Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Doctor's Doctor

Me at Denver Comic-Con.
I'm the one wearing the hat.
I had an opportunity at Denver Comic-Con this past weekend to chat with Daphne Ashbrook – known for playing Dr. Grace Holloway, the brief companion of the 8th Doctor in the 1996 Doctor Who film. More on that later.
I thought today would be a good opportunity to revisit the story of this one-off companion of the wandering Time Lord. For the uninitiated, there have been 11 official incarnations of the Doctor from the long-running (albeit oft-interrupted) British series Doctor Who. Hailing from the planet Gallifrey, the Doctor is a member of a time-traveling species known as the Time Lords. Time Lords are quasi-immortal, and when they are severely injured they can usually cheat death by regenerating into a new body. This was a solution that producers of the show came up with when the original actor playing the Doctor, William Hartnell, chose to retire from the show, and it has become a favorite part of Whovian (Doctor Who fanatics) lore. This is of immediate significance as Matt Smith, the actor playing the 11th Doctor, has recently announced his intention to leave the show. (This will be another blog entry unto itself. I assure you.)
But I digress. The initial run of the series ended in 1989 after 26 seasons and seven incarnations of the Doctor, due to waning popularity. However, it wasn’t long before work began on bringing the Doctor back in a new series, movie, or series of movies. This ultimately led to the 1996 TV movie, Doctor Who. Are we all caught up, now? Good. (Whovians: thank you for your patience.)

[Hereafter, there be spoilers. I don’t know why I’m talking like a pirate.] 
At the beginning of the film, the 7th Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) is transporting the remains of an evil Time Lord known as the Master back to Gallifrey. The Master is one of the greatest villains of both the original and current series of Doctor Who, so, naturally, in this combined British/American production, he is played by Eric Roberts.
"Listen to them. Children of the night. Now, stop
listening to them and get me a cappuccino."

Pardon me while I bang my head against my desk for a few minutes.

Okay, back to the story: Actually, the Master is only CGI ooze at the beginning of the movie, escaping from his urn and causing the Doctor to crash in San Francisco – specifically, Chinatown. The CGI ooze looks for a new host body and ultimately settles on an ambulance driver. . . played by Eric Roberts.
"Okay, I'm on set. Now, which one of you
drudges has got my costume?"

Back in a moment.

Okay, back again. Meanwhile, the Doctor is shot when he is caught in the crossfire of an attempted gang assassination. He is taken to Walker General Hospital and delivered into the hands of skilled cardiologist, Dr. Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook). Unfortunately, Holloway’s skill does not extend to extra-terrestrial beings with two hearts, so in her attempt to deal with what appears to be an irregular heart beat, she brings upon the end of the 7th Doctor, forcing the subsequent regeneration into the 8th Doctor, played by Paul McGann.
Distraught at killing (as far as she knows) a patient, and concerned over the disappearance of the same patient’s “corpse” from the morgue, Holloway resigns from the hospital. Soon after, she meets the new Doctor, and – after some convincing – comes to believe his story that he used to be Sylvester McCoy. (Or something like that.) Still reeling from the effects of the regeneration process, the Doctor is suffering from amnesia. Grace comes to his aid, and – when his memory returns – joins the Doctor in his search for Eric Roberts. One moment. Okay, ultimately, the Doctor and Grace overcome the evil that is Eric Roberts, but not without Grace being killed by the Master and then revived by the TARDIS. (Oh, the TARDIS is the Doctor’s ship. It’s shaped like a blue police box. Yes, THAT’S what all the blue phone booths on the t-shirts are all about.) In the end, Dr. Holloway chooses not to join the Doctor in his further adventures in the TARDIS, which in Whovian fandom is the equivalent of declining to get into Robert Downey Jr.’s limo to go to a party at David Bowie’s house. (Yeah, I know.)
Grace never appears on screen again, but her comic book version begins researching some of the cosmic ooze left behind by the Master and works with MI6 on developing a human/Time Lord hybrid. This puts her at odds with the Doctor, but the two reconcile and Dr. Grace Holloway was last seen pursuing advancements in surgical techniques. Putting the comic book stories aside, Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook) had only one, 89-minute movie in which to win us over as a companion of the Doctor. This is probably why she doesn’t hold as high a place as Rose (Billie Piper), Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen), or either of the Romanas (Mary Tamm & Lalla Ward) on most lists of favorite companions. It could also be that she is unfairly lumped in with opinions of the movie that are soured
by certain unfortunate elements: the Doctor’s “confession” that he is half human, for example . . . and Eric Roberts.
Um. Yeah. I'm not touching this one.

"Whatever, Alien Boy. We're all Doctors on this ride."
However, I think Grace Holloway deserves a second look. She’s a doctor just like Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), witty and sarcastic like Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), plucky as Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), and rivals even Romana I (Mary Tamm) and Peri (Nicola Bryant) in pulchritude. She was also the first companion to ever full-on snog the Doctor. It is unlikely that anyone will ever rival Rose or Sarah Jane in my heart as favorite companions, but I have always liked Dr. Grace Holloway, and I hope that the new series will bring the Doctor back into her world at some point, just as it revisited our beloved Sarah Jane.
Now, having had a chance to visit at-length with Daphne Ashbrook this past weekend, I can easily place her among the nicest and most charming actors who have been Doctor Who companions. Chatting with her was the highlight of my Denver Comic-Con - in a 3-way tie with meeting Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and the 6th Doctor (Colin Baker). In fairness, though, the latter two are weighted somewhat for having been my heroes at ages 3 and 10, respectively, so, it would probably be most accurate to say that meeting and talking with Daphne Ashbrook really was far-and-away the highlight of my weekend. You can find out much more about Daphne Ashbrook: actor, singer, writer, blogger, proud mom, and more on her website:

Addendum: Apparently, I have been writing this entry completely unaware that today has been declared the first annual "Sassy-As-Hell Grace Holloway Awareness Day" currently being celebrated with Tumblr gifs and cake. (There might not be cake, I'm still looking for my invitation.)

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