After the Master’s trial and execution by the Daleks, the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) is transporting the Master’s remains to Gallifrey in the TARDIS. The box breaks open and ooze leaks out, infecting the TARDIS with the Master’s DNA. The Doctor quickly materializes in San Francisco’s Chinatown on 30 December 1999.
As he leaves the TARDIS, he is shot by a street-gang chasing young Chang Lee (Yee Jee Tso). Lee calls for an ambulance and escorts the unconscious stranger to the hospital, unaware that the ooze has contaminated the ambulance. After the bullets are removed from the Doctor, Cardiologist Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook) tries surgery to stabilise his erratic heartbeat, believing the X-rays to be faulty, but discovers he really has two hearts. The cardiac probe she uses apparently kills him. His body is taken to the morgue, while Lee steals his possessions, including the TARDIS key. The ambulance driver (Eric Roberts) is taken over by the ooze, providing a new body for the Master.
The Doctor regenerates in spectacular fashion and the new Doctor (Paul McGann) suffers from regeneration amnesia. He gathers clothes from an upcoming fancy dress party. Holloway has resigned from the hospital after the unfortunate operation. But the Doctor recognises her and follows her to her car. She does not believe he is the same man until he pulls the cardiac probe out of his body. She takes him home to recover.
Lee returns to the TARDIS to steal things. But the Master arrives and puts him under mind control, claiming the Doctor has stolen his body and the TARDIS. He convinces Lee to open the TARDIS and then to open the Eye of Harmony, which requires a human retinal scan. The open Eye floods the Doctor’s mind with memories, and he realizes the Master is searching for him. He tries to block the scan and warns Holloway that the fabric of reality will begin to weaken and possibly destroy the world on New Year’s Eve. He needs an atomic clock to stop that, and Holloway finds one at the San Francisco Institute of Technological Advancement and Research.
Outside, the ambulance with the Master and Lee offers them a ride. En route, the Doctor recognizes the Master, and he and Holloway escape on a motorcycle, but the Master has placed some of the ooze on Holloway’s wrist. They reach the Institute and obtain the needed chip from the clock and return to the TARDIS. The Doctor installs the chip and closes the Eye but finds he must revert Time to before the Eye was opened to save the Earth. The Master takes control of Holloway’s body and she knocks out the Doctor.
The Doctor awakens to find himself chained above the Eye as the Master attempts to steal his remaining regenerations. The Doctor breaks the Master’s control on Lee and Lee refuses to open the Eye for the Master, so the Master kills him and forces Holloway to open the Eye so he can draw out the Doctor’s lifeforce. But Holloway gains control over her body and puts the TARDIS in a Time Holding Pattern, preventing Earth’s destruction, and goes to free the Doctor.
The Master kills her too, but enough time has passed for the Doctor to free himself, and he attacks the Master. He pushes the Master into the Eye, which closes over him and reverses Time a few minutes, bringing Lee and Holloway back to life and saving the world. The Doctor prepares to leave. Lee returns the objects he stole, and the Doctor warns him not to be in San Francisco next year because it will be dangerous for him. The Doctor offers to take Holloway with him, but she refuses and kisses him good-bye. He leaves alone in the TARDIS.
This movie was a co-production of BBC Worldwide, Universal Studios, and 20th Century Fox. It premiered on TV on 12 May 1996 in Edmonton, Alberta, and then was shown in the UK on the BBC, and in the US on Fox. It also appeared in some cinemas. It was supposed to be a pilot for a US-produced Doctor Who TV Series, but though it was a ratings success in the UK, it was not in the US and no series was created. It was not, fortunately, a reboot, but a continuation of the original series, featuring a regeneration of the Doctor, and it is considered canon despite a few details. The budget was 15 million US dollars, which must have made the Doctor Who people salivate.
