Doctor Who: The Mysterious History of the Eighth Doctor
This week I have the joy of presenting 1996's Doctor Who: The Movie at Alamo Drafthouse, starring Paul McGann's the Eighth Doctor and for reasons that will never be fully appreciated Eric Roberts as The Master. Thus began a period in Doctor Who history that is to this day hotly debated as to what's canon in the long life of The Doctor and what isn't.
In 1989, after 26 years continuous years on television, the Seventh Doctor and Ace walked off screen promising many more adventures. "Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice, and somewhere else the tea's getting cold. Come on, Ace. We've got work to do," smirked Sylvester McCoy to Sophie Aldred as we cut to that classic theme.
But there wasn't another adventure, at least not in television. The show was cancelled due to poor ratings, and a legion of fans were cut adrift. Instead, the life of the Seventh Doctor and his travels with Ace would continue to be featured in Doctor Who Magazine comics (And as a back-up feature in Incredible Hulk Presents... your guess is as good as mine).
This was also the beginning of the Doctor Who novels. Virgin Books had purchased Target Books, who handled the show's novelizations, in 1989. They approached BBC about starting a new line of original print stories, but the BBC balked until it became clear that the show was indeed gone for what looked like good. So from 1989 until 1996, the Seventh Doctor remained very much active, but with his actions shrouded in shadow behind the pages of The New Adventures.
On of those writers was Russell T. Davies.
Until the day he was charged with transporting the body of The Master home to Gallifrey. While en route the Tardis malfunctions and The Doctor lands in '90s San Francisco. His landing interrupts a local gang, who shoot him as he exits the Tardis. Taken to the local hospital, his alien physiology confuses Dr. Grace Holloway, and leads to his death under anesthesia. In the morgue Seven dies, and Eight rises to enlist Grace in his quest to stop the resurrecting Master.
It is my personal opinion that Eight does not represent the last of the classic Doctors, but the first of the new. He was the first Doctor to romantically kiss a companion, and his attitude towards Earth is much closer to Ten and Eleven than any of his predecessors. True, he maintained a certain old world style that was more in keeping with Three or One, but he was in all senses of the word thoroughly modern.
Television audiences never got a chance to see more, though. Fox's television movie was a flop and a disaster. Reading about the production's inception to its completion, which at times rewrote the entire history of the show and ran from a president day outing to World War II, shows a mishmash of competing interests that only diluted the final product. McGann won the role against names from Tim Curry to Jim Carrey, to give you some idea of the fractured nature of the film.
And I really can't stress how hammy Eric Roberts was as The Master, though people remain much kinder to Paul McGann. The hoped-for American series never materialized, and The Doctor fled back into the dark.
More of the Eighth Doctor's history on the next page.