McGanniversary Week: Doctor Who - New Beginnings

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Christopher Morley looks at the proposed Eighth Doctor series...

Looking back over the Eighth Doctor's appearance in the Doctor Who TV Movie of 1996, the gap of just under ten years between its release and the Russell T Davies revival of the series also with a newly regenerated Doctor, might give rise to some interesting points of comparison!

For the film was in fact intended to serve as the back-door pilot episode of a nineties American reboot for the series - the sort of return for which Russell T Davies had been campaigning since the start of that decade. New series = new Doctor into the bargain.

One small problem, though. At no point in the narrative do we see any hint that there might be further adventures yet for the new man in the TARDIS, now complete with steampunked interior! How could this be?

Fox, who acquired the US rights to broadcast the film, were said to be unwilling to back a full series for Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor after the project had been passed between various networks, the attempted pilot now having to stand on its own as a full-length feature. Executive producer Philip Segal had been banking on their full support, withdrawn after poor American viewing figures for the intended pilot.
"Tag him as John Doe and book him for an autopsy."
Its death would come just two years after initial discussions ended with an agreement to develop first the film/pilot and then a full series in time for the autumn of 1994. The upshot was that "On January 13th, 1994, an agreement was reached. Philip Segal was, for all intents and purposes, Doctor Who's newest producer." At the time, Philip was working with Amblin Entertainment - whose parent company Universal commissioned writer John Leekley to work on scripts. And their vision for the project appeared to pay only lip service to any semblance of continuity with the Doctor Who the British public knew & loved! As A Brief History Of Time Travel succintly put it:
"Although the basic concepts of Doctor Who were adhered to, the programme's mythos would be completely rewritten."
And with around nine million viewers watching the BBC's own broadcast of that very pilot (indeed, the British public's appetite for more Doctor Who had seen it named as the most popular candidate for a comeback in a poll commissioned by the Beeb), on Bank Holiday Monday May 27th 1996, that might be viewed as a bit of a slap in the face.

They would of course get their wish for a regular new series, with Rose, which went out on March 26th 2005, with a great deal more support than its earlier intended equivalent on Fox.

But it wasn't McGann introducing himself to Billie Piper's Rose Tyler, of course....his Victorian-style jacket stolen from a hospital locker (as part of a New Year's Eve costume party ensemble) has been traded in for a rough & ready leather equivalent. Say hello to Christopher Eccleston, with no regeneration sequence or mention of his past incarnation.
"It's alive. It's alive. It's alive!"
That may well have been the prevailing mood in the boardrooms of the BBC following the success of that first outing for the Ninth Doctor, publicity no doubt helped by both a memorable trailer and reports of an internet leak. It wasn't exactly bogged down in continuity, either.

Fifteen years had passed since the Seventh Doctor's final televisual bow, and as Cameron McEwan noted in writing for Metro:
"Showrunner Russell T Davies was savvy enough to know that drama can stand alone and doesn’t need its past to be great."
Nonetheless he hardly rode roughshod over it, as Rose proved with the return of the Nestene Consciousness/ Autons. Contrast this with John Leekley's intended vision for the series which could have arisen from the TV Movie.

The Gallifrey that the Eighth Doctor recalled so well as he slowly regained his memories would have played an integral part in Leekley's conception of the direction of things to come, as would Eric Roberts' Master...

...But with a twist! For Leekley intended for a family tie between the two outlined in his Bible for what might have been. Consider this:
"It introduces the Doctor and the Master, who are half-brothers and both sons of the lost Time Lord explorer Ulysses, Borusa's son. When the evil Master becomes President of the Time Lords upon Borusa's death, the Doctor flees Gallifrey in a rickety old TARDIS to find Ulysses. Borusa's spirit becomes enmeshed in the TARDIS, enabling Borusa to continue to advise his grandson."
Hang on a tick, you might think. Wasn't Borusa Lord President of Gallifrey?

Arc Of Infinity says so. But someone else was in line for that high office in Leekley's thinking, as you can see above! After he'd written a first draft of the film script, anyway, also drawing from his own Bible.
"In the midst of a Dalek attack on Gallifrey, Borusa dies, allowing the Master to become President of the Time Lords. The Doctor flees in his TARDIS, which now incorporates Borusa's spirit. In World War II London, the Doctor meets American WAC Lizzie Travis. Together, the Doctor and Lizzie travel back to Ancient Egypt to find Ulysses, only to be attacked by the Cybs. The Doctor then travels back to Gallifrey, where a suspiciously friendly Master sends him and Lizzie to Skaro to stop Davros from creating the Daleks. In the process, the Master takes control of the Dalek army and has them destroy Davros. The Doctor escapes and returns Lizzie to Earth, then heads off to continue his search for Ulysses."
Having completed work on the film script, time to devote his attention to the planned series.

His first effort being a retread of The Gunfighters (in which Matthew Jacobs' father Anthony had played Doc Holliday. Young Matthew would enjoy visits to the set & later go on to write the final version of the TV film...quite the quirk of fate). Now redressed as Don't Shoot, I'm The Doctor- groan- unsurprisingly:
"This was similar to the original Season Three serial only in broad sketches -- the Doctor does travel to Tombstone suffering from a toothache, but the rest of the story hewed much more closely to the true events of the OK Corral, as opposed to the more fictionalised version offered in the original Doctor Who story."
Reading this through a prism of Britishness, it can hardly be surprising that Leekley's plans failed! At the very least it all makes you appreciate Russell T Davies even more!

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