In the late 90s, the Eighth Doctor almost had his own TV series produced by the American network Fox. But what would it have been like?
The Eighth Doctor‘s unmade TV series is one of the biggest “what if?” questions in the Whoniverse. Back in 1996, a TV movie was produced in a co-production deal between the BBC, Universal and Fox – a TV movie which served as a back-door pilot to a brand new series of adventures. The fate of this series hinged on the Doctor Who film performing well in the United States.
Alas, the Eighth Doctor’s TV debut was not a ratings success States-side, even though it was well-received in the UK. As such, the (albeit vague) plans that had been laid for a new Doctor Who series were immediately scrapped, even though actors like Paul McGann had been told to prepare for full-time relocation to Canada where the programme was being produced. Indeed, the actor had already started looking for properties in Vancouver.
Because of this, we will never really know what the Eighth Doctor’s Fox-produced TV series would have been like, although the TV movie does give us a tantalising glimpse.
For a start, it is likely that the Doctor’s penchant for romance (and kissing!) would have been further developed, no doubt to cries of anguish from Doctor Who fans worldwide. This may seem strange to say now, but back in 1996 the notion of the Time Lord locking lips with his companion (or indeed, with anyone) was completely uncharted territory, and was perceived by some as being completely out of character given the Doctor’s apparent asexuality. Indeed, the scene in the TV movie where the Eighth Doctor and Grace shared a kiss against a backdrop of fireworks caused many a fan to drop their sonic screwdriver in horror.
But it’s conceivable that this new facet of the Time Lord’s character would have been explored to a greater degree, perhaps to the extent that we ultimately saw between the Doctor and Rose in Series One and Two, or even with River Song during the Eleventh Doctor’s era.
And whilst some may have considered it “too human” for the distinctly alien Eighth Doctor, it’s worth remembering that the TV movie was the first (and so far only) place to claim that the Doctor was half human. It’s possible, therefore, that the Fox TV series may have looked to develop the more ‘human’ aspects of the Time Lord’s character, and it may even have shown him to shed a tear. Again, this might not seem like such a bold idea in 2023, but in 1996 the Doctor had never actually cried on screen, not even after the deaths of his companions like Katarina, Adric or Peri.
And what of the Eighth Doctor’s half human claim? Love it or hate it, one thing the TV movie was unafraid to do was create (or start to create) a new lore for the Doctor. In the final version of the film, these alterations were kept to a bare minimum; the Eye of Harmony was given a new purpose, the Doctor had seemingly psychic powers which appeared to be fuelled by the TARDIS, and he even spoke of his memories of his father.
But these scant details were a far cry from what was originally planned. When producer Philip Segal began pitching Doctor Who in the 90s, he had a brand new ‘series bible’ written by a man called Andrew Leekley, who entirely rewrote the Doctor’s backstory. It was all written from the point of view of the Doctor’s grandfather Barusa, who explained how the Doctor and the Master were brothers, and how the Eighth Doctor had left Gallifrey in a TARDIS to go in search of his long lost father – an explorer named Ulysses.
This mythos (and subsequent draft script) even found its way into the auditions for the 1996 TV movie, and the Eighth Doctor himself read sides from this aborted reimagining. We will never know how many of these elements would have been resurrected had the film led to a full series.
Certainly, the production team had planned at an early stage for the Eighth Doctor to meet the Daleks, and it’s often forgotten that they feature in the TV movie – albeit in voice form, and in voices that don’t sound entirely like Daleks.
Prior to this, the producers had intended to give the Daleks a complete redesign, shedding their traditional polycarbide shells and unfolding into tentacled beings dubbed ‘spider Daleks.’ Of course, these never made it past the concept stage, but some rough CGI footage of these repurposed mutants does exist. Moreover, it’s hard to imagine that the Eighth Doctor wouldn’t have encountered his old enemies at some point in a Fox-produced series, although of course there may have been rights issues getting in the way of their plans (the estate of Terry Nation still owns the rights to the Daleks.)
Either way, the TV movie demonstrated that the new production team was keen to honour Doctor Who‘s past, and it’s likely that more references to the programme’s lore would have been made in the Eighth Doctor‘s first season. Indeed, the Leekley Bible drew extensively from the Doctor Who stories of the past, and reimagined them as potential new adventures for the Time Lord. The stories included new versions of ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang,’ ‘Horror of Fang Rock’ and ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ (renamed ‘Tomb of the Cybs’) to name a few. The bible even proposed a reworking of the First Doctor story ‘The Gunfighters,’ retitled ‘Don’t Shoot, I’m the Doctor!’
However, producer Philip Segal has since pointed out that he never really intended for these adventures to be retold on the Eighth Doctor’s travels. Rather, they were meant to represent the series’ strengths and story-telling potential. That being said, it’s fun to speculate what an American-produced, 90s version of ‘The Gunfighters’ would have been like (with Shania Twain singing ‘The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon,’ perhaps?) or even ‘The Celestial Toymaker,’ which was another of Leekley’s proposals.
Sadly, unless we can build our own TARDIS and transport ourselves to another universe, we will never know what the Eighth Doctor’s TV series would have looked like. But it would make a good premise for a Marvel What If…? style audio series for Big Finish, perhaps in the vein of the Unbound Doctor range.
What do you think Fox’s Eighth Doctor TV series would have been like? And how disappointed are you that it never came to fruition? Let me know in the comments below.