8 reasons the ‘Doctor Who’ TV Movie is better than its reputation

This month marks 20 years since the Doctor Who TV Movie first aired in 1996.

Following the original series’ cancellation in 1989, the 90-minute American special saw the Doctor triumphantly return to TV… only to disappear again for nine more years.

As such, the TV Movie (an aborted attempt to reboot Doctor Who as a US/UK co-production) is often discarded as not being a proper part of the series, or – even worse – derided for it.

But it isn’t all bad – far from it, in fact.

Buy ‘The TV Movie’ on Blu-ray on Amazon.

Buy ‘The TV Movie’ on DVD on Amazon.

Here are eight reasons the TV Movie is better than its reputation…


The Seventh Doctor’s cameo

From the perspective of rebooting the show, including the Seventh Doctor in the TV movie was probably a bad move, as it prevented it from making a clean start. But, hey, we fans loved seeing Sylvester McCoy back in his panama hat.

Thanks to his appearance in the film, it was clear that this wasn’t some alternate version of the show but proper bona fide Doctor Who.


The regeneration

The Eighth Doctor’s birth is a cracking scene, with some interesting lightning effects to separate it from other regenerations. It might mix up its symbolism and imagery, comparing the Doctor to both Frankenstein’s monster and Jesus Christ, but it still holds up pretty well in the long line of regeneration sequences.


The cinematography

Sure, the way it looks should not be the be-all-and-end all of how you judge a Doctor Who story (as a show, it’s traditionally known for its substance over its style), but the TV Movie was without a doubt the finest the series had ever looked. You have to hand it to director Geoffrey Sax (who went on to helm Matt Smith’s Christopher and His Kind in 2011).


Eric Roberts’ Master

Eric Roberts’ portrayal of the Master isn’t often rated highly, due to his perceived hammy performance. Well, we’d argue that he’s only following in the footsteps of Anthony Ainley or preceding Michelle Gomez in that regard – he’s the Master, of course he’s OTT!

Roberts clearly has a ton of fun in the part and makes a great foe for McGann’s Doctor.


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  • Dr. Moo

    The half-human thing is utter trash and should never have been allowed and whoever came up with the idea to try to turn the Doctor into Spock should’ve been fired. I can’t say much positive about Eric Roberts as the 15th Master either but he had a script and director so presumably did what was asked of him.

    The rest of what you’ve said is correct though. As a piece of mindless night-in popcorn fodder you can do worse and Paul McGann is wonderful in it.

    • Mack59

      I wonder if the half-human thing was put in because it was and American production and the producers thought the US audience wouldn’t accept a completely alien character in the lead role ? I know there have been comedies like Mork And Mindy and the 1960’s My Favourite Martian that had leads who were aliens but this was an expensive pilot for a new series so they might have fekt by making him human on his mother’s side would make him more rateable for an audience who would be, in the majority, unaware of Doctor Who.

      • Dr. Moo

        It was clearly an attempt to make him more like their own sci-fi character Spock. It shouldn’t have been done. Thankfully since then that bit’s been ignored and then Hell Bent has totally rejected it.

        • Reginald Anselm Leppik

          Hell Bent just mentioned it, it was never rejected.

          • Dr. Moo

            Then you clearly weren’t paying attention.

          • Reginald Anselm Leppik

            On the contrary… I was going over it fervently, trying to find something worthwhile from the shittiest of Who finales.

          • Dr. Moo

            If you were watching “the shittiest of Who finales” in a world where Doomsday and Last of the Time Lords exist, why do you bring up Hell Bent?

          • Reginald Anselm Leppik

            Because Hell Bent just disappointed me fundamentally on every level. Doomsday and LoTL have their flaws, but those are largely contained. Hell Bent is about more than just finishing the series, it’s about the Doctor’s return to Gallifrey, something the entire new series was building up to. But instead of something worthy of The Deadly Assassin or even Invasion Of Time, we got the Doctor ditching his people when they actually need him(and don’t give me that “he’s the Doctor, he runs away” baloney, he had legit reasons in the classic series that no longer hold up), a pathetic Rassilon, the Doctor shooting someone with a gun(regeneration or not, it’s fundamentally wrong and added nothing to the episode) and a flat ending to Clara’s character. Not to mention the usual Moffat-isms like the poor dialogue and “cleverness” instead of resolution. The Hybrid arc flopped like a dying fish. Yeah, it had something to do with Missy, but they couldn’t even bother to get her for the episode. And half of the episode riffed on what RTD did with the Time Lords(and Donna). Then there were the oh-so-terrible catacombs filled with enemies, who did… nothing. The Doctor can apparently pilot the TARDIS away without getting blocked by Gallifreyan defences… because. Flat. It was all so flat and tired and at the worst possible time.

          • Dr. Moo

            All legitmate complaints (save for those garbage complaints about dialogue), but I love it anyway. The way the story played out was so enjoyable that I can overlook its flaws.

          • Reginald Anselm Leppik

            Moffat loves to write snarky oneliners for EVERY CHARACTER. It just gets on my nerves. It doesn’t feel like natural dialogue to me.

  • Daniel

    By far the best thing the TV Movie did was give us the wonderful 8th doctor who continues to have amazing adventures thanks to Big Finish. For that alone, all of Whodom is eternally grateful.

  • John McJ

    Nope, it’s reputation is well-deserved.

    • Terrible Fate

      No it isn’t.

  • Erica Joplin

    I’m an American and this makes me feel weird. There are some things we sldn’t be involved in…it’s just…. ood 😉

  • Daniel Parrish

    BBC didn’t know American TV ……. they ran the Doctor Who movie against the last episode of the long running hit Roseanne and Roseanne killed them

  • Dr. Moo

    Actually the half-human stuff was disproved in Hell Bent when the Hybrid is revealed. Half human and half timelord it is half the Doctor and half Clara – basic mathematics (a two-year-old could work this out) tells us that this makes the Doctor 100% Time Lord.

    • Charlieboy

      You’re wrong, again.
      Hell Bent didn’t disprove that the Doctor was a hybrid (human/Timelord), it only proved that the Hybrid they were looking for WASN’T the Doctor!

      • 211197gb

        Can we all just agree that Moffat screwed up (yet again) and the hybrid idea will either never be mentioned again or will be swiftly disproved in moffat’s final series.