Doctor Who’s Wilderness Years: Part Two

❉  1996; the year Sam Michael got “my Doctor” and when he met the man himself.

“HE’S BACK! AND IT’S ABOUT TIME!”

Get it? Time? ‘Cos he’s a Time Lord

(Photo: Radio Times)
(Photo: Radio Times)

Yes! It’s 1996, and in part 2 of my Wilderness Years retrospective, I take a page out of Stephen Moffat’s thesis on story arcs and will ignore pretty much everything I mentioned in part 1, so that this could be an entirely new article… It’s loosely linked, yet suitable for a first-time reader. That’s mainstream, folks!

Where were we? Oh yes…

“He’s BACK, and it’s about time!” said the BBC One announcer as the excitingly-anticipated new Doctor Who trailer filtered through the coverage of the build-up for Euro 96 and an Oasis vs Blur Top of the Pops special (man, 1996 was a great year!)

Being 7 at the time, I understandably shit my own dick out of my arse in excitement as the world of Doctor Who (last seen in Albert Square with Bakey, Perty, Petey. Sly and Sixy all a bit too fat to wear their old costumes) now transformed into what looked like a bloody-ruddy Hollywood movie! Not a TV movie, like, a proper one! What you go to see in the cinema and stuff!

The trailer was incredible, the TARDIS swishing around in space NOT looking like it’s made out of cardboard, the new Doctor in a motorbike race, a sexy new companion and of course – DALEKS! Yeah, that’s right, Daleks – remember them in the TV Movie?

That’s right, the 1996 TV Movie trailer broke every fucking advertising trademark rule, along with my little heart by convincing me there were Daleks in the up and coming TV Movie!

There are lots of things we could discuss when it comes to the TV Movie. The fact, it nearly didn’t happen and took the best part of 7 years to materialise. The fact there was nearly a televised thirtieth anniversary special called ‘The Dark Dimension’ with Tom Baker returning as the Doctor (alongside the other chaps) battling these horrifically awesome looking Cybermen and Rik Mayall brilliantly cast as the villain, Hawkspur.

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WHERE WERE THESE GUYS IN 2006?!

We could talk about how Doctor Who was nearly bought back as a movie produced by Steven Spielberg with Michael Jackson, Michael Palin or Jim Carrey cast as the Eighth Doctor. We could talk about that same movie including Spider-Daleks created by a Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment film company. We could discuss what the 1996 TV movie ‘might have been’ with McGann’s initial screen-test consisting of him reading a script where The Master is revealed to be The Doctor’s brother. We could talk about that radio DJ who was convinced he was the Eighth Doctor after anonymous phone calls from the BBC (Seriously, what the fuck is that DVD extra on the TV Movie with that oddball?)

And you thought Inbetweeners USA was bad.

We could discuss these things endlessly. BUT we won’t. We won’t because we already have. The above means nothing to you, you’ve already watched the DVD extra’s, you’ve seen the “10 things you didn’t know about Doctor Who” videos and you’ve read the struggles on Doctor Who’s return to TV in the 90’s.

What we haven’t done enough of is talk about the Daleks, the misleading Nazi bastard Daleks in this trailer.

Let me take you back: It’s late April in 1996, 5:21pm, I’m sat watching  the end of another insightful and (then) non-patronising Newsround (with a young Krishnan Guru-Murthy) because that woman I mentioned in my previous article, ‘Mum’ assured me they were about to show the trailer to the new Doctor Who. On this rare occasion ‘Mum’ was correct in her predictions and there it was, thirty seconds of heaven…

“He’s back, and it’s about time!” exclaims the announcer!

“Doctor Who!”, I should back at the telly!

And then… just watch what happens exactly 0.09 seconds in to the trailer…

“EX-TER-MIN-ATE, EX-TER-MIN-ATE!” – that glorious cry of the Daleks has NOTHING to do with the film. We hear about the Daleks in the TV Movie, sure.

We even hear them but we don’t get what we heard in the trailer, we get “Enerminee, Enerrmini!!!” before some strange bloke in a box (Hey, that’s not Anthony Ainley!) sort of explodes and some scary eyes shoot toward the screen before the middle-eight of the theme tune (my god, I hope that was an in-joke) kicks off the movie titles.

NO, FUCKING DALEKS?! WHAT?!

In fact, watch the trailer again; go on, 9 second in.

What do you see and hear? Because hearing the death-cry of the Daleks with that image (taken from near the end of the TV Movie) of the TARDIS glowing blue with lightning and blue electricity shooting at it, looked, to my 7 year-old self… like the TARDIS was being exterminated by the Daleks, which would have been amazing!

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It wasn’t though, was it. It wasn’t.

Before we get in to the movie itself, let’s go back to a few days before the release of the TV Movie, the 20th of May. The sad day that Jon Pertwee, my favourite doctor, passed away, and to whose memory the TV Movie was dedicated. It was the first celebrity death that genuinely hurt me, as it did my parents who grew up with him as “their Doctor” and many Who fans in general.

