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Why Doctor Who Fans Should Watch The 2000 Dungeons & Dragons Movie

Before Lord of the Rings became the standard-bearer for successful fantasy adaptations, the live-action fantasy genre was not doing well. While the 1980s produced films like Willow, Krull, and The Neverending Story, which are all seen as classics now, most of them were not critical or financial successes at the time. Fantasy movies were anything but a guaranteed moneymaker.

However, despite reluctance from studios to put their support behind fantasy films in the 1990s, there was one film which found its way to theaters in 2000 after a decade of struggle: Dungeons & Dragons. Dungeons & Dragons is perhaps the only other property in the world of fantasy which rivals Lord of the Rings in the cultural zeitgeist. Whether you play it yourself or not, you have at the very least heard of the table-top roleplaying game created by Gary Gygax. At the very least, you've seen it played on Stranger Things

One other thing you've likely heard of before whether you watch it or not is Doctor Who. In the process of casting the film adaptation of Dungeons & Dragons, it was decided that a critical role would be played by arguably the most well known actor to play the Doctor: Tom Baker.

That time Doctor Who was an elf

Let's get the tough honesty portion of the conversation out of the way, shall we? Dungeons & Dragons the movie is not well-liked nor was it the financial success its investors were hoping for. All in all, it was a movie both studio execs and fans would like to forget. The film rests at a 10% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and it didn't even break even on its $45 million budget. People joke that the CGI is similar in quality to that of a low-budget '90s video game, that the acting is considered over-the-top, and that the writing is derivative.

Twenty years later, though, you might wonder whether or not there is a reason to visit (or revisit) this much-maligned entry in the world of fantasy cinema, and the answer to that question is a full-throated, "provisionally, yeah, maybe." There are a few things that are interesting, but probably the most noteworthy reason to watch Dungeons & Dragons is because Tom Baker, the Doctor with the good scarf, makes a cameo in the flick as an elf named Halvarth.

The mark of any great actor is watching how they elevate less-than-stellar scripting. Tom Baker transforms what is essentially an info dump about how magic works into something that might actually make you think Dungeons & Dragons is a good movie. You might even get chills. Of course, the scene is only two and a half minutes long so no one can blame you if you're wondering, as a Doctor Who fan, if there's any other reason why Dungeons & Dragons is worth seeing.

The fun of Dungeons & Dragons is in its context

Doctor Who aired its original classic series from 1963 through to 1989 before returning in 2005 with a new series, which remains ongoing — that's a lot of episodes of television. As you might imagine, not every episode of Doctor Who represents a gold standard in televisual storytelling, but the universe of Doctor Who is so fascinating that fans find enjoyment even in the schlocky stuff.

Dungeons & Dragons can be enjoyed in a similar way. There's a surprising pedigree and backstory to the film. Dungeons & Dragons took a decade to get made, and, during that time, some interesting things happened. The film's director Courtney Solomon (with a little help from legendary producer Joel Silver) made Dungeons & Dragons the biggest-budget independent film as of its release despite copyright holder TSR's reservations.

Producer Mark Leahy's wanted to make the film as "ethnically diverse" as possible. While the desire to diversify casting is pretty common now, it's notable that there were multiple Black actors in Dungeons & Dragons and that they weren't cast as orcs, which was a rarity at the time. In fact, that's probably the only point in Dungeon & Dragon's favor when compared with Peter Jackson's adaptation of Lord of the Rings.

And then there's the cast. Thora Birch, who was hot off the heels of a huge success with American Beauty, accepted the part of Empress Savina specifically to get out from under the weight of the serious drama from director Sam Mendes. Richard O'Brien has a cameo as Xilus basically because everyone loved him as Riff-Raff in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And legendary actor Jeremy Irons came on board to chew the scenery at the behest of Joel Silver.

Ultimately, Dungeons & Dragons is not a good movie, but just like a bad episode of Doctor Who, the more you know about the making-of, the more enjoyable the film becomes in context.