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156 – Doctor Who
Doctor Who television movie
Doctor Who1996.jpg
The Doctor and the Master in their climactic battle.
Guest stars
  • Eric RobertsThe Master
  • Yee Jee Tso – Chang Lee
  • John Novak – Salinger
  • Michael David Simms – Dr. Swift
  • Eliza Roberts – Miranda
  • Dave Hurtubise – Professor Wagg
  • Dolores Drake – Curtis
  • Catherine Lough – Wheeler
  • William Sasso – Pete
  • Joel Wirkkunen – Ted
  • Jeremy Radick – Gareth
  • Bill Croft – Motorcyclist Policeman
  • Mi-Jung Lee – News Anchor
  • Joanna Piros – News Anchor
  • Dee Jay Jackson – Security Man
  • Gordon Tipple – The Old Master
Writer Matthew Jacobs
Director Geoffrey Sax
Script editor None
Producer Peter V. Ware
Matthew Jacobs
Executive producer(s) Philip David Segal
Alex Beaton
Jo Wright (for the BBC)
Production code 50/LDX071Y/01X[1]
Series Television movie
Length 85 mins (UK)
89 mins (US)
Originally broadcast 12 May 1996 (Canada)
14 May 1996 (USA)
27 May 1996 (first UK)
← Preceded by Followed by →
Survival (serial)
Dimensions in Time (charity special)
IMDb profile

Doctor Who is a television movie based on the British science fiction television series Doctor Who. Developed as a co-production amongst Universal Television, BBC Television, BBC Worldwide, and the Fox Network, the 1996 television film premiered on 12 May 1996 on CITV in Edmonton, Alberta — fifteen days before the BBC One showing, and two days before its broadcast on Fox in the US.

The film was the first attempt to revive Doctor Who, following its cancellation in 1989. It was intended as a back door pilot for a new American-produced Doctor Who TV series, and introduced Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor in his only television appearance. Despite a ratings success in the United Kingdom, the film did not fare well on American television, and no new series was purchased. The series was later relaunched on the BBC in 2005.[1]

Although the film was primarily produced by different hands from the 1963-89 series, and intended for an American audience, the producers chose to produce not a "reimagining" or "reboot" of the series (examples of such proposals can be found in Jean-Marc Lofficier's book The Nth Doctor (Virgin Publishing, 1997)), but rather a continuation of the original narrative. The production was filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, to date the only episode of Doctor Who filmed in Canada.



The Master is put on trial on the planet Skaro, and sentenced to extermination by the Daleks. His last wish is for his remains to be returned to Gallifrey by his archenemy, the Doctor, currently in his seventh regeneration form. During the trip back to Gallifrey in his TARDIS, the vessel shakes, causing the box containing the Master's remains to shatter and allowing a sentient ooze to escape from it. The ooze enters the TARDIS controls and forces an emergency landing in Chinatown in San Francisco, California on the eve of the 21st Century. As the Doctor steps from the TARDIS to find his bearings, he is accidentally shot by a gang who are chasing down Chang Lee, a Chinese-American. Lee calls for an ambulance, and the Doctor is rushed to a nearby hospital. The surgeons find, through X-rays, that the Doctor has two hearts, and they call Dr. Grace Holloway, a cardiologist. She initially assumes the x-ray image is a double exposure, but as she starts to operate with a cardiac probe, the Doctor wakes up, tells her that he needs a beryllium atomic clock, and then falls into a seizure, eventually flatlining. Dr. Holloway declares the Doctor dead, and his body placed into a morgue; Lee is given the Doctor's possessions, including the TARDIS key, and he runs off. Meanwhile, the ooze, which had stowed away on the ambulance, attacks and takes over the body of the ambulance driver, Bruce. When Bruce's wife questions his odd behaviour, she is killed, with Bruce now revealing himself to be the Master.

