Has The Day Of The Doctor paved the way for a Who movie?

Feature Mark Harrison 4 Dec 2013 - 06:55

The success of the special on the big screen could lead to a Doctor Who film. Mark weighs the pros and cons

This article contains spoilers for The Day Of The Doctor- if you haven't yet watched the 50th anniversary special, then you might wish to catch up before reading on.

Immediately following The Day Of The Doctor's record-breaking global simulcast, it was tough to imagine another weekend in history when Doctor Who fans have had it so good. The traditional Saturday broadcast slot gives you some scope for a “top ten greatest weekends to be a Doctor Who fan”, but we'll leave that sort of thing to BBC Three.

But right now, an old question should be rearing its head once again- what does the global cinematic success of the special mean for the much rumoured Doctor Who feature film? In the first week of special events charting in the UK box office listings, (possibly to mark this very occasion) The Day Of The Doctor came in third place for the weekend, based on a £1.7 million gross from just three or four showtimes.

And some might argue that the bigger story is worldwide, confirming for once and for all that the series has really broken out of its cult favourite status. If the special had charted in the United States last weekend, its $4.8 million would have put it just outside of the box office top five. It also scored a higher per-screen average in its simulcast screening than The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Fans are rightly getting excited about those numbers, and figures from around the world, but as we'll see, it doesn't necessarily mean that the BBC will immediately greenlight a Doctor Who movie. Some concession must first be made to the fact that the special event was... well, special.

Having been to see the episode at the cinema (twice), I can vouch that they really pulled out the stops to make it special in the Middlesbrough branch of Cineworld. Daleks and cosplayers were provided by Who Ray, Stockton-on-Tees' premier Who retailer, to keep the fans entertained as they queued for the sold-out 7.50pm screenings. Apparently, fans from across the UK and the world enjoyed similar experiences.

But as enjoyable as this was, and as much as we think we'd all like to do it again some time, wasn't it only so enjoyable because it was special? Certainly, I know I shelled out £11 for my ticket, when I could have watched it for free at home, because I could also watch any other episode for free at home. This one was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Unless you saw it twice, like I did. Um...

For as wonderful as The Day Of The Doctor was, and as enjoyable as it was to see the production values get that extra boost, it was still primarily made for TV, not for cinema. While I'm sure the BBC and cinemas would make a killing if they just organised simultaneous big screenings of each episode in the next series, (the Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle has been doing this since 2011's The Wedding Of River Song, and Cineworld were putting out feelers about TV event screenings on their Facebook this past weekend) there's a definite question of what would make a Doctor Who movie feel special.

Whatever the subject of the movie, it remains that many movies of TV series only feel like extended episodes. The recent Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa would be a notable exception, but that film had an unambitious script, which made it pliable for funnier rewrites throughout production, even during shooting. Unambitious has never gone well with Doctor Who.

It's not that you can't repeat the multi-Doctor aspect again, but it probably wouldn't be enough to simply reunite David Tennant and Matt Smith for more on-screen adventures. Although there have been reports that they were eager to do a whole other series together after their Doctors first worked together, there would be a pressing need to do something new.

However, you can bet that a Doctor Who movie would feature the Daleks, front and centre. The Peter Cushing movies, produced at the height of Dalekmania, show that much. On a sidenote, one of the only disappointments in last week's episode was that there weren't any exterminations during their brief screentime. The fall of Arcadia, with all of its incredible special effects and production value, wound up looking a little like the day that Gallifrey took the most property damage (see also: the third act of The Avengers.)

When Harry Potter director (he helmed four out of the eight films) David Yates a year or two back made an impromptu announcement that he was rebooting Doctor Who for the big screen, Steven Moffat was adamant that any film version would have to run concurrent with the series, and would feature the current television Doctor. Unless another 'gap year', akin to 2009's specials with Tennant, is in the offing, it's tough to see where they'd fit in a movie.

Also, consider the existing speculation that the incoming Doctor, Peter Capaldi, might only do 13 episodes, a la Christopher Eccleston. While we'd love him to stay for at least another series, we know we'd rather see him do two series in two years, than 13 episodes and a movie.

If all of this sounds rather down on the prospect of a Doctor Who movie, that's not the intention. There were many brilliant things about seeing the TARDIS, and the Daleks, and the Zygons on the big screen, and hearing that theme tune blasted through a cinema sound system, but it's tough to imagine that anyone would take that over a whole series of adventures on TV.

