Doctor Who fans had some good news today – the BBC seems to have finally listened to what the viewers have been screaming since the 2011 axing of Doctor Who Confidential and will deliver a behind-the-scenes show for upcoming series eight.
Doctor Who Extra will, however, be somewhat shorter than the 45-minute BBC3 DW extravaganza that Whovians enjoyed after every episode during the era of David Tennant and early Matt Smith. It’ll be ten minutes per episode, and it will only be available on iPlayer and via the red button.
It seems strange that one of the BBC’s biggest global properties will have such a short-format spin-off programme – and one that won’t be on scheduled on TV like the main series.
This is a show that the BBC value so highly they’ve spent the last week sending Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman to Korea, Australia, Mexico and beyond to promote it on a world tour. A show that the Beeb recognises is so important to fans that they commissioned a live reveal (hosted by Zoe Ball) on TV to announce that Peter Capaldi was the new Doctor. A show that got yet another live programme (starring no less than One Direction) to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Meanwhile, this particular series, introducing the new Doctor, is so anticipated that the endless trails and teasers on BBC1 and by the BBC on social media might begin to annoy even a dyed-in-the-wool fan.
But it’s still only getting a 10-minute webisode per week on iPlayer and the red button? However good it might be and sources close to the show assure me the team have spent a great deal of time and effort getting it right – it still won't be the full-fat Confidential-style show that fans crave (and that was voted the best ever BBC3 show in a 2011 RadioTimes.com poll).
Elsewhere, The Apprentice gets half an hour of You’re Fired on BBC2 after every episode, Bake Off has An Extra Slice on Friday. The Voice enjoys 10 half-hour episodes of Louder on Two during the live shows, and Strictly, well It Takes Two airs every weeknight on BBC2 from September to nearly Christmas.
With the exception of Strictly, these are all shows that are dwarfed in viewing figures by Doctor Who, but they seem to have an Auntie-given right to endless spin-offs. Why are DW fans seemingly being shortchanged?
Although the BBC has declined to comment, DW insiders are keen to stress that such shows are fixed format entertainment programmes and not dramas. They don't have constantly changing storylines to work around, making them easier and cheaper to produce. Indeed, a source asked "What other BBC drama gets a show like Doctor Who Extra produced for it?" A good point.
But it still feels like more could be done for the DW fans who crave content. Doctor Who Confidential was axed as a cost-cutting measure, but if there’s money at the BBC to support a daily spin-off for the much less popular Voice (and to make a 10-minute web version of Confidential) why is there not enough for an extra 20 minutes of post-Who analysis and a more prestigious home for the programme? Surely this show would have a lucrative resale value across the globe to the myriad networks that now buy DW – and for DVD extras for the box sets and special editions. If marketed correctly, surely DW Extra, or Confidential, or whatever you call it, would make money, not cost money for brand BBC...
This is not a criticism of Doctor Who, it is a pondering on the BBC strategy at play. If they want to retain a relationship with young people, they need to do more than throw scraps to them on the internet because online is not the only way they want to watch (see E4 for details). With BBC3 looking likely to be killed off as we know it, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for the Corporation to build bridges with this demographic and ensure it is something that a new generation still value and care about when they are licence fee payers.
Doctor Who Extra in a longer form (on BBC2, perhaps) could be one of those bridges, bringing young fans close to the brilliant people who make such a brilliant show. As a 10-minute iPlayer/red button exclusive, it feels like it's still divorced from the major channels (although 10m iPlayer users and 6m red button users are certainly a sizeable crowd) and is less likely to 'convert' new BBC champions of tomorrow.
The decision to bring back any behind-the-scenes programming for DW is one that should be welcomed, and it's great to hear the team behind the show sounding so passionate about Extra.
But will anything short of a full resurrection of a TV-length behind-the-scenes DW show satisfy the ferocious appetite of 10 million or so British fans – and countless more around the globe? I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens in (space and) time.