Last night the BBC celebrated Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary by showing one of them big old multiple doctor storylines like in the old days. OK, so only one previous Doctor actually appeared and the other was kind of introduced just for this story… but they had the photoshopped faces and a few clips of the other Doctors. That kinda counts. Anyway, not the point. The Day of the Doctor was a fun little mini movie thing and it got me thinking about something that I’ve often pondered, is it too late for there to be a Doctor Who movie? Click the link for my words about this.
Many moons ago, when Doctor Who was still in his infancy… well as much as William Hartnell’s Doctor had an infancy, there was two Doctor Who cinematic films produced by the BBC. They starred Peter Cushing as the Doctor, where he was an elderly grandfather that just so happened to have a time machine, and the stories were loosely based on episodes of the Hartnell era show. They’re decent little films, even if you do have to throw Doctor Who continuity out the window. Which, to be fair, they’ve done on the series on an almost weekly basis. Or have they? I suppose continuity is just a big timey wimey thing really. Regardless, they’re fun little adventures that existed at a point in time where the show was this little science fiction thing on TV and the films were viewed as entirely separate entities. Cross format branding didn’t really exist for shows like this back then. They got away with having a different Doctor and back story because it wasn’t really much of a concern to fans back then.
In the late 80s the BBC axed Doctor Who and plans were put in place to reboot the whole thing as a feature film series. This was before reboots were a thing though. Although not long before the TV series Reboot was a thing. Loved that show. Totally irrelevant though… where was I? Oh yes! The movie that never happened. See Amblin Entertainment and Steven Spielberg wanted to make a big screen Doctor Who film and there was a lot of work put into it’s creation. There’s even a video of a test reel they made depicting what their Daleks would have looked like floating about out there. Their Daleks didn’t look like real Daleks though. So that never came to fruition. Eventually, well in 1996, the BBC teamed up with Fox Television to make a Doctor Who TV movie in an attempt to reboot the franchise. Sylvester McCoy returned as the Doctor, was promptly killed and regenerated into Pal McGann. It’s a bit of a ropey TV film but that’s not McGann’s fault at all. He was actually really quite good as the Doctor.
After the TV film failed to restart the franchise the Doctor resided in limbo for a number of years, only appearing in radio plays and comics, until eventually the BBC brought back Doctor Who with Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor. The show has been a huge success over the past 8 years, but it’s that huge success that makes me wonder what to do with a film. Could you start from scratch and do a Doctor Who origin story? That’s certainly what a film studio would like to do as it would allow you to introduce the wider audience they’re aiming for to the various concepts and scenarios of the series but also to start from scratch with none of that 50 years worth of storyline baggage. But at the same time the current Doctor Who series has a strong fan following that would want to see the series continued on a big screen adventure.
The trouble with just bringing the current Doctor, soon to be Peter Capaldi, to a cinema screen is this; the series doesn’t have enough fans to make the expense of a full feature film on a Hollywood scale profitable. No matter how popular the TV show is you’d need a much larger fan base to walk into the cinemas. Some may say I’m talking nonsense here but there is precedent for this. Star Trek has always been a successful show and it’s first film did decent money. Not a single one of the Star Trek films before the 2009 reboot had made more than £150 million worldwide. Even adjusted for inflation the most successful was the first film with $260 million. These films were all made on much smaller budgets than the sort big sci-fi blockbusters demand these days. The X-Files film took more money than any pre-reboot Star Trek and that’s often regarded as a failure. Now, can you imagine a studio willing to spend the sort of money the average blockbuster costs when they have pre-existing evidence that the core audience of a show isn’t enough to pull in the money they’d need?
They’d want to start from scratch and likely present Doctor Who in a more action focused approach similar to that of the Star trek reboot films, both of which have made more money than any previous Star Trek film. Although it is worth noting that those two films also cost more than any previous Star trek film. Still, a wider audience saw them and that’s the point. Doctor Who isn’t bigger than Star Trek has been. Now the trouble comes with what do you do to make sure that fans of the series, which would probably be on going if a feature film was made, don’t feel abandoned?
You could take the Star Trek route and do the whole alternate universe thing. Tell the Doctor’s origin and have some event happen that makes it split apart from the universe that the Doctor exists in in the series. Now you could introduce regenerations later in the film series and not be tied to recreating the Doctors that have existed in the series as it’s all alternate dimensiony now. But then comes the issue that the series would be running in parallel to the films, not being tied to them, and looking decidedly cheaper. And that’s where Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D can come in as a reference point.
Agents of Shield (I’m not typing that acronym out each time) looks cheap compared to the Marvel Universe films it surrounds. There’s no getting away from it. Fans are clamouring to see the show expand the cinematic universe somewhat by introducing more characters and villains from the comics. So far we’ve had the guy that eventually becomes Graviton. Fun fact, no-one gives a shit about Graviton. Now if a big Doctor Who film series existed would the TV show audiences be happy with the cheaper looking versions of the creatures and effects? It’s already been said before that the BBC spends so much on Doctor Who that they rely entirely on merch sales to justify it. They even cancelled the behind the scenes show because they were desperate to save any money they could.
So that leaves one choice. If a film reboot happened, and it was making money, could the BBC justify keeping the weekly show running? They wouldn’t, would they? Why spend a load of money making a TV show that barely returns a profit when they can split the costs with a big Hollywood studio and make a few hundred million off each film and further millions off of merch and distribution rights to a handful of films. Plus, with Peter Capaldi, we’re at the point where you could, logically, end Doctor Who by saying this is his last regeneration. It is the 13th after all, and the 50th anniversary special did a few things to suggest it could be.
This is all my theoretical ramblings though. Fact is that a couple of years ago there was talk of a Doctor Who film being made for next year. That’s clearly not happening but I’m sure the plans are still being worked on. Stephen Moffat has said that if a film did happen it would star the current TV Doctor. Well that would just lead to the Agents of Shield budget issue again. Plus how many young new fans can you pull in when your current Doctor is a 50 plus year old man who’s most well known previous work isn’t for kids at all. Although I would like it if The Thick of It was added into Doctor Who canon.
I could be horribly wrong though. Occasionally you do get works that manage to break the mould and succeed beyond the audience you’d think they’d be able to pull in. People thought Iron Man would flop before it was released. Iron Man as a character was very much in the far reaches of Marvel’s B-list heroes in the mainstream. Most would have no idea who he was. You can bet that was the case for the vast majority of people who went to see the first film. And now we’re heading towards a second Avengers film and there’s a full blown Marvel Universe that’s gradually becoming as large as the comics. That’s a big deal. That’s nearly Star Wars big when you think about the production scale of this Marvel universe.
Maybe a Doctor Who film starring Doctor Capaldi would do well and maybe fans would be happy to take in the TV series. It’s unlikely Capaldi would get to be such a big star that he’d abandon the series for films. Although they’d have to start thinking about big screen appeal for future Doctors. They’d probably have to introduce big name stars to play supporting roles in the films too. But then that would lead to stars that would be too big to appear on TV. Some actors still think like that unfortunately despite the success channels like HBO have with A-list actors. In the end a Doctor Who film will need to be one hell of a complicated balancing act to pull off well, but isn’t that what every episode of the show is? Every episode relies on an extraordinary series of events leading to a big flashy, and often near nonsensical, conclusions. But it always seems to work out well in the end. There’s many routes that could be taken to a Doctor Who film, picking the right one must be giving a fair number of headaches to their franchise key holders right now. Glad I don’t have to think about it.
Apart from here, where all I did was think about it and write my thoughts down. And also every time I think about how I’d do a Doctor Who film. Which is quite often. Now I’m thinking about that again.