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Hanky-panky in the Tardis! How a writer’s divisive Doctor Who movie spent 25 years being hated by fans | Doctor Who

“I’ve written lots of things that I’ve happily forgotten about, or that have been remembered fondly,” says Matthew Jacobs. “But the Doctor Who TV movie is very much like a tattoo that just won’t go away.”

What is it wish to make one sizeable contribution to a a lot–beloved franchise – after which all people hates it? And, twenty years later, to show as much as a fan conference for the very first time, solely to search out followers nonetheless wish to inform you to your face how a lot they hated it? That is the premise of what seems to be a surprisingly uplifting new documentary about fandom and household referred to as Doctor Who Am I from Jacobs and Vanessa Yuille.

“I had distanced myself from the fans,” says Jacobs, whose different credit embrace The Emperor’s New Groove and The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones. “But, on Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary, everyone started getting interested in me again. I didn’t initially want to go to a convention in Florida. I said, ‘there’ll be some alligators. And Doctor Who fans.’”

However, Yuille noticed it had nice potential for a documentary story. “Matthew thought this was going to be about the fans, but I always knew it was going to be about him.”

Ncuti Gatwa would be the new 14th Doctor Who, however again within the 90s Paul McGann was “the Doctor of the future”, in keeping with the Radio Times.

How the Radio Times promoted the Doctor Who TV Movie in 1996
How the Radio Times promoted the Doctor Who TV Movie in 1996. Photograph: Martin Belam/The Guardian

It wasn’t to be.

Coming seven years after the unique run of Doctor Who had ended, the film stays McGann’s solely main display screen outing within the function. Despite getting over 9 million viewers within the UK, Jacobs’ script didn’t spark the hoped-for new sequence, and the film spent years being perceived as a failure. One vital motive was that he had made adjustments to the very material of Doctor Who – McGann had kissed his companion.

“You have the incipient romantic aspect of the Doctor really coming to the fore with Paul’s Doctor,” says Jacobs. It didn’t matter how quick the companions’ skirts had been within the 60s, the rule of “no hanky-panky in the Tardis” had lasted for 3 a long time till, in Jacobs’ script, McGann was all of a sudden snogging Dr Grace Holloway, performed by Daphne Ashbrook.

Even worse for some followers, the Doctor unexpectedly revealed in 1996 that he was half-human, on his mom’s aspect. During the documentary, the manager producer of the film, Philip Segal, talks about going to a conference and being virtually assaulted by a fan who was livid concerning the film.

Writer Matthew Jacobs enters the room at a Doctor Who convention in the US
Writer Matthew Jacobs enters the room at a Doctor Who conference within the US. Photograph: American Anorak

Another sequence exhibits a bunch of followers trying horrified as Jacobs tries to elucidate the reasoning behind it, as one thing that expressed the Doctor’s affinity with humanity, and would enchantment to US tv executives. They usually are not satisfied. “It was usually the older fans, if we met them, who had a visceral reaction,” says Yuille.

The TV film did achieve introducing some new US followers to the present, and one of many joys of the brand new documentary is assembly among the most enthusiastic cosplayers of the American conference scene. On digital camera, they share tales about how Doctor Who has comforted them by way of grief and loss, or made their relationships stronger.

Jacobs thinks that when writers and actors go to conventions, they all the time initially suppose it’s only for the followers’ profit, however discover “they’re being brought into a family” themselves. Jacobs finally ends up on display screen sporting props and making an attempt on monster costumes as individuals enthusiastically element how a lot time they’ve invested making them, and his reluctance to embrace fandom steadily diminishes.

Matthew Jacobs gets to try on bits of a Dalek costume during the documentary
Matthew Jacobs will get to strive on bits of a Dalek costume in the course of the documentary. Photograph: American Anorak

Watching the 1996 TV film once more in 2022, it’s putting how a lot the primary half-hour feels extra like a US medical procedural, slightly than the relaunch of a sci-fi/fantasy franchise. Its construction is flawed – giving the seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy, a regeneration sendoff was a pleasant continuity contact on the time, nevertheless it eats up a 3rd of the movie’s run time. But, because the BBC gears as much as rejoice Doctor Who’s sixtieth birthday subsequent 12 months, the Doctor Who TV movie seems much less like a forlorn coda to the 1963-89 sequence and extra like a springboard between the “classic” and trendy eras.

