In the 1990s Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy almost made franchise crossover history, but executives at FOX pulled the plug on plans to have him direct a Doctor Who movie… unless he agreed to play the villain.
Nimoy almost beamed to Gallifrey
In the mid-1990s there was an attempt to reinvigorate Doctor Who which went off the air in 1989. A television movie was planned as a backdoor pilot, which was being produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment for broadcast on the FOX Network in the USA and the BBC in the UK. The film would introduce a new Doctor (the Eighth), played by Paul McGann. And the project came very close to having a sort of Star Trek connection with Leonard Nimoy. Following his feature film debut with Star Trek III in 1984 Nimoy began a successful career behind the camera, including the 1987 hit comedy Three Men and a Baby, he continued directing into the ’90s.
And according to Doctor Who movie producer Philip Segal, Nimoy had been selected to direct. Segal tells Radio Times:
I had several meetings with Leonard Nimoy who wanted to direct it. I met with him at Amblin [Entertainment], and we had wonderful conversations. He was genuinely excited about the possibility.
However, after getting closer to production, the US broadcaster stepped in the way:
FOX did not want him to do it. They were concerned it looked very kitsch to go, ‘Aren’t we clever? We’ve got Spock from Star Trek directing.’
According to the producer, FOX would only allow Nimoy to direct if he agreed to play the film’s villain The Master, The Doctor’s longtime adversary. Segal considered the idea “insulting” to Nimoy as that “wasn’t the object of the exercise.” In the end, the film was directed by Geoffrey Sax with the role of The Master going to Eric Roberts. The film did end up with a bit of a Trek connection with the casting of Daphne Ashbrook as The Doctor’s companion Grace Holloway. In 1993 Ashbrook guest starred as the titular “Melora” on Deep Space Nine.
In the end Doctor Who The Movie didn’t garner enough ratings to justify moving on to a series and the franchise remained dormant until 2005 when it was successfully revived on the BBC, still running to this day. As for Nimoy, his final feature film ended up being the 1994 comedy Holy Matrimony, followed up by directing an episode of the short-lived UPN sci-fi series Deadly Games in 1995.
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Nimoy as the Master actually would have been awesome. He would have been better than Eric Roberts, anyway.
Shatner would have been better than Eric Roberts.
Roberts was EXCELLENT as the Master. I can’t see either Shatner or Nimoy in the role. It would have been stunt casting and wildly off-character.
I would imagine that Nimoy’s Master would be similar to his Master Xehanort in Kingdom Hearts. He can do over-the-top menacing when he wants to.
Roberts’ performance has grown on me over the years, but I still think he’s the weakest part of that movie.
I watched this movie a while ago, when the new Who started. It’s bad. Nimoy avoided an unfixable stinker. But the crime is that Paul McGann would have made an excellent doctor and only got one more chance to play him in live action in the short film around the 5th Anniversary. It’s one of my favorites, short but sweet.
Night of the Doctor
Otherwise, McGann has done many audio plays as The Doctor, which I have not heard.
In the end, it’s good that Doctor Who didn’t take off in the US in 1996 (UK ratings were good). It would have had to be an American co-production, the series bible was messy for what they were going to do/remake. McGann was great, and the movie is an interesting slice of what bigger budget ’90s Who could have been, but apart from McGann, Ashbrook and the production values/music, it’s a mess.
He does deserve a mini-series comeback, I was hoping they’d give him one of the upcoming specials bridging the gap between Jodie Whittaker and Ncuti Gatwe.
There were some stupid parts of the TV Movie, but ultimately its not a bad episode of Doctor Who. McGann and Ashbrook were both great, and the story was a lot of fun. The plot didn’t really make any sense, but that was pretty typical for Doctor Who at that time.
I remember being very sick for months — a gallbladder operation during which I woke up while the procedure was being performed, and I still wonder if they did something else wrong or left something inside me, because I turned diabetic shortly thereafter — and this TV-movie is one of my vague, suffering, lay-there-watching-because-too-fatigued-to-turn-the-set-off memories of the period, along with FIRST KNIGHT, one Sean Connery movie I will never see again. I had only ever seen a couple hours of DR WHO before this — the first half-hour of the first Tom Baker series, which so turned me off that I only ever watched one other, a mildly enjoyable Peter Davidson segment — and this movie did nothing to engender interest. I honestly enjoyed the brief appearance of the previous doctor as he was killed off more than anything that followed.
The regeneration inclusion is great for fans who like things tied up, I did appreciate that. But for the sake of the movie it wasn’t the best thing perhaps. It establishes the Doctor is an alien but it delays when Paul McGann can start making an impression for quite some time!
There are some truly brilliant Tom Baker stories and his performances are mesmerizing IMO, but there’s a whole list of things one needs to accept to enjoy them ranging from the level of camp to outdated depictions of cultures, women etc. and shoddy production values, a reason why classic DW is usually best served up to kids (with some guidance) who remain fond of it for life.
You might like Jon Pertwee’s first story though, it was filmed entirely on 16mm film due to a production strike. The effect is that it has that gritty sheen of a 60s era move and looks great in HD.
They should have cut the opening with Sylvester McCoy from the US version and gone straight to the bit with the gangs in San Francisco and the TARDIS landing.
I’ve heard good things about Pertwee’s take, plus I’m a big film guy (which is why I can’t get into video-shot stuff I know I should like, such as I CLAUDIUS.) Plus, I think his kid is great in LOVE HONOUR AND OBEY (his intro in the film, tho he is a nasty gangster, is karaokeing the theme song to FIREBALL XL-5.)
wasnt Spielberg involved at one point too? (at least his company was) . have vague 90s memories of reading a tabloid newspaper or scifi magazine that Spielberg would direct a Dr Who movie starring either Nimoy or Hasselhoff or Pierce Brosnan. but those rumours obvously came from actual stuff that was happening at the time like this
but now the current tv show has sort of run its course the BBC should team up with a film studio to do a big budget british movie (like Bond and Potter) with like Johnny Depp or RDJ or Cumberbatch as the Doctor. and Ralph Fiennes or Gary Oldman or Hiddleston as the Master etc. Spielberg or Peter Jackson or Tim Burton directing
Yes, Spielberg’s pitch would have involved Spider Daleks. Here is the Amblin CG test footage:
Johnny Depp as the Doctor? Spielberg or Burton directing??
It hasn’t run its course.
A new Dr always means a new lease of life for the show, especially in a anniversary year
I would have loved to see Nimoy as a villain but I also would have hated one of his final movies being a stinker. I haven’t seen it but it sounds like the story was a stinker.
We’ll always have Galvatron…
It was best it didn’t go to series in the 90s as it meant BBC could get back the rights for a successful 2005 reboot
Maybe he could have elevated the material. But it would have been a stain on his career, bad ill conceived and ill received tv movie pilot for an American Doctor Who show. I’d glad it failed because we got the much better reboot/continuation with Eccleston who was excellent and then Tennant my favorite since Tom Baker, from the BBC. I also liked Matt Smith and Capaldi. McGann is good in the radio plays he should have been given a series despite the movie being awful.