A lot of the time, a movie just seems like a great addition to a series. Maybe it’s for the money, maybe because success leads to the funding needed for a movie, maybe someone just always wanted it to be a movie.
And with mixed success, the movies come. Some are some of the fans’ very favorite movies (think Serenity). Some are the worst movies we can think of (The Last Airbender). There are different approaches, and I am going to explore a few.
What got me thinking of this? Well, there are rumors about thoughts of a Doctor Who movie, so in the spirit of the Doctor Who posts this month, I want to conclude by thinking about these successes and failures in terms of how one would approach making a Doctor Who movie.
The End of a Series
From a TV show to the big screen, concluding a long-standing (or too shortly lived!) show with a movie makes some sense. Take Serenity, and how it was able to wrap up the story of Firefly – even if we did want more. Or, more recently in the news, think of the Veronica Mars movie Kickstarter, which will aim to do the same thing.
However, if we really want to look at various ways this can go, how about with Star Trek: The Next Generation?
Sure, The Original Series also probably has some great examples, but I have not actually seen all of the Original Series movies. But Next Gen… Seven seasons, and then four movies. Pretty prodigious. But these four movies worked out very differently from one another.
Here’s a great use for a TV show movie: bridge different, related series. Maybe not relevant to a lot of shows, but great for the Star Trek franchise, and if a movie ever came out after, say, the Buffy show, it ought to tie in Angel as well. And, if we’re thinking Doctor Who, bridging multiple series or Doctors would be cool. Then again, that’s what I feel like the Doctor’s 50th Anniversary is going to be like, so by then, it will have been done.
The big budget to do the biggest story about your biggest villain: Star Trek First Contact is one of my very favorite movies ever. It wrapped up a lot from the show, both in terms of the characters’ development, and the villains’ activities. For a lot of shows, this might be what the finale does. Heck, for Next Gen, that’s what the finale was – wrapping up Q and bringing it all back to the beginning. But for Doctor Who, could you make a Dalek plot epic enough to be a movie? More epic than what has already been done with series finales?
Then there was Insurrection. While I really enjoyed it, what was it really? A long episode. Meet an alien race, neat scifi stuff happens, political intrigue, a short space battle, some running… Ok, so it’s a solid 2-parter. It’s probably the least talked about of the Next Gen movies. And here is the risk any series runs moving to movies: doing something beyond what you do in episodes already. Could Doctor Who do it?
Then there was Nemesis. Which I should probably rewatch, because I hardly remember it. Not that great. But, an attempt at being epic enough to be the last movie. Death of main characters. Sending some off to a new ship. It just… meh. Don’t be like Nemesis, movies. If you’re going to conclude with a movie, in an ongoing world, you have to close out your plots better than Nemesis did.
Retelling the Story: The Reboot
I have ranted about reboots and origin stories elsewhere, so I don’t want to spend much time there. This happens a lot in comic book movies… Actually, really pretty much all of them. Also in books going to movies, you don’t tend to see a story continuation on the big screen. However, when it’s done for a TV show… well, you may just end up with Avatar: The Last Airbender.
The Last Airbender
Ok, let me rant a minute. Avatar: The Last Airbender was a three season show which fully told a story, started and ended a plot. The Legend of Korra was the right choice: move on to the continuing plot of the world. The Last Airbender was the wrong choice: take a full season, and try to make a movie out of it.
Take a moment to consider this with Doctor Who, or really any other show: you’re trying to force a plot, shrink and fit it down into a movie. That’s part of why things like comic movies tell their own new story, because trying to fit one already written is too hard. That’s why the book is pretty much always better than the movie (spoilers for LitFlix?). So please, don’t try to retell a plot in the Doctor Who movie.
So how do you pull it off?
