"This is the best of both worlds," Russell T Davies said when the news dropped that Disney Plus would be the new home for Doctor Who internationally, "with the vision and joy of the BBC and Disney Plus together we can launch the TARDIS all around the planet, reaching a new generation of fans while keeping our traditional home firmly on the BBC in the UK."


The message was meant to excite and reassure. Yes, Disney Plus would – from November 2023 – be the platform on which the rest of the world could watch Doctor Who, but this wasn’t a takeover by the Mouse House, oh no. Doctor Who, to UK viewers, would still be a BBC programme, screened on BBC One, as it has been for the past 59, soon to be 60 years.

Even Charlotte Moore, the BBC's Chief Content Officer, went out of her way to refer to Doctor Who as "this very British show" when talking up the deal. "Joining forces with Disney..." she said. "...will elevate the show to even greater heights and reach new audiences so it's an extremely exciting time for fans in the UK and across the world."

This, then, is a very different proposition to when George Lucas sold Star Wars to the Walt Disney Company in 2012. Yet the fear then was similar to some of the more hysterical reactions to last week’s Who news, that it would lead to Star Wars’ rougher edges being smoothed out, and that somehow Disney’s parentage would end up ‘kid-ifying’ Star Wars (not like it was ever Solaris to begin with, mind).

Of course, that never happened. Under Disney’s auspices, we’ve had Rogue One (surely the bleakest Star Wars movie ever), the risk-taking The Last Jedi and the adult-skewed Andor. So much for Luke Skywalker suddenly adopting a wisecracking womp rat.

More like this

So, let’s be clear, Disney don’t now own Doctor Who. Instead, it’s a deal between the BBC and Disney Branded Television, one that will provide a platform for the series overseas, and one that should, in all likelihood, bring in a lot more dough for the programme.

"There's certainly a lot more hands on the show now one way or another, with the BBC, [production company] Bad Wolf in which Sony has a stake, and Disney all having a seat at the table," says The Guardian’s Martin Belam. "Where I think the show will benefit most of all is from a global uniform publicity drive with the heft of Disney Plus behind it.

"It should simplify the simultaneous launch windows for the show, and see marketing done in a more coherent way than perhaps it was done when the BBC and the production team were dealing with multiple broadcast partners."

"I think the main benefit of the Disney Plus deal, without wanting to sound too crass, is the increase in budget,” adds Heat magazine’s TV Editor, Boyd Hilton. "Doctor Who has always been a show of big ideas and vast scope but, as brilliantly as recent showrunners and producers have coped with budgetary limitations, the more money they have the less their resources will be visibly stretched.

"So expect more crowd scenes populated by huge gatherings of extras. Those guys cost money! Doctor Who is the ultimate concept for a sci-fi show and now it can proudly enter the global streaming space where it undoubtedly deserves to be."

David Tennant as the Doctor leaning out the doors of the TARDIS.
David Tennant will return as the Doctor in three specials airing in 2023 to mark the show's 60th anniversary BBC Studios

Before Russell T Davies signed on for his second stint as showrunner, he mused about what he might do with the programme should he ever be in charge again, and that meant a vast ecosystem of Who-related spinoffs. "There should be a Doctor Who channel now,” he said. “You look at those Disney announcements, of all those new Star Wars and Marvel shows, you think, we should be sitting here announcing The Nyssa Adventures or The Return of Donna Noble, and you should have the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors together in a 10-part series."

It’s looking likely that, if Doctor Who is to expand its on-screen universe with a suite of spin-offs (come on, The Nyssa Adventures!), Disney Plus will be the international home for them too, in the way that the streamer is the go-to platform for everything Star Wars and Marvel.

But what of the fears that the series will be neutered in some way because of the House of Mouse’s family-friendly branding, or even, ahem, 'American-ised'? In the days after the announcement, memes were cropping up everywhere, most in jest it must be said, such as the one that depicted Mickey Mouse’s head’s silhouette as part of the new Doctor Who logo.

Hilton, though, thinks fans have little to worry about from this commercial buddy-up.

"As for fears about how the show might be affected, I too might worry about this were it not for the key factor that genius writer and ultimate Whovian Russell T Davies is back as showrunner," he says. "He would never compromise the integrity of the show and his vision for its future. In fact the Disney Plus deal is clearly going to help him execute his ideas. It's all part of his master (sorry) plan!"

Read more about Doctor Who:

Doctor Who is available to stream on BBC iPlayer with episodes of the classic series also available on BritBox – you can sign up for a 7-day free trial here.

Sign up to Disney Plus for £7.99 a month or £79.90 for a year.

Check out more of our Sci-Fi coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.


The latest issue of Radio Times magazine is on sale now – subscribe now and get the next 12 issues for only £1. or more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to the Radio Times View From My Sofa podcast.