While the debate about storytelling in TV versus movies rages on, Doctor Who remains one of the best ideas for a television series ever, and so many of its innovations are based on the budgetary restrictions therein. If this idea were being made today, as a film, you wouldn't cram a world into a police box, when you could just CG-animate a spaceship exterior.

At the risk of repeating other columns about a Doctor Who movie, the series is probably doing better where it is. A series of movies would not be more lucrative than a series of TV episodes in the long run, due to the frequent practice of spending more on marketing films than was spent on production, and it's probably in the fans' best interests to avoid disrupting the production of the series.

If anything, it's a testament to the quality of the show that a television episode shows up a lot of the more expensive and mediocre fare in multiplexes, when it gets a special screening. It's down to the BBC, and cinemas, to decide how and if they should act on that success, but either way, it's comforting to see that 50 years in, the show is still ambitious, and has never been in ruder health.

So over to you. What do you think? Would you like to see a Doctor Who movie in a few years' time, if it didn't interrupt production of the regular series, or is it always better as a TV format?

The Day Of The Doctor is available on DVD and Blu-ray now.

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The cinema world is changing. I think it paves the way for "event" episodes like the first episode, or the finales to be shown in the cinema for the joint viewing experience. In the same way that plays are now beamed live around the world to cinemas so everyone can enjoy it together. Doesn't mean the production style needs to change.

Trying to think what the next big thing might be after this year... Regeneration live? A massive cinema movie to mark the end of Capaldi's run in the TARDIS in 2015? Would have to be a big event in the series I think. Would be a huge draw too if they could keep the identity of the new doctor secret until the cinema screenings...

It's also important to note the BBC charter which states that licence fee payers shouldn't have to pay to watch any episode or film of a BBC series that forms an integral part of its storyline. Basically they couldn't have a regeneration in a movie (which they'd defiantly want) unless the story was completely separate from the TV series.

The thought of them using another actor in the role makes me shudder (was never a big fan of the Cushing film). It was a very smart thing they did with the '96 movie that they showed a continuity from McCoy to McGann. It needs to feel like it's the same titular character.
But it's hard to see how it wouldn't interrupt TV production really, which would be a great shame.If it came to a hard choice I'd rather have a shorter wait for the TV episodes.

Please, not another gap year filled with specials. I'd rather have a 13 episode run every year!
Oh, and a new series of Torchwood. Let's not forget that.

Well, if they do it for the Eurovision Song Contest, they better bring Doctor Who episodes to the cinema!

A full on movie with John Hurt would float many boats including mine.

> It was a very smart thing they did with the '96 movie that they showed a continuity from McCoy to McGann

Nah. McGann doesn't get to do anything till 50 minutes into the damn thing. Fannish box-ticking in place of a story that should be grabbing a new audience. RTD had it right: your lead actor *is* the Doctor, now RUN.

Although, i'm sure a cinema excursion in the TARDIS is a very attractive proposition considering how well recieved the anniversary story was,i don't think a two hour movie can really reflect the diversity of genres that Doctor Who is capable of.Much of Doctor Who's appeal is that variety and confounding expectations.I also believe that it needs to be consistent with it's serialised origins,even now to a certain extent.

Sure, but RTD had the comfort of knowing he was welcoming old fans back and that he'd have 13 episodes to explain the Doctor's history to new viewers with the odd bit of dialogue here and there.
The '96 movie was intended as a pilot that had to present the Doctor's whole deal (including two hearts and regeneration) to a potentially raw audience.

Or they could go really mental and make 13 episodes of Doctor Who in one year.

I said 'next big thing after this year', I didn't mean in lieu of a series. If BBC saw the potential and beefed up the budget, a cinematic-scale series finale would be incredibly cool.

After the debacle of Doctor Who Live: The After Party - I can still see Moffat with his head in his hands - the BBC may avoid Doctor Who and Live in future programmes.

Someone in the BBC may think it's a good idea for 1Dimensional to appear again as with The Beatles in Hartnell's era.

Well, if the TVM was intended to explain the concept of regeneration to a brand new audience I'd argue it did a pretty poor job given that it begins with a McGann voiceover then jumps back to an old bloke in an armchair with no word of explanation (see also: the TARDIS inside/outside reveal. Oh, there isn't one until about an hour into it even though we start in the TARDIS. Again, compare and contrast with Rose).