Late in the night, the Doctor regenerates into a new body, and manages to escape from the morgue, donning parts of costumes intended for the New Year's Party later that night. He follows Dr. Holloway as she leaves the hospital, and convinces her that he is the same man she operated on earlier. Dr. Holloway takes the Doctor back to her home, where the Doctor recovers the memories of his previous life. Meanwhile, Lee has returned to the TARDIS with the key, and enters the time machine. The Master arrives soon afterwards and tricks Lee by forcing him to believe the Doctor is evil, and to open the Eye of Harmony through his human retinal pattern. The Doctor is fully aware of the Eye's opening, and tries to keep his own eyes shut to prevent the Master from seeing through his eyes, as that would allow the Master to take over his body. The Doctor also warns Dr. Holloway that if they do not shut the Eye before midnight, the entire planet may be sucked into it, and that to close it, he needs an atomic clock. Dr. Holloway disbelieves the Doctor initially, but when he demonstrates that the nature of reality is already changing by walking through her bay windows without breaking them, she agrees to help, and helps him identify the unveiling of a atomic clock at the San Francisco Institute of Technological Advancement and Research. On the way to the Institute, they are stopped by the Master and Lee, as the Doctor does not yet recognize the Master's new form. However, when the Master reveals his eyes, the Doctor and Dr. Holloway quickly escape, but not before the Master is able to shoot Dr. Holloway's wrist with a strange bile-like fluid.

At the Institute, the Doctor and Dr. Holloway manage to collect the integrated circuit chip with the atomic clock mechanism by subterfuge, and make their way back to the TARDIS. Once there, the Doctor is able to install the chip and close the eye, but discovers that that Eye has been open far too long, and that they must revert time to before the Eye was opened to prevent the destruction of the Earth. However, before the Doctor can route power to the TARDIS, the Master is able to use the bile on Dr. Holloway's wrist to control her, and forces her to knock out the Doctor. The Doctor is chained above the Eye, his eyes forced open so as to allow the Master to take his remaining regenerations. When the Doctor awakes, he tries to break Lee of the Master's spell on him, but to no avail; however, when the Master lies to Lee in order to get him to open the Eye again, Lee refuses, causing the Master to break his neck. The Master then uses his control of Dr. Holloway to open the Eye, though this breaks his control of her. While the Master begins the process of transferring the Doctor's remaining regenerations to him, Dr. Holloway is able to connect the last power circuit in the console room, sending the TARDIS into a time-holding pattern just moments after the turn of midnight, staving off destruction of the Earth. When Dr. Holloway tries to return to help the Doctor, she is thrown over a balcony and killed by the Master, but her interference has given the Doctor enough time to push the Master into the Eye itself, apparently killing him. The action causes the Eye to close, and time to revert back to a few moments before midnight, bringing both Dr. Holloway and Lee back to life.

As the three recover, they find the world is safe. As Lee departs after returning the rest of the Doctor's possessions, the Doctor warns him not to be in San Francisco next year during New Year's Eve. The Doctor then offers Dr. Holloway to travel with her in the TARDIS, but she politely refuses, and also leaves. The Doctor returns to the TARDIS and sets the ship back on her original course.



