Nov 8 2013 12:00pm

Classic Doctor Who: Specials, Spin-offs, and the Eighth Doctor!

Now that we have covered the essential serials of the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors, the time has come for us to look at the contribution to the wider narrative made by Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor. But given that he only has one TV movie to his name (though his off-screen adventures are legion), I thought it best to add his adventure to some other compulsory Special Events.



1. THE THREE DOCTORS, Season 10, Episodes 1-4
Written by: Bob Baker and Dave Martin
Directed by: Lennie Mayne
Setting: UNIT HQ, Gallifrey, the Anti-Matter Universe (yes, really)
4 Episodes: “Part One ” (December 30, 1972), “Part Two ” (January 6, 1973), “Part Three ” (January 13, 1972), “Part Four ” (January 20, 1973)

Okay, so maybe this one isn’t technically a special—more the landmark opening serial of the tenth season. However, since it is still considered a Tenth Anniversary Celebration, and also since I’d have had to eliminate an otherwise deserving story from the era of the Third Doctor in order to honor it in his “essentials,” I have decided to deem it so, regardless of official status. (Oh, such power I do wield!) This convoluted, captivating and yet relentlessly silly outing—the Gel Guards! Never had it seemed so likely that Doctor Who shared an art director with Blue Peter—sees the Third Doctor joined by his two predecessors (though the visibly ailing William Hartnell mainly via view screen) to stop a ancient menace from destroying reality as they know it. If, like me, the brain-scrambling vagaries of time travel are your bête noir, then you won’t want to think about how this one works too much—and certainly the story has its weaknesses, and the direction even more. But given that it not only gives us some excellent badinage between Doctors Two and Three but also releases Three from the enforced exile in early 70s Earth under which he had been laboring a tad too long, The Three Doctors is a must-see, as well as being a fitting farewell to Hartnell, for whom this was a last thespian hurrah.

EXPLAINED! Why the Doctor isn’t constantly bumping into himself (though he does it rather more frequently than he should, when all’s said).


Written by: Terence Dudley
Directed by: Andrew Morgan Setting: 1980s Earth
1 Episode: “A Girl’s Best Friend ” (December 28, 1981)

A bit of background. With the retiring of K-9 from the TARDIS after his second incarnation, the Mark II, was marooned in E-Space with Romana (also Mark II) during Season 18, there was something of a hue and cry set up by the show’s younger audience, of whom the robotic dog was quite beloved. Meanwhile, series exec John Nathan-Turner was anxious to find a way to get Elisabeth Sladen’s delightful Sarah Jane Smith back in acton again, but she was so totally over being a mere sidekick. And so, K-9 and Company was born, a Doctor Who spin-off which, hearkening back to the show’s roots, was aimed squarely at the kiddies. While the result is all a bit The Wicker Man, and the pilot never led to a full series—more for bureaucratic reasons than any lack of quality or viewership—it is still an important addition to the canon, especially as it pertains to the much-later spin-off, The Sarah Jane Adventures.

EXPLAINED! How K-9 ended up on Earth with Sarah Jane.


Written by: Terrance Dicks
Directed by: Peter Moffatt
Setting: The Eye of Orion, Earth, Gallifrey
1 Episode: “The Five Doctors ” (November 25, 1983)

There is a “the gang’s all here” feel to The Five Doctors that makes it a fun game of spot-the-favorite (kind of like those scenes in Wreck-It Ralph when we see all the video game characters moving around the concourse of Game Central), without it necessarily being what you might call a, well, good story. However, given that the narrative’s main shortcoming is that it is simply stuffed too full of beloved Doctors, companions and enemies, much can, and must, be forgiven. Ignore the ludicrous nature of the Gallifreyan president’s quest for immortality. Set aside the stilted dialogue assigned to companions almost at random, and the fact that Susan (Carol Anne Ford) is still acting like the indulged teenage granddaughter she was back in Episode 1. Disregard, even, the absence of Tom Baker in any guise other than in unused, shoehorned-in footage and the odd flashback—that is hardly the production’s fault. Instead, glory in the return of, among others, Jamie (Frazer Hines), Romana (Lalla Ward), Sarah Jane and hey! Zoe! (Wendy Padbury.) Delight in Doctors Two and Three being awesome again, while stand-in Richard Hurndall puts in a valiant effort replacing the sadly deceased William Hartnell as One. And enjoy the violent yet strangely satisfying spectacle of a squad of Cybermen mowed down effortlessly by one of the show’s coolest villain-types, sadly never to be seen again: The Raston Warrior Robot! I mean, come on, that thing is freaking cool—it deserves its own spin-off, or at least an appearance in the revived series. Dare we hope for one in the 50th Anniversary Special? (No, probably not. But a girl can dream.)