Michael Crawford, Tim Curry, Eric Idle, Billy Connolly. Michael Palin, and Jonathan Pryce were all considered for the Doctor but were unable to take the role. Also, Christopher Eccleston and Peter Capaldi, who later played the Ninth and Twelfth Doctors, but they were not ready yet to commit to a long-running (they thought) character. Also considered was Anthony Head (Watcher Rupert Gilles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer), who would have made a pretty good Doctor. The pre-credits sequence and logo were changed slightly. John Debney wrote the theme music but used much of Ron Grainer’s original. The Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, died a few days after the first broadcast and an epitaph was placed in the UK release.
Considered for the role of the Master were F. Murray Abraham, Dan Aykroyd, Richard Dean Anderson, Armand Assante, Scott Bakula, Jim Belushi, Tom Berenger, David Bowie, Steve Buscemi, Dana Carvey, Chevy Chase, Phil Collins, Tim Curry, Timothy Dalton, Matt Dillon, Michael Dorn, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Duvall, Robert Englund, Jonathan Frakes, Matt Frewer, Jeff Goldblum, Rutner Hauer, Gregory Hines, Dennis Hopper, William Hurt, Timothy Hutton, Chris Isaak, Mick Jagger, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Lee, Ray Liotta, John Lithgow, Christopher Lloyd, Kyle MacLachlan, John Malkovich, Malcolm McDowell, Rick Moranis, Bill Murray, Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Oliver Platt, Jonathan Pryce, Bill Pullman, Randy Quaid, Judge Reinhold, Tom Selleck, Martin Sheen, Kevin Spacey, Brent Spiner, Patrick Stewart, Sting, Jon Voight, Tom Waits, Damon Wayans, Keenan Ivory Wayans, Henry Winkler, James Woods, and Michael York.
The key for the TARDIS, replacing the original Yale Lock key, was devised by Jon Pertwee and used for years, but this was the first time we saw how it works. The sonic screwdriver in the film was first used by the Second Doctor. The studios wanted Tom Baker to be the Old Doctor in the beginning because he was best known to American audiences and Sylvester McCoy was associated with the decline of the series, but producer Phillip David Segal, though US born, grew up in England and insisted on Sylvester McCoy to maintain canon. We can thank him for that. The Seventh Doctor is seen reading the Time Machine by H.G. Wells and the Eighth Doctor hands out jelly babies. He is the first Doctor ever to kiss a woman.
The TARDIS set cost a million dollars, so it could be used in the series it was thought would follow. The console that formed part of that set is now owned by a fan who brings it to conventions. Fox and Universal wanted Tom Hanks, Harrison Ford, or Jim Carrey to play the Doctor, who all turned it down, mostly because of the likely outrage of Doctor Who fans. The two Doctors were the only British actors in the cast. The hospital set was from the X-Files. Bruce the ambulance driver’s wife Miranda is strangled by the Master (Eric Roberts). She was played by Eliza Roberts, Eric Robert’s wife. Steven Spielberg declined to direct because an early draft of the script was too similar to Indiana Jones. The American producers did not tell the BBC that Amblin Studios was not involved until it was too late for them to back out.
The plot requires the Doctor to be half-human, but this was later explained away in books, comics, and audio-stories to preserve the canon. Some time has passed since the last UK TV-episode. The Seventh Doctor’s companion Ace is gone, and he is travelling alone. He is visibly older and no longer wearing the silly outfit with question marks all over it. The movie has been described as stylish and imaginative, with exciting action scenes, striking visuals and special effects. The TARDIS interior is glorious and reminds you a bit of the H.G. Wells Time Machine, and the regeneration scene is scary and powerful. Eric Roberts creates a villain with charming wit, but clearly unstable, unpredictable and strikingly evil. The Doctor’s similarity to Jesus is perhaps a little obvious as he wanders about wrapped in his burial shroud and later hangs above the Eye wearing what looks like a crown of thorns, but this Doctor is generally endearing and a little childlike and looks Byronic in his curls and Edwardian style.