TV reviews

The Doctors: The Paul McGann Years – DVD Review

At first glance, the name of this release – which contains a series of cast and crew interviews relating to Paul McGann’s time playing the lead role in Doctor Who – may seem a trifle curious. ‘Years’? But surely he was the one-hit wonder of all the TV Time Lords? Well, yes. And, also, no. The true story is a lot more involved than that, something which this two-disc set aims to put straight.

For one glorious night back in May 1996, Doctor Who was back, and quite unlike anything we’d seen before – it was feature length, and a big budget co-production by the BBC, Fox and Universal. Having been off the air since 1989, this TV movie was a backdoor pilot, meaning that there was a hope it could go to a full series if it proved successful. Alas, while it was popular in the UK, it was beaten in the ratings in the US by a very special episode of Roseanne where Dan had a heart attack. And that, it seemed, was that: Doctor Who‘s second coming came, and then went away just as quickly.

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The Eighth Doctor – Paul McGann – has quite often been described (including by himself) as being the George Lazenby of Doctor Who, due to his one go at playing the role, and that was true for some time. However, he reprised the part on TV for the show’s 50th anniversary in a special online webisode – ‘Night Of The Doctor’ – so, if anything, he’s now closer to being the Timothy Dalton of Doctor Who, after having two outings. Oh, and then there’s all the Big Finish audio Doctor Who tales he’s done since 2001.

Technically then, he’s actually the longest running of all the Doctors, having taken up the role in 1996, and not then having regenerated until 2013. So, yeah, ‘Years’ is more than justified in the title of this DVD release.

This is the latest in a series of unofficial interview DVDs about Doctor Who, with previous releases having covered six out of the first seven Doctors, as well as some other areas, such as villains and monsters from the show. For many years, Reeltime Pictures – which is an independent film and television production company, headed up by a longtime Doctor Who fan Keith Barnfather – has been making a series of videos (and, more recently, downloads and DVDs) called Myth Makers, with each of the titles focusing on a key figure involved in Doctor Who (in the early releases) and other cult TV, like Blake’s 7 or Battlestar Galactica.

The Doctors series has brought together some of the Myth Makers releases which are devoted to a certain era of the show, and got them onto the high street – rather than just mail order, or specialist shops – courtesy of Koch Media. Many of the Myth Makers had Nicholas Briggs in the role of interviewer, with Briggs becoming  better known since as executive producer on Big Finish (as well as writer, director and actor), and a monster voice artist on Doctor Who, including – most notably – the Daleks. Briggs and Barnfather have recorded a special introduction for this set, which brings together six different interviews of cast and crew from McGann’s era.

Front and centre here – understandably enough – is Paul McGann, in a cut-down version of the standalone Myth Makers release. McGann is interviewed here by fellow Who alumnus Sophie Aldred (who played Ace alongside Sylvester McCoy on screen from 1987 to 1989). The pair are old chums, which certainly helps to put McGann at ease here, and he’s engaging when talking not just about the show, but also his wider career. Hopefully the Myth Makers DVD will cover more of this, as he clearly has a great many fascinating non-Who anecdotes to tell.

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His on-screen companions Yee Jee Tso (who portrayed Chang Lee) and Daphne Ashbrook (who was Dr Grace Holloway) also feature on this set, but the interviews are somewhat hampered by being more of a ‘talking head’ format – without having interaction with an interviewer, it feels a bit more stilted, and these don’t flow as well as those with a more conversational style, lacking something of that dialogue. However, both have interesting things to say about the making of the TV movie, and Ashbrook also comes across as a deep thinker, who gives a lot of insight into her other work, including her role as Melora in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine story of the same name.

Joint highlight alongside Paul McGann is Eric Roberts – his is also a slightly shorter version of the recent Myth Makers DVD, which is a crying shame, as you just end up wanting to hear more from him. Part of an acting dynasty – brother of Julia, and father of Emma – he’s interviewed by wife Eliza (who also appeared alongside him in the 1996 TV movie), in an interview shot in their home; this is a smart move, as he is clearly comfortable being on home turf with his missus asking the questions, and he opens up nicely as a result.

Roberts clearly has a great abiding love for his time playing the Master (a role he recently reprised on audio for Big Finish after 23 years), and speaks both proudly and fondly of his work. He also seems to lack ego – rare among Hollywood types – as he shows he has a dry, self-effacing sense of humour, sending himself up mercilessly, and often looking straight into the camera in order not just to sell a punchline, but also engage with viewers at home. His views on his other work, like Heroes and The Dark Knight, are also interesting and not what you might think. It could have easily been twice the length, and still not felt like enough.

Rounding out the set are Geoffrey Sax and Philip Segal, director and producer of the TV movie respectively. The two give us an insight into the production struggles that were involved into getting a multi-studio Anglo-American project made, with many stories fans might not have heard before. They also pull back the curtain on what the differences are between British and American TV behind-the-scenes, with the pair both having been born in Britain, so there’s lots that is noteworthy, and they add a different perspective on things to the actors.

Not just one for die-hard Who fans, The Paul McGann Years is a worthwhile and very accessible look back at what was the show’s false dawn, and also how it helped pave the way for the eventual revival of the series in 2005. A decent overview of the Paul McGann era of Doctor Who? It’s about time.

The Doctors: The Paul Mcgann Years is out now on DVD.

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