Doctor In Distress

Starting from scratch, and brand confidence: two reasons why Doctor Who fans… well, this Doctor Who fan at any rate… might be perturbed by this evening’s announcement concerning the development of a new big screen adaptation to be directed by the excellent David Yates.

I love the fact that Doctor Who is one big story that has run for 48 years, regenerating through genres, eras and styles with an unearthly youthfulness. It’s a shame that David Yates, who directed Paul Abbott’s superb political thriller State of Play and did wonderful things with the latter half of the Harry Potter franchise, feels that “Russell T. Davies and then Steven Moffat have done their own transformations, which were fantastic, but we have to put that aside and start from scratch.” This isn’t the first time this has happened: when the show found its first success it was just 2 years before a cinema version was released rebooting the TV continuity by making the Doctor human and recasting companions Ian, Barbara and Susan. Following the 2005 revival it’s taken 6 years to announce a movie, and it’ll apparently be a further 2 to 3 years in the planning. The first movie was successful enough to spawn a single sequel, presumably BBC Worldwide are banking on this one doing better than that. But even though this isn’t the first time a “fresh start” has been made with the Doctor Who concept, I find it difficult to get invested in. Compare this, to, say, the 1996 made for TV movie which despite being essentially a pilot for Fox in the US was so dedicated to the continuation of the original show it began with the regeneration of Sylvester McCoy (very probably to its detriment in terms of attracting new audiences). Despite the poor regard it seems to be held in, I still enjoy that far more than the Peter Cushing movies of the ’60s. I’d watch anything David Yates directed, but now the Doctor is back on TV there’s no additional appeal in it being a Doctor Who movie (perhaps the opposite, even). There’s something about the continuity of the show that means it will be judged on more than just how good a film it is.

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The other reason to be fearful is what it says about the BBC’s confidence in Doctor Who that they’re willing to dilute the brand in this way. Since the early summer, Private Eye have been running stories filled with innuendo about the BBC’s slicing away at its commitment to the show, with the next 14 episodes commissioned to be spread far more thinly beyond 2012. Eminent Doctor-Who-ologist Matt Hills fears it might even mean suspending the TV series.

The concern is rooted in the fact that a large part of Doctor Who‘s current success is in its revenue raising merchandising and branded spin-offs, and to have two different versions of the show trying to cash in on the same market would be very… weird. So whether or not the TV series continues, to be contemplating a movie suggests that the BBC are willing to risk the TV series and everything it earns for them to take a punt on trying to break into blockbuster cinema. It seems an awfully long-shot to me, and I can’t escape the conclusion that the BBC no longer value the Doctor Who brand as highly as they did a couple of years ago.

I sincerely hope I’m wrong. We don’t want another charity single.

Photo: Doctor Who and a Dalek with the TARDIS by Camera Wences CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

About Simon Wood

E-learning officer, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more…

2 thoughts on “Doctor In Distress

  1. I seem to remember that there was a lot of fear and negativity surrounding the news of what would become the 2005 series. My ‘fear’ about this new movie is that a rebooted Doctor Who could be an amazing thing to behold, but there are countless ways it could be done badly. Of course, even if it’s truly excellent, there will still be those who hate it.

    Putting the BBC show on pause strikes me as a distinct possibility. I have no insider knowledge on this, but I think ratings may be in decline. Certainly, the show doesn’t seem to have the influence it once did: The Christmas specials used to be epic two-parters, but now they are single episodes; the Children in Need specials were magnificent little stories in their own right, but the last one was reduced to a raffle. My theory is that the show has become too smart for a mass audience. A break may be a good thing.

    1. I try to resist the negativity. I was certainly delighted at the news of the 2005 series. And I love David Yates’ work, so I’m excited at the prospect of anything from him. But that would be true, of course, even if it wasn’t Doctor Who.

      The show does seem to have less influence, but it’s hard to put my finger on why it seems so. Perhaps it’s the Private Eye stories. I find it hard to believe the BBC (unlike the Daily Fail) place too much importance on the overnight ratings (I presume it’s these that you refer to as declining – the consolidated ratings are holding up, aren’t they?) And the only two-part Christmas special was in the year of specials, and it wasn’t very Christmassey, the four previous Christmas episodes were one parters of around the same length as The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe. Yet I share your feeling that the show has less influence at the BBC. My theory is that it’s not actually a decline in influence, but that the turmoil in the production team means it’s being weilded less effectively. Without Julie Gardner there isn’t the same powerful advocate for the show, with Piers Wenger and Beth Willis leaving Steven Moffatt is having to provide the continuity. But he’s got to find time to write the thing, as well.

      Regarding smart shows, I have an alternate theory that it is possible for a smart show to achieve popularity, the televisual equivalent to President Bartlett beating guvn’or Ritchie. But that may be wishful thinking, owing a lot to the fact that I’m enjoying Doctor Who more than ever before: I thought the last series was the most consistent in its history and it contained one of my favourite epsiodes. Still, it is unashamed about getting complex and yet the ratings are holding up, so maybe it is possible? Certainly, like every Doctor Who fan, I’m wary of a break. It didn’t do the show much good in the ’80s, merely postponing the inevitable as well as prompting that terrible single…

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