By Alex Orona
Of all the ongoing Doctors in the long running Doctor Who series, there is one black sheep in the bunch that is Paul McGann. He was introduced in a made for TV American Fox movie that was meant as a backdoor pilot to a new reboot series. Written and produced by Matthew Jacobs, a British writer/actor/producer/director, who’s previous credits included The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and The Emperor's New Groove. During the 2022 Chicago Tardis Convention (celebrating all things Doctor Who,) a new documentary was screened: Dr. Who Am I, chronicling Matthew Jacob’s return to the fandom that had universally turned their backs on him in 1996.
Jacobs’ love of Dr Who began early on, when his father played Doc Holliday during the original first doctor run back in 1966. It’s a story retold more than a few times throughout the documentary, as Matthew was present on set during the filming. This gives him personal stake in the fandom, when he comes to write the fateful movie in. Unfortunately, with his film, he commits some cardinal sins of classic Dr Who tropes that have generally offended the more devout enthusiasts These sins include putting the Doctor in America and giving him a romantic love interest. These were things that were always and still are taboo in the series.
As of right now, enough time seems to have passed, that the fanbase hate has moved on to whatever else is in the zeitgeist and the 8th Doctor is seen only as an oddity. So Jacobs’ timing is perfect for a return to conventions everywhere. Regrettably, his personality seems defensive and standoffish when it comes to criticism of his work. There’s little regret, nor does he feel like he should answer for the abhorrent response the film received.
While it’s okay to want to move past a regrettable piece of art, there are moments in the documentary where Jacobs fires back at the fans themselves, criticizing their lifestyles and using fandom as escapism. Although the documentary has chosen an interesting subject matter in Matthew Jacobs, I felt like he didn’t do a lot to make himself come off as redemptive but instead as someone finally ready to argue with the ones that hated his work. You can’t help but find Jacob’s as dislikable at points in the film. More confused as to why fans don’t just “get over” his movie and move on with their lives.
Outside of the return to fandom, the film’s secondary story is one of Jacobs’ return to those that were involved in the film itself. Not unlike an alcoholic seeking those he’s wronged, he meets up with the actors and producers on the film discussing the process of making it. Reliving the good ol’ days and discussing the culture around their film as a whole. At some points, Matthew digs into how some people had totally abandoned him during the backlash, only to reconnect in a nonchalant way. I wouldn’t say it felt forced, but the rekindling of these relationships didn’t carry as much emotional weight as the film makers may have wanted. The actors and producers seem to show a love and humble understanding for the fan reaction, Jacobs is all too keen to dismiss the criticism as anything other than overblown misunderstanding of art.
In the end, Dr Who Am I is a solid look into the creation of one of the weirder segments of Doctor Who history. It provides a glimpse into the creation, intent and history while also humanizing those involved in its creation. Matthew Jacobs, on the other hand, is quick to push back against the fans that make up the Dr Who culture. Despite the warm welcome back into fan conventions, it’s clear Jacobs still has a chip on his shoulder regarding his art and lacks an emotional arc throughout. By film's end, Matthew admits that he has learned nothing from his experience that he would rather be worshiped than worship. Kudos to Matthew Jacobs and his co-director Vanessa Yuille for being honest in the film's portrayal. It’s an authentic look at an jaded director’s return to the fanbase that shunned him. Matthew may be flawed but his story is an interesting piece of Whovian history for sure.