The things that could go massively, hysterically wrong with a Doctor Who movie

As the planet comes to terms with the possibility of a David Yates-helmed Doctor Who movie, Andrew comes up with a few things that could go wrong with it…

Well, isn’t this the gift that keeps on giving? You’d almost have thought that the concept of a Doctor Who movie reboot was just something websites like this had come up with so we could get huge screeds of material from it.

Incidentally, if I were to reboot Doctor Who as a movie but didn’t want to annoy millions of people, I’d do it as a portmanteau-style film where people sitting round a campfire swap stories of the Doctor as played by various different actors, some of whom may bear a resemblance to already existing incarnations. That way, any errors could simply be written off as the product of an unreliable narrator, and we get four new stories. Apart from the fact that I can’t see any American studio replicating a standard horror staple of a major British horror company, it has almost no drawbacks. It might work for a multi-Doctor story on telly, too.

However, what is infinitely easier to imagine is a catastrophically terrible, firework in a manure pile, Internet in meltdown kind of film. Here’s a list of the main things that could go wrong with any possible Doctor Who movie.

Casting

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So far the role has been played largely by either character actors, or slightly dotty men whose names happened to be mentioned in phone calls to producers at just the right time. There are literally dozens of people for whom both descriptions could apply from all corners of the globe (Brad Dourif), who would probably make great Doctors (Brad Dourif), with more good suggestions coming in on the comments thread to yesterday’s article.

So, bearing all this in mind, what do we do when Shia LaBeouf is cast? Please remember that what you’re thinking of may very well be illegal in most countries.

Realistically, though, if David Yates is directing and is taking his time over it, and having worked with approximately 90 per cent of all living British actors during his four Harry Potter films, we would probably get a sensible piece of casting, rather than an enjoyably left field one. But that’s no fun, really. This is supposed to be the Worst Thing Ever. So let’s just cut to the chase, and assume that the studio hires Martin Lawrence.

With Nicolas Cage as the Master.

Studio

One of the reasons for the various combinations of nonsense in the 1996 TV movie was that it was financed by various companies, and they all wanted a say in the finished product.

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Fox, Universal Television, BBC Television and BBC Worldwide all contributed to the budget, and it wasn’t just the American companies who made strange requests. The BBC would have preferred Tom Baker to be the Doctor who regenerated into Paul McGann, because he was more popular than Sylvester McCoy. That’d be fun to fit into the continuity.

So, bearing in mind that the BBC are capable of muffing things up as well, if the film required numerous sources of investment from overseas we could very well end up with Spider-Daleks; James Spader-Daleks; the Eye of Harmony being relocated to the lamp on the top of the police box; the police box being changed into a time-travelling mobile because “Bill and Ted did the whole phone box thing first”; the Eye of Harmony being relocated to the eye of someone called Harmony as the entire thing is in fact set inside a universe in her head. “Why doesn’t the Doctor just shoot everything? It’d be much, much quicker.”

You know. The usual.

We’re British, dammit

Doctor Who is a national institution. Like Broadmoor. If it is to be put on the big screen then we, as Brits, would like it to remain quintessentially British, but not in the sense of being xenophobic, arrogant, Splendid Isolation mongers. Oh no. The good British stuff. Tea. Biscuits. Being ineffectual but sort of muddling through. Trying really hard. That sort of thing.

If you were being charitable (or honest) then you’d say that David Yates has form with this sort of thing, but that was with a phenomenon that had seven books behind the storylines. This is starting a franchise from scratch.

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Basically, even though Doctor Who can go anywhere in the universe, there’s a certain tone to it. A tone that certain 12A-rated blockbusters seem to be entirely in opposition to. Whoever plays Harmony must therefore be a nubile up-and-coming star who doesn’t mind there being a nude scene, as the audience won’t see anything and it’s not as if her phone won’t ultimately be hacked in a few year’s time anyway.

And also, the aliens will be in really cool spaceships that explode good. That’s what Doctor Who is all about.

Story

How do you launch a concept like Doctor Who as a movie? We’ve seen what happens when you overload the audience with new concepts, and try to tell a whacking great, season-finale-esque tale as an introduction to the series. The TV movie tried too much, and didn’t succeed at enough of it. 2005’s Rose was more sensible – it tried less, but showed you enough to keep you interested.

A film doesn’t have the luxury of “Tune in next week to see what this means”, so has to achieve an introduction while also telling a story. In Doctor Who terms, we’re looking at Spearhead From Space. In film terms, too many sci-fi fantasy projects involve origin stories. Doctor Who specifically does not have an origin story.

The trouble with trying to come up with hyperbole for an American version of the Doctor Who origin story, is that it’s already been done, and with serious intent. This was a series Bible drawn up to show the storylines a potential new series could embark upon, known as the Leeky Bible. It was shit.

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Here’s a synopsis. The italics are all the bits that I think are especially terrible:

“The Time Lords, led by a dying Cardinal Barusa, are under attack from the Daleks whilst the Doctor is travelling the galaxy looking for the legendary Lost Scrolls. On his journey he is attacked by a Spider Dalek and is forced to return to Gallifrey where the Master, Barusa’s son, confronts the Doctor.

The Master is next in line for succession to the presidency of Gallifrey, but many Time Lords want the Doctor, Barusa’s grandson, to take leadership of Gallifrey. By eliminating the Doctor there will be nothing to stop the Master. In his final moments, Barusa tells The Doctor that his long lost father was the Time Lord explorer Ulysses and that his mother was a human from the ‘Blue Planet’. The Doctor then resolves to find his father and takes off in Ulysses’ old TARDIS. As he takes off, Barusa’s spirit is somehow trapped in the crystals that power the TARDIS and he becomes one with it, and able to communicate with and advise the Doctor.”

Some people have only just got over Lungbarrow, for goodness’ sake.

Dialogue

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