Predicting Doctor Who finales is a high-risk strategy. I remember sticking my neck out a long time ago and declaring that Lucy Saxon was Rose or Romana in disguise. But the promises that “The Name of the Doctor” will be a game-changer of epic proportions does invite such speculation.
Will Matt Smith be quitting? Who will the mysterious Clara turn out to be? Theories abound.
I don’t propose to get metatextual about this. Instead, my predictions are based on commercial realities. Doctor Who seems to be on the verge of making it big in America. Mainstream, not cult, big. That kind of thing attracts big money and all the associated strings that come attached.
In the ill-fated but spasmodically brilliant Torchwood series ‘Miracle Day‘ we’ve already had a test run for a DW- universe series with a production team spanning the Atlantic. Some things about it were terrible, but the production values and writing input definitely had potential. Julie Gardner and Jane Espanson spring to mind as two high-profile people who could conceivably be very interested in a Stateside relaunch of Doctor Who. I’d also be willing to bet a significant sum on John Barrowman being involved. Glee, love it or loathe it, has blasted a trail for gay-friendly primetime TV. It would explain many things, including his vagueness on his involvement in the Anniversary Special and the future of the show as a whole.
But if I was a network executive having that pitched to me, I’d have real concerns. Too quirky, too English, too much weight of backstory, poor production value history, format not ideal for the one-hour-minus-commercial-breaks slot, insufficient movie potential and stories that are way too complicated. Then there’s the problem of the target audience. Kids or adults? Fans or mainstream?
So are we talking reboot? Quite possibly yes. If you buy the 12-regenerations theory, the Doctor’s coming to the end of his natural life cycle anyway. He’s gone most places, done most things, and it’s hard to think of anywhere further to go with him. Except back to square one. In fact, it seems to me that the main evidence in favour of my theory is the increasingly tired, desperate and played-out character of the current over-hyped Series 7b.
My money is on that happening, somehow, on the Fields of Trenzalore. And in the fullness of time, there will be a relaunch, with a lot of American production talent on board. Quite possibly a US show-runner. In a perfect world, Neil Gaiman would be offered the job. We can dream.
It’s even conceivable, likely indeed, that the BBC input will be minimal. And there will be movie deals on the table, you can bet on that.
But what about the English fanbase? What about the Anniversary Special, and the fact that as recently as this week, a new Executive Producer has been appointed by the BBC? Will he be moving to LA?
I think the key to that dilemma lies in the carefully timed clip released this week from the S7 Finale:
“The path I carved through time and space, from Gallifrey to Trenzalore. My own personal time tunnel, leading back to every moment I ever lived. Every step, every tear, every kiss. Even the days I haven’t lived yet.”
In those words lies the answer. It’s the perfect set-up for the British market. Even by the standards of recent DW publicity, the public setpieces of the filming of the Anniversary Special have been extremely staged. It’s a promotion, a reassurance if you like. David Tennant does not have a good track record of success on American TV, but the British public still can’t get enough of him. Matt Smith doing a Boris-type hanging stunt in Trafalgar Square – how British can you get? Filming with Tennant, a Zygon and a Queen Elizabeth I lookalike in a castle. Not to mention the high-profile announcement of Tennant and Piper’s return.
The main action reboots and crosses the pond (parden the pun). The BBC continues to make occasional crowd-pleasing Specials for the domestic market. More committed fans, who are willing to put their money where their mouth is, could have access to further material online. Big Finish have been doing it with audio, on subscription, for years. Don’t tell me the BBC haven’t been looking at that model. Put it together with House of Cards on Netflix, and you have a winner.
The potential is huge. For a start, you could get Tennant back. Heck, you could even get Tennant and Billie Piper back – just nip down the Time Tunnel and turn first left. You could find ways, digitally or otherwise, to revisit other eras, too. CG animation is pretty close to the point where Baker or Hartnell could be recreated, and CGI monsters look a helluva lot better than people in lame plastic suits. Matt Smith could stick around if he feels so inclined. . The possibilities are endless, the purists are kept content and a lot of people in Cardiff get to keep their jobs.
It would be nice if decisions like this were made on the basis of artistic integrity, but in fact that is rarely the case. It usually boils down to money. The Doctor will survive, in some form. And often, whatever the hardcore fanbase claims, these things work out better than you think.