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Doctor Who: The Trial of a Time Lord

a movie review by Philip Wright & Peter Knapp

Rating: none given

Philip:
Well, Peter, Dr. Who finally made it to FOX. But don't you think that it fell a little short of what it could have been? I mean, didn't you feel that it seemed to pander a lot to American tastes, instead of keeping the British humor and charm that made Dr. Who so popular in America in the first place?

Peter:
Yes, I did think the movie pandered to what the producers felt were American tastes. I'm not surprised that they did this, as Universal (the production company that made the movie) and FOX (the network that bought it) both wanted to make something that would hopefully be watched by mainstream American audiences.

While always popular in this country, I think that in the past both the commercial and PBS affiliates aimed the original British show to fill a niche. They never showed Doctor Who during prime time. FOX, on the other hand, did show their movie at 8:00 PM on a Tuesday night. I think that necessitated changing the flavor of the show to hopefully appeal to a broader American audience, not just those willing to stay up late on a Saturday night to catch the latest episode.

Philip:
But you have to agree that at points they went too far. For example, to have the Doctor become romantically involved with his doctor was completely out of character for Doctor Who as a character and as a series... particularly when it was thrown in so haphazardly. When I watch Doctor Who I watch it, in part, for the exotic British flavor. I don't want to hear the Doctor use a phrase that is exclusively American, such as "I am the guy..."

I will say that one thing the show did try to do is capture a lot of the really good things about the British original: playing much of the story tongue-in-cheek; showing the actual transition from the seventh Doctor to this new one; and particularly the way in which they played with the story, giving it lots of twists and turns, just like the stories in the original series. By these, I think they accomplished what they set out to do.

Peter:
I agree. Disarming a tense cop with a Jelly Baby was classic Who. So were the constant references to the show's past. But probably my favorite line occured late in the movie. The Master has just changed into an outrageous costume and is proclaiming that "...we have no time to waste." The Doctor quips back, "But time to change." To which the Master proclaims, while sashaying down the staircase, "I always dress for the occasion!" This dialog was very reminiscent of the original show - a little campy, a little irreverent, very tongue-in-cheek.

Philip:
I agree. That sequence was making fun of itself. However, what happens next will be debatable.

Peter:
You mean if they do turn the movie into a series, will anyone watch it?

Philip:
Yes. They have miscalculated, because they want to make absolutely "mainstream" something that is not only "cult" within the general television audience but also within the science fiction community. They're trying to make it into something with a ST:TNG kind of appeal; but this is so specialized (because of the very nature of the show: the eccentric characters, the very subtle humor, for example), it's never going to appeal to Mrs. Joe Blow from East Podunk. They need to approach it the same way they've approached Babylon 5. B5 has its own flavor and has gone off on a completely unique direction.

Peter:
I don't know if I'd go as far as saying that they are trying to mimic ST:TNG (though the movie did have great special effects and production designs - two hallmarks of the Trek universe); but I do agree that if they Americanize the show too much, it will look like a cheap Star Trek ripoff, which non-Whovians won't watch, and it will alienate Whovians who might feel that it strayed too far from the mold. To draw a parallel, most of my Trekker friends have stopped watching Star Trek: Voyager.

What were the ratings of Doctor Who? The producers were hoping for a Nielsen rating of 17. The overnight shares in 33 markets were 11/10/10/11 (by half hour), which is average for a FOX Tuesday night movie. I found the demographic breakdown interesting: an 8 share among women 18-49, a 12 share for men 18-49, and a 14 share for teens. For a show that hasn't had a new episode in six years, I'm surprised more younger people watched it than adults who may have grown up on the show. Not that I'm complaining - the more the merrier.

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