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Whatever Happened to...
Doctor Who - The Motion Picture?

By Paul Scoones

Back in July 1987 a British production company announced that it had acquired the exclusive rights from BBC Enterprises to make a feature film based on Doctor Who. As with the two Peter Cushing Dalek films made in the sixties, the movie would stand apart from the television series, the main reason for this being that in 1987 Sylvester McCoy had just been cast as the new Doctor and the BBC still apparently intended to continue with the television series indefinitely.

Peter Litton, George Dugdale and John Humphreys had been negotiating with the BBC for four years. They had formed themselves into a company called Daltenreys and as well as investing their own personal money, they established a consortium of about twenty investors. These individuals included a number of famous names in the entertainment industry, such as Bryan Ferry and John Illsley of Dire Straits. The production company was at first called 'Coast to Coast' and in late 1990 was renamed 'Green Light'.

The script was originally written by Mark Ezra and edited by Johnny Byrne in early 1988. Byrne brought first-hand knowledge of Doctor Who to the project (he wrote The Keeper of Traken, Arc of Infinity and Warriors of the Deep). In 1991 the screenplay was completely re-written by Johnny Byrne and titled Doctor Who: Last of the Time Lords. The story involved a chase through time and space in which the Doctor and his companions had to prevent villains from using a pair of unique crystals to create an all-powerful being.

Various actors were considered for the role of the Doctor, including Tim Curry, Dudley Moore, John Cleese, Albert Finney and Denholm Elliot. Three actors who seem to have been serious contenders for the part were Alan Rickman, Rutger Hauer and Donald Sutherland. The one firm piece of casting was Caroline Munro, who was originally signed up to play Cora, a Gallifreyan companion for the Doctor.

Despite having spent almost one million pounds, Daltenreys failed to get any Hollywood film producer to take on the project. Warner Brothers expressed an interest in making the film but nothing came of this. The option with BBC Enterprises expired and a new agreement was reached which gave them a deadline of 6 April 1994, by which time filming had to have started on the movie if they were to retain the rights.

Eventually an agreement was reached with a European production company, Lumiere Pictures, who were French-owned, but with substantial interests in Britain. Lumiere planned to make three films. In 1993, with less than a year before the April 1994 deadline, a new screenplay was commissioned, this time from Denny Martin Flinn, the script writer of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Leonard Nimoy was signed up as the film's director, and Alan Rickman was asked to play the Doctor.

Daltentreys were devastated when reports began emerging in late 1993 that Amblin and possibly even Steven Spielberg himself were also going to make a Doctor Who movie, albeit for television. As company director John Humphreys said, 'We were finally getting to the point where we could see a start to filming and then this... it was a bombshell.'

By 6 April 1994, the film had not entered production, and accordingly the rights to a cinema film version of Doctor Who returned to BBC Enterprises. In March, having already spent over a million pounds, Lumiere withdrew from the project, apparently due to what Daltenreys perceives was a lack of support, and even hostility, from BBC Enterprises for the film.

Nearly two years later, on 10 January 1996, the British newspaper The London Evening Standard published an article by Keith Dovkants which put across Daltenreys' side of the story. John Humphreys said, 'The simple fact is that we have been ruined by the BBC. They have behaved in a way that, even now, we find unbelievable.' The article claims that the film project's failure has left the three company directors - Litton, Humphreys and Dugdale - 'utterly broke', and they blame the BBC. It seems that now that the Philip Segal-produced Doctor Who television movie has become reality, Daltenreys are considering bringing a court action against the BBC for what they believe is a breach of the exclusive Doctor Who film rights agreement held by Daltenreys from 1987 to 1994 - during most of which time the BBC were also in discussions with Philip Segal over a new television production of Doctor Who.

[Newspaper clipping]
Otago Daily Times, 31 January 1996

This item appeared in TSV 47 (April 1996).