Fifty Years of Doctor Who, Part 9: The Eighth Doctor – Paul McGann
Out of the freezer and into the eye of harmony, Paul McGann briefly wore the title Doctor for less than 90 minutes.
Loved by few, accepted by slightly more, ignored by some, and forgotten by most, The Eighth Doctor’s only appearance was during the 1996 Television Movie. It was an attempt to reignite the Doctor Who series for an American audience. The attempt was unsuccessful and McGann became the Doctor time forgot.
This is where I start to feel sad. McGann never had a fair chance. The script was odd and ill-fitting of the character. The production was neither American nor British, and this Doctor was half-human. There are continuity problems, and leaps of canon that are explained away, if not ignored entirely. That being said, McGann would have been a very good Doctor, he was great in spite of what he had to work with.
McGann’s Doctor began giving teasing glimpses into the personal futures for nearly everyone he met. It’s not clear if this was partially involuntary as he was still unstable from the traumatic regeneration, or if he was simply overburdened with the joy of life, he wanted everyone to life it to the fullest. I like to think he wanted everyone to live a good and happy life, and he tried to help as much as he could. He ran through San Francisco, full of life, elevating everyone he met.
The Eighth was still roughly undefined as a fully unique personality, his previous incarnations coming to the surface here and there. In that respect, McGann’s performance as The Doctor was not solely his, but a modified combination of his predecessors’ performances. Failing to advance his character development and relying on past continuity of the character was a miscalculation and likely lead to the rejection of this incarnation by the audience. If you watch the movie, you can see the full personality of the Eighth emerge in the end. Unfortunately, by the time we see him it’s too late and it’s all over. There was not enough time for an American audience to assimilate, and embrace the character. Judging by ratings the Britons had no problem with this acceptance, but they were not the target this time.
McGann, the lost time lord, so full of wasted potential, he was good, but to revive Doctor Who, you needed to be fantastic. (If you are asking my opinion, he very well could have been fantastic)