The response to the announcement this week by Harry Potter and State of Play director David Yates that he and Jane Tranter, the former BBC Controller of Drama Commissioning, are to begin developing a movie version of Doctor Who was something akin to the way lions react when a gazelle innocently strolls into their territory.
Yates, who was coincidentally born seven days after the programme itself in November 1963, was – metaphorically speaking – taking a harmless sup at the watering hole by announcing that his proposed big-screen version wouldn’t follow on from the TV series and would take a completely fresh approach to the concept.
By the time he’d wiped the dribble from his chin, a rampaging pride of fans had burst out of the undergrowth of the internet and leapt on him, jaws snapping at his flesh, intent on ripping the lauded filmmaker to pieces for having the temerity to suggest anything like tampering with their favourite Time Lord. All that Twitter needed was David Attenborough sombrely narrating the carnage that ensued.
‘WTF IS THIS #doctorwhomovie MADDNESS. I WILL KILL YOU DAVID YATES,’ one remarked. ‘KILL David Yates, KILL the arsehole!’ added another. ‘He should never have directed any HP movies, let alone be set to direct a Doctor Who movie. Kill the ass!’ A third, even more charmlessly-illiterate tweeter said: ‘david yates you are a terrible human being i hope you die in a fire before you get a chance to shit all over my favorite show.’
Of course, hysterical and violent online overreactions are nothing new, and while these are just a small percentage of the faceless nastiness, there was a good deal more considered, less unpleasant but equally unenthusiastic reaction.
During the bleak days of the early 1990s, when Doctor Who was a redundant joke at the BBC and the likelihood of the show ever being revived was as skimpy as one of Jo Grant’s miniskirts, several movie projects in the UK and the US were green-lit and then tossed asunder, the vast majority of them demonstrating a dismal lack of comprehension of what made the show so popular in its heyday.
Eventually, the 1996 TV film starring Paul McGann mercifully ended all likelihood of such tosh as The Dark Dimension, Last of the Time Lords (not that one) and whatever-that-one-about-fathers-and-brothers-was-called being made, but the worry amongst fans with memories that stretch beyond the days of Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper is that any new Hollywood movie incarnation will be similarly derelict in understanding what makes Doctor Who so marvellous.
Worse, many feel, is the possibility that a cinema franchise – successful or otherwise – will negatively impact upon the television version, whether there is any connection between the two beyond the name and concept or not.
A triumphant box office smash might lead to the BBC series being rested, for example, at the behest of Hollywood moguls not wanting their brand diluted by anything as plebeian as a TV show. A dismal flop might leave viewers on both sides of the Atlantic disenfranchised from the parent programme, and ultimately lead to the show being axed all over again – perhaps forever.
Fortunately, not all the reaction has been negative – and nor should it be. Even for the naysayers, it has to be pointed out that Yates and Tranter – who oversaw the rebirth of the show during her time at the BBC – are only at the very beginning of a long and ongoing process which may not even lead to a film being released, let alone unleash a behemoth of a franchise trampling the telly version into the ground.
Yet if they do succeed in getting to the filmmaking stage, there’s a great deal to look forward to: vast wodges of cash being thrown at the series so they can film huge, galaxy-spanning adventures in foreign locations doubling for exotic alien worlds rather than quarries in South Wales; the cream of Hollywood A-listers filling the cast list; and Doctor Who finally achieving its deserved place at the top of the list of the greatest science-fiction/fantasy of all time, shoving Captain Kirk, Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter aside.
But that doesn’t mean abandoning the television series like a Christmas puppy. Despite the worries of many fans, there’s nothing to suggest that, if successful, the two can’t exist side-by-side in mutual and reciprocal harmony. Or even better, crossing over from one to the other: Steven Moffat’s imagination powering a Yates directed, Hollywood-budgeted epic, or a Kevin Spacey incarnation of the Doctor swapping the big-screen for an episode alongside Matt Smith filmed on the Gower peninsula.
Doctor Who reaches its fiftieth birthday in two years’ time. So does David Yates. Rather than pillorying the latter in favour of the former, it makes more sense to celebrate the wonderful possibilities than to bury them in a shower of anxious what-ifs.
Then, perhaps when these two great British icons turn sixty, we might have a television series and a movie franchise running simultaneously. Not even the Daleks could exterminate that.
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