Series 11 of Doctor Who concluded this past weekend and no sooner had the credits rolled the BBC announced that there would be no new series until 2020. On the first day of 2019 we will get a brand new episode of Doctor Who. But after that nothing for at least another year. BlogtorWho ponders the implications.
Firstly, Doctor Who is a major television production. It is a very time consuming endeavour. From writing scripts to the lengthy filming process to post production, all of this takes time. A lot of time. Similarly, actors, especially high profile actors, are subject to their professional availability. Remember the issues Messrs Moffat and Gatiss had in arranging to make Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman? So it is likely to be a decision made for very practical reasons.
Expectations have previously been set by the prolific nature of Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat. Doctor Who took a break from our screens in 2009 and 2016 with the odd special during those years. We also had a long gap of 11 months from the end of Series 6 and the start of Series 7. However, these have come when viewers have had a fair run of the Tenth, Eleventh or Twelfth Doctors. To take a break after only one Series of a new Doctor is a brave decision.
Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor has been warmly welcomed into the Whoniverse. The ratings have been positive with the move to Sunday evenings proving largely successful. But the momentum from that positivity will be lost. Children, whose imaginations have been captured by the Thirteenth Doctor, will be older and may not be as interested in the show when it does return. When the show does return the publicity machine will have to work harder than it otherwise might’ve done. To the general viewing public it could be a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Although there is a large proportion of Doctor Who viewers who are loyal to the show, there are never any guarantees that they’ll be there the next time a series rolls around.
In 2019 Game of Thrones will be everywhere. The final season of that show will see advertising and promotion on a global scale. It will be event television. Doctor Who isn’t in that category. It should be, but it’s not. Staying away from the shadow that Game of Thrones will inevitably cast is probably smart.
By comparison, the profile of Doctor Who is nowhere near it’s peak. Consider the 2013 50th Anniversary year. The show was everywhere. Five years later there is no longer an official Doctor Who exhibition, for example, which provided a focal point for the fandom. Merchandise levels have also significantly reduced. Remember when there were Tenth Doctor action figures everywhere from toy shops to supermarkets? No wonder Woolworths and Toys R Us went out of business! Even BBC Shop website closed down. Now only specialist retailers stock Doctor Who merchandise. Even the hugely successful Doctor Who: The Collection blu-ray sets have a limited production run, sending fans to eBay in order to get hold a copy.
The television landscape has also changed dramatically in the last few decades. Viewers have a wider range of options when it comes to entertainment. Freeview is now in every UK household. Gone are the days of only 4 channels to pick from. Add on top of that the streaming service powerhouses of Netflix, Amazon Prime and more then the choice is plentiful. In this very competitive environment Doctor Who being off the air has an element of calculated risk attached. Plus it’s a big disappointment to those regular viewers.
Fortunately, Doctor Who fans who love the show are blessed with a world of other adventures. Big Finish audios, novels and comics, for instance. So there is still plenty to occupy the loyal Doctor Who fan until 2020. It’s just a shame that it won’t be with new adventures on television.