Yesterday afternoon, Twitter lit up with news and/or rumours that a Doctor Who movie is in production. The accuracy of this seems in doubt – an article in Variety seems fairly definite, but Doctor Who Magazine, easily the most trustworthy DW news source, says it’s just the same rumours that have been doing the rounds for years. I’m really none the wiser, although the kurfuffle did drive traffic towards a non-movie-related DW post I wrote, so that was helpful.
Putting aside the accuracy of the reports, should there be a Doctor Who movie? The smart alec answer is that there’ve already been two, back in the sixties, remakes of the first two Dalek stories starring Peter Cushing. Big screen adventures out of continuity with the TV show are nothing new. And yet…
And yet I’m not convinced that film is the best medium for Doctor Who. One of the show’s strengths is that it has an incredibly flexible format – one week it can be about a comedy encounter with Agatha Christie, the next week it can be about the horrors of World War I. By picking one type of story to focus on, a movie, by necessity, loses that flexibility – what story would they go for? A big space opera conflict with the Daleks? A funny alien meeting a girl from contemporary Britain? A story set during a well-known historical event? All of these are representative of Doctor Who – picking just one could have a Schrodinger’s Cat-like effect on the flexibility, the fluidity of the concept. That’s why Doctor Who‘s natural home is serialised television.
(It also doesn’t help that film’s tend to be about the key moment in their lead character’s life – taking the TV series as a guide, this would be the Doctor leaving his home planet in the first place or specific details about the apocalyptic Time War… And yet we don’t need to see these. They’re the motivation behind the Doctor’s every action, but the mystery surrounding specifics is compelling. Again, the flexibility to imagine your own answer to these questions is a powerful aspect of the show. Indeed, fan engagement is one of the main reasons it’s lasted so long.)
Of course, over the last few weeks I’ve been influenced by the book/blog TARDIS Eruditorum, which makes the point that the serialised nature of Doctor Who is one of its key strengths – that’s why, for much of its history, the show was based around an episodic structure, complete with cliffhangers – you get to imagine your own continuation of the story for a week before seeing how that marries up with what the writers came up with – even the relaunched series is based around plot arcs. Film lacks this, unless you take the risky move of doing a trilogy.
But, and here I’ve nicked another idea from the Eruditorum, one of the themes of Doctor Who is running and escape: “I ran,” the 10th Doctor once said, “In some ways I’ve been running ever since.” The ever changing setting, bouncing around galaxies and history, adds to this – never stand still, never hang around, never go home. A one-off story doesn’t give you this. A film series could, but it wouldn’t really do anything that couldn’t be done more effectively on TV.
And don’t cite film’s ability to get big name actors and huge special effects, because Doctor Who has produced great stuff on a budget of five quid and a bag of crisps, and one look at the guest cast since 2005 reveals plenty of acting talent, thank you very much.
Anyway, the film looks like just a rumour at the moment. I’m not going to worry about it or channel the Geek Rage. Doctor Who remains, at its heart, a TV show that goes out on a Saturday evening and lets your imagination run riot between episodes. Even if it makes it to the big screen again, or is holographically projected into our living rooms, that’s what it will always be. Long may it continue.