How About A Retroseries Spin-off?

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Guest contributor Shane Spangler looks into the possibilities of a different type of spin-off.


For a large segment of fans, Mark Gatiss’ An Adventure in Space and Time was anticipated with as much enthusiasm as the “The Day of the Doctor.” The idea of plunging into the backstory and history of Doctor Who, both behind the scenes and on screen, got me thinking about the possibility of a new spin-off series. The BBC could produce a run of new “Classic” Doctor Who episodes, at the same time, possibly launching a whole new genre of television as well: to coin a phrase, a “Retrodrama.”

What on earth is a “Retrodrama”?

Please allow me to explain further. A Doctor Who Retrodrama would be new, “Classic” episodes of Doctor Who, similar to the Big Finish audio series, which fit in between televised adventures. This could include a complete series, or multiple series, starring Paul McGann in the title role, between his first appearance and “The Night of the Doctor”. It could include a Sylvester McCoy series to bridge the gap between 1989 and 1996.

What’s more, a “retrodrama” could even allow for new first, second, and third Doctor episodes, by recasting the leading role, in the same way that David Bradley, Reece Shearsmith, and Mark Gatiss played these parts in An Adventure in Space and Time. Of course, Hartnell, Troughton and Pertwee will always be the “definitive” Doctors of their eras, but that needn’t prevent another actor from taking on the role of “First Doctor” with integrity, just as so many actors have played Hamlet, or Sherlock Holmes.

reece-shearsmith-patrick-troughton-adventureWhat would separate the “retrodrama” idea from a regular period piece would be the double task of not only creating a story that fits within the Doctor Who canon, but also recreating the atmosphere and production values of the era within which the story is set. For example, if one wanted to produce a new “Second Doctor” story, it would be shot in black and white, using the correct title sequence (adapted for the face of the new second Doctor actor, of course.) If one were to shoot a new “Third Doctor” story, well, wheel out the Moog Synthesizer for incidental music, and get some stunt men that do tuck rolls while dressed up in rubber monster suits. The goal would be to present a brand-new story that looks as though it was broadcast in, say, 1972. For fun, the production team could even add some “aging” effects to the film; throw in a few wobbly sets, obvious “location film versus studio videotape” effects. The odd “invisible” string holding up a model spaceship could be seen. Some directors might even choose to shoot the studio scenes multi-camera style. None of these gimmicks would overshadow the overall story, however, which would depend upon excellent writing and strong storytelling, as always.

Why do it?

First, because it would make a lot of fans of “classic” Doctor Who extremely happy, because it would breathe new life into the “good old days” of the show. Second, it would also be a huge moneymaker for the BBC, because it could be produced on a shoestring budget, and, like the original series, could be a proving ground for new directors, designers, composers and actors. Doctor Who has become such a big, serious business, the BBC aren’t going to risk letting a new director work on an episode of the new series. However, with a Doctor Who retroseries, the stakes are lower; the pressure is off, giving new talent a chance to shine – and be discovered!

Third, it could be broadcast on BBC 2 – where it would get 2-4 million viewers. That would be an excellent audience figure for that channels.

Fourth, it would be a win-win for both “classic Who” fans, and fans of the post 2005-era series, who have little interest in the classic episodes. Classic series fans would get that nostalgic experience they crave, while those who have little interest in the classic episodes could ignore the retroseries completely. Like the Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood, nothing produced within the context of the retroseries could affect the forward-moving Doctor Who universe, because a retroseries would be “time-locked” within the parameters of the classic era. Viewers could be transported back in time to the 1960s, where Daleks still can’t go up stairs, and you can see the back of the Police Box prop when the door opens. They could laugh at reel-to-reel computers in “futuristic” alien cities, all the while enjoying good acting and storytelling.

Finally, it would help bridge the gap between the new seasons. Dear Elisabeth Sladen has gone to her reward, so the The Sarah Jane Adventures are out. Torchwood is on hiatus. What we need now is more “proper” Doctor Who, and instead of spinning off another series based on some characters that have appeared in a few episodes. Why not spin off a new “retroseries” that is 100% Doctor Who, set within the context and the “look and feel” of the classic era? “The Night of the Doctor” has been received, as was An Adventure in Space and Time, so it seems the time is right for a project like a Doctor Who retrodrama.

Are you listening, Mark Gatiss? You know you want to do this. You are in a unique position to make it happen. Do it for the die-hard Classic Doctor Who fans. Like…you.