Why Doctor Who might escape delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic

A lucky break in scheduling could see Jodie Whittaker’s next adventures relatively unscathed by COVID-19

Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor - Doctor Who _ Season 12, Episode 9 - Photo Credit: Ben Blackall/BBC Studios/BBC America

It’s fair to say that it’s a pretty difficult time for television at the moment, with all sorts of TV shows pulled from the air, postponing their production or reinventing themselves to be filmed in isolation as the coronavirus pandemic keeps many of us at home.

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Of course, in the grand scheme of things, a few TV shows being delayed isn’t the worst thing happening in the world, but for viewers at home looking for distraction and entertainment the news that their favourite series might be held back even after the danger has passed could be a sad realisation.

But in an interesting twist, it looks like fans of Doctor Who may have less to worry about than most, with a coincidental quirk of the BBC sci-fi drama’s production schedule meaning that Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor could dodge the restrictions entirely, even when plenty of other dramas will be struggling.

After all, when it comes to scripted drama, it’s likely we won’t see the full effect of the lockdown for months to come. Currently, shows that were made a few months ago are still airing or coming soon – but in a few months, the shows that should have been filming now won’t have been shot on schedule and could potentially miss their planned airdates.

Doctor Who, however, has unintentionally avoided this issue with upcoming festive special Revolution of the Daleks, currently set to air in December 2020 or January 2021.

While a Doctor Who festive special would normally film in the summer, this time the episode was filmed well ahead in winter 2019, over a year before it was due to be broadcast in a bid to include it within filming for series 12 (which aired from January to March) and give cast a longer break.

This means that the special is already filmed in its entirety months before it’s due to be broadcast, and RadioTimes.com understands that production (including Additional Dialogue Recording) had completed a short time before other TV dramas were forced to shut down.

Of course, there’s presumably still post-production work including extensive VFX work, editing and sound mixing to be completed before the episode is ready to air, and it’s unclear whether these processes could take place as normal with remote working from home (specialist equipment may be required for some of them).

But generally speaking, when it comes to Christmas 2020 we could find that Doctor Who is one of the few TV dramas that actually managed to wrap in time to air over the festive season, with others still playing catch-up. And who knows? Maybe this could mean Revolution of the Daleks will, by default, end up as one of the BBC’s flagship shows on Christmas Day itself.

And then there’s series 13. When fans learned a few weeks ago that we were in for a long wait before filming even began on Jodie Whittaker’s next adventures they were livid, decrying the notion of having to wait longer for more Doctor Who.

Now, of course, almost every TV show will have a longer wait before more episodes. And with hindsight, it appears that Doctor Who’s schedule inadvertently anticipated the current disruption, with series 13 filming currently still set for autumn 2020 ahead of a planned debut in late 2021. At time of writing, it seems eminently possible that this filming could go ahead as planned, allowing the production team to continue as they had originally intended despite the worldwide disruption.

Bradley Walsh as Graham, Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor, Tosin Cole as Ryan, Mandip Gill as Yaz - Doctor Who _ Season 12
Bradley Walsh as Graham, Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor, Tosin Cole as Ryan, Mandip Gill as Yaz

Questions remain as to how much series 13 pre-production work including writing scripts, mapping out storylines, designing sets and props or making costumes could be done while observing social distancing, of course, and as time goes on it could be that Doctor Who does feel something of a knock-on effect from the months of shutdown the UK has gone through.

Even if restrictions are lifted, there could be trouble travelling abroad to film the series’ trademark globe-trotting adventures, or we could enter a second lockdown, or there could be other complications related to resources and crew availability thanks to all the other TV shows that were shut down, a ripple effect the scope of which is yet to be fully understood.

Still, amid constant doom-and-gloom announcements about the latest big TV show, film release or event cancellation it’s nice to know that for Doctor Who fans there’s some light at the end of the tunnel, even beyond the inspiring sense of community Whovians have shown already during this crisis.

Doctor Who will live on, which is lucky – because at the moment it feels like we need it more than ever.

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Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks will air on BBC One in late 2020/early 2021