To be clear, I'm a fan, so I actually *like* the inclusion of McCoy, but it was the worst possible decision for what they needed that 85 minutes of television to do. RTD went 13 episodes without touching the concept of regeneration, if Eccleston had stayed on he probably would've gone even longer. Establishing character and the spirit of the new series, these things should be top of the list, the stuff that the TVM went to such lengths to include is detail.

I know, I had an attack of the Levines for a second there, sorry.

No problem, totally agree that if it came down to it and the BBC had to chose between doing a cinema event at the cost of the full actual series, I would be a lot happier for the series to carry on. Tennant's year of specials was agony to wait for and this series 7a/ series 7b stuff shouldn't be repeated!

Excellent idea. That or Paul McGann, either way exploring some of the Doctor's timeline that we never got to see. Doesn't have to interfere with current story-lines or personnel then.

A series of cinema movies with Paul McGann as the Doctor could fill in some gaps in his story without necessarily interfering with (relative) future continuity. If you're really worried about needing big cinema names for such a project, make them companions and villains. By the mere virtue of being the Doctor, Paul McGann would get automatic equal celebrity status at least.

I for one would definitely pay to see Paul McGann accompanied by lost astronauts played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in the story about how they really got back to Earth.

We've had 3 Doctor Who movies. two of them in their own world, one was in cannon. If they do actually do a new doctor who movie then, a) it will need to be in cannon and b) it will need a subtitle after "Doctor Who:".

On the flip side, it probably wasn't going to series at the time (for a number of factors), so we at least got to avoid a continuity headache and also, in his two outings onscreen as the Doctor, Paul McGann was very good, especially the second time around.

Also, in the interim, he was well within his rights to say the movie was a six week job back in 1996 and not get further involved afterwards but instead, he did help keep the flame burning via his contributions through the audio dramas, so we did get that thanks to the movie he did.

Speculation that Peter Capaldi is only doing one series from...?

YES! PLEASE more Torchwood! And bring it back to Cardiff!!

I truly hope it's not the case.

However, if it is, I wonder... the Curator made it possible for the Doctor to regenerate into an 'old favourite' face. Maybe this could open the door to finally have Paul McGann for a proper telly run? It would be the only good outcome to Capaldi only staying a year.

My two cents: as much as I loved seeing Doctor Who on the big screen, it's not something that should be often, lest it lose its specialty. Doctor Who was made for television, and it is there where it shines. So no, Doctor Who doesn't need another feature film presentation.

Or even a standalone, self-contained movie featuring (whispers) Christopher Ecclestone? David Tennant? Matt Smith? Why confine it to John Hurt or Paul McGann? Agreed they've had the least screen time but there could be other exciting stories to be told.... for whichever Doctor.... without wrecking the continuity of the whole thing.

Come to think of it, if they really wanted to, I don't see why there shouldn't be a TV episode featuring a different Doctor and companions every week (or two or three weeks, if they want to bring back cliff hangers). Sorry, bit off-topic there....

I don't understand why Moffat is so insistent it should be the current Doctor. Surely, given the need for major movies to be accessible to non-fans unfamiliar with the TV show, the obvious solution is Eighth Doctor movies. All that's established on TV is his beginning and end, so all sorts of things could be done with him that wouldn't interfere with the TV series continuity, and the Big Finish audios could be the basis of scripts.

Sigh. In my dreams I guess...

The Nostromo ... now why does that name seem familiar?

Am i the only one that though the interview with 1 Derision was deliberatly sabotaged? They managed to chat to Australia with no problem. I was laughing my head off when they had to abandon the video link!

The afterparty was prett awfull though. I only watched it out of respect for the classic companions. (hated seeing the presenters manage to offend pretty much everyone though).

May I suggest they use a movie star to headline their little Doctor Who action packed Dalek movie - John Hurt
The special has paved the way (assuming the Christmas special doesn't throw the War Doctor away)

I'd like to see a Time-War Trilogy with John Hurt and his stories during the war. it would put star wars to shame.

It's because it was published that Capaldi signed a 1 series contract, and fans immediatly started speculating, because fans will be fans.
Truth is, every Doctor signed only a 1 series contract every year. That's just how they do it. Nothing to worry about

Considering how many times Matt has talked about taking the show "year by year" since 2010, I highly doubt that's anything new. Series 9 probably isn't officially commissioned yet, anyway. I could see Capaldi doing only two series, but not just the one.