EXPLAINED! More “Season 6b” theory, and why we’re all still pretty sad that Douglas Adams’s Shada didn’t complete production.


Written by: John Nathan-Turner and David Roden
Directed by: Stuart McDonald
Setting: London’s East End
2 Episodes: “Part One ” (November 26, 1993), “Part Two ” (November 27, 1993)

Non-canonical, schmon-canonical. I know that this short two-part semi-spoof is in no way considered a part of the official Whoniverse as we know it, especially as it is a crossover featuring several characters from popular UK soap opera EastEnders and was filmed as a charity special. But I would be remiss to leave it out of this list—if The Five Doctors is like a class reunion then Dimensions in Time is the entire school back for Homecoming, giving us all the Doctors (except William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton, both deceased by this time) and close to a dozen companions (notably missing: Zoe, Jamie, Tegan and Turlough—it’s sweet to see Susan call for Ian and Barbara in vain), as well as Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) and Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) of UNIT. The story itself is a very silly timeloop nonsense involving 1973, 1993 and 2013, at the instigation of—of all possible villains!—the Rani (Kate O’Mara). I know I said back in the Seventh Doctor Essentials that all things Rani should be avoided, but given that her appearance here allows for an hilarious swipe at her abiding lameness (“I take back what I said about an ingenious operator being behind these time jumps” quoth the Doctor) then her tiresome over-acting is just about worth groaning through. Also worth your time—and not very much of your time at that; this thing is just shy of 13 minutes, all told—is Sarah Jane Smith’s truly appalling outfit. Pink overalls and a raspberry beret? Was she going to a costume party dressed as Strawberry Shortcake’s tomboy sister after this adventure? Meanwhile, speaking of clothing… it’s 2103 this very year, as you know. Are flares back in fashion? You’d tell me if flares were back in fashion, right?

EXPLAINED! That even the Who staff hated the Rani.

And now we at last come to…


Played by: Paul McGann
Style: Regency Buck
Catchphrase: “Who am I?”

Characteristics: We don’t really get time to get too familiar with this Doctor here, so as far as we can tell he’s pretty much just like every other Doctor in some way or another, except a tad more... well, soulful, perhaps? He’s also just a little bit criminal, pick-pocketing people left and right, inordinately fond of a cup of tea (stereotype alert!) and somewhat prone to delivering spoilers about his chance-met acquaintances’ future lives. In all, an eccentric and enthusiastic character later explored in much greater depth across a plethora of related media.

Companions: As the Seventh Doctor seemed to have been alone at the outset of this adventure (bye, Ace, I guess!), Eight ends up with doe-eyed and defiant American heart surgeon Dr. Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook) as his one and only assistant—though she refuses to accompany him on any further adventures after this one is done. Hmm. Interesting.

