“The very brilliant David Yates was talking off the cuff and a little prematurely: there simply are no developed plans for a Doctor Who movie at the moment. But it’s an incredibly exciting idea to get that magic blue box flying across our cinema screens, so stand by for further developments.
However, if and when the movie happens, it will need to star television’s Doctor Who – and there’s only every one of those at a time. And it would need to come out of the same production operation that makes the series. Doctor Who is a vitally important BBC brand with a huge international audience and not even Hollywood can start this one from scratch.
So sorry if there’s been any confusion, but on the plus side it has reminded us all what an exciting prospect this could be. Whatever happens, the BBC and BBC Worldwide will work together to ensure that we don’t just get a movie, we get the movie everyone wants. But keep asking me about it – maybe I’ll surprise you with an answer!”
- Steven Moffat
Six months or so since David Yates’s now seemingly infamous comments to Variety regarding his connection to a proposed Doctor Who film and possible reboot that caused the Internet to almost crash under the weigh of outraged and horrified Whovians…. and a Doctor Who feature film looks no closer to happening.
In fairness did anyone ever expect there to be any real weight to the prospect of a Doctor Who movie, let alone a reboot? At present Doctor Who is THE BBC flagship show and generates revenue form from around the world due to overseas sales. It is testament to the popularity of the show that there is now only a 24 hour delay between the screening of the latest episodes of the show in the United Kingdom and the rest of the world.
If it happens and this is a big IF then people can get concerned then but since Doctor Who is well established around the world, we doubt the BBC will make the mistake of radically shaking up the franchise. The time traveling Doctor, the blue police box and nasty aliens threatening the universe are more established now than ever. The majority of the target audience for such a film will be familiar with the character after 48 years on our screens – anyone who hasn’t by now been drawn into the show is unlikely to do so at the prospect of seeing Doctor Who for the first time on a big screen.
To put things into an historical context, whenever the popularity of Doctor Who has been at a huge level, the talk of a film has been ripe. Back in the mid to late 1970s when Tom Baker helped to make the show as popular as it has ever been, there were several attempts to produce some Doctor Who films with Baker himself even trying to help raise the funding. At one stage Tom Baker and Ian Marter tired to even write a film called “Doctor Who meets Scratchman”.
The premise of which would have seen the Doctor encounter the Daleks, meet a villain called Harry Scratch or Scratchman, robots known as Cybors and scarecrows made from bones. The finale of the film would have taken place on a giant pinball table, with the Doctor, Harry and Sarah dodging balls as well as battling Daleks on the board. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy author Douglas Adams worked as script editor on another aborted project called “Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen”, of which large elements were used for the third Hitchhikers book ‘Life, The Universe and Everything’.
Before anyone points out the 1996 Television move of Doctor Who that actually did happen it was a) a television movie so in fairness it is just an extra long episode and not designed for cinematic screens or shot in the same way and b) a pilot for a series that never happened so as much a ‘movie’, not unlike the first two episodes of Lost.
Oh and yes I had not forgotten about the two Peter Cushing films in the 1960s. These have two interesting elements, first of which is that they were based on two Dalek stories that had already screened on TV; the stories in question being 1963/4’s The Daleks and 1964’s The Dalek Invasion of Earth, with an eventually unrealised third proposed film being based on 1965’s television serial The Chase. This in particular brings me to the second element; these films were not really Doctor Who films trying to cash in with the popularity of the show. They were films cashing in on the popularity of the Daleks during the height of the 1960′s Dalekmania whilst there is a character called the Doctor Who is not the same Doctor/Character from the TV series but a version of him.
Historically films of ongoing television series have not fared that well. Particular examples include The X-Files film and the recent Simpsons film which were made and screened whilst the parent show were still on terrestrial television. In the case of the X-Files it felt very much like an extended episode with the extra budget being used for some big looking set pieces however did the extra money add anything that could not have been spent in a few more episodes on the TV show? Much of the same could be said for the Simpson’s film, which felt shorter by essentially being an extended Simpson episode but a not particularly good or funny one. The Simpson’s failed somewhat by wanting to appeal to an audience that may not have been familiar with the show and so let down its core audience, the X-Files cleverly targeting principally its core audience.
Star Trek in both its incarnations has successfully made the transition from television to film but in both cases the TV series had ended and so for fans to continue to consume the show, films were the only option available so by which they were prepared to do so. Sex in the City also was no longer an ongoing series when the girls hit the big screen, so its core audience have little choice but to embrace a film franchise if they want more stories with their beloved characters. Another factor in both these series is that shooting 24 or so episodes of a 45 minute show takes up a huge amount of the cast’s time on a day to day and annual basis. At some point the cast, naturally, are not going to wish to carry on with a punishing schedule and will also want to move on to different roles and challenges so as to avoid stagnation and type casting. This is not a problem doctor who has since the lead actors and supporting cast change on a regular basis.
Also by no longer being on TV the films were not going to affect canon but instead add onto it, mucking about with canon perhaps being the thing that riled and scared most Doctor Who fans about a film reboot. A horror that scared Red Dwarf fans about the long planned but thankfully never going to happen Red Dwarf film which would have been a reboot and retelling of the story from the beginning.
Red Dwarf has now moved on from the proposed film option and as I type a tenth series is on its way. A new series of Red Dwarf is unlikely to draw any substantial numbers of new viewers any more than a film reboot would have done.
Like Doctor Who it has a devoted following and for the best part of its TV history always had episodes and stories in which new people to the show could join and then seek out earlier stories and series. I draw the comparison between both stories, whilst acknowledging that Red Dwarf was an out and comedy initially, both shows married interesting and clever science fiction concepts with strong characters and have attracted a loyal and devoted fan base. I am not aware of any other comedy series that has such a successful convention circuit.
For a film that would vastly attract a new audience to the Doctor Who universe are fans going to be that happy to pay the price to see 2 hours of their favourite show at their local multiplex instead of being able to watch at home for free (or as part of their TV licence fee). Modern day Who in particular is a show for which iPlayer is ideal for since, in particular under Steven Moffat’s stewardship, it is a program that benefits and often requires episodes and stories to have repeated viewings. Fans could feel rightly aggrieved if they are forced to see a film version more than once at the not exactly cheap prices charged by the large multiplexes to get the full benefit of a well told and conceived story and given the thought and depth that current Doctor Who aims for it would be fair for fans to want a thoughtful, clever and interesting story in any film version as opposed to a something fluffier and more throw away. In fact any Doctor Who film would be more likely to make the money invested back through DVD sales than box office sales.
Could a Doctor Who film work whilst it is an ongoing television series, probably not and David Yates, Steven Moffat and the BBC know it. If one of the defining characteristics of the series since its return in 2005 has been the story arc and under Steven Moffat’s reign it appears to have been running a multiple series story arc, a film to fit with canon is a big challenge. Whilst Steven Moffat is a clever enough writer to think several series ahead, it is a lot to have a story developed for a film that will not be screened for 3 years that would follow on from the TV series shown prior to release and lead into the following series. For a show with such high expectation from its increasingly large core audience any film to fit in with ongoing canon, quality and fans expectations is a big, if almost impossible ask. Like the late 1970s any film speculation is merely a side affect of the show’s popularity and should be taken only as such.
If there was to a be a film that would open the series to a new audience and keep fans and canonicity happy then maybe it needs to take place in between already established events in the series history. Not that it will ever happen but if there was to be a Doctor Who story, one in need of big canvas to be told, one with the drama, heart break and action there has to be only one front runner Doctor Who: The Time War.