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Dr. Who Gets New Life As TV Film

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Dr. Who's flying phone booth plops right down onto the Fox network tonight, and the cosmic traveler from the old British TV serial gives himself a sparkling new adventure.

The Fox movie "Dr. Who" (8 p.m. on Channel 2) is a co-production of Universal and the BBC (it will be shown in Britain later this month) and reportedly carries a budget in excess of $5 million, about double the usual cost of a network movie.

The pedigree and the elevated production values are apparent in "Dr. Who." As a matter of fact, it's one TV movie that wouldn't look terribly out of place on a theater screen.

The irony is that the old sci-fi series, which began in Britain in 1963 and reached American TV in 1978, achieved its cult popularity in part because its low budget gave it a kind of lovable ragamuffin flavor.

The Doctor, for the uninitiated, is hundreds of years old, and a benevolent time and space traveler from the planet Gallifrey. His vessel is a London police call box from the outside, but its interior is a spacious ship with comfortable Edwardian touches to suit its occupant.

13 LIVES

Also, the Doctor keeps regenerating himself -- mostly because new actors were forever taking over the title role -- and is now deep into his allotted 13 lives.

Sylvester McCoy, the last actor to play the role in the BBC series, turns up first as the Doctor tonight. He's transporting the mortal remains of an arch-villain, the Master, back to Gallifrey in a lockbox.

But the Master regains life and oozes free of the box in gelatinous form. When the Doctor's booth crash-lands in an alley in San Francisco's Chinatown at the tail end of 1999, the Doctor is shot by a gang member. The Master slithers into the pocket (and later down the throat) of an attending ambulance driver (co-star Eric Roberts).

Our wounded hero expires on an operating table. But he thrashes back to life in a new and younger incarnation (English actor Paul McGann now assumes the role), still wearing a morgue tag on his toe as he stumbles around the hospital corridors.

DEADLY GREEN GLOW

While the Doctor enlists an attractive surgeon (Daphne Ashbrook) to help him, the Master locks into place as the deadly green glow behind Roberts' eyes. He's intent on killing the Doctor and stealing his extra lives. And in the process, he'll turn Earth inside out and destroy it just as revelers ring in the year 2000.

McGann is a perfectly apt Doctor who adds an appealingly vulnerable side to the character's razor intellect. Roberts samples glee and menace in equal portions, finding villainous joy in both. He seems to taste the words when he says that "life is wasted on the living."

The worst actor in the movie is Vancouver, the Canadian city that helplessly underplays the role of San Francisco. Vancouver has failed in the same role more than once.

Screenwriter Matthew Jacobs puts the tale together with a whimsical nod to the old show, including the Doctor's affinity for Jelly Baby candies, and director Geoffrey Sax keeps the film moving too quickly for anyone to stop and smirk dismissively at it.

"Dr. Who" may be the best-edited network movie since CBS' "The Piano Lesson," more than a year ago. Smart editing is one signal that a film has been made by people who actually care about it, and that instantly separates "Dr. Who" from the usual television glop.

Caption: Paul McGann stars as 'Dr. Who,' complete with flying phone booth

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  • APA 6th ed.: Carman, John (1996-05-14). Dr. Who Gets New Life As TV Film. San Francisco Chronicle p. E1.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Carman, John. "Dr. Who Gets New Life As TV Film." San Francisco Chronicle [add city] 1996-05-14, E1. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Carman, John. "Dr. Who Gets New Life As TV Film." San Francisco Chronicle, edition, sec., 1996-05-14
  • Turabian: Carman, John. "Dr. Who Gets New Life As TV Film." San Francisco Chronicle, 1996-05-14, section, E1 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Dr. Who Gets New Life As TV Film | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Dr._Who_Gets_New_Life_As_TV_Film | work=San Francisco Chronicle | pages=E1 | date=1996-05-14 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 December 2019 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Dr. Who Gets New Life As TV Film | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Dr._Who_Gets_New_Life_As_TV_Film | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 December 2019}}</ref>