5. DOCTOR WHO (AKA Doctor Who: The Movie)
Written by: Matthew Jacobs
Directed by: Geoffrey Sax
Setting: San Francisco in 1999
US Air Date: May 14, 1996; UK Air Date: May 27, 1996

It was partially funded by Fox, bullets fly less than five minutes in, the Master turns into a body-snatching sepulchral snake, the TARDIS control room looks like a cross between the inside of a Borg Hiveship and Dr. Forrester’s Gizmonic lab, it takes forever for the Eighth Doctor to even show up and his companion is the type of woman who wears a ball gown to the opera. But leave all of that aside and Doctor Who: The Movie (a would-be pilot for a series reboot that never was) is a… well, a wasted opportunity to reinvigorate the franchise. Still, it’s hard to hate it, because not only does it give us the most likeable Doctor since Five, it also gives us a scenery-chewing Eric Roberts as the Master—his awkward embrace with minion Lee is a highlight—some enjoyable callbacks and the first evidence we’d ever seen that the Doctor might occasionally fall prey to the sins of the flesh. Whether any of us wanted to see a Doctor Who set in America, and whether or not we could ever have forgiven this installment for giving us the conundrum of the somehow “half-human” Doctor, it is hard to know. Regardless, this movie is absolutely, without question the very essence of essential viewing, as it is the only onscreen outing of the Eighth Doctor—which must be even more frustrating to those responsible for doling out our favorite Time Lord’s thirteen lives than Christopher Ecclestone’s single season in the reboot. I know it’s been fifty years, but they really do need to learn to pace themselves…

EXPLAINED! That American candy stores evidently don’t stock jelly babies.



Written by: Paul Cornell
Directed by: Wilson Milam
Animated by: Cosgrove Hall
Setting: Rural England, 2003
6 Episodes: “Episode 1 ” (November 13, 2003), “Episode 2 ” (November 20, 2003), “Episode 3 ” (November 27, 2003), “Episode 4 ” (December 4, 2003), “Episode 5 ” “December 11, 2003), “Episode 6 ” (December 18, 2003)

Before there was Reboot Who there came this BBC-approved web serial, broadcast to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the show. While the later Russell T. Davies canon would go on to contradict this version of events entirely, making The Scream of the Shalka retroactively unofficial, this six-part animated series is entirely worth a visit, giving us a very different Ninth Doctor (Richard E. Grant) in a truly entertaining adventure. I have always enjoyed Paul Cornell’s work in the wider Whoniverse, and here the quips fly thick and fast as he pits his snarky and superior (but occasionally even humble) Doctor against an intriguing alien menace—and working alongside, of all people, The Master (Derek Jacobi), albeit in ill-explained computerized form. There is a whole back story to events that is only hinted at here, which some might find annoyingly opaque; the voice work isn’t always a glowing success; the animation is simplistic to the point of being Spartan; and apparently the Doctor can do magic now (there is no other explanation for some of the feats he performs in this tale.) Nevertheless, given that it will take up little more than an hour of your time and some of the dialogue is actually laugh-out-loud hilarious, I recommend it whole-heartedly… maybe even more than Dimensions in Time, though for entirely different reasons.

Watch it here.


NEXT TIME: The Parodies, Homages, and Spoofs!

Rachel Hyland is Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.

Christopher Bennett
1. ChristopherLBennett
I've tried to watch Scream of the Shalka at before, but apparently it requires a kind of Flash software I don't have, and when I click on the "Get help" text, it just says "An error occurred while processing this directive." It did recently come out on DVD, though (but Netflix doesn't have it yet).

I like the McGann movie, but I think it suffered from frontloading so much continuity. It must've confused the hell out of new viewers. The Master was executed on Skaro and taken home to Gallifrey, and Time Lords have thirteen lives, and there's this blue phone booth spinning in space and it seems to have some relationship to this big room with the Scottish guy in it, maybe the big room is inside it somehow but that's not clear, and and and.... It would've worked better to do what "An Unearthly Child" and later "Rose" did: begin on Earth with the human characters, then have the Doctor show up and work in the exposition there, so the viewer is eased into the weird stuff. After all, we did get most of the exposition a second time after the Doctor arrived. Although in that case it would've been necessary to have McCoy's Doctor interact with Chang Lee for a bit before he got shot, just to give McCoy more to do.
paul haine
2. paul haine
I love McGann's Doctor but his TV movie was a big misstep. Too violent, too much exposition up front, too...American. It was nice to see McCoy back for the regeneration but even that was gruesome.