They should have known better.

The original Doctor Who swirling titles were made by a camera filming its own monitor output on a filming loop basically filming itself.

The 1D (as there were only two of them that should be 2/5ths D) problem may not just have been caused by the 15 secs time delay but the loop of Zoe in the UK talking to 1D in the USA and then Zoe in the UK hearing herself talking to 1D in the USA and then hearing again herself in the USA talking to 1D in the UK etc..., a loop effect like the filming of a monitor output filming itself 50 years ago.

Event episodes of about 90 minute every now and then might work. Not that they are necessary, but it would not be a bad idea. But it would have to be something within the frame of the series and not independent. But I am personally completely satisfied with Doctor Who on the TV only. - Ritter.

You mean you saved lots of episodes by buying them at your own personal expense when the BBC wanted to junk them and were involved in the recovery of other episodes?

We as fans have a lot to thank Ian for.

you know, i love doctor who too - perhaps not as much as some, i certainly don't know the finer minutia regarding regeneration limits or time-locks etc, but i tune in every week and thoroughly enjoy the show.

that being said, it's a kid's tv programme - so your snarky 1D comments seem a little petulant to me. judgemental geeks are so passé.

Great idea, but I fear that the money people would never sign off on something that could be construed as 'confusing' for the audience - having one Doctor on the small screen and a different incarnation on the big screen, regardless of the fact that anyone with half a brain could work out what was going on, would probably represent 'brand confusion', and would be unworkable.

What they really need to do is find actors to play the Doctor who will stick around a bit, instead of buggering off a.s.a.p. Otherwise, we're going to need even more new ways to extend, reset, mitigate or break the regeneration limit. *sigh*

Much as we'd all like to see more work on this from Eccleston, he's distanced himself artistically from the role. It seems wild horses can't drag him back to it now. It's sad, but a decision that has to be respected.

Only excuse I could see for a Doctor Who movie (and in all honesty, I mean a series of Doctor Who movies) is to fill in some more of the Paul McGann gaps. And I can't see em doing that, because it'd probably put off new viewers.

Oh yeah, and fair enough to him. I was really just wishing out loud... or rather in print.... Perhaps one day they may all decide that doing a couple of weeks worth of work every so often is preferable to being tied in for months and each do some kind of set of "miniseries".... I can but dream!

Yeah it was Moff who said in an interview that, and I paraphrase "Capaldi has only signed up for 1 series, and we will see how that goes". So the normal 1 series, renew, extend etc I imagine

I would say that happens throughout the Marvel stories. Amazing Spiderman in Movies, Ultimate Spiderman in the animated TV series. Even more confusing, Ultimate Spiderman features Agent Coulson, Nick Fury, Iron Man, The Hulk all referencing the Avengers movie. Doesn't seem to cause too much confusion. Oh and then there is Agents of Shield. So there is precedence for a TV/Movie crossover

I would pay good money to see more Eighth Doctor movies with Paul McGann!

Hmm, I see what you mean, but I think comics are a special case - apart from the fact that their various continuities are historically so confusing and intermingled that even fans often can't work out who's doing what at any one time, I'd venture that keeping comics continuity in line with film / TV continuity is less of a concern for those wielding the dollars, as they don't have as much of an effect on the mainstream perception of the franchises in question. And the execs probably figure that the cartoon is just for kids, so who cares.

I'll admit that I'm not hugely up on what's happening in comics at the moment - is Miles whatshisname Spiderman right now, or Doctor Octopus? I'd imagine that if there were a live-action Spiderman TV series featuring Peter Parker, there's no way that those in power would sign off on a film version featuring a different incarnation of Spiderman, for example, and Agents of SHIELD (arguably) complements the Marvel movies - they'd never have a different guy playing Coulson in the show, for example, even if there was a precedent for it in the mythology.

I think what it boils down to is that execs want to keep things simple because they think people are idiots!

Would love a movie. Make it canon. Multi doctor, McGann, Hurt, Eccleston. Doesn't even need to include Capaldi to give him some breathing space. Make it gritty and a bit nasty.

I think he's more worried about a rogue Peter Cushing non canon Doctor.


Unless a movie explored events earlier in the timeline, it'd need to follow the canon of the concurrent TV series.

