Series 11 and the BBC’s Heavy-Handed Secrecy
Many reading this will be aware that 2018 has seen several leaks of Doctor Who material. It’s not the first time in the show’s history and it surely won’t be the last. Lest we forgot the very first episode of the revival, “Rose”, leaked way back in 2005 in a much simpler Internet time. Heck, even the first five, yes FIVE, episodes of Capaldi’s era found its way onto the web. And there have been many more leaks in-between. This is nothing new, and unfortunately for TV companies, inevitable, in the always-connected age.
What is concerning however, and what you may not be completely aware of, is how the BBC has been handling the situation this time around. “Heavy-handed” only begins to describe it.
While secrecy over the show is understandable, and there is a certain necessity to preserve big storylines until broadcast, there comes a time when things can go too far. When enforcement of said secrecy can lead to some very draconian measures, and some that even potentially violate some basic rights.
When the Series 11 material first leaked a few months back, it of course soon found its way onto Twitter, Facebook and various other social media platforms. The BBC eventually issued DMCA takedowns in an attempt to control the situation. It’s an expected outcome, but one that is ultimately futile in those instances.
Once something is out on the web, no matter how many times you remove it, it’s on the Internet forever. Fans will always keep back-up copies, and share again. You may drive them more and more underground, but there’s always the risk they’ll pop back up again when you least expect it. As the old saying goes: once you cut off one head, another two will grow back. It’s a battle you can’t win.
But deletions and takedowns of material was just the beginning. In pursuit of the leaker(s) latterly, the BBC has gone as far to hand out subpoenas to Tapatalk, Microsoft, and Twitter, even looking into people’s personal accounts. While I am no legal expert, I think you reach a worrying level when you start to go down this rabbit hole and risk violating people’s basic privacy rights.
The latest legal threats came earlier in the week for reporting on the air date which leaked on iTunes a day before its official announcement. Yes, just for reporting on a leaked date that Apple were responsible for. With actions like these, you risk turning against the very fans that have been supporting the show all this time, especially when you start treating them like criminals just talking about it, or reporting on the material.
So how should the BBC handle leaks in future?
Well, the answer is quite simple really. Release the offending article officially asap and regain control of the publicity. For example, problem: the TARDIS interior has leaked, and the picture is poorly lit and doesn’t do it justice. Solution: you release an official, correctly lit version in all its glory.
So what if it’s released a bit earlier than you planned? Why not see leaks as an opportunity. Obviously there would be some exceptions, especially if a whole storyline is ruined as a result, but none of the actual leaks in 2018 so far have been that spoiler-y. It’s not like we’ve had a whole finale episode out there like we did in 2013. And even back then, the BBC politely asked fans to not share and try to stay spoiler-free, rather than bringing out the big guns like they have been this year.
Fans of the show are starving for news in the “off-season”. The problem with the Chibnall era thus far is that even the least spoiler-y aspects of the show have now become “forbidden”. When fans are not allowed to even know basic things of the upcoming run, you might be holding back a little too much, and encouraging people to go down another path. And when people go looking for news in the void, they might stumble upon something you might not want them to see.
At the end of the day though, Doctor Who is just a TV show, not some highly classified government document containing vital state secrets. I can understand the frustration the BBC, Chibnall and co. must be going through with each leak, but perhaps a gentler approach might be an idea. Why not work with fans rather than going against them? Doctor Who will survive a few people knowing a few little things a little early.