I wrote about it at greater length here if anyone's interested:

I've since started listening to the radio plays - enjoying those a lot.
Christopher Bennett
3. ChristopherLBennett
What surprised me when the movie was new was how much some fans hated it for being different from the old show -- conveniently forgetting that the old show had changed and reinvented itself and had many different identities over its lifetime, much like the Doctor himself. And yes, the movie contradicted some things from the series, but the series contradicted itself all the time (giving us three separate, incompatible destructions of Atlantis, for instance). The difference between "Survival" and the movie was no greater than the difference between "An Unearthly Child" and "Survival." It's just that it was more abrupt since we didn't get a gradual transition between them.

And so much of what the fans hated about the '96 movie at the time has now become part of the beloved new series -- the Doctor as a more romantic figure, the bigger action, that sort of thing. In a lot of ways it laid the foundations for the new series. Even the title sequence, with the TARDIS spinning through the time vortex, was emulated by the new series.
Brian MacDonald
4. bmacdonald
The amazing thing about the movie is what a remarkable bunch of contrasts it is. It's not a good story, by any objective standard, although there are plenty of episodes that are worse. And yet it wears how much of a love letter to the original series it is right on its sleeve. It's virtually a road map for Russell T. Davies of how not to revive the series, and at the same time it was folded into the continuity of the novels and audios so neatly, you can't just discard it. It helps define the wilderness years, and the revived series wouldn't be what it is without the movie's influence.
Christopher Bennett
5. ChristopherLBennett
@4: And yes, I meant to mention, that fidelity to the original was really remarkable for its time. I think that's why I liked it so much more than those purists who condemned it for every little change from past continuity. I'd been expecting it to be a wholesale reboot that started from scratch and ignored the original show's continuity -- that would've been the natural thing to expect. Instead we got a revival that treated itself as a direct continuation, that brought back the previous Doctor for a regeneration, that was loaded with continuity references to the original (albeit to a fault), and that even used the original theme music. Sure, it reinterpreted some things in weird ways, but compared to what I expected, it was amazingly authentic.
6. JoeNotCharles
Hey, I didn't realize the webcasts are still up! In that case you really should have linked to Shada (I've learned my lesson - if I put a url in a post it's marked as spam - but you can find it by clicking on the "Scream of the Shalka" link about and then clicking "Webcasts" at the top of the screen). It's the missing Shada episode, rerecorded with the Eighth Doctor, and even with some dialog changes at the beginning to explain how it fits with the brief clip we saw in The Five Doctors. I'd call it "essential" for three reasons:

1. A chance to see McGann in an actually GOOD story.
2. It's the lost Douglas Adams story! Of course you want to see what all the fuss is about!
3. Reappearances of Romana and K-9! So, pretty much the same "nostalgia" thing that the specials have.
Christopher Bennett
7. ChristopherLBennett
@6: The audio/Flash-animated "Shada" wasn't bad, but to me it felt too much like McGann was playing the Fourth Doctor rather than the Eighth. True, Eight's characterization wasn't that clearly developed in the movie, and it owed a lot to his predecessors, but he wasn't that much like Tom Baker's Doctor.
Alan Brown
8. AlanBrown
Paul McGann has always been a favorite of mine, and when BBC America rebroadcast his Dr Who appearance a few months ago, I was really looking forward to it, having never seen it before. The movie was just OK, but I really liked his take on the Doctor. Fortunately, I found that he has recorded LOTS of audio dramas for Big Finish, so I can follow the further adventures of Dr #8 in my car.
Kristen Templet
9. SF_Fangirl
Agree with comment 2 and 8. I just rewatched the movie for the first time since it aired. The plot was as horrible as I remembered while I simultaneiously really, really liked the 8th Doctor (which I had forgotten).

For the fans, they took the time to show (an aged and companionless) 7th Doctor and do a regeneration so that Paul McGann doesn't show up until about a third of the way in, but that in no way would have helped newcomers understand what was going on.

