ON WITH THE SHOW: _Doctor Who_'s Legacy After Cancellation

By: Roger Clark
20 November 2000

      When _Doctor Who_ went off the air in 1989 it went with the
promise of a return.  The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) went
on record to say that it would be back, albeit as an independent
production.  At the time, British TV was changing quite
considerably, the BBC more than any other part.  Programmes were
moving away from in-house production to independent companies in
cost-cutting exercises, a practice that still exists today and
one many argue ruined the output from the country.  
     There was also a move away from serial dramas and towards
short-run movie-length series (basically a movie-of-the-week
crossed with a mini-series). The only exceptions to this format
were the soaps.  Science fiction had also become unpopular with
TV bosses. Their interests lay more with sports and other shows
which meant that the only series representing the genre were
tucked away imports, _Red Dwarf_ (technically a comedy) and the
odd children's series.  
     BBC schedulers had also put _Doctor Who_ in the traditional
graveyard slot for three years.  It aired opposite top ratings
winner _Coronation Street_ (a soap opera which had been running
just as long as _Doctor Who_ and regularly attracted 18 million
viewers). Ratings were later quoted as a factor in _Doctor Who_'s
demise but this was no surprise to anyone with the slightest
knowledge of the way British TV scheduling worked.  _Doctor Who_
was given very little publicity during its last days but it still
held up remarkably against its bitter rival.  By attracting
between 4 and 5 million, the show had outdone all other would-be
challengers to _Coronation Street_'s crown.
     When _Doctor Who_ did not return the following year people
began to worry.  Was this another institution consigned to the
scrap heap?  In response, the BBC bosses said that they wanted to
take it safely through the nineties... little did fans know that
they would only get one proper story that decade.  Whether the
conspiracy theorists were right about the BBC not wanting to
bring the show back, it still remained firmly in the public eye.
The series had run for 26 years and was now firmly embedded in
the country's national psyche.
     Stories abounded in the press on a regular basis about the
series returning.  Even more column-inches were written about the
proposed feature film.  Everyone from John Cleese to Donald
Sutherland was named to play the part.  It was also going to be a
sexy, up-dated version (hence the headlines such as 'Lust in
Space' and other corny phrases).  If the return of the series
wasn't assured, one thing was certain - the BBC would not be
allowed to forget this series...
     Over the next decade, every event connected to the
programme, no matter how small, was given more prominence than if
it had occurred when the series had been on air.  This unlikely
situation therefore provided headlines for the launch of original
stories in book and audio form, special charity 'episodes', the
return of missing footage and, of course, the aborted American
co-production staring Paul McGann.
     As early as December 1989, letters started appearing in
national magazines such as the Radio Times (Britain's version of
"TV Guide" and its top-selling publication) bemoaning the fact
that there was no sign of a new series.  All these were answered
by the BBC with the standard "it will be back" promise.
     With no new TV _Doctor Who_, the fans and the public started
to look for new outlets for the Doctor's adventures.  Marvel's
"Doctor Who Magazine" carried on with the comic strips and
provided a lot of support to the ailing world of a fandom without
a show.  The magazine moved away from the superficial teen-like
publication that it had sometimes been accused of to become an
in-depth analysis of the programme.  While maintaining this
new-found interest in the series, the magazine also moved towards
the nostalgic element and it is not uncommon to now find articles
based around favourite cliff-hangers and others topics which
involve the readership more than ever before.
     The publication of _Doctor Who_ books also found itself
having to change dramatically with no new show on air.  This
began almost immediately with the publication of a number of
novels based on cancelled stories from an earlier season of
_Doctor Who_.  W. H. Allen, the company who produced the books,
had found their _Doctor Who_ range a hugely popular and
profitable enterprise.  For years they had been novelizing the
television stories.  The number of stories produced each year had
started to dwindle in the last years of the _Doctor Who_ and by
the time the show was cancelled there were very few televised
episodes left to publish.  Their non-fiction range of large
hardbacks had also proven popular but there was only so much that
one could say in an A-Z of monsters or in a nostalgic look back
during an anniversary season.  Eventually, W. H. Allen too turned
towards the analytical with such acclaimed publications as
"Doctor Who - The Sixties" and the companion volumes "The
Seventies" and "The Eighties".
     Back on the novel front, the company had thought long and
hard about their profitable franchise and approached the BBC with
the idea of original stories.  The BBC agreed and in 1991, the
first of the New Adventures hit the shelves.  The New Adventures
novels were designed to bring the show up-to-date and were
definitely more adult in their content than the ones based on the
TV episodes. It was now not uncommon to find the seventh Doctor
and his companions involved with sex, drugs and other adult
themes (something the British tabloids enjoyed immensely!).  
Having carried on the seventh Doctor's adventures in this way for
several years, some fans cried out for other Doctors to be
featured in more traditional settings and a companion series of
books, the Missing Adventures, was born.  As the New Adventures
reached its fiftieth title, the series had seen the Doctor's last
TV companion leave to be replaced by a number of other characters
who are even today carrying on in spin-off novels and CDs of
their own.
     Virgin Publishing's New Adventure novels (W. H. Allen had
now been taken over by Virgin) were an essential part of the
continuation of _Doctor Who_ -- and then even this was thrown
into doubt.  The license for _Doctor Who_ novels with the BBC was
coming up for renewal and rumours abound that it would not be
sold again.  The rumors were right.  The BBC refused to renew the
license for Virgin books and decided to publish _Doctor Who_
novels themselves.  BBC Books, as a branch of BBC Worldwide, had
been around for years but they could now see a profitable side to
_Doctor Who_ and the New Adventures line ceased.  The current
novels are still published at the rate of two per month but now
focus on the adventures of the eighth Doctor (who featured in the
US produced television movie) with the seventh consigned to the
companion novels featuring other Doctors.
     While the BBC took over the range of novels, they also
continued with their video releases.  The company had always been
quick off-the-mark with new trends in the video market and more
special video-only releases and box sets saw life after the
programme vanished.  The BBC even started to release the
soundtracks to various missing stories, with one title surprising
everyone by making it into the album charts (the first 'talking
book' ever to do so).
     Almost immediately after the show went off the air in 1989,
