When a TV show undergoes a change in stewardship, it rarely makes news. New production company involved? Meh. Sony buying into the production company? Might hit the financial pages.
Doctor Who isn’t any TV show, of course. Despite its modest beginnings, the show has become – despite its best efforts at times – a cultural phenomenon, particularly in the UK. Over the course of 58 years, the adventures of an alien/half human/more alien than you thought time traveller called simply “the Doctor” (and occasionally the more public-friendly “Dr Who”) have been both at the forefont of the British cultural vibe or dancing away on its own in the toilets, turning down amorous invitations from Hollywood.
The past few weeks have seen the show’s following turned upside down.
In terms of its current public perception, Doctor Who is considered “old hat,” like the departed X-Factor, a relic of Saturday night television of times past. Moving the show to a Sunday hasn’t helped anymore than it did shifting it to a Monday and Tuesday in 1981/82. Current star Jodie Whittaker is no slouch – she’s marvellous when speaking to fans – but the energy of the show during the Christopher Eccleston/David Tennant/Matt Smith era has long since gone.
The instigator of Doctor Who‘s previous vim and vigour, Russell T Davies, has been identified as the show’s saviour. Whereas his appointment in 2003 followed the airing of his ITV drama The Second Coming, this time it is off the back of Years and Years, It’s a Sin… and Doctor Who.
But not only has Davies been placed in charge of the show from 2023, so the production company he has been involved with since he left the show – Bad Wolf Productions – has achieved co-production status with BBC Studios. Doctor Who is now out of BBC Drama’s hands, no longer a problem for BBC One to schedule if it doesn’t want to. Davies new vision for the show could drop on iPlayer or Netflix before BBC One gets a sniff.
Want a Doctor Who Movie?
Peter Cushing-starring Dalek movies aside, Doctor Who motion pictures have been regularly pitched – privately and publicly – since the 1970s. Series star Tom Baker and castmate Ian Marter penned Doctor Who Meets Scratchman, a screenplay which if produced hoped for horror legend Vincent Price to play the Devil.
Monty Python star Eric Idle was once linked to a movie version in the 1980s, along with everyone from David Hasslehoff to Pamela Anderson. Doctor Who‘s movie rights danced from production company to production company, eventually reverting to the BBC and being handed on a plate to Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, which then passed to producer Philip Segal and Universal Pictures, for what developed into a backdoor pilot television movie for a Doctor Who series starring Paul McGann that was never picked up.
More recently, Harry Potter director David Yates believed enough in 2011 that he was helming a Doctor Who movie that he went public, only for the plan to be nixed by new showrunner Steven Moffat. Day of the Doctor‘s 50th anniversary big screen shenanigans aside, Doctor Who has singularly avoided the big screen since 1966.
Why Does Sony Want Bad Wolf?
Davies’ influence on Doctor Who has cast a long shadow. Big, brash, colorful, and hanging five years’ of adventures around the relationship between the Time Lord and a female companion, the drive given to the revived show (off air 1989-2005, save that co-produced one-off) lasted well into the stewardship of his successor.
It’s clearly a tiring job. Davies viewed never to write for Doctor Who again upon leaving, a declaration he largely stuck to, on TV at least. Instead, the writer and producer – considered the most successful in television in the UK today – has worked on other projects, many with Bad Wolf. However, the Jane Tranter-Julie Gardner operation has produced other shows, notably the Philip Pullman adaptation His Dark Materials.
Broadcast’s report that Bad Wolf was about to be snapped up by Sony Pictures Television has come as a surprise not just to industry watchers but to Doctor Who fans who were coming to terms with a whole new production set up.
The His Dark Materials producer, co-founded in 2015 by Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner, is set to join Left Bank Pictures-owner Sony in a deal thought to be worth close to £60m.
Existing minority shareholders Access Entertainment and Sky / HBO are expected to have their respective 24.9% and 10% stakes bought out as part of the agreement, leaving Sony as sole majority shareholder.
Is Sony buying Bad Wolf, or an in on Doctor Who? With the deal yet to be confirmed, it’s impossible to determine. But with Sony providing an easy route to key streaming services (such as Netflix) and the Doctor Who‘s motion picture aspirations, it seems likely the entertainment giant is more interested in that than I Hate Susie or A Discovery of Witches; good shows as they are, neither has an army of obsessive fans. More of a cohort (Roman).
But what about that movie? After all, Sony Pictures Television isn’t Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. – it doesn’t make motion pictures. Sony becoming majority shareholder of Bad Wolf Productions seems more likely to ramp up the money and distrubution options for the once-independent production company, rather than a short hop to Hollywood in the TARDIS.