Monday 17 October 2022

'Doctor Who Am I': The Documentary About Eighth Doctor Writer Matthew Jacobs

There's no doubt about it, fandoms have become toxic. Yet before the infamous fallouts in the Star Wars fandom and the incessant hounding of Jodie Whittaker, there was another massive controversy dating back to the 90s: the time they decided to Americanise the Doctor and make him half-human.

It was meant to be the film event that would introduce Doctor Who to the vast USA market and reboot the BBC series that had last aired in 1989. Instead, the TV movie - simply named Doctor Who - made the Doctor half-human and committed the cardinal sin of allowing the Doctor to kiss his companion. Suddenly, the Doctor wasn't for everybody anymore, no longer a representative of every unlucky fanboy, and the backlash was immediate. It would take another 9 years before the franchise would be rebooted and even then, it would only have the faintest of links to the much-maligned film.

Funny then, when you consider that Paul McGann, eighth Doctor and star of the Doctor Who movie, is perhaps the most prolific Doctor of all with 135 audio adventures through Big Finish to date and a further 5 coming out soon. He's certainly a hit at Doctor Who conventions these days but it wasn't always that way.

There is one other person who avoided conventions for the longest time, writer Matthew Jacobs. Jacobs had been a fan of Doctor Who since childhood. In fact, his father even acted in an episode and he has memories of being on set. The chance to write the script for the film seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity but it turned out to be a disaster.

Directed by Matthew Jacobs and Vanessa Yuille, Doctor Who Am I tracks Jacobs as he is reluctantly drawn out of retirement and lured onto the convention circuit with the promise of some easy cash.

It's an incredibly bittersweet process. You'd have to have a pretty thick skin to endure the hostility Jacobs endured and not be affected by it. Sometimes his appearances are met with friendliness and deference but often with derision too. Added to that, Doctor Who began in a very painful time in Jacobs' life. Many will recall it as the day that Kennedy was assassinated but Jacobs recalls it as the year his mother took her own life and his father began to show symptoms of bipolar disorder.

It's a lot to deal with, from the conversations with fans about the life changing aspects of the Who fandom, to the constant invisibility of the eighth Doctor. Jacobs meets with Paul McGann, star of the Doctor Who film and the two discuss their shared experience and how something more has grown out of it.

There's an especially moving moment where Jacobs addresses a near-empty room and remarks that we all regenerate after painful moments in our lives.

That's the point at which I connected most with the documentary. I've long accepted the eighth Doctor as a central and necessary part of Whovian canon. We can't get to Christopher Eccleston's marvellous ninth Doctor without meeting Paul McGann's eighth and I'm happy to forget a little kiss and a half-human fib. To be honest, it was easier to accept than the plot armour required to reset the regeneration cycle.

Doctor Who Am I illustrates the power of community and inclusion in the Doctor Who fandom and how much richer the fandom is for including Jacobs, McGann and others involved in the TV film. This is something the Big Finish producers realised ages ago and the eighth Doctor's short time on screen has allowed for a wealth of stories on audio.

Doctor Who Am I banner
Ultimately, Doctor Who Am I is quite sad, in the way that fly-on-the-wall documentaries often are. You'd hope that Matthew Jacobs derives some level of resolution and closure from his involvement with the documentary and conventions but perhaps that'll just take time. I struggled a bit with rating this but settled at a good three out of five stars. I'd definitely recommend to all fans of Doctor Who.

Doctor Who Am I will be in UK Cinemas from 27th October and will be available on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital Download from 28th November.

An infamous Doctor Who screenwriter is reluctantly dragged back into the American Whoniverse, in this funny and moving documentary about finding family in the unlikeliest of places.

Trailer: Doctor Who Am I - directed by Vanessa Yuille and Matthew Jacobs


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