Why has ITV never found its own ‘Doctor Who’?

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This month brought the sad news that fantasy adventure series Jekyll and Hyde has been cancelled after only one season due to disappointing ratings.

Charlie Higson’s ten-part drama was the latest in a line of ITV shows to have aired over the past decade that have tried to ape the family-friendly success of Doctor Who.

Since the Time Lord returned to our screens in 2005, ITV has created several shows to rival the BBC behemoth, airing them in weekend tea-time slots and hoping for some of the Doctor’s magic to rub off on them.

However, none of them have come close to the success of Doctor Who.

Beowulf Kieran Bew

With ITV’s latest effort, Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands, currently struggling to make its mark on Sunday evenings, join us as we try to fathom why…


Primeval (2007-2011)


What was it about?

When ‘anomalies’ – rips in time – begin to open, Professor Nick Cutter (Douglas Henshall) and his team of experts have to capture the dangerous prehistoric monsters that escape into the modern world.

What worked?

ITV must have been very pleased when they came up with the central premise of Primeval – DINOSAURS AND TIME TRAVEL!

ITV got several years mileage out of the series before it was belatedly picked up by Watch for a co-produced final two seasons. Primeval also had a talented cast, with Ben Miller often stealing the show as the comically-uptight boss James Lester.

What didn’t work?

To be fair, Primeval did pretty well for itself, but compared to Doctor Who its five season run feels short-lived and there was also the nagging feeling that the show never quite fully realised the concept’s potential.

As popular as dinosaurs are, perhaps there just wasn’t enough freedom and longevity in the idea of ‘dinosaurs arrive in the present’ compared to Who’s promise of ‘anywhere in time and space.’

> Buy the complete Primeval box set on Amazon.


Demons (2009)


What was it about?

Ordinary teen Luke Rutherford (Christian Cooke) discovers that he is the last of the Van Helsings, a family of monster hunters who are tasked with protecting the world from the forces of darkness.

What worked?

Not much, in all honesty, but it did often have terrific guest stars popping up in villainous roles, usually hidden beneath ridiculous prosthetics, including Mackenzie Crook, Kevin McNally and Richard Wilson.

What didn’t work?

As shown by its short existence (only six episodes were made), Demons was a muddled and derivative series that largely came off as a poor knock-off of superior US programmes such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural. Its cast – led by poor Phillip Glenister trying to grapple with an American accent – were also wasted with thinly-drawn characters stuck in clichéd situations.

> Buy Demons on DVD on Amazon.


Jekyll and Hyde (2015)

Jekyll and Hyde

What was it about?

In the 1930s, Robert Jekyll (Tom Bateman) learns that he is the grandson of the infamous doctor. As he begins to suffer from the same problems with split personality, he becomes caught in the middle of a battle between good and evil.

What worked?

Based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s ever-popular tale, Jekyll and Hyde‘s new twist was mixing it with a world of other monsters and setting it in the time of the Universal horror films, such as Dracula and Frankenstein. It also followed the Doctor Who showrunner mould with popular writer Charlie Higson (of Young Bond, The Fast Show and others) taking the reins, joined by a group of writers that included Doctor Who‘s own Gareth Roberts.

What didn’t work?

We here at Cultbox enjoyed Jekyll and Hyde and were gutted by its cancellation, but we do have to admit that it did have a slow start and some tone issues. However, the problems were nothing that couldn’t have been fixed with a second season.

> Buy Jekyll and Hyde on DVD on Amazon.


So why haven’t any of these series come close to rivalling Doctor Who?

Doctor Who David Tennant Tenth

Is it down to their own flaws or indicative of the wider television landscape right now? Jekyll and Hyde shows that ITV is unwilling to grant a show more than one season to find their feet.

Perhaps even Doctor Who wouldn’t be made today, seeing as when it came back in 2005 it was a reboot of an old classic rather than the BBC taking a chance on a completely new idea?

To be fair to ITV, the BBC haven’t even really had another Doctor Who on their hands, though not from want of trying.

Robin Hood jonas Armstrong

While Merlin did gather its own (incredibly loyal) fanbase over time, Robin Hood and Atlantis only lasted for two or three seasons.

It could be then that Doctor Who is just the outcome of lightning in a bottle and repeating its success can’t be forced. Perhaps if ITV – and the BBC – stopped trying to recreate Doctor Who’s success and focus on breaking new ground then they might find something approaching that show’s longevity and popularity.

Or that ITV should go one step further and raid their own back catalogue of classic TV formats to capture that nostalgia factor which undoubtedly saw Doctor Who welcomed with such open arms back in 2005.

The Avengers

Could The Avengers return with new Steed and Peel? Or is Neil Cross’s Sapphire and Steel remake already heading to ITV?


Why do you think ITV has struggled to find a rival for Doctor Who? Let us know below…

> Follow Christian Bone on Twitter.

> Read more of Christian’s musings on TV, films and books over on his blog.