The Doctor

  • The television movie remains Paul McGann's sole televised story as the Doctor. It has nonetheless had a significant impact on the Doctor Who mythos, with an ongoing Doctor Who novel line, comic strip, and audio series that featured the Eighth Doctor for years, until and beyond the TV series' return in 2005. The Eighth Doctor has also featured in a series of BBC7 audio plays since 2007.
  • The Seventh Doctor is seen wearing a different costume from the one he wore during his 1987-1989 tenure: gone are the question mark pullover and umbrella. The costume does include the original hat, which is actually owned by Sylvester McCoy.
  • On-screen dialogue confirms that the Seventh Doctor "dies" at 10:03 PM on 30 December 1999, with regeneration occurring early on 31 December. The position of prop clocks would suggest this regeneration to have occurred some time around 1:00 to 1:15 on that day, leading to some argument that it may have taken place over a prolonged period of time unlike other regenerations.
  • Although the Doctor has never regenerated the same way twice, the depiction here is particularly unusual in that, unlike all previous (and later) regenerations, it sets in long after the Doctor's apparent "death", a condition apparently caused by the anaesthetic in the Doctor's system.
  • While rummaging through lockers in search of clothing, the Doctor momentarily examines a long multi-coloured scarf, similar to that worn by the Fourth Doctor. The Eighth Doctor also offers a policeman a jelly baby, a favourite confectionery of the Second, Fourth and (as seen in the opening scenes) Seventh Doctors. A 900-year diary is also fleetingly visible in the TARDIS.
  • Significant to the plot is the premise that the Doctor is half-human, "on [his] mother's side". The issue was not addressed on-screen again, though in "Journey's End", in which a new version of the Doctor is created whose physiology had, through the unique circumstances involved, been created as a combination of the Doctor's and his human companion's physiologies, the new Doctor unenthusiastically explores his newly half-human body[2]. In the 2008 Doctor Who comic book The Forgotten the Doctor states that, prior to regenerating, he used the Chameleon Arch to create the fiction of being half-human in order to deceive the Master.
  • Although the Doctor experienced some arguably romantic situations in stories such as The Aztecs, the movie is the first time the Doctor's sexuality is overtly explored on-screen. This tendency carries over to the revived series, and its portrayal of the Ninth and Tenth Doctors.
  • Due in part to the weight of apparent discrepancies between the movie and the original series, the movie has proven controversial amongst some fans;[citation needed] in subsequent years, the Eighth Doctor's canonicity within the televised franchise has been of some debate.[citation needed] (In Russell T Davies' drama Queer as Folk, one character claims that McGann "doesn't count".) Following many positive assertions by showrunner Russell T Davies, the revived franchise resolved the question in the 2007 episode "Human Nature", in which the Doctor presented sketches of his previous incarnations, the Eighth Doctor most prominently. In 2008, the Eighth Doctor made another cameo in "The Next Doctor", in a sequence of clips, counting up the ten Doctors to date.

Daleks and the Master

  • Although the Doctor's most famous alien adversaries, the Daleks, are not seen in the film, they are heard condemning the Master to death during the film's opening sequence (sporting their trademark war cry of: "EX-TER-MIN-ATE!"). However, their "appearance" and role here have proven to be controversial amongst fans for a number of reasons, ranging from the arguably trivial (the DWAS said that their voices were "too squeaky") to the claim that it was uncharacteristic of the Doctor to run an errand for his mortal enemies (but see below). Also, a previous episode, Remembrance of the Daleks, showed the destruction of Skaro by the Doctor, though the Master's trial may have predated this event in the Daleks' chronology.
  • This would also be the Master's last official television appearance in Doctor Who until the 2007 episode "Utopia". In the following episode, "The Sound of Drums", it is stated that the Time Lords themselves resurrected him to use him in the Time War.
  • The Master tried to use the Eye of Harmony to obtain a new set of regenerations before, in The Deadly Assassin. He was also offered a new set of regenerations by the Time Lords in The Five Doctors, but his continued quest for regenerations in later stories like Planet of Fire implies that he never received them.


  • Although the TARDIS interior changed several times throughout the original series, the movie's set was the most dramatic change yet, replacing the sterile white corridors and "roundel"-based design with a steampunk theme reminiscent of Jules Verne. Several subsequent tie-in novels attempted to explain the change. In the 2005 series, the interior changed once again, just as dramatically. In a later interview with Doctor Who Magazine, series producer Russell T Davies mused that the TARDIS interior is probably "skinnable", like Winamp. This seems to be confirmed in the multi-Doctor special "Time Crash" where the Fifth Doctor remarks that the Tenth Doctor had "changed the desktop theme." However, the Fourth Doctor era serial The Masque of Mandragora also introduced the idea that the TARDIS has at least one secondary console room.
  • This film introduces the idea of including earth-like elements on the TARDIS control console, such as an early 20th Century automobile handbrake, apparently used for a similar purpose. When the series was revived in 2005 this idea was maintained, with items such as a bicycle pump being added to the console.
  • As established in The Deadly Assassin (1976), the Eye of Harmony is held on Gallifrey; its presence on the TARDIS therefore seems a peculiar inclusion for the movie. Fan theory quickly resolved the conflict by speculating that the "Eye" on the TARDIS was merely a spatiotemporal link to the actual Eye on Gallifrey, a feature presumably contained on all TARDIS crafts as a source of energy. This theory soon found its way into licensed material such as the BBC novel range. Notably, in the revived series, in which Gallifrey has been destroyed, the TARDIS lacks its own power source, and must draw power from fissures in the fabric of reality. A later episode, The Sound of Drums, may also support the link theory, revealing that by subsequently to falling into the Eye, the Master had been revived by the Time Lords without the Doctor's apparent knowledge.
  • The film further states that the "Eye" can only be opened with the scan of a human retina, a fact apparently tied to the Doctor's own human retinal pattern. The 2000 Big Finish audio play The Apocalypse Element attempts to explain this decision by introducing a plot point in which the eye of the Doctor's companion Evelyn Smythe is keyed to a Gallifreyan security system so as to confound enemy expectations by allowing entry only to the most unlikely of candidates.
  • The golden "fairy dust" emitted from the Eye that resurrects Grace and Chang Lee, though unprecedented within the series and unexplained within the movie, is to some extent evoked in several episodes of the revived series. Those references include "The Parting of the Ways", in which Rose Tyler wrenches open the console to absorb the energies of the Time Vortex, thereby obtaining control over life and death (including the resurrection of major cast members). In this case, the Vortex energies are again depicted as a sort of golden dust.
  • The Doctor's reference to the chameleon circuit as a "cloaking device" was for a while another point of criticism within the fan community. As with "regeneration", the device has taken on many names throughout the history of the series. Russell T Davies referenced the criticism in the 2005 episode "Boom Town"; when at one point Rose Tyler refers to a cloaking device, the Doctor corrects her.

