How Will Doctor Who Change?

With every new era come new fans, and so the landscape of fandom changes. So, how will the fandom change in the Whittaker era? New technology brings new approaches. A changing world demands a changing show. Will spoilers be unavoidable? Will social media play a bigger roll?

Television is Changing

The way we all consume media has gone through some massive shifts recently. Online viewing has had a boom and it is probable that shows like Doctor Who may soon find their online audience not only outperforming the broadcast ones, but dwarfing it significantly. This may already have happened if you take into account how many people watch via means of questionable legality.

Much has been written about falling ratings for Doctor Who over the last few years. But not without it being pointed out that there are general trends downwards for television across the board. While shows like The X-Factor or Coronation Street more or less retain the higher viewing figures, other entertainment shows have been seen a decline.

This has led a lot of people to worry about the future of Doctor Who. Indeed, just last week, Steven Moffat made hints that he feels one day Doctor Who might move to a Netflix style binge watching release schedule. A bold suggestion to some, to others the obvious next step.

Binge Watching

An entire series releasing all at once certainly has its advantages. It often means a much more focussed and dedicated promotional campaign. Rather than stretching the budget over the course of 10 to 13 weeks, it can all be done in the week or so before release with a smattering afterwards. For the viewer, it can mean we can sate our appetites sooner and enjoy a complete story at our own pace.

The drawbacks are not to be disregarded, though. An extended promotional campaign can keep the show in the public eye much more consistently. Rather than a single explosion of interest, there would be weekly spikes as people continuously are reminded of it. Moreover, the nature of Doctor Who often necessitates cliffhanger endings which would be somewhat negated if you can always just let it play out immediately.

That being said, many of us who have discovered the classic series later in life have had the joy of watching cliffhanger and resolution back to back and it has not dulled our enjoyment. While waiting for a resolution can be a big pull, and certainly creates its own tension, if the show relies too heavily on it, it can become repetitive.

Perhaps some compromise could be reached with a few episodes at a time dropping, spread over the course of, say, a month?

Splitting the audience

Something I have noticed happening in the world of American cartoons of late has been an attempt to split the audience. Between those who watch on television, and those who watch online. Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra almost certainly did this and I suspect Cartoon Network are, too, with their wildly popular Steven Universe.

What seems to happen is that a number of episodes are released online, or via an app, upfront. Later, the episodes will air on television. This might seem counter intuitive but the effect is that the internet-based audience (primarily older teenagers and young adults (and not so young adults) will watch the show online leaving the younger audience to watch on television.

This is done mostly for advertisers. If you’re, say, selling Super-Sugar Cereal then your target audience is going to be those youngsters. You don’t want those older kids clogging up your viewing figures and distorting your data on how effective your advertising is. This way, the older audience can be easily targeted online with their specific ads (thanks to algorithms and potentially sinister goings on there), while contracts with child-centric advertisers can be fulfilled.

But The BBC Doesn’t Advertise!

Now, Doctor Who being on the BBC doesn’t rely on advertising. However, it might be in the BBC’s interest to get a proper view of just how many people are watching broadcast television vs. streaming online. Releasing a program on iPlayer before airing it would basically eliminate most of the primarily online audience who, for the most part, won’t re-watch when broadcast.

In a changing world with changing audiences, the BBC might want to really zero in on just who is watching and when. It could also be a way to drive more traffic to iPlayer and use that to promote other BBC services. Thus keeping the corporation feeling relevant and useful at the same time.

We might even see a return of the mini-online episodes that were a staple of the series until the last couple of years. That would be a way of maintaining interest over the span on the series as well as giving us more show to enjoy. Fan shows and behind the scenes extras (like Doctor Who Confidential) seem tailor made for the modern internet age. We could very easily see something like them returning.

All of this would depend heavily on the BBC’s budget and how much Chris Chibnall has time and energy for. Russell T Davies was good at delegating projects like Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures, and the mini episodes, while keeping an eye on them and occasionally contributing. Steven Moffat was a little stretched thin over Doctor Who and Sherlock, so that might explain why we didn’t see much under his tenure.

But as the importance of social media grows, it seems inevitable that we will see more and more content designed specifically to tie into it. Fan shows, mini-episodes, and the like feel like the natural way in there.

What do you think?

How will Doctor Who change over the next couple of years? Will the Whittaker / Chibnall era see a move towards online release over television broadcast? Will more social media projects come up?

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Joel Cornah
Joel Cornah is an author, journalist, and blogger. He is the author of a number of novels and novellas including; The Sea-Stone Sword, The Spire of Frozen Fire and The Silent Helm, with the upcoming novel The Sky Slayer, expected some time in 2016. He is an editor for The Science-Fiction and Fantasy Network, head of the Doctor Who department, and member of the Tolkien Society. He is a frequent blogger for the Pack of Aces blog, focussing on issues of Asexuality in media, specialising in sci-fi and fantasy.