‘The Doctors: The Paul McGann Years’ reviewed

❉ This two-disc collection is a greatest hits who’s-who of all the major players from the TV Movie

Through the millennia, the Myth Makers range of Reeltime Pictures’ videos have led a life of peace and ordered calm, documenting a “Who’s Who of Who” of recollections and reminisces from Doctors, companions, monsters, producers, directors and script-writers and -editors from a time when fandom was less than one-fifth of its present size. And the people rejoiced.

Recently, Keith Barnfather’s Reeltime Pictures has found a new way to give his archive of Doctor Who testimonials and features a fresh lease of life, with ‘The Doctors’ part-work DVD series which gathers together new and existing Reeltime films under thematic umbrellas; the latest of which is The Paul McGann Years, released this week by Koch Media.

Until the show’s successful return in the twenty-first century, the 1996 Paul McGann Doctor Who TV movie (variously known as Doctor Who, The TV Movie, Enemy Within and – most chortlesomely – Grace: 1999) sat uncomfortably within the pantheon of the Doctor Who legacy: Viewed as its’ one shot as a bid for transatlantic success, with the weight of so much expectation on McGann’s shoulders, it was deemed an admirable failure that fell between too many stools to suitably please the vanguard of hardcore fans and that mythical demographic, the ‘casual viewer’, and yet slightly more ‘canon’ than other failed reboots such as Death Comes To Time or Scream of The Shalka thanks to McGann hitching a ride on the good ship Big Finish, and his likeness accompanying one of the most ambitious story arcs of Doctor Who Magazine’s history and providing grist to the mill for the wild BBC Books Eighth Doctor range.  With the change in the series’ fortunes kicked off by Russell T Davies, happily Paul McGann’s Doctor has enjoyed not just one night as the Doctor, “the George Lazenby of Who”, but The Night of The Doctor, the 50th birthday party omega to the TV Movie’s alpha. He’s now part of the loop – officially!

Bogglingly, in 2019, we’re now 23 full years from the time when McGann’s Doctor asked, “Who am I?”, only nine years less distance than between the 1996 Doctor Who movie and An Unearthly Child. Time is indeed relative. And here to celebrate that quirk of chronology (because we really can’t be that old, can we – right?) is The Doctors: The Paul McGann Years.

To honour that one night where, as the BBC trailers pronounced, “He’s back – and it’s about time!” and beyond, this two-disc collection is a greatest hits who’s-who of all the major players from the TV Movie; in front of the camera, Paul McGann, Daphne Ashbrook, Yee Jee Tso and cult movie icon Eric Roberts, plus director Geoffrey Sax and producer Philip Segal.

The most enjoyable interview sees McGann quizzed by Sophie Aldred, an interesting combination which yields some interesting chatter not only as they compare their experiences of life with Who but also their shared background as young, rising performers during the early 1980s. While, to the untrained eye, there may seem a world of difference between, say, Melvin & Maureen’s Music-o-Grams and The Monocled Mutineer, Aldred establishes a solid rapport with her interviewee as a peer, and we are treated to a brisk and informative conversation touching on everything from youth to the trials and tribulations of the actor’s life to embracing fandom. Interestingly for BBC Books readers, McGann at one point demonstrates an awareness of the Eighth Doctor novel plot points as caretaker of his incarnation.

The first disc’s interviews with Daphne Ashbrook and Yee Jee Tso cover similarly extensive ground, with Ashbrook in particular proving a fascinating interviewee; her interview is not unlike a typical convention Q&A in that you come along for the stories about the series, but depart with a greater insight into the individual, and feel a bit more enriched for connecting with a fellow human being. Ashbrook is an engaging, intelligent, kooky and thoughtful woman, that one could easily imagine spending valuable time at the convention bar with, chatting about life, the universe and everything.

It’s a similar case with Yee Jee Tso, the animated, lively and personable Generation X-er who clearly had a ball working on the TV Movie (what kid wouldn’t?) and learned a lot from working alongside McGann, Ashbrook and Roberts and has fashioned a creative outlet as a photographer of some note.

Perhaps the most intriguing of the interviews is Biloxi’s Eric Roberts, where we meet at home the Hollywood bad boy, so good as a crystal meth kingpin in Jonas Åkerlund’s Spun (2002) and a deserved Golden Globe nominee for his lead role in King Of The Gypsies (1979), where he starred opposite Sterling Hayden, Shelley Winters, Susan Sarandon, Brooke Shields, Annette O’Toole and Judd Hirsch. For Roberts’ Myth Makers interview, duplicated here, he is interviewed in amusing fashion by his wife, Eliza, radiating star quality and visibly enchanted and delighted by his stake in cult TV as the man who followed in Delgado and Ainley’s footsteps as The Master.

For the more production-minded Who scholars, the Geoffrey Sax and Philip Segal interviews are arguably more candid than their appearances on the Special Edition of the TV Movie, and worth a watch for anyone intrigued by how the transatlantic translation of Doctor Who occurred, as well as career insights behind the camera.

This reviewer is very fond of the 1996 TV Movie, and The Doctors: The Paul McGann Years is an extensive, exhaustive package that provides fans of the Eighth Doctor’s dawn with valuable insights and an opportunity to get to know the faces who contributed to that episode’s own life stories, in an entertaining fashion.

❉ ‘The Paul McGann Years’ was released 2nd September on DVD by Koch Media, RRP £14.99. Order on Amazon now: https://amzn.to/2YV2Kkw


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