interest was shown from a variety of companies in making new
_Doctor Who_.  As well as the film franchise still rumbling in
the background, old names associated with the shows past wanted
to bring it back under their control. However, the BBC weren't
too enthralled with the proposals - Hollywood beckoned...
     Although it would take until 1996 to see it finally hit the
screen, Philip Segal had gained interest in producing _Doctor
Who_ from the likes of Columbia TriStar, Amblin and Fox.  These
negotiations would continue throughout the early nineties and it
could be argued that they stopped the show coming back in any
real form until the Paul McGann movie.
     By 1993, interest in the show was at fever-pitch in the UK.
This was the show's thirtieth anniversary and the fans and the
public would not let it go unnoticed.  At the BBC there were
plans to do a special one-off story featuring all the Doctors
which could be shown on television but would be released on video
first to take full opportunity of the commercial aspect of any
such venture.  The original feature was to be called "The Dark
Dimension".  However, various things sank the project.  Some of
the actors were not pleased that their roles were so small (the
script featured the fourth Doctor prominently while the others
had cameos) and then there were issues with the on-going
negotiations with Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment.  The project
was unceremoniously dropped as it was on the verge of being
filmed (even some contracts had been signed).  As a result, the
BBC lost a lot of credibility with the fans and above all the
public and the press.
     Out of nowhere the BBC announced that all the Doctors would
indeed be reunited for a special story.  This would form part of
the annual Children In Need telefon (telethon to you Americans)
and would be in 3D.  This two-part story was broadcast over the
anniversary as part of the fund-raiser to help sick children but
was in total around 10 minutes long.  Many fans were
disappointed.  This 'story' had even been described as a
pantomime in official press releases, which would have seemed
derogatory to those who were used to seeing _Doctor Who_ as
serious drama.  There was just not enough time to fit every
companion, monster and, of course, Doctor into this complicated
     However, there was light at the end of the tunnel with a
prime-time documentary on BBC1 along with a number of repeats
(preceded by specially commissioned featurettes).  The
anniversary was also marked by a number of exhibitions and one of
the largest conventions the country had ever seen (the regular
Panopticon run by the Doctor Who Appreciation Society, the
largest UK fan club).  Another highlights was the broadcast of a
new radio story starring Jon Pertwee as the third Doctor.  This
was such a ratings success that there would be a further radio
story featuring the 1970's _Doctor Who_ UNIT cast and has now
lead to the recording of a new pilot being recorded for a
proposed radio series featuring the seventh Doctor.
     Fan involvement at this time continued to be strong.  In
Birmingham for example, the Wolves of Fenric group teamed up with
the BBC and the city council to put on a _Doctor Who_ Festival
which included a record-breaking exhibition, showings of the
sixties Dalek movies at the cinema, celebrity appearances, plays,
publications, competitions and other events.
     Then in early 1994 the British press got hold of the story
that Steven Spielberg was to make a new _Doctor Who_ movie (not
entirely accurate of course).  The BBC, in response, confirmed
that they were holding talks with Amblin about a new series.  But
fans ran scared when the press started with a new line of stories
about David Hasselhoff being cast and a rapping, talking TARDIS
being featured!  Of course, the part was given to Paul McGann and
when the story aired in the UK there was no way you could miss
it.  Every magazine, newspaper and other publication carried the
story of the return and recommended it as a must-watch.  Most had
large articles and the show took over many a front cover.  HMV
stores opened at midnight for the video release that happened
just before it aired and there were television preview trailers
     When the American made TV movie aired it got 9 million
viewers in the UK, making it the top-rated drama of 1996.
However, in the US the movie aired against the last episode of
_Roseanne_, as well as _Third Rock From The Sun_ and other
top-rated shows.  Although the ratings were not bad in
comparison, they were not good enough for Fox to commission a
series.  Hope for a new TV series of _Doctor Who_ was back to
square one.
     Fans now found that they were guiding the show via the
books, the series very much became the property of a select few
enthusiasts involved in merchandising of the show.  The fans were
writing the books, the magazines and even influencing what little
TV shows we got (the producer of the American TV movie pursued
the rights because he was himself a fan of the series).  Some
fans were now in the entertainment profession and began to make
video spin-offs featuring non-copyright characters from the show. 
These have now included adventures with companions Liz Shaw,
Sarah Jane Smith and The Brigadier (all played by the original
actors).  Monsters making their return include the Autons, Yeti
and the Sontarans.
     It was only a matter of time before this was taken one step
further and in 1999 a professional company owned by some of the
fans was given a license from the BBC to make official _Doctor
Who_ stories on audio.  These radio play-like stories have now
included all the surviving Doctors, bar the fourth, and their
respective companions.  The line of audio adventures has even
featured the Daleks, something that most official products could
never get the rights for.
     The Daleks also featured prominently in 1999 via an Official
United Kingdom postage stamp.  A Dalek from _Doctor Who_ was used
to represent sixties TV by the Royal Mail (beating popular rival
_Coronation Street_), something which is quite an honour in a
country where the rules about images on stamps are strict.
     The popularity of the series (and the Daleks) was also shown
in poll after poll conducted for various organizations.  These
polls were to ascertain which were the best shows in the history
of television with _Doctor Who_ frequently winning or making the
top ten.  The first appearance of the Daleks was voted as the
best dramatic moment ever while the BBC's flagship soap/drama
_EastEnders_ suffered an embarrassing defeat in another poll for
best drama series.
     Also in 1999, the BBC produced another charity episode
called "The Curse of the Fatal Death".  This one was for the
Comic Relief fundraiser and featured many stars as the Doctor
including Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Grant and Joanna Lumley. 
Obviously, it was intended as a comedy but was an affectionate
pastiche of a series still held dear by the British public.
     As things stand there is no sign of the Doctor making his
way back on to TV but there may be a feature film in the wings
(the rights having reverted back to the BBC).  Books, video
releases, audio adventures, magazines, comic books, and more
items continue to keep the show alive for the fans and the
public.  But for now, as "The Curse of the Fatal Death" comedy
special ended, we now know that the Doctor has used up all his
lives ending up as a woman who has gone off with his arch-rival
the Master... or did (s)he?

