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Waste of time travel (1996)

1996-05-28 Guardian.jpg

[edit]

WITH Paul McGann at the helm of the Tardis, this isn't so much Doctor Who as Doctor Phworr! the sexiest Time Lord in light years. But that seems one of the many mistakes that beset the conception and execution of the feature-length Doctor Who (BBC1). The Doctor may have been many things—jelly-baby fetishist, dedicated follower of his own idiosyncratic fashions, dab hand with a sonic screwdriver -- but, pace Patrick Troughton, he was never gorgeous.

We first see McGann as he strides from a San Francisco morgue clad in a shroud after dying on the operating table. He is a hot Lazarus destined to turn the head of the romantic interest. Or, better yet, a gentlemanly Jesus come to save the world as it prepares to party on December 31, 1999. No wonder that in his final confrontation with arch-enemy the Master, he is manacled to a crucifix and garlanded with a crown of nails.

McGann's first task is to find some clothes. Handily, he discovers a mortuary attendant's Wild Bill Hickock outfit for a fancy-dress party —a velvet coat and silk tie that recall the late Jon Pertwee's natty dickie and velvet smoking jacket in the early seventies. But that outfit is nothing compared with the love interest's bustler-cumballgown. While Grace (Daphne Ashbrook) is attending a performance of Madame Butterfly, her mobile phone rings (in right-thinking societies, crucifixion and crowns of nails are reserved for just such infractions). The caller demands that she go back to perform cardiac surgery on the great-hearted Time Lord. As she runs down corridors with her bosom heaving in that corset arrangement (Una Stubbs would never — could never— have worn something like that), holding her vast skirts aloft, this suddenly looks like the marriage of ER and Pride And Prejudice -- a disastrous union.

That's the chief problem with Doctor Who --- it is stranded somewhere in mid-Atlantic and about as interesting as Rockall. Director Geoffrey Sax has had to attempt the impossible— to make Doctor's eighth incarnation engaging for those non-American viewers who've grown up during his 33 years of Earth life, and for Americans who've joined the story two-thirds of the way through. Perhaps it needed a lengthy "Previously on Doctor Who ... " to bring Americans up to speed.

The signals are ominous from the start — the winning title music, which always sounded as though it were the revolutionary catalyst that could have sparked Can and Kraftwerk, has been reduced to John Williams style Hollywood sludge. But that is fitting: the rest of the 85 minutes are taken up with ineffective samples of Hollywood's best science-fiction movies in recent years.

Terminator 2, particularly, has been plundered. The Master is a pool of slime who floods out of his sarcophagus, recalling the liquid-metal killing machine; he mutates into Eric Roberts (Julia's brother) a bad guy in love with leather and shades; there's even a pedestrian car chase that makes one realise how boring such pursuits have become, unless they are edited with the verve and driven with the disregard for the Highway Code that charged Terminator 2.

But the worst sci-fi cliché is the countdown to eternal oblivion. McGann explains the McGuffin: The Master is planning to take my body so that he can live and I will die, He has opened the Eye of Harmony, the power source at the heart of the Tardis. If the Eye is not closed, the planet will be sucked through it. I need to fix the timing mechanism and close the eye. I need an atomic clock." Well, obviously. The sets may have stopped wobbling, but the dialogue and physics are as shaky as ever.

"This can't be how it ends! Please stop this!" says McGann towards the end. But no— he's been signed up as the Doctor for five years. The curse of Peladon on him!

Worst of all, In this incarnation there are no Daleks, sea monsters or Cybermen ---- those unseen Equity members in unconvincing alien clobber who filled Saturday tea-times with such fear. This film, despite the big budget and accomplished special effects, couldn't scare or much divert a little child; the only people it is going to frighten are the suits who lavishly bankrolled this doomed project. Exterminate! Exterminate!

Caption: Dr McGann ... a rebirth too far?

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to whovian@cuttingsarchive.org

  • APA 6th ed.: Jeffries, Stuart (1996-05-28). Waste of time travel. The Guardian p. 8.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Jeffries, Stuart. "Waste of time travel." The Guardian [add city] 1996-05-28, 8. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Jeffries, Stuart. "Waste of time travel." The Guardian, edition, sec., 1996-05-28
  • Turabian: Jeffries, Stuart. "Waste of time travel." The Guardian, 1996-05-28, section, 8 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Waste of time travel | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Waste_of_time_travel | work=The Guardian | pages=8 | date=1996-05-28 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=24 April 2019 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Waste of time travel | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Waste_of_time_travel | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=24 April 2019}}</ref>