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Inside the Tardis (Radio Times)

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As Paul McGann gets into his role as the new Doctor Who, Alison Graham joins him on location in Vancouver see overleaf

Looking at Paul McGann, you can see what Philip Segal, the man who chose him to be the eighth incarnation of Doctor Who for a new £3m television film, means when he says, "He has incredible eyes. He just stares at you and he looks like an alien. And he has great charm. He is dangerous and lovable. That is the magic." But, as we sit talking in McGann's trailer on the film set towards the end of an intensive month-long shoot in Vancouver, those ethereal blue eyes look a little dazed, a little hazy. It isn't easy having iconhood thrust upon you, as McGann is just beginning to find out.

"The magnitude of what I have taken on is still only really dawning on me, I'm only just beginning to twig. I took the job then I got on a plane [to Vancouver], so I wasn't around when the first press release went out."

Reaction to the news that McGann, 36, had landed the role of the cult Time Lord was swift and widespread. "I believe it was even on the television news. My mum was ringing me up saying, 'You're on this, you're in that.'

"I had the feeling that I had been given some kind of top posting overseas, like being an ambassador to somewhere. It's an honour, of course, but a huge responsibility as well."

The new and as yet untitled two-hour film is a spectacular co-production between the BBC's commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, and Universal Television in America. It is due to be shown in the States in May, when the BBC video will be released in Britain. The BBC is planning to screen it over here this summer. If it is successful, a series is likely to follow. (Paul McGann has been signed up for five years.)

The new film has none of the endearing amateurishness of old. In a huge hangar-like building on the outskirts of Vancouver on Canada's west coast, crews have built two stunning sets - the interior of the Tardis, a cross between a gentlemen's club and a library, littered with the accumulated souvenirs of centuries of time travel, and the bleak Cloister Room, where the Doctor and his old nemesis, the Master, fight for the world.

The last Doctor Who, Sylvester McCoy, has a small role at the beginning of the film - a fast-paced thriller in which the Doctor crash-lands on earth in the Tardis on New Year's Eve 1999, where he once again does battle with the Master, played by Hollywood hard man Eric Roberts.

There is even a romance for the Doctor, who has previously led a chaste life despite being accompanied by a string of young girls in mini skirts, when he has a close encounter with his new companion, surgeon Dr Grace Wilson (American actress Daphne Ashbrook), a nineties woman who does not spend the entire film screaming for help. The two kiss, but nothing more. This is a family show, after all. "It's not a licentious moment," according to McGann, "though I know there have been stories that the Doctor has a steamy sex romp. Not true."

As the new Doctor in an age of instant, inter-country communication via the wonders of the Internet, McGann immediately became electronic hot property among on-line Whovians (as fans are known).

Within days of the announcement that he had taken over the role, a full biography, complete with picture, appeared on the Internet. And a hard core of North American acolytes sought him out on location.

"A few of these Internet boys were hanging around the perimeter of the set, even though it's closed and you can't take pictures. When we were filming in Chinatown [in Vancouver] these young boys were there. They knew everything we were doing, where we were going, the lot.

"One of them was 21 years old, and he could give you dialogue from an episode from 1966. It's scary. The anoraks have landed." He quickly adds, "But it's great, they're very sweet."

Philip Segal, the new film's executive producer, grew up in Southend, but has worked in the American film industry for 20 years, five of them as Steven Spielberg's right-hand man at the director's production company, Amblin.

Segal, says McGann, is the "world's biggest Doctor Who fan". In fact, Segal is not just passionate about Doctor Who, he is evangelical, and made the film his mission.

Beaming from behind his desk in the Vancouver production offices, he wears his delight like a warm coat. "When I was a little boy, I was with my grandfather who was looking through the Radio Times one day. He came across a programme and said, 'This looks good'. It was the pilot episode of Doctor Who, An Unearthly Child, starring William Hartnell.

"I sat on his knee, Doctor Who came on and it's been a love affair ever since. I've seen every episode. He's a magical character."

Segal quickly adopted the Doctor as his childhood friend. "I was an oddball as a kid, a little bit of an outcast and a loner. I didn't fit in very well and the Doctor was a wonderful companion in my fantasy world because he was a guy about whom everybody said, 'It's OK to be different, it's okay to be special'.

"He was a wonderful, quirky character that I just really related to. He was my friend. And the funny thing about that story is that, as much as a cliche as it sounds, it's the same story you hear from fans over and over again."

Segal is determined that every detail of his film should be just right. Even the Tardis is built from original blueprints supplied by the BBC. "It was meticulously re-built by craftsmen here, and they've done a wonderful job."

Back on the set, in the huge, gothic Cloister Room, Eric Roberts is being spine-wateringly evil as the Master, dressed in a magnificent floor-length brocade cape and sunglasses. ("I'm cartoon terrible," says Roberts, a slight but powerfully built actor renowned just as much for being Julia Roberts's brother as for his tough guy roles). Crew members don masks as smoke machines belch, turning the air into a throat-catching haze. British director Geoffrey Sax oversees the action, as he will oversee the post production process - a large chunk of the film's special effects, including its scary bits, will be generated by computerised animation. Afar cry from those home-made monsters.

"When I was first offered the project my first reaction was, 'No way', I didn't want to do anything that was so quintessentially British. I didn't want to mess with it and Americanise it.

"But I read the script, which was by an Englishman [Matthew Jacobs], and I felt that Doctor Who was in good hands, I felt it had the integrity and spirit of the old Doctor Who."

Caption: Doctor in trouble: Paul McGann and Daphne Ashbrook shooting a scene in which the Doctor has fallen into the Master's clutches

Caption: Inside the Tardis's inner sanctum: the Master (played by Eric Roberts) descends the stairs of the Cloister Room, on the Doctor Who set in Vancouver

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  • APA 6th ed.: Graham, Alison (1996-03-16). Inside the Tardis (Radio Times). Radio Times p. 20.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Graham, Alison. "Inside the Tardis (Radio Times)." Radio Times [add city] 1996-03-16, 20. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Graham, Alison. "Inside the Tardis (Radio Times)." Radio Times, edition, sec., 1996-03-16
  • Turabian: Graham, Alison. "Inside the Tardis (Radio Times)." Radio Times, 1996-03-16, section, 20 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Inside the Tardis (Radio Times) | url= | work=Radio Times | pages=20 | date=1996-03-16 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 July 2020 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Inside the Tardis (Radio Times) | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 July 2020}}</ref>