Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Calm Down! It's Not The End of the World! DOCTOR WHO in 2012

Mark Twain once said 'a lie can travel round the world before the truth is still putting its shoes on', and indeed thanks to the internet that is truer than ever before. Just look at the howls of outrage echoing around the digital playground this very morning, with assorted geeks spewing a toxic mix of tears and bile over the 'news' that there won't be a series of Doctor Who in 2012...

...Note the punctuation there folks! This is 'news' not fact. Firstly  just last week the BBC announced that it was commissioning 14 new episodes and Matt Smith was contracted to appear in them. And as for today's revelations, the truth of the matter is as follows (quoted from The Doctor Who News Page) -
Speaking at the Church and Media Conference this afternoon, Cohen's comments were relayed via Twitter, with BBC Merseyside's Religious Editor Wayne Clarke reporting: "Danny Cohen says there won't be a full series of Doctor Who in 2012, but a special run for the anniversary in 2013". The BBC's Entertainment Correspondent Liza Mzimba confirmed the comments this evening, adding that other reported comments by Cohen on the decision being made to enable head writer Steven Moffat more time to write his other hit series Sherlock were light-hearted and not meant to be taken seriously.
Now the key phrase here is 'not returning for a full series'. No one is saying the show's on hiatus, or being cancelled. All we know for sure is that there are 14 more episodes on order and that we have no details on how many are going to air in 2012.  It's also important to note that Cohen is promising 'a special run' in 2013 which will see the show turning 50.

So before we flood the hospital emergency rooms with injuries caused by excessive knee-jerking, can everyone stop over reacting now?

Yes, I know it's galling to think we may be getting less Who next year, but honestly this isn't a replay of the McCoy years where the BBC sought to smother the show (see here for the full gory story) . Doctor Who is one of its flagship titles, with high audience appreciation scores, and regularly making the top twenty in the weekly ratings, and often the only non soap/reality tosh in the line up to boot. And those figures don not include the iPlayer figures which are extremely sizeable these days. And indeed these large numbers watching on catch-up that don't count towards the ratings score is very significant. 

As I have noted before, every year lazy hacks start running stories claiming the show is trouble as the ratings numbers slide as each season progresses and completely fail to note that every damn show on UK TV loses viewers as the summer starts and people are out and about more and off on holidays. But hey, why check the facts when it would kill and easy and attention grabbing story about one of the nation's favourite programme?

Now what we have to remember is that Doctor Who has the Easter to summer slot because before it was brought back to our screens, no one expected it to be the smash hit it is now. Hence it got less than prestigious place in the yearly schedule at a time when audience figures are dwindling across the board. 

But now the show is back and has a firm place in the nation's hearts, many fans have been wondering for a while why the BBC hasn't moved the show to a slot later in the year. Aside from the fan perspective that it is inherently wrong to be watching Who with sun streaming in through the windows, it would surely make more sense to screen it in the autumn where the largest audiences roam free. And indeed many, myself included, suspected that Tenant's last year of four specials would provide the break in the established routine to move the show. 

However seeing how it is only in the last two years that iPlayer figures have been released alongside the usual ratings and audience appreciation scores, I'm guessing that it is only now that Auntie Beeb's suits can see that the figures swell considerably when catch-up viewers are added and there is proof positive that moving the show to the autumn would pay off in ratings terms. 

And a fair number people have wondered whether this year's split season is a bridging mechanism for the change. Of course, we should also remember that this year's format has been heralded as an omen doom by fools who seem to think that two portions of Who with a far shorter gap between TARDIS appearances on our screens is somehow appallingly worse than the nine month wait between series we had since 2005. In the words of the Dalai Lama 'get a f***ing grip'...

Now my reaction to today's news was the notion that Series 7 would be similarly split, but with half airing in the autumn in 2012, then the now traditional Christmas special, and the second half appearing in early 2013. And indeed, this is the plan that is being reported by Bleeding Cool (though where they are getting their information from is open to question).

However this possible schedule would make a lot of sense. To start with Doctor Who would be airing again in  the slot the classic series held in its heyday, a return to its ancestral home just in time for its 50th birthday. But the weight of nostalgia and history aside, it would also soaking up the best audiences in the prime viewing slots and get those extra millions watching on iPlayer on the books, not to mention all those who *ahem* video the show via illegal download. 

Of course, there may well be budgetary factors in not showing all the 14 slated episodes in 2012 - the current bunch of cut-throats that are masquerading as a government here in the UK are putting the squeeze on the BBC. However Doctor Who is such a big money spinner, not to mention a hit with audiences too, that it's extremely unlikely that executives are plotting the show's downfall. 