Love the Paul McGann idea. We never saw any episodes with him as the Doctor, so another movie with current production values would be great.

I really don't see the point of Doctor Who movies. What could they offer, other than a bigger fx budget, that the current tv show doesn't?!? Stick to tv Doctor!!!

There is precedent with William Hartnell/Peter Cushing, which was exactly this and which actually did have two entirely separate continuities while this idea wouldn't.

The first 6 years of Doctor Who, they averaged 42 episodes a year. A different length and a different process so you can't make a direct comparison to today based just on the numbers but still a very punishing schedule indeed.

How about treating the Christmas specials as movies ?

Spend a bit more money on the production - a production on a slightly grander scale - maybe a co production - that the crew could work on while they are filming the regular series and then the regular cast could go along and film their scenes but do it within their normal schedule.

It would be a start ....

I love this idea so much I think someone make a petition!

Pick a Doctor, any Doctor. Unless you picked Tom Baker, he buggered off sooner than either Smith or Tennant.

Doctor who is TV & TV at it's best.
Don't fix what ain't broke.

Yeah, I was thinking mainly of Eccleston and the 'rumour' about Capaldi only doing 13. In this new run of Who, we're living in an age of 'stunt casting' and busy actors who would be great doctors but who can't or won't commit to long runs, so this ends up having an impact on the lore and so on. Which isn't great, really.

True. I just think that the way execs' minds work now means they'd be less likely to sign off on something like that - far too risk-averse!

I don't want to sound like I'm down on the idea - I'd absolutely love to see McGann on the big screen, and from an audience point of view I'm sure no-one would have an issue with it. It's more that I'm pessimistic about the mindset of the money people!

A Christmas movie of The Chimes of Midnight with Paul McGann would a great place to start...

Eccleston pretty much left as a result of behind-the-scenes stuff whereas the rumour about Capaldi is exactly that (I doubt that he will only do one series when he's been waiting 50 years for the role).

True, I agree that if you had different actors playing the same character in 2 consecutive performances (TV/Film) then it may be confusing for people. The current Marvel Ultimate Spiderman is Peter Parker, but he is animated as you say so less confusing. I just really find the whole Marvel universe interesting, and they are using the same universe in the cartoons as the movies. All great stuff as far as I am concerned. But after all that I would say I think Doctor Who belongs on the small screen. It could lose it's charm on the big screen.

I don't honestly think I could sit through a 2 hour movie. I would rather see the TV series go back to its serial-based routes, with cliffhanger episodes and more visiting other new planets and less Earth-based action. And less formulaic soppy female companions.

I'd like to see a Dr Who CGI cartoon with the old doctors. Call it something like The Dr Who Chronicles and use all the old actors. Wouldn't have to worry about continuity and it could help shift more classic DVDs by introducing kids to the classic series.

Fantastic idea, id be up for that!!

Just want to throw it out there, I was one of the cosplayers from Whoray.

Let's maybe stop referring to Doctor Who as a cult thing. It hasn't been for a few years now. It's probably the biggest TV show in the UK.

No, I don't like the idea of a movie.

Watching the tv show at the cinema each week however, that's genius!! Gonna petition my local arts cinema to sort it out.

Yeah,a global audience of 77 million cant really be called a cult.

Unless its the scientologists.

I hope they never make a Doctor Who movie.

How about this for an easy fix? Opening scene is a cameo from 'current' Doctor encountering something that looks familiar, cue flashback to McGann...

Someone put this man in charge!

I was one of the cosplayers from Middlesborough :p

"And some might argue that the bigger story is worldwide, confirming for
once and for all that the series has really broken out of its cult
favourite status." Yep!

Theres already a doctor who movie...

No objection to a movie being made, but it has to tie in with the continuity of the series. None of this reboot or reimagining nonsense - not while the original series is still on the air. Fans will reject it soundly. Unfortunately, there isn't enough mainstream knowledge of the franchise for a McGann movie to work - only the diehards really cared when he came back for the minisode, everyone else went "Where's Matt Smith?" A movie featuring a different Doctor would only work if it was explicitly indicated that this is a future incarnation safely removed from the current series (i.e. have someone say this is the 30th or 40th Doctor, leaving plenty of breathing room for the TV series).


There needs to be a movie that shows where it all began... his relationship with his family and with the master leading to him stealing the tardis and running out.

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