Saturday, 20 November 2010

The Eighth Doctor: A time that never was

Due to the new fancy edition box set, I now own Doctor Who: The Movie (aka Enemy Within, for those wanting a less silly name) on DVD. As the pilot for an unmade revival, it makes for interesting viewing.

It remains an interesting failure - a nice intro to the Eighth Doctor but only after about half an hour has gone by, a nice swansong for the Seventh Doctor but a bad reason for a regeneration, a big hit here that sank without trace in the US, lovely production work including that great steampunk cathedral TARDIS contrasted with a pretty pedestrian Earth plot, a simple enough story with a baffling wodge of unnecessary exposition right at the start that could have been designed to drive off potential new viewers.

By way of comparison, Rose gives you plenty of time to digest every little nugget of information comfortably. Smith And Jones does a fair job of this too. New Earth, Partners In Crime and The Eleventh Hour might puzzle a complete new arrival, but they're a ways off that opening infodump.

The fact that it exists at all is the result of a heroic effort, which makes its non-starter-ness all the sadder. Having read both Doctor Who: Regeneration (the behind-the-scenes book) and The Nth Doctor (on the unproduced scripts that could also have happened) there's a lot of good stuff lost in time. As well as Spider-Daleks. The Cybs would have annoyed fans, but crazy vain cyborg pirates are actually pretty cool if you don't call them your Cybermen.

The planned series that was about three iterations before the one we got (home of the Cybs and Spider Daleks) was to include a few straight Historicals in among the Pseudohistoricals and Secret Invasions, in a series outline of remakes of existing stories from across the original show's run, which is interesting considering their rarity in the decades before and since but makes sense in a "new" show about time travel. It also had a not-that-engaging plot hook about the new young Doctor searching for his absentee Time Lord father, but hey.

And a rival production that never got close to happening had Gallifrey under fire and in ruins - and was subtitled Last Of The Time Lords...

Bringing this into orbit of the game, the two books between them discuss stories that were never made, sometimes in enough detail that you could run them.

Regeneration showcases art and designs for the Couldhavebeen series and its various Meanwhiles and Neverweres, which is where that picture of the Cybs came from. Doctor Who Magazine also looked at the untold tales in an Eighth Doctor special which I only know exists because Daryl Joyce illustrated the article and put the pics up on the Doctor Who Related page of his site. (His Spider Daleks are a lot more Dalek and a lot less Spider than the Gigery originals by among others 40K's Wil Rees, and which visited the Whoniverse in one of DWM's Eighth Doctor comic stories.)

Finally, it got nine million viewers in the UK. They could have gone ahead and made a series without the US backers. Displacing Crime Traveller in the schedules, maybe. What would it have looked like? Would it have lasted past a single series or so? Who would follow Paul McGann and become the Ninth Doctor? Would any of the writers we now associate with the show have gotten in on the act? (Russell T Davies had already created Dark Season, Paul Cornell wrote Human Nature a year earlier and Mark Gatiss had started a series of fan videos, so you never know.) What would that world be like? If you ever get a chance to find out, bring me back a DVD box set. (And Firefly season two while you're shopping.)

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