On the planet Skaro, the renegade Time Lord known as the Master is put on trial. He is found guilty, and sentenced to be exterminated by the Daleks. His last wish is for his remains to be returned to Gallifrey by his greatest enemy, the Doctor.
In the TARDIS, the Seventh Doctor locks the urn containing the Master's remains in a container, then settles in for the trip back to the Time Lords' planet. As he relaxes with a copy of The Time Machine by H.G. Wells and listens to a jazz record, he does not see the container shake and shatter. A gelatinous slug-like creature oozes out of the container and enters the TARDIS console, initiating an emergency landing. The Doctor finds that the Master's container is cracked open.
On 30 December 1999 in San Francisco, a Chinese-American teenager named Chang Lee is running from rival gang members. As Lee is about to be shot, a police box materialises in front of him. The Doctor steps out only to be shot by the startled gang. Lee finds the Doctor gravely wounded, unable to warn him about the slug-like creature oozing out of the TARDIS lock. Lee calls for an ambulance.
In the ambulance, Lee signs the paperwork that Bruce, the paramedic, gives him, putting the Doctor's name as "John Smith". The Doctor is wheeled into the operating theatre where his X-rays reveal two hearts which are racing wildly. The puzzled medical staff page the on-call cardiologist, Dr. Grace Holloway, who rushes back to the hospital.
As Grace operates, the Doctor tries to tell Grace that he is not human, and that he needs a beryllium atomic clock. The use of a cardiac probe goes wrong as Grace is unfamiliar with the Doctor's physiology. The Doctor goes into a seizure and flatlines. Grace demands to see the patient's X-rays, and is disturbed when she sees the two hearts and realizes it is not a double exposure as assumed.
Grace tells Lee that "Mr. Smith" is dead, and when Grace figures out that he does not really know the dead man, Lee takes the Doctor's belongings and runs off. Now past midnight on 31 December, the Doctor's body is put in the morgue refrigerator. In Bruce's house, the now cobra-like manifestation of the Master forces itself into Bruce's mouth, taking over his body.
In the mortuary, the Doctor regenerates into the Eighth Doctor, who rises from the gurney, disoriented and amnesiac. He pounds the door of the storage chamber off its hinges. Confused, he staggers into a disused section of the hospital, clad only in a sheet and the tag still on his toe. As dawn approaches, he dons pieces of costume for a New Year's Party that he finds in a locker.
The Master awakens in Bruce's body, saying that he needs to find the Doctor, and that the body will not last long. When Bruce's wife sees the green glow of his eyes, he kills her.
The hospital administrator burns the X-rays so that they can cover up the death of the patient causing Grace to threaten resignation. She leaves the hospital, followed by the Doctor, who in his confused state latches on to her as someone he recognizes. Suddenly the Doctor screams as he removes the remains of the cardiac probe from his chest. As the Doctor tells her that he has two hearts, Grace begins to realize that this might be the same man.
The Master goes to the hospital to find the Doctor's body but is told it is missing. A nurse tells "Bruce" that the Doctor's property is with the Asian youth. When Grace and the Doctor arrive at her home, she finds that her boyfriend has moved out and taken most of the furniture. Grace listens to the Doctor's chest and confirms that he has two hearts. The Doctor starts to remember details, saying that he was dead too long this time — the anaesthetic nearly destroyed the regenerative process. Grace is startled when he tells her about the dream she had as a child to hold back death, and that she will do great things.
In Chinatown, Lee uses the TARDIS key to enter the TARDIS, and is shocked when he sees its dimensionally transcendental interior. The TARDIS seems to respond to Lee, powering itself on when he touches the console. Somehow, the Master is already there, and hypnotises Lee into giving him the Doctor's belongings and believing that the Doctor is evil.
As Grace and the Doctor go for a walk, the Doctor remembers more details of his life: he is from Gallifrey, and remembers a meteor storm he saw with his father. In the TARDIS Cloister Room, the Master uses Lee's retinal pattern to open the Eye of Harmony. As it opens, the Doctor's memories return and he kisses Grace in joy.
The Eye projects images, first of the Seventh Doctor, then the Eighth and his human retinal structure. The Master concludes that the Doctor is half-human. The Doctor senses that the Master has opened the Eye and that will enable him to see through the Doctor's eyes. He shuts them, but not before the Master spots Grace. The Doctor tells Grace that the Master wants to force him to look into the Eye, so that the Doctor's soul will be destroyed and the Master can take his body. He explains that if the Eye is not closed, the planet will soon be sucked through it, and that he needs an atomic clock to fix the timing mechanism on the TARDIS to prevent this. They have until midnight.
