an alliance with him. The Doctor now relaxes more into the cool, calm, philosophical Doctor thats blossoms greatly beyond the movie and into Paul McGann’s audio Dramas.

The Doctor and Grace manage to steal a beryllium clock which acts as a circuit to eventually jump start the tardis and enable the Doctor to fend off the Master who plans to steal the Doctor’s body by use of the power of the Eye of Harmony, which itself is set to destroy the Earth by sucking the planet through it at the moment of the millennium. The Doctor aims to prevent this by trying everything to close the eye of harmony and reenergise the Tardis.

By the end of the Movie, Paul McGann has created a Doctor of great profoundness and gravitas. He is still coy around Grace who’s heart he has won. But he is very avoiding of any tangible Romance. He solemnly says his goodbyes and somewhat sadly but happily the Doctor sets off into the unknown again, the same love song playing on the Gramophone as he resumes reading H.G Wells. Doctor Who the Movie may make you cringe at times, but 18 years on it shouldn’t, watching with a non critical attitude, it’s an enjoyable, fun, 8th Doctor extravaganza.

It’s a trip to the future tomorrow as TGT writer Leah takes a look at the War Doctor’s appearance in The Day of the Doctor!