References to other stories

  • The "time tunnel" effect of the 2005 Doctor Who series onwards is reminiscent of the vortex that the TARDIS travels through in the opening credits and climax of the television movie.
  • The TARDIS steering mechanism in the movie is simpler than in any other Doctor Who episode. This mechanism is more old-fashioned, as controlling the date is done by adjusting a block with the date. Compare with Castrovalva, where the Fifth Doctor tells Nyssa that flying the TARDIS "is harder than you think" and "You don't just flick a switch."


Serial details by episode
Episode Broadcast date Run time Viewership
(in millions)
"Doctor Who" 27 May 1996 (1996-05-27) (UK Airing) 84:39 9.1
Doctor Who 1996 movie poster


Producer Philip Segal had been trying for some years to launch a new American-produced series of Doctor Who, but the Fox Network — the only American network that showed any interest — was only prepared to commit to a single telemovie. It was hoped that, were the telemovie successful, Fox might be persuaded to reconsider a series; however, the telemovie's ratings performance in America was not strong enough to hold Fox's interest.

The production budget for the movie (as revealed in the book Doctor Who: Regeneration) was US$5 million, with the Fox Network spending $2.5 million, BBC Television contributing $300,000, and the remaining $2.2 million split between BBC Worldwide and Universal Television.


Miranda, the wife of Bruce, is played by Eric Roberts' real-life wife, Eliza Roberts.

The producers of the television movie compiled several lists of actors to consider for the part of the Doctor. Among early thoughts were Michael Crawford, Tim Curry, Eric Idle, Billy Connolly, Trevor Eve, Michael Palin, Robert Lindsay, and Jonathan Pryce. Not all were interested in the project, or available for the intended filming dates.

Casting sessions took place in March 1994; actors who actually auditioned for the role include Liam Cunningham, Mark McGann, Robert Lindsay, Tim McInnerny, Nathaniel Parker, Peter Woodward, John Sessions, Anthony Head, and Tony Slattery. Paul McGann was first considered around the time of these auditions, but did not formally audition for the part until later.[1]

Anthony Head would later work on a number of Doctor Who-related projects — including audio dramas, narrating Doctor Who Confidential, and guest-starring in the 2006 episode School Reunion — as would Tim McInnerny in the 2008 story "Planet of the Ood".


The movie was filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, the first time any Doctor Who story had been filmed in North America (although the 1985 Sixth Doctor story The Two Doctors was originally planned for New Orleans). It is, to date, the only Doctor Who production to be entirely mounted outside of the UK (whereas all previous episodes shot on foreign soil included at least some studio taping in the UK).

