Saturday, June 1, 2013

Doctor Who (1996) - "I always dress for the occasion."

Doctor Who (film) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Overall Series Story #159*

Like McGann's Eight, we need to calm down, take a deep breath before proceeding.
Image via the comment thread on this LJ

Not to put too fine a point on it, I hated this back in May of 1996. Apart from the gorgeous TARDIS interior and Paul McGann's soft-spoken but vivacious Doctor, everything else about it felt wrong. The acting, apart from McGann's, was dubious at best. Eric Roberts's Master wavered erratically from vampin'-n-campin' to T2-styled villain. The companions had a few moments, but were generally undistinguished. While some of the scenes were charming and the direction felt competent, the New Year's Party at the end was subject to fish-eyed weirdness that felt cheap, rushed, and claustrophobic, not at all conveying the impending doom in an effective way.

Having watched it a few more times over the years, I've softened on it a bit, and can at least say I'd rather watch it again than the likes of the execrable "Dragonfire." (Despite this, I felt like it was good on the producers to include Sylvester McCoy and not deprive of us the regeneration scene, as RTD so cruelly did in "Rose.")

I find myself in a situation similar to how I felt trying to find something worth saying about "The Sontaran Experiment," I don't really want to try to add anything to what's already been said about the story itself, this one has had enough written about it already and I'm not sure anyone, least of all myself, can tease anything more out of it. Maybe by playing Devil's Advocate and pointing out there are a few scenes where McGann seems a little over his head and hams it up like he's got no idea what else to do? But my heart's not in it. I agree with the general consensus that McGann would have been a fine Doctor given time to grow into the role and make it his own.

A more interesting topic here is how this got made at all. Philip Segal's quest to bring Doctor Who to America is a heck of a story, and it's plain to see with that behind-the-scenes glimpse how too many parties had input resulting in a conflicted production. ("The Seven Year Hitch" mini-documentary on the DVD highlights that it is remarkable this TV movie was not worse than it was.)

Interesting, too, is how Leonard Nimoy came very close to directing second unit work for the aborted feature film that had Donald Sutherland attached to play the Doctor at one point. I can suggest getting hold of the DVD to watch it, but I don't want to get to deep into the behind-the-scenes stuff I'm only capable of summarizing one 15 minute or so documentary about.

This story does raise interesting questions about how to understand the concept of canon as fans of a genre show with fifty years of sometimes conflicting and irreconcilable history on TV, never mind all the novels and comics. For better or worse, this story is considered canon, and as such, there's no getting away from the revelation that the Doctor is half-human on his mother's side. Taken separately, maybe you can explain away the Doctor's claim that he's half-human and the Master's determination by investigation of the Doctor's retinal pattern of the same, but taken together I don't see an out here.

Of course, by even looking for an out, I'm revealing my bias against this development. The Doctor doesn't need to be half-human to be a character he is. I'm inclined to towards the belief he works better as a pure alien presence. So the other way undo this (alleged) mistake is to figure out a way to wriggle out from under the weight of canon without destroying the organic continuity of the series. Who owns the canon? Who has the authority to determine canonicity? Can parts of the same story be canon, and other parts not, or is it implicit in the concept of canon that only distinct stories as whole units can be canon? Can we conceive and make a coherent a concept of canonicity that allows for material that can be canonical in a first draft sense? We might call that a pre-retconned element, pregnant with a remake that will assume the mantle of its canonicity? Is the concept of canon even useful? Or is it a necessary bulwark against cognitive dissonance?

These blog posts about Doctor Who stories are, in a corner of my mind, first drafts of essays about topics that I think Doctor Who illuminates and can serve as a contextual framework for a more wide-ranging examination of: humanism, secularism, justice (or 'social justice', and perhaps whether there's a worthwhile distinction between the two terms), aesthetics, and morality ... the things that have the primary concerns of this blog since its inception. Now, admittedly, these posts are rather slight and I've got my work cut out for me if I'm going to craft them into something as ambitious as what I've go in mind ...

But before I do that, I'd like to obsess over nitpicks for a moment and question why Eleven seemingly forgot he was ginger as he was clearly shown to be in the picture at the top of this post? Are we to chalk that up to post-regeneration confusion or is it a slip in canonical knowledge? *makes the Hartnell "Hmm?!" sound*

* Some sources consider this story #156. Problematic numbering given the 7th Doctor story "Ghost Light" is numbered 157 on the DVD release. 
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