There is a pair of movies I would like to consider to show a franchise doing it wrong, then figuring it out and doing it right. And that would be Final Fantasy.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Okay, so completing a Final Fantasy game will take a minimum of 60 hours usually. And the fans squeeze far more out of them. So choosing to try to distill that sort of a plot down to a two hour movie? A little tough. Like, crazy tough. Like, you could make a long TV show of Final Fantasy, if people were willing to watch a TV show with a bunch of monster fights and weapon upgrading. Okay, so you can definitely pare it down, but into two hours?
So they tried it, and it was Spirits Within. Leaving alone some of the issues (like that it was more heavily science fiction than fantasy) with the movie, it still lost some of the elements that the fans love in a Final Fantasy game. I’m assuming I am not alone in loving these things, anyway, because they keep doing it. Things like reusing some of the names and themes, tapping into mythologies… So what did they give us? A plot about saving the planet, so the bare bones of a Final Fantasy plot. It was pretty, but it wasn’t what the fans wanted out of a movie.
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children
So then they made Advent Children. Not a free-standing story, not trying to retell Final Fantasy VII (which I’m sure was considered and rejected at some point), but continuing that plot, trying to explain just a bit more some of its ongoing mysteries, and giving us a lot of fan service. Characters we love, fighting epically, lots of monster fights, references to things like Fenrir in the motorcycle, or Bahamut in the summoned dragon… Heck, the inclusion of Materia globes that were actually socketed into people’s arms…
This is another on the list that is one of my very favorite movies ever. It did well enough that they got to put together a complete edition blu ray, so I figure that can’t be too bad – but it wasn’t a theatrical release. This might be the sort of thing that could happen with a Doctor Who movie – after all, there was a TV movie in the 90’s already, so that’s been done. And maybe that might be best. But then, how is that different from, say, the Doctor Who Christmas Specials?
So what do you do to make a Doctor Who movie?
Okay, so you want to try to avoid being like a high-budget two-parter episode, or like a stand-alone Christmas Special on the big screen (or off of it)… And you definitely want to avoid the reboot or the reimagining. So what do you do?
Actually, even as I write about avoiding a reimagining… the adventures of a different Time Lord could be fun. But also super hard to explain, because of the Time War. The Time Lords are all gone, the T.A.R.D.I.S.es that were left were eaten up by House… So this one is tough to pull off.
So what’s left? I do have a few thoughts.
I hate to even say it, so I won’t say it here.
While I hate to say it, as a scifi series that’s been going on as long or longer than many of the comic book series that have been making it into movies lately… Telling the Origin Story. As I say no to other plots, I guess I see a little bit of how other writers end up reaching that same point, and going to the origin. And as far as I know, though it has been discussed, the Doctor’s origin has not been shown before. However, would the Doctor look like the First Doctor, or could he look younger? I guess he could be younger, thinking of Mels growing up, but still – would I just grumble like I do at the ubiquity of origin stories?
Epic Villain Plot
Or there’s telling an epic story about a major villain. There are a couple that come to mind: The Time War, and the Silence War. We haven’t really gotten to see much of the war with the silence, and per usually, much of what actually happened DIDN’T happen, thanks to alternate universes and paradoxes. Then again, I guess much the same could be said for the Time War – it’s a vast unknown. But somewhat intentionally – it happened, it’s gone, we’ve moved on. Could you build a new epic plot to rival these? Probably. But it runs some of the risks I’ve mentioned.
Closing out a Doctor – or the Show
I mean, if you ever felt Doctor Who was coming to a close, do it in a movie, please, BBC. And there are old prophecies that the Doctor had a finite number of regenerations, so who knows, maybe we’ll get there and they might close the show out in a movie. But if there’s talk of Steven Moffat doing one… closing out his run on the show with a movie? The fans would love it, like say an Advent Children, but could it survive on its own as a theatrical release? Or would it just be another of the specials?
I guess in closing, my thought is that maybe Doctor Who does not need a movie, because what movie do you make to do the show justice? Or maybe even better put, how do you go from the show, make a movie, and return to making more of the show? This is not really something that is done. But maybe Doctor Who is precisely the show to pull something like that off. And maybe the time is now, with the following that the show has.