2013: The Biggest Year Ever? Maybe Not

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Guest contributor Craig Sightings gives his thoughts on what’s happening with Doctor Who in 2013.

Cast your mind back to 2008. Doctor Who was at the height of its success with the eagerly anticipated 13-episode fourth series airing in the spring, each story followed by companion show Doctor Who Confidential. Spin-off Torchwood had already aired its own 13-episode series at the start of the year and The Sarah Jane Adventures followed in the autumn with 12 more episodes. That’s a whole lot of Whoniverse for any fan to indulge in.

Fast forward to 2013 and it’s the most important year in Doctor Who’s history as we approach the big 50th anniversary. A time for the BBC to go all out and give fans a massive Doctor Who feast. So what have we got? By the looks of it, less episodes than any other year since Doctor Who came back (excluding the 2009 gap year). And lest we forget Doctor Who Confidential and the spin-off shows have either been axed, ended or are as good as dead.

If we had followed the production template laid down successfully by Russell T Davies under his tenure (followed by Steven Moffat initially) then here’s how the past couple of years would have played out:

  • 2012 – 13 episodes + 1 Christmas Special
  • 2013 – 13 episodes + 1 Christmas Special + 1 Anniversary Special
  • Total minimum episodes = 29

Now based on the info available at the time of writing, here’s what we’re actually getting:

  • 2012 – 5 episodes + 1 Christmas special
  • 2013 – 8 episodes + 1 Anniversary Special (+ 1 docudrama if you count it, I don’t)
  • Total minimum episodes = 15

As you can see, it’s a reduction of half the episodes. Hardly befitting of what is meant to be Doctor Who’s biggest year in history! Granted we don’t have all the information available yet (as usual the BBC says absolutely nothing until the last minute) but all the evidence so far is pointing this way. Perhaps I wouldn’t be quite so alarmed if the production team didn’t make so many false promises and send out many contradictory and confusing messages.

For instance, when Series 6 was split Moffat originally told us it was so we’re never much more than 3 months away from a new episode. The following year went completely against that and we had to wait nine months for Series 7 and got a mere 5 episodes and then another wait until Christmas. Moffat also told us Series 7 was moving to the Autumn so that the show could air when it was dark and cold outside. So what happened? Well Part 1 aired in September when it was still light in the evenings, and Part 2 is now back in the once traditional spring spot, when it will be warmer and lighter in the evenings.

As for the 50th anniversary, Moffat promised us the biggest year ever. First of all he teased “why talk in the singular” and now we have recently learnt it’s one 60-minute episode. He also told us categorically that Doctor Who wasn’t being reduced. And I quote two interview extracts:

“We’re making more episodes than ever before; we’ve got other things planned for the big year…”

“You’re not going to reduce a show like this. The opposite is going to happen, in fact.”

I don’t know what is going on behind the scenes to cause all this misinformation (or downright lies, however you want to dress it up) but I have several theories:

Moffat

Moffat has stated in many recent interviews that he struggles with writers block and delivering his scripts late. He’s admitted to causing production delays several times now. Moffat also strikes me as a perfectionist, but he no longer has the luxury of time he was afforded when he wrote during Russell T Davies’ tenure. One or two stories per year is how I believe Moffat would prefer to be writing and it might explain why his output is not as strong (in my humble opinion) since he took over.

The BBC budget

The BBC licence fee was frozen in 2010 and the effects on a budget-heavy show like Doctor Who can’t have been good. Perhaps these splits have been the only way that Doctor Who could continue without a noticeable decline in quality. By spreading the money over two years, it ensures the show still has decent production values. However, it seems doubtful the BBC would reduce Doctor Who deliberately given the huge merchandising and increased overseas profile.

Less Who is good for the show

For this one I refer to this quote from Steven Moffat:

“I’ve been well up for anything that we can do to shake up the transmission pattern, the way we deliver it to the audience and how long we make the audience wait, simply because that makes Doctor Who an event piece. The more Doctor Who becomes a perennial, the faster it starts to die. You’ve got to shake it up, you’ve got to keep people on edge and wondering when it will come back…”

Cast burnout

Now we know that each series takes around 9 months to film and Matt Smith has spoken about how gruelling it is. It’s understandable when you add in all the promotion as well. Perhaps keeping Smith on board necessitated a break.

Sherlock

Sherlock was originally blamed for the Doctor Who delay by BBC Controller Danny Cohen. Moffat was quick to deny it. However, perhaps there’s truth in it after all and Moffat is just unable to cope with running two flagship BBC shows. Notice how Sherlock is suffering too with two year gaps between three episode series.

A combination of all of the above

Perhaps there’s not one simple problem going on behind the scenes, rather elements of all of the above points.

Conclusion

I’m full prepared to accept that we don’t have the full picture yet, and I’m hoping this is a case of the BBC just keeping quiet, but the signs are not looking good. Hopefully I’m wrong…

Step back in time...