Disney+ Will Change Doctor Who in One Major Way

The BBC's partnership with Disney doesn't just change the way we watch Doctor Who. It will also change the way we see it.

This Doctor Who article contains spoilers for The Power of the Doctor.

Doctor Who may be a story about a nearly-immortal alien with the ability to travel anywhere in time and space, but it has always been anchored by Earthly concerns. There’s a clear reason for this: since the show’s debut in 1963, actors and directors have long had to work within the BBC’s decidedly small budgets. Over the years, producers have admirably tried to overcome these shortcomings, with the cheap effects becoming part of the series’ charm. Even as wobbly sets and unconvincing masks gave way to dodgy CG and obvious green screen, fans thrilled to the show’s guileless imagination.

However, with Disney+ becoming the Doctor’s new non-UK home, things are about to change. Following the centenary special, “The Power of the Doctor,” the BBC announced that the adventures of incoming Doctor Ncuti Gatwa in season 14 will be streamed internationally on Disney+. However, The Telegraph has found that the deal doesn’t just involve streaming rights but also production support. “[T]he corporate might of Disney will give the show vast budgets beyond the BBC’s means,” the paper reported, “allowing for more cinematic production values and more stars.” With this capital, Doctor Who could now boast resources similar to other Disney+ shows, potentially expanding its storytelling capabilities even further.

While it’s easy to see the upside of this deal, as it allows creators to tell stories with real visual panache, one cannot ignore the potential problems as well. Although The Telegraph notes that returning showrunner Russell T. Davies, who relaunched the series with Christopher Eccleston in 2005, will retain creative control, along with the BBC, Disney isn’t exactly known for its hands-off approach to potential moneymakers.

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More importantly, Disney doesn’t exactly have the same reputation it once enjoyed when it comes to visual excellence and technological advances. In recent years, the home of Snow White and Fantasia has become better known as the studio that produced Obi-Wan Kenobi and She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, both series with CG so unconvincing it actively distracts viewers from the story. Worse still, this lapse in quality comes as more revelations break about Marvel Studios’ mistreatment of visual effects artists.

Some fans might also remember the last time the BBC tried to expand Doctor Who‘s American audience by partnering with Fox for a 1996 TV movie. While the movie certainly has its fans, and Paul McGann has been embraced as the Eighth Doctor in recent years, even its most ardent defenders will concede that it broke from the model. Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor regenerated into McCann after being caught in a gang shootout, the new Doctor claimed to be half-human, and the movie introduced a heretofore absent romantic angle to the Doctor’s relationship to his companion. Worst of all, the movie featured Eric Roberts as an American Master.

While such harch deviations are unlikely in the Disney+ era, it does seem that the days of flimsy rubber masks and PS2-level graphics on their way out for Doctor Who, at least for the time being. Whether that’s a good or bad thing remains to be seen.

Doctor Who will return in November 2023 with a three-episode 60th anniversary special event.