Exclusive: Doctor Who bosses reveal how COVID-19 changed season 13 filming

Showrunner Chris Chibnall says his team have been "re-interrogating" everything in order to proceed during the pandemic.

Chris Chibnall

Virtually no TV or film production has escaped the COVID-19 pandemic unscathed and Doctor Who is no exception, so the fact series 13 is back filming and could be ready to screen later next year (or in early 2022) is near miraculous: a fact that showrunner Chris Chibnall is very aware of.

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Chibnall told Radio Times magazine: “Basically, for the past six months we’ve been going, ‘How do we make Doctor Who in the middle of a pandemic?’.

“We had to re-interrogate absolutely everything. We couldn’t do [2020’s globe-trotting New Year’s Day episode] Spyfall this year. We won’t be able to do overseas filming. Editorially, production-wise, logistically, health-and-safety-wise, it’s had a massive impact.”

Revolution of the Daleks
The November 2020 Doctor Who preview issue of Radio Times

That said, Chibnall says he and his creative team are “incredibly excited” to be at the point where they’ve resumed production and have a schedule they believe they can stick to.

“As much as possible at the moment everybody’s smiling, and we’ve got some really lovely, great, mad, scary ideas,” he said.

Those ideas may be teased and touched upon in the festive special Revolution of the Daleks, which features some new-look Daleks and the return of John Barrowman’s Captain Jack – and following that, fans already have some idea of what to expect from season 13. Or at least, what not to expect.

You see, Doctor Who has already revealed that season 13 will be three episodes shorter than previous series – but executive producer Matt Strevens says that there will be no acceptance of lower standards for the episodes they do make, despite the series being produced in the shadow of the pandemic.

“The biggest thing is that when series 13 finally does air, whenever that is, we never want people to watch it under a caveat of COVID, going, ‘Ah, well, but they made this during the pandemic,’” he said.

“We want to make sure that when you watch it, it’s – no pun intended – timeless, and feels as exciting and as high-end as we’ve tried to make the series since we took over. That was the driving impulse behind looking at the narratives and reducing the number of episodes slightly: we want to make sure we can give people the biggest production values possible.”

Chibnall continued: “Obviously, every day is unknown. Who knows what the world’s going to be like in three weeks or three months? But I think we’re all going to want a big dose of Doctor Who escapism, and that’s what we’re aiming for – to bring a smile to people’s faces. And also a bit of dread in their hearts for monsters.”

Additional reporting by Huw Fullerton

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Read more from Chibnall and Strevens about the Doctor Who Christmas special in the new Radio Times Doctor Who preview issue, on sale now. Want something else to watch? Check out our full TV Guide.