An Unearthly Journey: The Eighth Doctor’s Movie

When I started my Classic Who review series, I did warn/promise that I wouldn’t be going in chronological order by any means. True to that, let’s talk about Paul McGann’s contribution to the Doctor Who canon: that TV movie from the nineties titled only Doctor Who.


This movie was in part an attempt to jump-start an American Doctor Who series, which was the probably reason why it was set in San Francisco and featured exclusively American companions. The American series never took off, and the British TV show had to wait another nine years to return to TV. And despite all that, at the end of the day, the BBC decided to include the movie in the canon timeline of the Doctor’s regenerations.

mcganp22I feel like this is required watching for people who are interested in Classic Who, because I think Paul McGann was a lovely Doctor, but I think that the movie suffered a lot because of its attempts to appeal to a new audience with no cultural attachment to the character or show. It includes some really great scenes—the Seventh Doctor’s regeneration into the Eighth may be my favorite regeneration scene of all the Doctors I’ve seen—but it also depends a lot of mid-Nineties action movie tropes.

It also includes some dubious diversions from the standard mythology that don’t make much sense. For example, at one point the Doctor tells companion Grace Holloway that he’s part human on his mother’s side, which conflicts with canon; furthermore, there is a lot of weird stuff that happens with the Master coming back to life and possessing some guy and having snake eyes… yeah, I dunno.

dw27The plot mixes the threat of the Master using the TARDIS to destroy Earth combined with a sort of silly-in-retrospect drama about Y2K. It’s really nothing to write home about, to be honest, but it’s enjoyable enough the first time through.

Let’s talk about companions, though. First and foremost is Grace Holloway, a heart surgeon who gets pulled into the Doctor’s problems when she accidentally causes Seven’s death and regeneration by operating on him under the assumption that he’s human. I think Grace is a really cool character—she’s a competent surgeon, and she does well under the weird pressures that come with being pulled into the Doctor’s orbit. She does get shoehorned into being a love interest for the Doctor in the end; I would have preferred if that hadn’t happened.

11 Doctor Who Paul McGann Chang Lee GraceThe other character I can’t go without mentioning is Chang Lee, a Chinese-American kid who also gets tangled up in the Doctor’s shenanigans. Although it’s notable that Lee has more of a part in this movie than any Asian character in the 2005 series to date, he is a bit of a problematic character. He’s tangled up with a street gang, he steals some stuff from the Doctor, he gets manipulated by the Master, and he’s actually killed by the Master near the end of the movie. (He gets better, though.) Not really a rousing win for Asian representation.

In the end, I do recommend watching this movie at least once. It’s worth it to see Paul McGann’s take on the character, as the last incarnation of the Doctor we see pre-Time War. Just be warned that it’s not the world’s best Doctor Who story.