21 things about 21st-century Doctor Who that old school fans could never have imagined

Doctor who is a movie star, a cover star and a record-breaker! Girls love it, and so does America! There are celebrity guests, awards and it's even rocked Glastonbury! Basically, Doctor Who is now officially cool!

These days, we take it for granted that Doctor Who is one of the shining jewels of the TV crown. But it wasn’t always the case. Far from it, in fact.


In the early 1990s, the BBC commissioned a report into the then-defunct series that concluded: “The property is an old one, it’s had its day and is no longer commercially viable”.

Ouch. For fans who had witnessed their favourite show’s slide into obscurity – helped along by BBC execs, who later admitted deliberately scheduling it against Coronation Street to hasten its demise – this perhaps came as no surprise. By the time Doctor Who came off the air in 1989, most in the Corporation viewed it as an embarrassing anachronism, a ghost at the feast.

And when Russell T Davies set about re-launching the show 15 years later, people in the industry queued up to tell him it was bound to fail: that family viewing was dead, sci-fi was too niche and aliens flying about in phone boxes was just a bit… well, silly.

We hope that humble pie tasted good. Because, today, Doctor Who is one of the BBC’s top “global superbrands”, a member of an exclusive club – also featuring Strictly Come Dancing and its natural history output – that’s estimated to be worth around £300 million.

But Doctor Who is not just successful. It’s loved. And it has a habit of making its presence felt in the unlikeliest of places…

So here are 21 things that have happened to Doctor Who in the 21st century that old-skool fans simply would not have believed possible…

1. It’s big in America!

Across the Atlantic, Doctor Who was always a cult interest, at best. But since its revival ten years ago, the show has smashed through into the mainstream, breaking ratings records for BBC America, attracting thousands of fans to watch it being filmed on the streets of New York and gracing the covers of leading newsstand magazines like Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide.

In 2010, Matt Smith and Karen Gillan were amazed to find themselves staring down from billboards and buses across Manhattan when they went to the States to launch series five. But not as amazed as Smith’s predecessors would have been – the only way the likes of Colin Baker or Sylvester McCoy would have found themselves plastered on the side of a New York bus was if they’d accidentally stepped out into heavy traffic.

2. A sequel to Carnival of Monsters – at Wembley Arena!

In 1973, the Third Doctor and Jo Grant found themselves trapped in the Miniscope – an intergalactic peep show in which miniaturised creatures were placed in a machine for the entertainment of humans. (So a bit like an early Big Brother, basically.) Nearly 40 years later, the idea was resurrected for the arena tour Doctor Who Live: The Monsters Are Coming, in which Nigel Planer, playing the son of the Miniscope inventor featured in the original serial, unleashed a menagerie of meanies on thousands of terrified children (and their terrified parents) at vast tramshed venues around the country. The tour kicked off at none other than Wembley Stadium, before visiting eight other UK cities and remains, to date, the highest-grossing live sequel to a Jon Pertwee Doctor Who story in history.


3. The Doctor rocks Glastonbury!

In June 2010, Matt Smith cemented the Doctor’s new-found rock star status when he appeared onstage during Orbital’s Glastonbury performance, donning the electro duo’s trademark LED glasses and hammering away at a keyboard during their traditional set-closer: a kinetic, techno take on the Doctor Who theme. “Yes Glastonbury – way out baby!” yelled Smith, giving the crowd his favoured Churchillian salute. “Let me hear you cheer, let me hear you roar, for Glastonbury!”


It’s fair to say that, if any single moment crystallised Doctor Who’s journey across the cultural Rubicon over the previous five years, it was this one. It’s certainly hard to imagine what William Hartnell might have done in similar circumstances. Waved his cane to a spot of Flanagan and Allen, perhaps?