But I also found the direction/production wierd and creepy - Grace in a bizarro historical opera gown, apparently wearing it to do surgery while covered in some very odd scrubs, and everything in the hospital seemed to be taking place in some alternate reality. The amnesiac Doctor wandered through the hospital including a section of a functioning hospital that had broken windows and rain pouring down into it. WTH? The screaming New Year's party goers in the scenes showing the cross over into the new year were grating.

On rewatch it was much easier to completely and utterly ignore the silly half-human comment which was the main thing I hated during the Doctor-less years, but the rest of the production (minus Paul McGann's Doctor) was awful and actually something of an ordeal to watch. Which is really too bad beause the making of documentary on the DVD clearly shows it was made by fans with love.

Wierd note: Anyone have any idea why The Master was caught by Daleks and tried on Skaro? It's a simultanious fan-service and head scratcher. The Master and the Daleks never mixed it up as far as I can recall and the Daleks are not a race for holding trials for criminals. Just another oddity in a very odd movie.
paul haine
10. Ellynne
I liked the Rani for the first 15 or so seconds. It was her reaction to finding out the Master and the Doctor were in the neighborhood. It wasn't, "Oh, no, two mighty titans will be duking it out while poor little me gets caught in the crossfire," it was, "Oh, no, those two Time Lords who act like a pair of sugar-hyped toddlers and break all the china whenever they're allowed to play without adult supervision have just been dropped off on my doorstep." Of course, after that, she ruined things by signing on to be the Master's dumber sidekick. But, it was a good 10 or 15 seconds.
Christopher Bennett
11. ChristopherLBennett
@9: I loved the bits with Grace in the opera gown. I thought the film was very stylishly directed and brought a fresh voice and sensibility to Doctor Who.

I interpreted the abandoned part of the hospital as being closed off for renovation.
paul haine
12. Athreeren
@9: The Master and the Daleks did cooperate in Frontier In Space, though it's irrelevant here.
paul haine
13. RadCap
And now we can add this to the mix:

The Night of the Doctor!!!!
paul haine
14. NickM
@3- At "Hurricane Who" a couple weekends ago, several of the panel features were 'Anniversary' discussions broken down by decades of the show. So of course, the "1990s" panel was entirely about the movie, in a panel that was headlined by Daphne Ashbrook.

The points you mention were brought up, particularly all you say in the "...what the fans become part..." paragraph. There were quite a few interesting stories shared, two points I can remember in particular:

-Daphne was flying to the UK in 2004 to make a convention appearance. On the way she was reading a book/magazine (forget if it was an article or from a book) talking about the strong negative fan opinion that some still held towards, in particular, the kiss. She was a little scared of what would happen after she landed, but found that the reception she received was quite the opposite.

-Someone in the room, can't remember if it was Daphne or another, related an 'executives level' story from after the airing. Don't know if it has been confirmed, but: the claim was that Fox was ready to go with a "Doctor Who" series, it came down to a choice of which sci-fi show they were going to commit to- "DW" or "Sliders".

How this affects the perception of the show "Sliders" now, is left as an exercise to the reader. :)
Pernilla Leijonhufvud
15. Therru
Paul MacGann got a wonderful opportunity to flesh out his Doctor in the Big Finish audio adventures, of which there is now a whole bunch, and some of which are incredible, better than the TV series (and yes, not surprisingly, tons better than the TV movie). They are still coming out, and are really worth listening to (and it doesn't hurt that McGann is
-p-u-r-e- -e-a-r- -p-o-r-n- a very accomplished voice actor). They are, of course, not part of the 'official canon', but they are the closest thing Eight got to his own series. The BFAs have made Eight one of my absolute favourite Doctors, and in my head they are all canon. :)

@7: Shada was written for Tom Baker, so it's not strange that McGann comes off a bit too much as Four. He does do it justice, though, I think.
paul haine
16. Gabriel Chase
An absolutely magnificent Doctor. I wasn’t so keen on the film itself though. No mention of all those Eighth Doctor audios and books that basically kept the franchise alive?

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