Grace, believing the Doctor to be insane, calls for an ambulance to take the Doctor away. The Doctor convinces her that the molecular structure of the planet is changing by walking through her picture window. The Master hears all this; he and Lee drive the ambulance to Grace's house. On the television, the Doctor sees reports of weather patterns changing around the world, and then a report of an event showcasing the unveiling of an atomic clock at the San Francisco Institute of Technological Advancement and Research.
The Master arrives but the Doctor does not recognize him. They ask him to take them to the Institute. During the journey, the Master's alien eyes are inadvertently revealed. The Doctor takes a fire extinguisher and fires it in the Master's face as he spits burning, bile-like venom at them, hitting Grace in the wrist. Grace and the Doctor escape from the ambulance. The Doctor commandeers a police motorcycle by threatening to shoot himself. The ambulance, driven by Lee, races the Doctor and Grace on the motorcycle towards the Institute.
Grace and the Doctor mingle at the Institute reception, introducing the Doctor as "Doctor Bowman" from London, but are blocked from entering the room containing the clock. They manage to sneak in anyway, and the Doctor removes the timing chip. To escape the Master, the Doctor triggers the fire alarm as he and Grace head for the roof, descending to the ground using a fire hose. They get back on the motorcycle and ride back to Chinatown.
They gain access to the TARDIS with the spare key the Doctor keeps in a cubbyhole above the 'P' in the "POLICE BOX" sign. As they enter, they hear the cloister bell signalling disaster. The Doctor installs the beryllium chip into the console and closes the Eye, but it has been open too long. The only way to prevent the destruction of Earth is to go back before the Eye was opened, but the TARDIS is out of power. The Doctor proposes directing residual power from the Eye directly into the time rotor, jump starting the TARDIS, but, before this is done, the Master's venom takes effect on Grace and she knocks the Doctor out.
The Doctor wakes up in the TARDIS cloisters, strapped down. He tries (apparently) unsuccessfully to convince Lee that the Master has been lying to him. The Master changes into Gallifreyan garb. Grace, still possessed by the Master, chains the Doctor on the upper balcony, attaching to his head a metal harness designed to keep his eyes open while he stares into the Eye of Harmony. The Master tries to get Lee to open the Eye but makes a slip which makes Lee realize the Master has lied. The Master breaks Lee's neck, and uses Grace to open the Eye instead.
The glow from the Eye focuses onto the Doctor and the Master, linking them both, and starts to transfer the Doctor's regenerations to the Master. The Doctor shouts for Grace to go to the console room and divert the power to start the TARDIS or everyone will die. Grace manages to connect the wires just as the clock strikes midnight. The time column starts to move and the TARDIS goes into a temporal orbit, suspending everything at the moment of destruction. Grace then tries to free the Doctor from his chains but the Master pushes her over the side of the balcony and kills her.
Battling with the Doctor over the Eye of Harmony, the Master is sucked into the Eye, seemingly destroyed. The clocks on the TARDIS continue ticking backwards, and a glow from the TARDIS washes over the bodies of Grace and Lee, bringing them back to life as the Eye closes once more. The Doctor then resets the console and brings them back to 31 December, just before the stroke of midnight in San Francisco, and time proceeds again as normal.
Back in San Francisco, Lee returns the Doctor's things to him. The Doctor tells Lee not to be around next Christmas, and the teen leaves. The Doctor asks Grace to go with him, but she declines, saying that she's not afraid of life any more. The Doctor kisses her goodbye, and enters the TARDIS, which then dematerializes. The Doctor settles back in his chair in the console room, picks up the book he was reading earlier, replays the record, and heads off for further adventures.
Then, the movie ends, with the record skipping again, much to the Doctor's dismay.
Doctor Sylvester McCoy (Seventh Doctor)
Paul McGann (Eighth Doctor)
Companion Daphne Ashbrook (Dr.Grace Holloway)
Eric Roberts – The Master
Yee Jee Tso – Chang Lee
John Novak – Salinger
Michael David Simms – Dr. Swift
Eliza Roberts – Miranda
Dave Hurtubise – Professor Wagg
Dolores Drake – Curtis
Catherine Lough – Wheeler
William Sasso – Pete
Joel Wirkkunen – Ted
Jeremy Radick – Gareth
Bill Croft – Motorcyclist Policeman
Mi-Jung Lee – News Anchor
Joanna Piros – News Anchor
Dee Jay Jackson – Security Man
Gordon Tipple – The Old Master
Writer Matthew Jacobs
Director Geoffrey Sax
Script editor None
Producer Peter V. Ware
Executive producer(s) Philip David Segal
Jo Wright (for the BBC)
Production code 50/LDX071Y/01X
Series Television movie
Length 85 mins (UK)
89 mins (US)
Originally broadcast: 12 May 1996 (Canada)
14 May 1996 (USA)
27 May 1996 (first UK)