After Doctor Who’s cancellation in 1989, there were several attempts to revive it, but none were successful. There was an attempt to create a 30th anniversary special, only for it to fizzle out and instead be replaced by an awkward, 15-minute story called “Dimensions in time” that crammed the surviving Doctors, several companions and monsters into a confusing, weird plot. Pretty much the Star Wars Holiday special of Doctor Who, although it was done for charity, and was in 3D, years before some of the new series specials would get similar treatment.
In 1996 a more ambitious, big-budget attempt came, although one that still somewhat polarised fans. This would be a TV movie, in which a new Doctor would be introduced, and it would also possibly serve as a pilot for Fox television. The movie was a British/US co-production as well. The movie would also be part of series continuity.
In the film, it’s been a while since we’ve seen the Seventh Doctor. He’s travelling alone, Ace having left some time ago (and possibly other companions have come and gone.) He’s a bit older, his hair’s a bit longer, and he’s got rid of the question mark sweater vest. The TARDIS console room is also considerably larger and more ornate, ditching the white walls, roundels and sci-fi look for a more gothic atmosphere with wood walls, fancy furniture and candles.
The Doctor’s been on a mission. The Master has been put on trial by the Daleks, found guilty, and executed to ashes (It’s not clear why the Daleks-of all creatures-did this). The Doctor gathers these ashes in a box, to take them back to Gallifrey.
Unfortunately, the Master isn’t quite dead. He’s somehow kept himself alive as a snake-like goo monster, which then damages the console, forcing the TARDIS to crash-land in 1999 San Francisco, in the middle of a gang-fight. The Doctor, hoping to find parts to repair the TARDIS, steps out into the middle of it, and gets badly shot.
Found by a local youth, Chang Lee, the injured Doctor is sent to the local hospital. Chang however, uncomfortable with being asked questions, leaves with the Doctor’s belongings, including his sonic screwdriver and key. Meanwhile, the goo Master escapes and possesses an ambulance driver played by Eric Roberts. Lacking his usual fancy mustache and clothes, the Master adopts sunglasses and leather jackets. He finds Lee, and uses him to gain access to the TARDIS. This time, the Master wants to use the TARDIS’s power source-it’s link to the “Eye of Harmony”-Gallifrey’s black hole-to somehow steal the Doctor’s body and his remaining regenerations, especially since the Ambulance body host is unstable. Unfortunately, leaving the Eye open like he does is also dangerous to the Earth.
Meanwhile, the Doctor is taken to the hospital. The bullet is removed, but the Doctors are perplexed by the strange alien physiology of the Time Lord, and they make a wrong move, causing the Doctor to go into double cardiac arrest, killing the seventh incarnation.
Not immediately regenerating due to the anaesthetic, he’s rolled into the morgue as a dead body. Once in there though, he begins to awake and regenerate into his Eighth form. He emerges from the morgue in his new body, spooking a poor attendant.
The Eighth Doctor of course is bewildered, and doesn’t really know who he is due to the regeneration instability. He tracks down the woman who did the surgery, Grace Holloway, who he tries to convince that he’s the same man she operated on-which takes some doing.
The Doctor eventually regains his memory-kissing Grace as he does so, and begins to frolic around the grass in wonder. He’s certainly more energetic than his previous incarnation, and more of a romantic than well, ANY previous incarnation (This sort of starts a trend of the Doctor becoming a more romantic lead, which will continue into the new series). He also seems to think he’s “half human” on his mother’s side, a “retcon” of sorts that didn’t sit well with some fans. However, he also senses something’s very wrong with the TARDIS, and knows the Master is trying to steal his regenerations and the Eye of Harmony poses a threat to the Earth, and might end it just at the turn of the millennium
The Doctor and Grace head to a science institute to find an atomic beryllium clock, which the Doctor can use to fix the TARDIS console and close the eye, saving Earth. Narrowly avoiding a capture attempt by the Master by “borrowing” a police motorcycle, the Doctor manages to get the component, and the two head back to the TARDIS.
Unfortunately, the Master is already there, and he and Chang set up the Doctor in a contraption where he starts to try to take over the Doctor’s body/regenerations using the eye. Grace is hypnotized for a time, but eventually throws it off and is able to shut down the Master’s device. Chang also realizes he’s been tricked by the Master. Things almost prove fatal for Grace and Chang as they are attacked and injured by the Master.
Doctor and Master than pretty much are doing the same thing they did the last time we saw them, at the end of the classic series-trying to kill each other.
The confrontation ends with the Master falling into the eye. The Doctor offers his hand to his old enemy, but the Master refuses, falling through the eye (Like that’s going to stop him, though….)
The Doctor is somehow able to use the TARDIS to bring Grace and Chang back from the edge of death, and the Earth is saved. Although he extends the offer of companionship to Grace, she decides not to go along, preferring to return to her life as an actual Doctor. Sharing one last kiss with her, the Doctor departs to places unknown.
However, the TV movie was not a USA success, and a new series was not made. The Eighth Doctor did continue in various novels, audio dramas, and comics. However, the television Doctor would eventually return in his Ninth incarnation, although the mystery as to the fate of the Eighth incarnation would have to wait a little longer, and would play a big part in the 2013 anniversary. However, we’re not quite there yet.