Higher manufacturing values, a theme tune rearranged with an orchestra, and the revelation of a mysterious new secret concerning the Doctor’s previous appear nothing uncommon in Twenty first-century Who. The transient kisses between McGann’s Doctor and companion are comparatively chaste set subsequent to David Tennant’s tenth Doctor marrying Queen Elizabeth I, and Matt Smith’s eleventh Doctor’s very personal “time traveler’s wife” within the type of River Song (Alex Kingston).

Despite the film being a one-off, McGann is not any George Lazenby amongst Doctor Whos. The movie set in movement an entire vary of off-screen continuations in books and comics and McGann has gone on to embed himself as a much-loved a part of the franchise. His enthusiastic portrayal of the character making an attempt to get well his id stays the spotlight of the film, and his Doctor now has over twenty years and greater than 100 tales behind him on audio.

Eddie Robson, who wrote Radio 4’s Welcome to Our Village, Please Invade Carefully not too long ago wrote for McGann’s persevering with Doctor Who audio adventures, and says of his Doctor, “Paul has a nice sort of spontaneity as an actor. He has a way of making a line that’s written on the page sound like the first thing that’s come into his head. It’s fun to run with that. He thrives off snappy, short, little bits of dialogue.”

When McGann seems on the conference within the documentary, Jacobs says it was like witnessing individuals ready to see the pope. McGann ultimately reprised the function on TV in a specifically shot iPlayer “minisode” as a part of Doctor Who’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations.

Paul McGann returned to Doctor Who on television in 2013
Paul McGann returned to Doctor Who on tv in 2013. Photograph: BBC

It is troublesome, with hindsight, to recapture simply how a lot pleasure there was about Doctor Who returning in 1996. In a really totally different media panorama, the film was available for purchase on VHS previous to being screened within the UK. Robson recollects bunking off college to get it. “A friend of mine was also a fan. We nipped out of school, went to HMV and bought it, went to his house and watched it and then came back to school. I felt very positive about it. There was a sense of really wanting to like it, really wanting it to be good, and to work, and to lead to something.”

It was a bittersweet expertise for Sophie Aldred, who performed in style 80s companion Ace alongside Sylvester McCoy’s seventh Doctor, because the storyline seemingly signalled the top of her tenure on the present, though she’s going to reprise her function later this 12 months. “I absolutely loved the Tardis in that, I thought yes, that’s what we’d have done if we’d had the budget. I think it really was quite modern. A young, handsome doctor who kissed the companion. It was a precursor to the future, but, in a way, too early.”

Ace (Sophie Aldred, L) and Tegan (Janet Fielding) will be returning for the BBC centenary Doctor Who special later this year.
Ace (Sophie Aldred, L) and Tegan (Janet Fielding) will likely be returning for the BBC centenary Doctor Who particular later this 12 months. Photograph: James Pardon/BBC/PA

As the Doctor Who Am I documentary unfolds, it turns into clear that writing the film isn’t Jacobs’ solely connection to Who. His father, Anthony Jacobs, starred as Doc Holliday in a Nineteen Sixties Doctor Who story set within the wild west, and, as Jacobs begins to open up about his troublesome relationship together with his dad and mom, the documentary bends in the direction of a journey of discovery. Yuille says it made sense to have the documentary discover who Jacobs was, as he was “unpacking his past and moving from one city to the next, sort of like a rebirth or regeneration himself”, in parallel with the journey taken by McGann’s Doctor within the movie.

And their very own verdicts on the TV film now, in 2022? “I think it’s fun. It has a lot of energy. I didn’t see what the big deal was about the kiss, and I thought Paul was wonderful,” says Yuille.

“I always stand by it,” Jacobs says. “I’m not ashamed of it in any way.”



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