In the 2005 Doctor Who Confidential episode "Weird Science", Sylvester McCoy reveals that during the sequence where he locks the casket with his sonic screwdriver, he held the tool pointing the wrong way around (although in the original series, it is seen being used both ways). The sonic screwdriver was blurred in post-production to conceal the error. This is also the only time the Seventh Doctor was seen using a sonic screwdriver.

Writer Matthew Jacobs's father, Anthony Jacobs, played the role of Doc Holliday in the 1966 First Doctor serial The Gunfighters; the young Matthew visited the studio during production.


The opening pre-credits sequence went through a number of modifications, with several different voice-overs recorded. At one stage the voice-over was to be made by the old Master, played by Gordon Tipple; in the end this was not used. Tipple is still credited as "The Old Master", though in the final edit his appearance is very brief, stationary, and mute. Had the original pre-titles voice-over been used, it would have been unclear what incarnation of the Doctor Sylvester McCoy portrays in the movie (as he is simply credited as "The Old Doctor"). Only the rewritten narration (as read by Paul McGann) makes his number of regenerations clear. The sequence of the TARDIS flying through the time vortex was briefly reused in the opening of Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death, as the Master observes Rowan Atkinson's Doctor.

Instead of designing a new Doctor Who logo for this film, it was decided instead to use a modified version of the logo used during the early part of the Jon Pertwee era of the original series (1970-1973). This logo, being the final form from the "classic series", is to this day used by the BBC for most Doctor Who merchandise relating to the first eight Doctors.

John Debney was commissioned to write the score for this film, and intended to replace Ron Grainer's original theme with a new composition. Ultimately Debney did in fact use an arrangement of Grainer's music for the theme, although Grainer goes uncredited.

Alternative titles and labelling

There is some disagreement over exactly what the movie should be called. The production documentation only referred to the project as Doctor Who. Segal suggested the unofficial title Enemy Within as an alternative at Manopticon 5, apparently after being repeatedly asked what the actual title for the movie was. The DVD release is labelled Doctor Who: The Movie. The most common fan usage appears to refer to it as "the television movie", the "TVM", or variations thereof. See: Doctor Who story title controversy

Upon translation into French, this film was renamed Le Seigneur du Temps ("The Lord of Time").

"TVM" is the production code used in the BBC's online episode guide.[6] The actual code used during production is 50/LDX071Y/01X.[1] Doctor Who Magazine's "Complete Eighth Doctor Special" gives the production code as #83705.[7] Big Finish Productions uses the code 8A, and numbers its subsequent Eighth Doctor stories correspondingly.

Broadcast and reception

The movie debuted on the Edmonton, Alberta CITV-TV station on 12 May, two days prior to its Fox Network broadcast.

Commercials on the Fox network advertising the film used special effects footage from the 1986 story The Trial of a Time Lord, although this footage was not used in the movie. This marked the first time that footage from the original BBC series had been shown on a major American network. The advertisements also used a different arrangement of the Doctor Who theme music than that heard in the film.

The movie received disappointing US ratings (partly due to the popularity of the programmes it was up against, partly because of poor marketing by the Fox Network, and partly because of unfamiliarity with the British series amongst a mainstream American TV audience).[citation needed] However, when shown on BBC One in the United Kingdom on Monday 27 May at 8.30pm, thirteen days after its American broadcast, it received over 9 million viewers in the UK alone (the highest drama ratings in Britain for the whole week).

Third Doctor actor Jon Pertwee died a few days after the US broadcast of the film, and the UK broadcast included an epitaph to the actor. The UK broadcast was also edited for broadcast in a pre-Watershed timeslot. The scenes where Chang Lee's friends are fired upon was cut because of the gun violence (particularly in light of the Dunblane massacre which took place three months before). The operating room scene was also extensively cut, in particular the seventh Doctor's dying scream.


The television movie won the 1996 Saturn Award for Best Television Presentation.

Official cover art of the TV movie's 2001 DVD release in the United Kingdom from BBC Video.

Commercial releases

The movie was scheduled to be released on home video in the United Kingdom several weeks before broadcast to capitalize on the interest in the series returning. However, the British Board of Film Classification required the video release to have the same edits as the broadcast version, and so the release was delayed to a week prior to its debut broadcast on BBC One. Hundreds of fans queued in London at midnight in order to buy a copy at the earliest possible moment, however overall sales were impacted by the now-imminent broadcast.

