These shoes, they fit perfectly

I was at the BFI on Saturday for the latest in the 50th anniversary celebratory screenings of Doctor Who stories. And I should be writing about that. But yesterday was special for another reason: After the screening a whole collection of friends joined me in the bar at the BFI to have some slightly-premature informal birthday drinks. I don’t normally do things like that but being in London already seemed like a good opportunity. So I sat there smiling as friends from different parts of my life chatted away until closing time. I was touched both then and on reading the messages people had left for me.

Andrew Cartmel, Nicholas Briggs, Jason Haigh-Ellery, Gary Russell, Justin Richards and Marcus Hearn at the BFI

The focus of the event was wider than just the 90 minutes of Paul McGann’s on-screen appearance as the Doctor. Before the story was screened, there was a full length panel discussion about the “wilderness years” – the time between 1989 and 2005 when, this TV movie aside, new Doctor Who was not being broadcast on the BBC. The script editor who was working on the show when it was cancelled, Andrew Cartmel, was joined by Nicholas Briggs and Jason Haigh-Ellery from Big Finish (who still make fantastic full cast audio dramas about Doctor Who), Gary Russell and Marcus Hearn who worked on Doctor Who Magazine and Justin Richards who looked after the Doctor Who range from BBC books. This panel really worked and felt much more like a typical convention panel, with people trying to get their point in and the occasional guiding hand from the moderator.

The story looked great on the big screen and sounded fantastic. I found Sylvester McCoy’s performance in the first third very strong, and a fitting send off for the character. McGann is a great Doctor, although the plot and the script only give him isolated moments to shine between hero scenes and forced quirkiness. It is interesting to compare and contrast this story with “Rose”, the first episode of the revival of the series in 2005. Both stories are intended to introduce the character of the Doctor who a whole new audience, but tackle it in totally different ways. “Rose” doesn’t try to force 35 years of lore down the viewer’s throat, whilst the TV Movie takes every opportunity to hark backwards. The Doctor of 2005 could fit in on any high street, the Doctor of 1996 dresses like a cowboy sans hat and gun but with a perm. Cardiff’s Doctor has a Big Dark Secret, Vancouver’s Doctor spend his time happily bobbing about in the TARDIS running missions for the Time Lords.

Paul McGann joined director Geoffery Sax (who revealed he has twice been asked to direct episodes for the new series) and a very jet-lagged Daphne Ashbrook. McGann almost took over from the loquacious interviewer, starting a more open discussion which bounced back and forth in a relaxed way. I was pleased to hear later that he had also spent a long time signing autographs for waiting fans.

Geoffery Sax, Daphne Ashbrook and Paul McGann at the BFI

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