Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat has confirmed that he will be taking online episodes “more seriously” after the huge success of internet-exclusive content such as Pond Life and The Night of the Doctor, and that Peter Capaldi’s new Doctor will be the subject of prequels and mini episodes.
Moffat confirmed the plans after admitting that he never used to see the value of making Doctor Who stories purely for an internet audience, but has since changed his mind.
“I think we now have to accept that online stuff isn’t a spin-off anymore,” he says. “We used to treat it as a spin-off that maybe some people would watch. And to be absolutely honest I thought they were bank raids – they’d give me some money to do an online thing and I’d say right, what crew do we already have, what actors do we already have, what set do we already have? So we’d spend no money on it at all, whack it out in a day, pump the money into the episode and off you go.”
Last year, one of the biggest hits of the Doctor Who 50th anniversary celebrations was The Night of the Doctor, a seven minute online story that saw the return of Paul McGann’s eighth Doctor, and his regeneration into John Hurt’s mysterious incarnation. It was watched by 2.5 million people in its week of release.
The year before that, an online-only series of five mini-episodes called Pond Life, which followed the everyday lives of companions Amy Pond and Rory Williams, was watched by a combined audience of over 6 million.
Moffat says such successes have shown that – when done with a big enough budget – there’s not much difference between a Doctor Who story aired on television and one uploaded on to iPlayer or YouTube.
“But then you suddenly realise something like Pond Life, which we took much more seriously, had an audience of over six million,” he tells SFX magazine. “You think oh wait, that’s a TV show! That’s just a TV show and a lot of our audience make no distinction between that and the TV show.”
“Same with The Night of the Doctor,” he adds. “What I think is quite exciting about all that stuff is you’re allowed to do a six minute episode. I actually think The Night Of The Doctor is one of the best ones we’ve done, and I don’t think it would be improved by being 45 minutes long. What more storytelling do we need? Arguably always the problem with the regeneration show is everybody’s just waiting for the bit when he dies and regenerates – so why don’t we just do that bit? You don’t feel that you’re short-selling it at all. So there’s going to be more of that, up until the point when all television is like that. And it will be. All television will be downloadable content. It’s coming.”
Speaking of future plans for online Doctor Who, Moffat revealed that Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor era will also be punctuated with online-exclusives – and more expensive ones too.
“We’ll certainly do some more,” he said. “We’ll do more prequels and stuff. I’ve been in to talk to the channel controller of iPlayer and say ‘We need proper money for it’, and they’re very keen. And we don’t call them prequels, we don’t call them minisodes, we just call them Doctor Who. That’s all they are. As I say, why not do an episode that’s ten minutes? Or an episode that’s half an hour? It depends what it suits.”
Doctor Who returns with series eight opener Deep Breath on 23rd August.