***Don’t read on if you have not seen ‘World Enough and Time’***
And a Pretty picture
So who saw those twists coming? Be honest now.
Okay, you probably worked out that Bill had been converted into a Cyberman. The surgeon said it was going to happen but that didn’t make it any the less shocking. Perhaps you even managed to predict that Mr Razer was actually John Simm’s Master. At what point during the episode that epiphany occurred probably varies. But imagine if you had no idea whatsoever that John Simm was going to be returning.
Whilst it probably blew the minds of the majority of viewers I would suggest that the mind explosion was somewhat tempered. Over 40 minutes had passed and he still hadn’t turn up. Viewers were expecting him. It’s very difficult to expect the unexpected but Simm’s presence had been announced in advance making it much easier. He’d been in the series trailer, the ‘Next Time’ trailer and featured prominently in the iconic image. This raises an interesting question? How do you balance promoting a television show whilst still retaining the programme’s most dramatic revelations?
A Victim of it’s own Popularity
Doctor Who is a television colossus that has a global following. When off the air rumours circulate about every aspect of the show. When in production fans, autograph hunters and the press all flock to filming locations in an attempt to glimpse the future. Photos and video are shared across the world instantly. As soon as any public filming is arranged the Production Team know that the world will see what they are recording. Trying to control the spread of information is an unenviable task. Frankly it is impossible because a certain section, be they newspapers, websites or just over eager fans, delight in scooping juicy details before anyone else. Often this means that some information has to be released by the BBC hours before it will be scooped.
The return of the original Cybermen was one such occasion. Shots of the Mondasians including Cybermen were due to be filmed in Cardiff Bay. To prevent it being spoilered by the media or fans watching on the BBC had to release a promo photo to reveal the news. Again imagine if they hadn’t had to. Think how surprising the reveal of an original Cybermen would’ve been had viewers not been expecting it. Unfortunately public filming necessitated the announcement. Sometimes however certain characters only appear in scenes filmed in the privacy of the BBC studios. John Simm seemed to be one of those individuals.
Privacy of studios
The return of a recognisable actor to the show after 7 years was used to promote the new series. In a preview screening of ‘The Pilot’ John Simm appeared in the series trailer screened to the audience. Lead writer and Executive Producer Steven Moffat pleaded for that fact to be kept secret. It didn’t last. Days later it was officially announced that John Simm would feature in the series. It is a tough balance. There is little point keeping the secret if nobody is watching. The talent is to entice viewers in and still surprise them. Sometimes that is easier said than done.
In the good old days
There is an art to keeping secrets in Doctor Who. In the modern era it is very difficult with the advent of social media, plus newspapers and websites looking for hits. During the classic era things were a lot easier. Consider ‘Earthshock’. A momentous story in the context of the show. Producer John Nathan-Turner locked down the studios at TV Centre and turned down a Radio Times cover to successfully conceal the return of the Cybermen. Worse still was to follow when the conclusion saw the devastating departure of companion Adric. The impact of those dramatic events can only be explained by those fortunate enough to watch the story on transmission in 1982.
Could that impact be achieved in 2017? Possibly not. But John Simm’s return could’ve been up there. His first appearance had an element of shock when Derek Jacobi’s Professor Yana true identity was revealed only for him to begin regenerating. Similarly when David Tennant began regenerating at the conclusion of ‘The Stolen Earth’ (2008) jaws hit the floor. Obviously the impact of regenerations has been undone in recent years but great drama, memorable drama, delivers the unexpected.