Russell T. Davies is returning to Doctor Who for season 14 and beyond – and a co-financing deal also means the BBC has lost creative control.
The BBC has lost control of creative control of Doctor Who from season 14 onwards. Radical changes are in store for the BBC’s flagship science-fiction TV series; current showrunner, Chris Chibnall, is departing after season 13 and next year’s specials, along with Thirteenth Doctor, Jodie Whittaker. Chibnall will be replaced by returning showrunner Russell T. Davies, the man who relaunched Doctor Who so successfully back in 2005.
Chibnall has consistently argued the most important changes will happen behind-the-scenes. In his view, Doctor Who needs to reinvent itself in the age of Disney+, competing with the likes of Marvel and Lucasfilm. The only possible solution lay in a co-production deal, with a partner co-financing in return for certain benefits, such as some distribution rights or some element of creative say. A good example was The Night Manager, which reportedly cost £3 million per episode at a time when UK broadcaster budgets for primetime dramas rarely exceed £700-800,000 an hour. In the case of Doctor Who, the BBC has partnered with Bad Wolf, a production firm based in Wales run by two former producers who worked with Davies on the 2005 relaunch. There have been reports Bad Wolf is soon to be acquired by Sony, following a £60 million deal.
According to The Times, Bad Wolf is responsible for the creative direction and production, while the BBC retains international sales, merchandise and other ancillary matters. Essentially this means that, from Doctor Who season 14 onwards, the BBC will no longer have creative control of Doctor Who. The Times report this could mean the BBC will miss out on up to £40 million in commercial revenue for every ten episodes; “It’s extraordinary that BBC Studios has just rolled over,” one source commented.
The Times‘ report seems overly critical, however. The BBC’s finances are under significant strain, with the Conservative government continually placing pressure on their main source of income, the TV license fee. There is no way the BBC can produce Doctor Who to the quality level they hope for without signing some sort of co-production deal. What’s more, international distribution and merchandise sales are vitally important in many science-fiction franchises, so losing these would have been a critical blow to another BBC revenue stream. And all the figures involved with Bad Wolf are experienced producers who have worked on Doctor Who before, with the original Davies era aging surprisingly well.
Even The Times‘ estimate of the cost is probably an overestimate, because it fails to factor in the benefits of bringing back Russell T. Davies. The BBC would only agree to something like this if execs were confident Davies and Bad Wolf could dramatically increase Doctor Who‘s profile, with significant increases in viewership and/or franchising. Indeed, it’s significant that – back before he signed up to return as showrunner, and before Bad Wolf was brought in – Davies reminisced about being ahead of the likes of Marvel in trying to build an entire universe around the show, with spin-offs such as Torchwood and The Sarah-Jane Adventures. Davies’ vision for Doctor Who seems to involve it expanding into a bigger franchise than ever before; in which case, the BBC’s taking a step back and giving Davies the room to maneuver could pay off for them in a big way with Doctor Who.
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Source: The Times
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