The Eighth Doctor, portrayed by Paul McGann, has been widely critisized, and with good reason. He only makes one "real" appearance in TV canon (later appearing as a sketch in John Smith's diary and using old footage in The Next Doctor and The Eleventh Hour), and this appearance has many marked flaws. Doctor Who: The Movie suffers from being a direct-to-TV movie made in 1996, and given the absence of Doctor Who at the time (it went onto hiatus in 1989 and did not return in TV episode format until 2005) much question was given as to the canonicity of this movie, which wasn't resolved untl John Smith's diary showed the Eighth Doctor. As a result, McGann is only really known for this single appearance, a failed back-door pilot by Fox to bring Doctor Who to America, and what a flop it was. Note: For two reasons, I'm going to ignore radio dramas, books, and comics for two reasons. 1) They are not generally considered to be canon, and 2) I know little about them anyway.
I'm going to get the conventional criticism out of the way first, as it has been oft-repeated by many. Firstly, the writing is horrendous. There aren't really any great lines in this movie, and many of them are just not realistic for conversation. And then there's the plot. First, the most glaring: The Doctor claims he is half-human on his mother's side. I can only imagine the fan rage when that sentence was uttered...twice. This apparently proves relevant, because the Doctor's TARDIS--designed by the Time Lords on Gallifrey, who have little to no connection to Earth other than the Doctor and the Master--will only open the Eye of Harmony when it sees a human retina. And apparently the Eye of Harmony of a single TARDIS can destroy the entire universe (an overexaggeration repeated in the Eleventh Doctor adventure The Pandorica Opens). And the Master can turn into this jelly-snake after being killed by what sounds like Daleks underwater on the planet of Skaro which apparently was NOT destroyed in the Seventh Doctor adventure "Remembrance of the Daleks"?
But of course the biggest flaw of all is the treatment of the greatest Doctor ever, Sylvester McCoy (I may be slightly biased). Including him in the script adds legitimacy to the movie, as unlike the Doctors of Rowan Atkinson, Richard Grant, Jon Pertwee, and Christopher Eccleston, we actually see the regenration and thus establishes at least a bit of canonicity. The Seventh Doctor gets very few lines, which while disappointing is understandable given the need to move on to the Eighth Doctor and really get the movie going. However, the Seventh Doctor does not appear with any of his usual flair and characteristics. No tipping of the hat, swinging the umbrella, rolling the "r"s, or pullover adorned with question marks. Instead, we have a very somber Doctor who lives a cushy life on board his TARDIS. There are many instances of fan service in this movie, ranging from jelly babies to gold dust (for fighting Cybermen), but this one was oddly muted.
But like I said, many have blasted this movie very thoroughly, and my main goal is to point out the subtext that often gets missed in all the fan rage. Throughout the last half-century, the Doctor has fought with everything from demigods to what may or may not have been Satan himself. As a result, he has been often compared to gods, particularly during the Seventh and Eleventh Doctor's eras. This movie takes this idea and runs with it.
Let's start at the first appearance of the Seventh Doctor on Earth. In typical 90s movie fashion, there's a gang fight in San Francisco. Chang Lee's hooligan friends have been gunned down, so Lee decides it would be a great idea to leave cover and walk right out into the gunfire of four rival gang members. As they're about to gun him down, a gust of wind distracts them and Lee looks to the sky, arms outstretched, as a bright light appears. The TARDIS lands in front of Lee, taking gunfire from the four without a scratch. Starting to see it yet?
The Doctor steps out of his TARDIS and promptly gets shot in the arm and leg and falls unconscoius. I love this scene because of this simplicity. No flashbacks to all of the companions that the Fourth Doctor ever traveled with, no whiny emo Tenth Doctor drawn out for several episodes, just bang-bang-Doctor's down. Quick and to the point so that the Seventh Doctor can get out of the way (sniff...) and the movie can really begin. Granted, it isn't this that actually triggers the regeneration cycle, but it leads up to it and certainly prevents a melodramatic death scene...or at least it could have.
