The first is that, thanks to a friend, I was able to catch a copy of the 1996 TV Movie, which is unavailable in any format in America. When it came out, I thought it was OK, even though it could have used some stronger writing. I had believed the rumors about why it failed - it came on the same night as the series finale of Rosanne, it was a back door pilot, and that Fox didn't quite "understand" the concept. In fact, I kind of wished that there had been an American release of this story on DVD.
Now, I have to change my mind, because after viewing it again, I realize...it's not very good. It's actually, for the most part, really lame.
I don't blame McGann (who, at the very least, succeeds in pulling off the Doctor), but I do blame the production staff. After all, the story begins with exposition that not even Stephen J. Cannell could have pulled off (..."It was a request that should never have been granted"), huge holes in the plot (Sylvester McCoy's Doctor, looking very much like Larry Fine, just walking out of the TARDIS into gunfire? Didn't think so), nods to what the production team thought that network executives wanted, not-so-clever nods to the fans, a companion (Chang Lee) who makes one nostalgic for Adric, the weird CGI snake, but ultimately, the fatal flaw in this is....
Whatever promise he had early on...he squandered . And looking at his performance, it's so campy, you half expect there to be a walk-on by Adam West. Oh, boy, this was bad...and makes you feel grateful that a series wasn't pursued based on this movie. There are enough nods to science fiction cliches (such as "I'm half-human...on my mother's side") that you realize that the production team was so intent on making Who appeal to the "American market" that they nearly forgot the uniquely British charm of the series. (However, if you want a better Doctor/Master matchup, check out this Big Finish audio. Now this is more like it, especially at the end...but no spoilers here). The TV movie is proof that old school Who...probably would not have made it.
But hey, enough snark - how about some relatively upbeat reviews!
First, in a series of "budget" discs comes The Sontaran Experiment...and let's face it, it's an OK curiosity. A two-part time filler between The Ark in Space and Genesis of the Daleks, there's really not much to it - a Sontaran experiments on humans, and the Doctor stops him. Even though I know it's a value disc, there's a very thrown together quality to it, especially since the documentary was allegedly supposed to be included on The Two Doctors. If you're really curious, Netflix it - otherwise, you can pass.
What I would strongly recommend is the three-disc Doctor Who - The Beginning Collection set. The first episode of "An Unearthly Child" alone has a great, Serling-esque quality to it. Although the first story is a little....underwhelming, the first Dalek story and the bottle show of "Edge of Destruction" more than make up for it. Just a word of caution - if you "play all" on disc 1, you get the pilot before "An Unearthly Child", so no, you're not watching the same episode twice.
Oh, and if you were renting new series 2 from Netflix - they've gotten new discs without glitches on them. And hopefully, you caught the series 3 premiere on the Sci-Fi Channel last night.
And now, a little exchange from the Doppelganger's comments section.
ME: "the Eccleston Doctor was shellshocked, pushing people away, recovering from the Time War.
His Master should be icy cool, very charismatic, so much so that you don't notice that he slaughters people. In fact, his attitude is calm and detached, almost like a surgeon. In fact, almost as if the Master were the "hero" of the series..."
DOPPELGANGER: Now you see how cool that could be? Jeez, Ecclestone would probably be glad the Master turned up - it'd be someone who could empathise...
Foreshadow his arrival much earlier, make us believe that maybe he was a good guy for a while - could he REALLY be that bad? Surely his heart was in the right place? He was mislead by a dodgy intelligence dossier....