6 February 2016

The Time the TV Movie was announced



Over the course of the first half of the Nineties, whatever rumours appeared, Doctor Who fans had accepted the apparent fact that no new television version of the series was forthcoming following a series of increasingly empty BBC statements. Though the programme’s cancellation had never been formally announced it had remained in official limbo since the autumn of 1989 while the apparatus of production had been quietly dismantled. Every so often some optimistic rumour would break surface only to be smothered by something bland. Many were disgruntled that while the Corporation seemed uninterested in making any new Doctor Who they were happy to reap the rewards of selling the series’ past. Some fans had started making their own version of the show in both written and audio form. Then on 10 January 1996, it was suddenly announced that there would be new Doctor Who after all in the form of a new 90 minute tv pilot to be made in Canada and intended as the precursor to a new series. 
 Here in Liverpool the announcement had an extra special significance as for the second time in the show’s history the Doctor was to be played by a Liverpool born actor in this case Paul McGann. At the time this was seen as a leftfield choice as McGann was known mostly for being in the cool film Withnail and I and it was that movie’s co -star Richard E Grant who had often been touted as a future Doctor.

 Perhaps the most unexpected revelation was that rather than start anew, Sylvester McCoy would be appearing to do a proper old regeneration and it was reputed be paid more for this extended cameo than he used to get for a whole season when he was making the show in London.
The first reports of an American company being interested in producing the series had actually surfaced in 1993 and this was subsequently confirmed as none other than Amblin who were said to be acquiring the rights with David Hasselhoff rumoured to be the new Doctor in the press. Interestingly while that casting was denied, it soon became clear that a joint BBC / Amblin venture was happening. In early 1994 BBC Enterprises officials were spotted in Los Angeles and it was revealed that negotiations had been ongoing for more than a year and were largely the reason why the short lived `Dark Dimension` production had been so swiftly scuppered. Of course the very idea of an American produced version of the show was anathema to some fans which is probably why rumours of such horrors as the time rotor being replaced by a pair of rapping holographic lips soon surfaced! Yes, this was really a rumour at the time. In March 1994 it was reported that the deal had been signed and hot tip to play the Doctor was Richard O’Brien. 
The following month Amblin and Universal Television announced The New Adventures of Doctor Who would begin in January 1995 with a 2 hour pilot and 12 48 minute episodes. Richard O’Brien was said to have turned down the role and this month’s next Doctor was Eric Idle. Peter Wragg, former producer of Max Headroom was to lead the production with CBS showing the pilot. It was at this point that Philip Segal’s name entered the story, At the time he was head of Amblin’s television division. The whole project had become such a hot topic that it was even mentioned during Steven Spielberg’s British Schindler’s List press conference. By mid- 1994 the casting rumours had moved on from Eric Idle and it seemed that Alan Rickman had declined to become the Doctor. Better news was that Fox TV had bought the pilot and series option.
September’s rumours centred around a May 1995 transmission with a John Leekly script and Leonard Nimoy direction. However it was reported in November 1994 that Spielberg himself had not liked the script and put the project on hold. More bad news in January 1995 when Fox passed on the project saying it did not have enough mainstream appeal. The following month Philip Segal appeared at a US convention with detailed plans and the need to keep “the spirit” of the series.  Responding to casting rumours, in particular that of Paul McGann he said he’d never heard of him! In March Fox changed their minds presumably after seeing plans for The Master’s grand entrance drezzed for the occasion!  By now Amblin were no longer involved though Segal had left them with the project. Latest rumoured Doctors were Simon Callow, Sting and Paul McGann.
“We begin production in three weeks” declared Segal at a UK convention but of course they didn’t. There was a further delay to February 1996 but those rumour mongers declare that the Doctor would  either be Sting or Paul McGann. Sylvester McCoy’s participation was officially confirmed in December 1995 at which time the press are still rooting for Sting as the new Doctor but the following month McGann’s casting is finally confirmed. Incidentally Segal later said that one of the issues he had with the BBC was their apparent disapproval of McCoy’s involvement. 
"That's all they paid me at the BBC!"
As January 1996 progressed little snatches of information began to descend amongst us. There was, for example, the amusing nomenclature mix up between Daphne Ashbrook and Dana Ashbrook. The latter actor – who had been in Twin Peaks- was accidentally named as the new companion even though he is a bloke. There were reports that the script has already been leaked and was `doing the rounds` and this was just at the point before online fandom took off. We learned of the existence of Julia Roberts’ actor brother Eric whose slew of B Movies had somehow missed our attention.
By February 1996 more tangible information was forthcoming as production had begun in Vancouver. McGann had already been quoted as saying the Doctor “is half human” which was assumed to be an error though as we know it is in the script. The most intriguing rumour was that an aspirin causes the regeneration.
Philip Segal actually appeared at a UK convention in the month before transmission talking of a vast wood panelled console room and an orchestral score both of which sounded like fanciful notions but turned out to be true. He also advised that if we wanted to give the production a title then `Enemy Within` was the moniker to use. Some fans doubts over a perceived `Americanisation` of the show were eased by Segal’s obvious knowledge of the series’ past. Attendees got to see a surprising amount of material including a rough cut of the new version of the title theme, a series of photos of the cast in costume as well as of sets in design stage and finished. Segal himself endeared himself to the audience with talk of “kisses to the past” and a clear love of the show. There was a lot of optimism that weekend about the future of Doctor Who and fans felt a new era could be starting… 


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