Chang Lee hurries out, checks on one of his dead friends (but not the other; guess he didn't like that guy) before checking the seemingly-gibberish-babbling Doctor and claiming he will get an ambulance for him (and miraculously one appears in seconds without him even calling!). Taken to the hospital under the name John Smith with the stereotypical "rush them into the E.R. with loads of people just standing in the hallway" sequence, they seem to think that the two hearts that show up on the X-ray are a fluke and call in cardiologist Grace Holloway (introduced as "her amazing Grace"). Somehow I doubt that name's just chance. They accidentally kill the Doctor by sticking a probe where it doesn't belong (thinking he's human) with overly dramatic opera music by Puccini playing in the background.
Fast forward a bit, and the religious symbolism takes off. First we see the Master appearing as a demonic cobra (seriously, what?) before possessing the paramedic. The the regenrtation sequence. A major part of Doctor Who canon is that fact that "a Time Lord can live forever, barring accidents", but they are limited to twelve regenration cycles. The Doctor breaks down the door and appears bathed in light and wrapped in a white sheet to glorious music, to which the mortician on duty promptly exclaims "Oh my God! God, no!" and faints, thus giving the Eighth Doctor his resurrection scene. The Eighth Doctor then wanders around humming Puccini and wanders into a sort of wrecked greenouse full of mirrors where rain is falling in (that's gotta violate a health code) and falls to his knees screaming "Who am I?" before wandering out and donning part of a Wild Bill Hitchcock costume while Grace and the mortician discuss the break-out, with Grace commenting "You know, somehow I don't think the second coming is going to happen here."
Seeing the subtext yet? It continues. Plot pretends to happen, blah blah blah, Brain leaves Grace (insert Life of Brian religion analogy joke here), Doctor has his hearts examined by Grace, Lee stumbles into the most beautiful TARDIS yet (and greatest reaction to it being bigger on the inside) and is found by the Master, and Grace leaves her microscope light on when she leaves (the SHAME). The Doctor recants his memories and really starts to develop his personality, which I argue has a lot of potential when the backdrop of this movie is removed. The Master makes comments to Lee about "this is all mine until he stole it from me" and delves deep into the TARDIS into a cathedral-like room (with windows and dead leaves...?) and the Master realizes the Doctor is half-human, and Grace asks the Doctor if the Master is the Devil.
Ah yes, the ever-present "half human on my mother's side" thing. While this comment has drawn A LOT of scorn, it becomes much more interesting when looking at this movie through a religious perspective. Half-human on the mothers side: Mary was Jesus's mother. Huh. The reason for this line suddenly makes a lot more sense. Not enough to quell the rage of the fans, but at least there's a REASON for the stupid line.
Anyway, the Master throws up on Grace, burning her hand, then later possessing her (the Devil made me do it?). The Master then forces a crown with a bunch of nails (thorns) onto his head in an attempt to steal his remaining lives. When Grace stops this plan, the Master seems to become the Beast, emitting growls that no human body should ever make, and the two have their showdown. As the Master is being sucked into the Eye of Harmony, the Doctor offers him a chance at redemption. The Master refuses, and is sucked into the bowels of the TARDIS (which gives it indigestion), and Lee and Grace are miracuously brought back to life as the "pit to hell" closes.
All of this, combined with the traditional (if somewhat inaccurate) image of the long-haired Jesus-Doctor gives a different perspective to an oft-hated movie. Granted, the movie itself still stinks and fans have reasons for bashing it (if nothing else, it opened up the opportunity for Rose to have a relationship with the Doctor...ugh), but at least there's SOMETHING to this one. And while the plot may leave something to be desired, at least they were subtle about the religious subtext, as opposed to the Sixth Doctor's era where the subtext of being a vegetarian was blatantly promoted...