The seventh incarnation of The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) is transporting the remains of his enemy, The Master, to their home planet.
Unfortunately for The Doctor, The Master is not as dead as he thinks and when he is forced to crash materialise in San Francisco on the verge of the new millennium. To add to his troubles, The Doctor wanders into the middle of a gang shootout and is mortally injured.
His injuries and a botched operation to save his life cause The Doctor to regenerate into his eighth incarnation (Paul McGann)... but The Master has got a new body of his own in the form of a human ambulance driver (Eric Roberts) who wants to take over The Doctor's body, but to carry out his plan, The Master threatens to destroy not only Earth, but the whole of reality.
I remember seeing this TV movie on it's debut back in 1996. Doctor Who had been off the air for seven years and fans like myself were hungry for new Doctor Who... what we got was this co-production between the BBC and Universal Studios which was the brainchild of producer Philip Segal and had been a long term quest to get into production since the original series had been taken off air in 1989.
The production has some great points in it's favour.
The cinematography and direction by Geoffrey Sax is beautiful to look at and the choice of shots make the production pacy. The special effects compliment this and were a quantum leap from the original BBC series, that said the effects for the series post 2005 are an advance on this.
Paul McGann is a brilliant Doctor. He has boyish charm and cheekiness alongside an older man's wisdom and the eccentric charm of an alien who's an adopted Brit. It was a big shame that the film was not picked up as a series, if only for seeing more of McGann's interpretation of the role.
Daphne Ashbrook is a great foil as his "partner in crime", Dr Grace Holloway who goes from being the woman who accidentally kills his seventh persona, to the woman who doesn't believe that the eighth Doctor is the same man and, eventually, to somebody that he wants to travel with him.
Now for the points, that aren't so good.
Firstly, nobody really appeared to have given Eric Roberts notes on how to portray The Master. The character is meant to be a cold blooded killer with ambitions of domination. Unfortunately, what we get is a portrayal that changes from The Terminator to a camp parody of the character.
Yee Jee Tso is given an interesting premise in the role of Chang Lee, a street boy who wants to get further up the ladder either through a gang or an alliance with The Master. The problem is, his character is swamped by Roberts's Master.
Finally, the storyline by Matthew Jacobs is a slave to several production partners and fan bases/prospective fan bases, and that is it's Achilles' Heel.
Imagine, you're a TV exec commissioning a back door TV, would you commission a TV film that's based on over 30 years of televisual history which slavishly talks about the series' past including Time Lords and their home planet, a long standing feud between two Time Lords and introduces the concept of regeneration PLUS you want to get a new audience base in the US to get on board? Didn't think so.
That was one area where the introduction to the new TV series in 2005, 'Rose', worked really well. You learned about The Doctor as his new companion learned about him - no weight of history around it's neck and learning about the character and his world like peeling away layers from an onion.
It would take another nine years for Doctor Who to come back on to television on a regular basis. That said, it's an entertaining film and glimpse at what could have been.