The unedited version was released on DVD in the UK in 2001, and was re-released in 2007 with an alternate cover sleeve (but with no change in content) as part of a series of classic series re-releases aimed at attracting fans of the revived series to the older shows.

Both the edited and unedited versions have also been released in countries such as Australia and New Zealand. However there has been no home entertainment release of any form in North America owing to complicated licensing.

Music from the movie was released on a promotional CD in 1997.

In print

The television movie was novelised by Gary Russell and published by BBC Books in May 1996. It was the first novelisation of a televised Doctor Who story to not be published by Target Books (or related companies) since Doctor Who and the Crusaders in 1965. It is also the last novelisation of a televised story to date.

Basing the adaptation on an early draft of the script, Russell adjusted some details to make it more consistent with the original series, and the novelisation also contains elements that were cut from the shooting script for timing reasons.

  • The novel begins with the Seventh Doctor receiving a telepathic summons from the Master (à la The Deadly Assassin) to collect his remains from Skaro and a short prologue detailing how the Doctor escapes from the planet with the casket. This was originally intended to be a pre-credits sequence in the movie, and was subsequently contradicted by the ending of the novel Lungbarrow, where Romana gives the Seventh Doctor the assignment to retrieve the Master's remains.
  • More detail is given to Chang Lee and Grace's backstory, including his recruitment into the Triads and his seeking a father figure as well as flashbacks to Grace's childhood.
  • The Eighth Doctor finds the Seventh Doctor's clothing in the hospital rather than the Fourth Doctor's scarf. Also, the sequence where Chang Lee and the Master see the Seventh Doctor in the Eye of Harmony features all the previous Doctors as originally drafted.
  • The scene where the Doctor and Grace meet the motorcycle police officer is relocated to a traffic jam on the Golden Gate bridge (impossible to film in the movie since it was shot on location in Vancouver).
  • When the Doctor first kisses Grace, he immediately pulls back, grins apologetically and murmurs, "I'm sorry, don't know what came over me there." This makes the romantic nature of the kiss more ambiguous. Instead of the second kiss at the end, he gives her the Seventh Doctor's straw hat as a memento.
  • The Doctor is still referred to as half-human, to which the Master comments, "The Doctor once claimed to be more than just a Time Lord — He should really have said less than a Time Lord!" This was a reference to a line cut from Remembrance of the Daleks, although its unclear how the Master knew the Doctor said this.
  • Instead of dying and being brought back to life, Grace and Lee are merely rendered unconscious, though aware of what is happening around them. Russell also spends some time showing the Doctor and them discussing what a "temporal orbit" is.

The canonicity of the novelisation, like all spin-off fiction, is unclear.

The novelisation was the first Doctor Who novel published by BBC Books. The book was actually published prior to the conclusion of Virgin Books' contract for publishing original Doctor Who fiction, so the next release by BBC Books did not occur for about a year when the Eighth Doctor Adventures series began with The Eight Doctors. The novelisation was released as a standalone work and is not considered part of this series. The Eighth Doctor Adventures series ran until 2005 when it was discontinued.

In 1997, the novel was also released as an audio book, read by Paul McGann. This reading was later included on the 2004 MP3 CD Tales from the TARDIS Volume Two.


  1. ^ a b c d Segal, Philip; Gary Russell (2000). Doctor Who:Regeneration. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-00-710591-6. 
  2. ^ BBC fact file
  3. ^ Shaun Lyon et al.. "Doctor Who: The Movie". Outpost Gallifrey. Retrieved 2008-08-31. 
  4. ^ "Doctor Who". Doctor Who Reference Guide. Retrieved 2008-08-31. 
  5. ^ Sullivan, Shannon. "Doctor Who (1996)". A Brief History of Time Travel. Retrieved 2008-08-31. 
  6. ^ Howe, David J.; Walker, Stephen James. "The TV Movie: Details". Doctor Who: The Television Companion. BBC Doctor Who website. Retrieved 2007-07-26. 
  7. ^ "The DWM Archive: Doctor Who (1996) - In Production", Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition (5): 69, 2003-09-03 (cover date) 

External links


BBC novelisation


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