Why Doctor Who should exploit its shared universe potential

Now is the perfect time for Doctor Who to capitalise on its spin-off potential, and Andrew has a few suggestions as to how...

As audiences grow accustomed to shared universes presented across television and film, isn’t now the perfect time for Doctor Who to capitalise on its spin-off potential?

The most persistent argument against any new Doctor Who spin-off, particularly one involving past Doctors, appears to be that it would have an adverse effect on the main show. Yet is there any evidence to suggest this is the case? And could a spin-off, or event series featuring past companions and characters, actually entice new viewers to the hit BBC One drama?

If we look back at the height of David Tennant’s tenure in the TARDIS, two shows – in the form of Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures – complemented the Time Lord’s main adventures. Torchwood certainly gathered new disciples for the Whovian cause – particularly in the US – and the inclusion of characters from both it and SJA, in the Series 4 finale Journey’s End, helped Doctor Who hit the number one spot in the UK TV chart for the first time in its history. Hasn’t Doctor Who already proved (and rather successfully) that it can coexist and benefit from a shared universe? Perceived wisdom dictates that past Doctor appearances should be limited – yet thanks to the success of Marvel’s shared universe, perhaps today’s audiences would be much more receptive to a semi-regular dose of multi-Doctor action. While previous classic series team ups, though pleasing and exciting for the fans, were never quite huge rating pullers, The Day Of The Doctor with its Hurt, Tennant and Smith combination, gave the new series another No.1 placing in the UK TV chart – and its highest rating for almost 5 years.

As long as such a series offered a different perspective on the Time Lord‘s adventures, and defined itself clearly as an event series, who’s to say it wouldn’t entice more viewers to its parent show. With the BBC exploring ways to offer new original content online, and the very real possibility of it existing as a non-compulsory subscription service in the near future, perhaps it only a matter of time before the Time Lord’s worldwide popularity is expanded upon. The possibilities for a franchise as flexible as Doctor Who are endless, perhaps almost too flexible as it can make the grounding in of regular recurring characters and locations tricky – hence why Russell T Davies made return trips to the 51st century. Choosing from an array of supporting characters may be an arduous, but not impossible, task, so to who or where should our favourite sci-fi franchise turn, if it does choose to venture into spin-off territory once more?

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The Road to War: The War Doctor Event Series

After delivering such a sublime performance in The Day Of The Doctor, resonating with fans both young and old, we surely can’t have seen the last of  John Hurt’s Time Lord. Despite being billed as a man with blood on his hands – we actually witnessed a tired, battle weary Time Lord rediscover his soul and reclaim a little of his light – if only for a day. A six-part event series exploring his struggle with the consequences of his actions while the Time War rages, could be something truly special. The risk of course, is that delving deeper into the Time War could destroy the very mystique which had builtup around it. Yet as The Day Of The Doctor proved, the war has become such an important part of the programme’s mythology, and it registers strongly with fans and casual viewers alike.

The Road to War: The Eighth Doctor Event Series

With almost 4 million views on YouTube, Paul McGann made a triumphant (if brief) return to Doctor Who in its 50th anniversary year. As his eighth incarnation stated in The Night Of The Doctor, he merely helps out where he can and refuses to have any part in the Time War. It’s not hard to imagine then, a mini-series depicting the Eighth Doctor working at great pains to protect the innocents caught up in the fallout from the conflict. Or perhaps an adaptation of the popular Big Finish audio series Dark Eyes – this pits McGann against the Daleks in what appears to be the first rumblings of the Time War – could be made exclusively for BBC iPlayer. Once again, as long as the show were to offer something different, it could complement the main series and lead to an exciting team-up later down the line.

The Paternoster Gang

The most glaringly oblivious choice for a spin-off, only recently downplayed by showrunner Steven Moffat – he may well be right in his assumption that the moment has passed for these characters – but would a slightly darker, and seemingly more paranormal slant to the trio’s investigations not work? Think The X-Files meets Scooby Doo with a dash of The Walking Dead – as Vastra, Jenny and Strax tackle more baffling cases assigned by the local constabulary.

Psi and Saibra aka A Galaxy Of Rogues

The more I watch Time Heist, the more it becomes my favourite episode from Series 8. Stylishly directed by Douglas McKinnon, this episode introduced the likeable criminal pairing of Psi and Saibra, and chronicling their further capers could open up a whole Guardians Of The Galaxy-style universe for Doctor Who to play in. Although Saibra had her shape-shifting abilities suppressed by the end of the episode – I’m sure a suitable explanation for their return, perhaps only at will, could be devised.

UNIT: New Recruits

Kate Stewart. Great isn’t she. Let’s follow her as she further reforms UNIT, and continues the science leads philosophy of her father, by recruiting the youngest and brightest minds to tackle the latest alien force intent on overthrowing humanity. Forming a specialist team of both brains and muscle, the new recruits will initially struggle to appreciate each other’s skills. However, when Stewart herself is taken hostage by an enemy hidden within UNIT, the team pool their unique talents to rescue their mentor. All against orders of course. This is starting to sound like a pitch isn’t it…

Torchwood

One world which is already firmly established, and waiting patiently for a return, is that of Captain Jack Harkness and his remaining Torchwood crew. John Barrowman, currently wowing as the impressively villainous Malcolm Merlyn in the superhero hit – Arrow, has always expressed a willingness to return to his breakout role. Even though Jack’s last appearance was a brief cameo in David Tennant’s swansong over 4 years ago, Harkness is still an extremely popular and recognisable character. While a limited run of Torchwood episodes could lead to say a two-part return for Captain Jack in Doctor Who, others have suggested pairing the character with the equally enigmatic River Song – er, unfortunately Steven Moffat has already made use of an episode entitled The Big Bang…  

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Doctor Who: The Animated Adventures

While our classic Doctors continue to shine on audio, how about an animated series showcasing a different Doctor and companion combination per episode? Not quite unlike the pleasure of receiving your Big Finish subscription each month, children would have to wait patiently through the titles, before discovering which Doctor would be transporting them through time and space this week.

You may well ask, does the genre world really need another shared universe? Doctor Who currently remains a beacon for the single season story arc – an inspiration it took from the likes of Buffy on its return to TV almost ten years ago now. Perhaps as it did then, Doctor Who needs to take stock of what is happening around it, and do what it has always done to survive… change.

What direction would you like to see Doctor Who take if the show launches another set of spin-offs? Why not leave your ideas or comments below.