Why is it that every time something changes medium, whether it’s from book to the big screen or from TV to the theater, the people in production think they have to sacrifice the original in order to make something big enough to fit? Why do they insist on messing with something that fans already love? Why? Because sadly it works. Or at least they think it does, while taking the original as is would flop. Does anyone else think this is extremely arrogant and shortsighted?
The latest example of this view has just come to light: a Doctor Who movie that will intentionally ignore the current series and its cast. The project is being lead by director David Yates, the director of the last four movies of the Harry Potter series. With BBC’s aid, Yates wants to break Doctor Who down to the fundamentals, which we can only assume includes the Time Lord, the TARDIS, and maybe a companion (though it is far from unprecedented for the Doctor to travel alone). As Yates describes,
“[Doctor Who] needs quite a radical transformation to take it into the bigger arena. …
The notion of the time-travelling Time Lord is such a strong one, because you
can express story and drama in any dimension or time.”
While this method will make the story a lot more accessible for new viewers, it could be a big problem for fans of the TV series. It is fully expected that Matt Smith, Karan Gillian, and Arthur Darvil will not be a part of the production.
Oddly enough, this has been tried with Doctor Who before. In 1966 two Doctor Who films where produced and released on the silver screen. They starred Peter Cushing who is probably best known for his role in Star Wars as Grand Moff Tarkin. First there was Dr. Who and the Daleks, followed later that year by Daleks’ Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. To bring Doctor Who to the big screen – and to the US which had been largely unexposed to the then three year old children’s series – some radical changes were made. The well known theme was abandoned for an annoying and very obviously 60’s inspired tune. The Doctor was no longer an alien, but rather a human scientist whose real name was Dr. Who! He invented a machine that he disguised as a police telephone box. It was accidentally set off in the presence of his two granddaughters, Susan and Barbara, and Ian, Barbara’s boyfriend. They land on Skarro of all places, the home of the Doctor’s number one enemy, the Daleks. Ian is a complete klutz and main provider of comic relief, and the girls don’t scream nearly as much. Also the Doctor is not the irascible old grouch that the fans had come to love, but he was clearly based on William Hartnell’s portrayal in every other trait. There is not an ounce of crabbiness in him, making him very weak and ineffective leader of the expedition. The kicker is that beyond these changes and a slightly faster pace, the plot of the both movies is a complete carbon copy of two stories in the TV series.
It’s difficult to tell if the movies were a hit because try as I might I can’t find much in specifics as far as their gross profits. However, I found one hint. Apparently the plan had been to make three movies, but the second film did not do well enough at the box office. Looking around the fandom today, you have to search pretty hard to find any mention of Peter Cushing’s portrayal of the Doctor. If you go to the BBC’s site for the classic Doctor Who series, you won’t find a single mention of Cushing or his movies. The combination of these factors leads me to believe that Cushing’s movies were by in large dismissed by the fandom.
Thirty years and six regenerations later, a TV movie was developed specifically for a US audience. At that time Doctor Who was known in the US, but arguably not nearly as well as it is today. The series had shown in re-runs on PBS stations, though largely from the Third Doctor, John Pertwee (1970-1974) on because by then the majority of the earlier episodes had been lost. The TV movie tried to pick up where the classic series left off with the Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy (1987-1989), but then forced the Doctor to regenerate, introducing Paul McGann as the Eight Doctor, so that the new audience might feel they could identify with him better. Opinions are mixed on whether or not that actually worked as planned. Sylvester McCoy had his own opinion, which he shared with us at Dragon*Con.
McGann’s Doctor did little to diverge from his predecessors. On the contrary, he was as much the Doctor as any other regeneration. He was his own character, distinct from the previous Doctors, while still being an eccentric and unpredictable scientist at his core, and the Time Lord fans had grown to love. The plot of the movie may have been a bit of a reach, but yet it is an original and developed plot in keeping with the Doctor Who tradition. McGann was never given the chance to play the Doctor again for TV, but the multitude of books and audio novels written for his Doctor lead me to conclude that the fandom has embraced him in a way they could not embrace Peter Cushing.
So, what have we learned from this examination of the previous Doctor Who movies? I think it’s a lesson that all producers should pay attention to. If you have a fanbase for your franchise, cater to it and current fans will follow and bring new fans with them. Ignore your franchise and your production will be left in the dust. David Yate’s new movie flirts dangerously with the latter result. He is proposing to start from scratch, possibly going further than the producer’s behind the 1966 movies did.
“Russell T. Davies and then Steven Moffat have done their own transformations,
which were fantastic, but we have to put that aside and start from scratch.”
Why? Why would you want to take the longest running sci-fi series in history and possibly the BBC’s most profitable property and turn it on its head to make a movie? In all honesty I can’t see a single reason why. It’s true that Davies and Moffat made changes to the franchise, but to be fair they were changes that were set in motion by Paul McGann’s movie, and other changes were required to make the series current. I’ll be the first to admit when the new series began I didn’t like it at all because I was not seeing any connections to the classic series I had grown up with. Since then the series has drawn on those roots a lot more and tied all those years together. If Yates ignores everything that Doctor Who has become, I shudder to think of the results.
Already speculation on who could play the Doctor in this movie can be found on Blastr, and it’s pretty wild! They should add Amanda Tapping to that list since she has expressed a desire to be the first female Doctor! Still, I fear that even the amazing Amanda couldn’t save this project from a slow death and a quick burial in the eyes of fans. I would go and see it for Amanda, but nothing else would draw this lifelong fan to the theater because it just won’t be Doctor Who!
What do you think? Can Who fans withstand yet another attempt to reinvent the Doctor? Will curiosity bring them to the theaters and tempt them to embrace the new Doctor? Or will this new film flop at the box office and be dismissed by fans as yet another blind Hollywood assault on the decades old fandom we hold dear?