But let’s go to a few days even before that, Saturday 27 May 1996, the date Jon Pertwee and UNIT ‘Return to Devils End’ for a one-off convention in Aldbourne, where The Daemons was filmed more than 20 years earlier.

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This event was Jon Pertwee’s last public appearance, his last time donning the cloak and frills of the Third Doctor and it was also the last time he was seen by his old co-stars. It was also one of the happiest days of my life, as I had been taken to the fantastic event as a surprise for my birthday 5 days earlier; I got to meet a Dalek, the Brig and still a TV hero of mine Sgt Benton, as seen below…

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Pertwee, of course, was hidden under a tent at the end of a long, long queue that you understandably had to pay to get in to. My parents apologised that I couldn’t meet the Third Doctor, however we may catch a glimpse of him later when he leaves.

And that we did…

You see, Jon being the fucking hero that he was decided to stick around after his Q&A in the tent was over. By this point, most fans had met him and the skies over ‘Devils End’ were starting to turn grey. A few fans, mostly adult and couple of kids (me included) were still knocking about and while chatting away to some staff about the traffic on the M4 that morning and taking a well-deserved ciggy break, he clocked us.

“You there, young man, would you like to come say hello?”

He was talking to me.

“Go on, Sam” said that “Mum” woman, who watched Jon Pertwee as a child.

I shit myself, I was frozen. The Third Doctor had welcomed me over to say hello.

I approached, star-struck with my dad and for some reason, the first words that came out of my mouth were “Where’s the TARDIS?”

Quite rude and oddly random when you think about it, however in a flash and IN CHARACTER he exclaimed “Ah, the old girl broke down on the way here; she’s unreliable these days, young chap.”

THE FUCK IS HAPPENING?!

While I stood, in awe, Jon took a moment to flirt with my mother and pose for a picture with me and my younger sisters.

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Tragically the picture of both me and Pertwee didn’t come out but that took nothing away from an incredible day!

These days I look back and think wow, I met the talented and brilliant actor Jon Pertwee. But as a 7 year old at the time, I had just met The Doctor himself.

Best. Day. Ever. Ever.

So as the spring of 1996 moved on, along came the TV Movie. At the time I was a bit confused, because (and bear in mind this was yonks before the modern era of Doctor Who) it felt almost too current, too “American” and too… not Doctor Who. I mean, I enjoyed it, and I hoped for a new series. The final scenes where The Doctor, Grace and Lee were stood around the console, it felt like he was going to pull the leaver, the TARDIS would roar and they would go off to have adventures with Daleks, Cybermen and Voc Robots… but alas, no. Lee ran away with a pot of gold, Grace and the Doctor kissed and we never saw the Eighth Doctor again.

Now when I watch back the series, I love it. In fact, I would put The TV Movie or “The Enemy Within” in my top 10 Who stories of all time. It’s so 90s that it has so much nostalgia, stylistically akin to an episode of ‘ER’ or ‘Due South’. Although it would have dated it, I would have loved some references to Oasis or Cool Britannia – something like that. The style of the movie would have fit the 6pm slot on BBC1 nicely in the mid ‘90s. The one-off was also a great bridge between the classic and modern series of the show, and the return of Doctor Who in 2005 owes a lot to the TV Movie.

I guess another thing that I didn’t notice at the time is how fond of McGann I was. Being 7 years old at the time, the Eighth Doctor has become “my doctor”. Like a neglectful father, he wasn’t always there for me but he was still my Doctor. I still played him in the playground, I still used a spoon as HIS sonic screwdriver and I still played him in a fan-film I made when I was 7. No really, and yes it’s awful.

I longed for the series to return permanently, and up until 2004 I always yearned for McGann to take the role. I used to imagine what a series would have looked like, how it would feel, who would play who (I’ll add at this point that I always wanted Michelle Ryan to play the companion – I got full-on Truman Show anxiety when THAT was announced in 2009) and I always feel cheated that we never got a McGann series.

It was great having him back for ‘Night of the Doctor’ and as wonderful as John Hurt was/is as the War Doctor and how important it was to bring in an actor with mainstream appeal for the 50th anniversary, I can’t be the only one who would have liked to have seen that role (as Eccleston declined) filled by Paul McGann. When the new series launched and the mythical Time War was discussed in such harrowing details, it gave me goosebumps and shivers imagining the Eighth Doctor, one of the most romantic and gentle of all the Time Lord’s incarnations being the one to commit genocide!

So, that’s 1996 covered, in one part. Believe it or not I won’t be dragging this out and will conclude 1997 – 2004 in my third and final part.

OR WILL I?!

NEOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWW, WHA-OO! (Doing the music again)


❉ Join us next week for more from Sam Michael on Doctor Who’s wilderness years…

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