Looking at the two side by side yesterday, it's easy to see why the 1996 attempt to resurrect Doctor Who didn't work and the 2005 attempt did. Hindsight's 20/20, I guess, but I doubt there weren't a lot of people who didn't foresee the television movie/backdoor pilot failing to take off.
It wasn't all bad--the first twenty minutes, with Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor, were rather effective. Partly because it's really heartbreaking seeing the seventh Doctor in distress on an operating table. He's so cute, it's like watching Mickey Mouse being killed. Which is not to say I thought Paul McGann was necessarily a bad Doctor, he just had so much bad material to work with it's kind of impossible to tell. It's kind of a tragedy the movie is considered canon, particularly in how it establishes the Doctor to be half-human. I can't begin to describe how much I hate this idea, I'm actually kind of skeeved out by it, because it's all part of the changes made to the show to make it more marketable. Someone thought, "We need to try to make this okay for people who are put off by fictional aliens."
And there, in a nutshell, is precisely what's wrong with the movie--the whole thing is broken under the yoke of financiers' expectations. You can see it in so many aspects of the production. The most signifying moment, I think, the moment I laughed aloud for the perfect crystallisation of wrongheaded bullshit, came in the chase scene when the Doctor races along in a stolen police motorcycle with the new companion, Grace Holloway, on the seat behind him and she says, "Great. I finally meet the right guy and he's from another planet!"
Grace, in a short space of time, establishes herself as one of the worst companions in the history of Doctor Who. She's like Peri a lot except her accent's real and she's unattractive. But her delivery is every bit as phoney.
I know it's shallow of me to concentrate on how perplexingly ugly she is, but one wonders why the studio would go with a 33 year old who looks 50 and has the facial bones of giant when she can't act. She makes Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard look like Gloria Swanson in Queen Kelly.
Eric Roberts as the Master wasn't too bad--actually managing to capture some of the character despite his American accent, though at the same time he's clearly moulded to be a Terminator knockoff.
I will say it was nice seeing the better production values, seeing the show shot on film instead of video tape. It was produced partly by Fox and, like a lot of Fox's shows at the time, most notably The X-Files, it was shot in Vancouver, and it has that mid-90s Fox feel. But the expectations of the Fox network was not an environment in which Doctor Who could possibly hope to flourish.
It may be the digital camera that saved Doctor Who. "Rose", the premiere episode of the 2005 series has a much lower budget than the 1996 movie, but looks a lot better, largely due to the combination of cheaply gotten, unprecedented flexible filming technology, and a creative team freed from the expectations that go with a big, multimillion dollar budget. The story of "Rose" is therefore allowed to flow much more naturally while catering to an audience that can no longer settle for video tape.
Christopher Eccleston establishes his Doctor much more definitely than McGann did (or could). He's the first Doctor I see to repeat Tom Baker's tendency to grin inappropriately at just the right times, and this works well with the new energy between Doctor and companion. Not cheaply, desperately romantic like the 1996 movie, but rather establishing a distinct balance of power between the Doctor and the new companion. I suppose it's not unlike the Doctor's chemistry with Romana, though there's something slightly more vulnerable about Eccleston's Doctor.
I like Rose quite a lot. I also loved the use of an opening theme very similar to the 1963 original and the use of Autons as a villain is perfect in that they're just familiar enough to establish this as the old Doctor universe without being one of the big players, and they're pretty creepy in their own right. It made me want to watch The Spearhead from Space again.
Twitter Sonnet #273
Eyelids buckle an overbite hammer.
Parking garages stamp a dream meeting.
Anxious redhead knows a mind can stammer.
Spider brains spin ethereal tweeting.
Web beards become blundering gentlemen.
False night coerced caterpillar hunger.
Diner slop tubes bulge with extra muffin.
I would car sext Deborah Kara Unger.
Bootless gears threw out the swinging glass door.
New fake watches wind down to sleep again.
Time's told to a mechanical zinc whore.
True jelly hearts glow in double wrapped tin.
Violent ribbons of pink eels twist and shout.
Wisps of salmon coloured slices drift out.
Looks like I used the "in" rhyme twice. Oops. This sonnet is wrong, and if you like it, you're wrong, too!