Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Order of Rassilon #8: Paul McGann, The Forgotten Doctor

Paul McGann in the expanded universe outfit that doesn't make him look like a pansy from the 1800s
Paul McGann had the unfortunate dishonor of only appearing on screen as the Doctor in one made-for-TV movie.  And he didn't even get to be in the full 90 minutes of the movie.  Sylvester McCoy spent about the first third of the movie as the Doctor before regenerating into Paul McGann's 8th Doctor.  On top of that, he was stuck in one of the worst stories of the entire color era.  Possibly the worst in the history of the franchise.  Even the most boring episode of the Hartnell era at least has an interesting science-fiction concept that was trying to be intelligent.  They never did anything as stupid as "The Master wants to blow up the Earth using the Doctor's TARDIS and then steal the Doctor's body."  Vin Diesel films have more complex plots than that.  Add in the most horrible line ever uttered in Doctor Who--"I'm half human, on my mother's side" (the expanded Universe material, thankfully, retconned this)--and you have one stinker of a movie.  It was an attempt to restart the series, making the made-for-TV movie a sort of backdoor pilot.  I could write an entire blog post about why this failed, but for now, just take my word that it was shockingly misguided.

None of that was McGann's fault, though.  When offered the chance to restart the most iconic science-fiction franchise in the history of your country, you'd take it, wouldn't you?  And you'd probably be willing to suffer through a pretty shitty pilot if you thought there was a chance at a much better show to come, wouldn't you?

What redeemed McGann in the eyes of Whovians, though were the Big Finish Audio Adventures.  Big Finish in the early 90's started doing a series of individual, one off adventures, randomly cycling between Peter Davidson, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy, as they were the only ones who were up for it and not dead (because if Patrick Troughton could have done it from his grave, he'd jump at the chance).  Then McGann jumped on board, and people were so excited to hear more stories from the Eighth Doctor, that McGann got his own spin-off series of audio stories called "The New Eighth Doctor Adventures."  The stories are a lot of fun because, where the television show has to be able to appeal to casual viewers who are just flipping through the channels, if you've gone through the trouble of digging out a New Eighth Doctor Adventure, you're not a casual fan.  So that opens up the opportunity to bring in really obscure villains like Zygons, Eight Legs, and Ice Warriors.  It also works it into a long, interesting plot arc that's as strong as anything Steven Moffat has written.  Strong story arc + Super fanboy references = One of the most exciting stories in the franchise.  And it all hinges on the excellent performances of Paul McGann and his spectacular chemistry with Sheridan Smith, who plays his companion Lucie Miller.

After the departure of Lucie, a sort-of 5th season of the series began called Dark Eyes, which introduced a much less interesting story and companion.  But the four seasons of The New Eighth Doctor Adventures definitively prove that, had there been a revived series of Doctor Who in the mid-90s, and if it had been given strong writers, it could have been extraordinary!

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