(c) Copyright Roger Clark, 2000.


     Roger Clark is a journalist who has been a chief reporter
for the Willenhall, Darlaston, and Wednesbury AdNews.  He has
contributed to a number of other newspapers including the
Wolverhampton News, The Chase Post, and The Lichfield Post.  He
has been a radio show host and presenter on BBC Radio-West
Midlands and has hosted a radio interview program on Challenge
FM.  He has also appeared on television as a presenter on Carlton
TV's magazine program "Out There".
     As a writer he is the co-author of the _Babylon 5 Security
Manual_ and also wrote the text on the collector's cards which
were included in the Warner Home Video _Babylon 5_ videos at
specialty stores.  He has written articles for "Doctor Who
Magazine" and "Dreamwatch" (the later for which he was Listings
Editor for a number of years) as well as "The Radio Times" and
"The Express & Star". 
     He was a production assistant on the BBC Film Club post-
Doctor Who video "More than a Messiah" and remains very active in
Doctor Who circles.  He is the webmaster for the "Wolves of
Fenric" Doctor Who club, a co-sponsor of the "TIME AND SPACE ON


Prepared for:
Time and Space On Television -
A Display of Realia Related to the 
_Doctor Who_ Television Series

A display located at:
Milwaukee School of Engineering 
Walter Schroeder Library
November 23, 2000 B February 01, 2001

Display sponsored by:
Earthbound Timelords 
Wolves of Fenric 
Milwaukee School of Engineering MAGE Club 
Milwaukee School of Engineering Walter Schroeder Library


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Last Updated November 30, 2000