A longer wait for episodes may well be frustrating but as the year of specials proved, Doctor Who is so well loved it can comfortably survive a break in the usual schedule. And if it means a return to higher ratings pastures, that is only good for both the show itself and the BBC as a whole.   

Of course, until there is a further official announcement much of the above is just speculation, but it is far more likely than the paranoid rumours of the series' death. For all this panic about the show disappearing for a year, or that it is in somehow in trouble, are as about as credible as the dubious interpretations of the Mayan calendar that say the world will end in 2012. Unless of course a mass of internet knee-jerk reactions over Doctor Who throw the planet out of orbit...

Don't get me wrong, I love the show to bits and yes, a wait is very annoying, but we shouldn't spin our personal disappointment into some massive disaster or sinister conspiracy. The important facts are that there is at least 14 more episodes to come, and it is a sign of the faith the BBC has in the Doctor Who that this decision has been made so early. Plus they do appear to be planning to mark the anniversary in a big way. So while 2012 may be a little lighter on adventures in the TARDIS, 2013 may well restore the balance.  

Right, hope that cleared that up. I'm off for a relaxing pint down my local, The Gillan's Legs... as soon as they open! 


Lee Medcalf said...

Great article sir... And even more awesome for the final closing line LOL

It's also worth noting that traditionally, BBC series of this modern era run to 6 episodes not 14. So budgetary considerations are definitely at play here. In my own line of work I see "creative" accounting that says similar things about series being split to move the extra episodes as a new series and count towards a different yearly budget line.

And frankly shows like Luthor, Spooks, manage just fine on 6 eps per 9-12 month gap, why should Dr Who be any different? Because the real danger here is, that while Dr Who pulls in the ratings, it is, in Beeb terms, exponentially expensive compared to the previously mentioned shows which pull in similar viewing figures. So at some point there has to be a line where the cost of the show out weighs the viewing figures / mechanise opportunities. Would the fans rather we had 14 shows per year and ultimately spell the doom of Dr Who when the ratings drop below some hidden minimum justified expenditure to viewers line and gets cancelled? Or would it be better to simply have the show fall in line with Beebs usual MO for original drama production and extend it's longevity?

Btw a passing thought am I alone in getting a subtle undertone from Who fandom in general, that seems to almost unconsciously desire the shows cancellation so they can wail and moan and claim it back from the new fandom?

Paul said...

I agree completely that Doctor Who is not being slowly killed off. Like you, I suspect this is part of an attempt to move the show back to the winter schedules - the 50th anniversary is November 23rd 2013 remember - as well as an attempt by the Beeb to save some money.

Personally, I'm quite happy about this. With the exception of Neil Gaiman's superb The Doctor's Wife, I have (for the first time in over 30 years) not enjoyed the show this year. Matt Smith, Arthur Darvill and Alex Kingston have been great, but Amy Pond is a vile character and the whole storyline around her baby has sunk like a concrete wheelchair for me and I don't think the quality of the stories has been anything other than average.

I'd like to see a move away from arc story lines for a change. Ironically, given that RTD made a big deal about how huge continuity from the series history would constrain the show and not pull in new viewers, which was why he didn't use any for the first few years, Moffat's vision so far has done exactly that! I know people watching the show now who are being left behind because they missed some of it last year and don't particularly want to have an essay to read in order to catch-up.

My personal feeling is the the show has lost it's way a bit. I'm all for change and development but at it's heart it still needs to be recognisably Doctor Who - and I think it's drifted a little too much into the territory of US sci-fi shows. Perhaps a break is what they need? I'd be happy if they cut it down to ten episodes a season plus the Christmas special. That's still 22 episodes in Classic Who terms and a decent chunk for the viewers.

I won't miss it next year - but I will look forward to it's return - older, wiser and perhaps a little less up its own backside.

Mary said...

I'd like to see the figures for DW. How much it costs. What we sell it abroad for and what the merchandise brings in.

Although I worry that the budget is what will bring down DW, if it does fail at some time in the future. I can't see how a flagship show with appeal to all demographics and massive selling potential can possible be anything approaching a drain on BBC funds. I'd be shocked to find it wasn't profitable.

Paul said...

It depends how the BBC structures it. If I recall correctly, the VHS/DVD sales of the show brought in by BBC Worldwide back in the day were NOT put back into the programme. The merchandising/overseas sales etc today simply reflects on the brand, rather than the show itself. Which, given that there would be no brand without the show, seems mad but that seems to be how the world works these days...

It would be interesting to know how much is actually spent on the programme by the BBC (not including overseas partner cash). It only cost £1.5 million in 1989 for 14 25 min episodes - and that was considered peanuts at the time...

Lee Medcalf said...

Not including marketing costs which I would presume get covered by a different budget Dr Who costs around £700,000 to £900,000 per episode depending on individual show requirements. All in each season weighs in at approx £13million.