Problems with the TV Movie
As much as I love the TV Movie for all its kitschy charm (and adorable Eighth Doctor footage), there definitely ARE some problems with it as well, and I'm not afraid to admit it! I've listed the problems and my analyses of them below, in no particular order:
The Doctor is Half-Human
This is the main problem that gets quoted ALL THE TIME, because "omg the Doctor is Gallifreyan through and through, they have never even hinted at him having mixed ancestry, ugh this makes the movie non-canon," etc.
Half-human ancestry, to me, is not as off-base as it seems, since there was and still is plenty of room to expand the Doctor's backstory and origins. Back during 1963-66 (William Hartnell's run), the Doctor was not technically defined as being Gallifreyan, only "alien" or possibly a human from another planet. It was only later that he was given his current Gallifreyan ancestry, and his two hearts to go with it. So I side-eye the "non-canon" critics pretty hard when they bring up this tired old issue. Doctor Who as a TV series has proven itself flexible enough to handle such retcons, and indeed has made a trademark out of such sweeping retcons in a way (see: regenerations to let actors jump out of roles when necessary).
However, I do think that the half-human point doesn't really make sense with the movie. It could have been left out of the plot altogether, except for a throwaway line delivered by the Master, saying that the Doctor could not open the Eye of Harmony because he was only half-human. The Master could not therefore use the Doctor to open the Eye of Harmony, and instead had to crash-land the TARDIS on Earth to find a human to open it. But with a couple extra plot tweaks, this could have been explained away differently. (Fun fact: from what I've read, the half-human ancestry was an artifact from an older script for the pilot, so that might explain why it was left in there.)
Romance Between the Doctor and a Companion
In 1996, Eight kissing Grace (not once but three times!), was the source of quite a bit of buzz--and consternation--among Classic Whovians. The Doctor had never behaved romantically with a companion in a canon way before (though certainly Whovians had their favorite fanfic ships even then). This occasionally gets brought up by Classic Whovians as a reason why they aren't as interested in the New Who series, because in New Who, there's quite a bit of romantic feelings at least implied between various companions and Doctors number Nine, Ten, and Eleven (with a little less in Twelve, as far as I know).
I can definitely understand why folks might not like the romance aspect. But one does have to admit, the romance does bring a little more--dare I say it--humanity into the Doctor's character. There's something to be said for not letting romance take over a show that is so science-fiction-based, but that oh-so-human connection brings a new dimension to the Doctor's struggles within himself and to his bonds with others. It all begins here with Eight and Grace, after his death and delayed regeneration...he's traumatized, has been robbed of everything, is in need of support, and Grace is the friendliest face he's seen yet (despite her accidental role in his death). No wonder that when he finally does recall his memories, he overruns with affection (companionate and romantic) for the one person who has helped him. I think he also comes to appreciate her as an equal in intelligence and skill, too, especially toward the film's end, after he's put trust in her to connect the Eye of Harmony to the TARDIS engine and she fulfills it so wonderfully. Isn't that a story that needs to be told, too--the stories of when the Doctor doesn't have all the answers and must depend on those he trusts?
Racist Stereotype: Chang Lee
At the beginning of the film, Chang Lee (whose very name is stereotypical) is in a gang in San Francisco's Chinatown, he and his friends (sort of) know kung-fu, and they get attacked by what appears to be a rival gang looking a lot like the Yakuza. That's four glaring, "generic Asian" stereotypes right there. Later on this gets amended, as Lee gets more character development (and reveals himself to have more backbone), but it does tend to leave a bad taste in one's mouth upon first viewing of the film.
Violently 90s Cinematography
Throughout the film, swift changing between characters' faces is used for drama, and there are also rapid flashes of light that are just this side of seizure-causing. This alone cheapens the film's look quite a bit, and distracts from the plot.
Rapid POV Switching
Much like the film's use of flashing between characters' faces, the point of view flip flops a lot, showing first the Doctor/Grace pair, then the Master/Chang Lee pair, back and forth, which can make it difficult to keep up with the overall timeline of the film. (In my opinion, this isn't a HUGE problem, but I can see how it could be a problem for other viewers.)
Downright STRANGE Things Happen
The Doctor getting accidentally killed on the operating table by a "top cardiologist"? ...
A wreck on an urban highway involving a random chicken truck? Uh, I guess, because 'Murica?
The Doctor kinda sorta borrowing a police officer's motorcycle after offering him a Jelly Baby? LOL, ok...
The TARDIS' open power source threatening to suck the planet inside out at midnight? SURE! That makes sense...NOT.
(LOL, sorry, had to use some 90s slang in there)
Seriously, though, this movie's plot never claims to make a whole heck of a lot of sense. It's almost a parody of 90s American movies in its way, with the car chase scene, wild special effects, laughable situations, and other utter ridiculousness that the Doctor has to navigate through. Even for Doctor Who, it's weird!!
The Sheer Number of Info-Dumps
Throughout the movie, there are several storytelling problems that arise. For me, the main issue is that there is so much history to impart and so little time to do it in...and so what results is "info-dumping," when a character onscreen has to explain what's going on to the others around them. McGann as the Doctor has to deliver a couple of info-dump lines, and Roberts as the Master has to do it once as well. It works, albeit clunkily--but there wasn't really a better solution, though, not when they were trying to pitch over 30 years of DW history in an hour and a half. (Thanks to the strength of the film's four main actors, though, it works better!)
The Movie Relies on Its Actors to Create Meaning
Many of the special effects, action shots, and even dialogue in the TV Movie wouldn't make much sense without the actors giving necessary subtext and non-vocal cues. To some extent this is true of every film, but I find this to be even more true in this case. Thankfully, there is an amazing cast carrying this heavy load--in particular McGann, because he has the added pressure of portraying the lead role, becoming the new Doctor onscreen. With hindsight, you can see how well he did, because we're still talking about Doctor Who and the TV Movie 20 years later!
Minor Body Horror
This is a minor point for me, but might be a major point for other viewers: the scene where the missing piece of Grace's cardiac probe works its way out of Eight's chest. There's no blood, but the small "exit wound" is visible for a few seconds onscreen. (I suppose it might not bother me much because I'm too busy thinking "hey, Eight with his shirt unbuttoned, I approve this content ♥", LOLOL)
It's Trying Too Hard to Be Doctor Who
The movie throws in a TON of references to the older TV series, like the Fourth Doctor's scarf in a hospital staff locker, Seven and Eight both using a Sonic Screwdriver, plus of course the iconic TARDIS and the equally classic Jelly Babies and the conflict between the Doctor and the Master. It's really cute and kitschy in small doses, but across the entire film, it almost has too many references--it's like America trying to represent British culture in a way, and failing because only real cultural natives can effortlessly represent their culture in media. (The same problem would arise if a British crew tried to make Star Trek, in my opinion.) The film at points feels like "OMG LOOK WE HAVE THE SCARF AND THE TARDIS AND THE SONIC SCREWDRIVER PLEASE LIKE THIS OK!!!!1!!1!"
But Wait, There's More!
I know I've cited a LOT of problems with the TV movie, but there ARE some great points to it as well! Click the link below for "Why The TV Movie DOESN'T Suck!"