A star rating of 5 out of 5.

Just over 25 years ago, the Doctor Who 1996 TV movie debuted – from the minds of producer Philip Segal and writer Matthew Jacobs, it was a last-chance effort to save the show. Their ideas were ambitious, Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor was an inspired choice, and in many ways, the creative risks taken paved the way for some of the Russell T Davies revival’s greatest moments – but it wasn’t enough.


Reception was mixed at best – many decried Jacobs for his treatment of the Doctor, not only revealing the Time Lord to be half-human but also introducing a spark of romance with Daphne Ashbrook’s companion, Grace Holloway. (Given everything that’s followed, it’s hard to imagine now just how much a simple kiss could rile up the fandom.)

Ever since, the Eighth Doctor and his associates were stuck in a state of limbo – at first, no one knew where the TV movie sat on the timeline or if it even had a place. What’s more, those involved were unsure as to whether the fanbase would be willing to embrace them.

Understanding the TV movie’s place in the fandom is Matthew Jacobs’s objective in Doctor Who Am I. Co-directed by Jacobs and longtime-friend Vanessa Yuille, it chronicles his first experiences with the convention circuit, spotlighting the dedication of Doctor Who fans and the unique community that has sprung up around the show – but the film also explores how, just like The Doctor himself, Jacobs goes through his own transformation.

What’s important to understand is that this is not a chronicle of the TV movie’s development – although a myriad of the original cast and crew appear, Jacobs and Yuille are instead seeking to explore the TV movie’s evolving legacy over the past two decades.

More like this
Doctor Who Am I
Doctor Who Am I Strike Media

Jacobs takes lengths to push the focus of the documentary off of him, and onto the remarkable fans they encounter – there’s a touching humility to how Jacobs carries himself throughout much of Doctor Who Am I, including politely sitting through a fan’s half-joking beratement of some of the TV movie’s finer details.

But try as he might, Jacobs’s story is too fascinating not to explore – just as we discover each fan’s personal connection to the show, so do we begin to understand the complex emotional entanglement Jacobs has.

His father, Anthony Jacobs, was an actor who appeared in First Doctor serial The Gunfighters, and Matthew’s recollection of his day on the set begins to reveal that he’s perhaps much closer to this fantastical franchise than he has initially let on.

Every time that he attempts to distinguish himself from the typical Whovian fan, a moment occurs, or a memory is shared that betrays that deception – what begins to reveal itself is that this journey into the convention circuit is more than just an exploration of the TV movie’s legacy, but in fact a document of Jacobs attempting to understand his own complicated relationship with the show.

One of Doctor Who Am I’s most endearing qualities is its complete lack of ego – Jacobs’s heart-to-heart with Paul McGann as the two reflect on their own anxieties around the fandom’s responses, with McGann serving as a kind of Yoda to Jacobs’s Luke Skywalker, demonstrates just how seriously each of them takes their participation in Doctor Who. Both have come to realise this is much more than than just a job – it’s a vibrant, sprawling community that’s as closely-knit as Tom Baker’s scarf.

Despite its specific rooting in Doctor Who fandom, there’s an inherent universality to Jacob’s personal journey that anyone will be able to relate to. It’s clear that Doctor Who Am I understands that one’s fannish obsession can serve as a form of emotional therapy, allowing us to decode ourselves through the emblems and figures that we latch ourselves onto.

Jacobs’s unflinching openness proves especially moving as the doc reaches its denouement – there’s a hugely intimate moment as Jacobs reacts to a group of fans delivering a birthday cake to McGann that genuinely brought a tear to my eye.

Doctor Who Am I
Doctor Who Am I Strike Media

There’s also a resounding maturity to Doctor Who Am I’s approach to fandom, with many different faces and voices given their moment to explain how the show has looked after them, or given them something to live for whether that be a passionate network of like-minded individuals, or in Jacobs’s case, the ability to honour a familial legacy.

In its final moments, you begin to understand the importance of this documentary to both Matthew and Vanessa – for Vanessa, it was a chance to help a close friend gradually find closure; for Matthew, it allowed him to come to terms with something he thought he’d begun 25 years ago, but in fact had been carrying with him since that day on The Gunfighters’ set.

Doctor Who Am I is a beautiful rarity of a documentary – its extraordinary journey creates a tale that is both remarkably specific and yet universally understood. That would never have been possible without Jacobs’s willingness to be so totally vulnerable, allowing us to watch an incredible transformation that may be as close to a real-life regeneration as you can get.

Read more:

Doctor Who Am I is out now in UK cinemas, and on Blu-ray, DVD & digital download from 28th November.

Doctor Who is available to stream on BBC iPlayer with episodes of the classic series also available on BritBox – you can sign up for a 7-day free trial here. Check out more of our Sci-Fi coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.


The latest issue of Radio Times magazine is on sale now – subscribe now and get the next 12 issues for only £1. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to the Radio Times View From My Sofa podcast.