The return of the Doctor Who movie rumor

Yesterday I was chatting to a friend who casually asked ‘So is there really going to be a Doctor Who movie?’ Thinking noting of it I rambled that there has been a rumor of a feature film version of Doctor Who since the mid 1970’s and nothing has ever come to pass. Imagine my surprise when I dipped my toe in the interweb and found that there is quite a fuss over a Doctor Who movie.

The Eleventh Doctor - Matt Smith

Yates to direct bigscreen ‘Doctor Who’
‘Potter’ helmer, BBC working on pic of sci-fi TV series
“Harry Potter” director David Yates is teaming up with the BBC to turn its iconic sci-fi TV series “Doctor Who” into a bigscreen franchise.

Yates, who directed the last four Potter films, told Daily Variety that he is about to start work on developing a “Doctor Who” movie with Jane Tranter, head of L.A.-based BBC Worldwide Prods.

“We’re looking at writers now. We’re going to spend two to three years to get it right,” he said. “It needs quite a radical transformation to take it into the bigger arena.”

“Doctor Who” follows the adventures across space and time of a super-intelligent alien in human form, who battles a variety of cosmic bad guys aided by plucky human companions.

“The notion of the time-travelling Time Lord is such a strong one, because you can express story and drama in any dimension or time,” Yates said.

The series ran from 1963 to 1989, and then was successfully rebooted in 2005 by writer Russell T. Davies and subsequently by Steven Moffat (“The Adventures of Tintin”). Tranter oversaw the revival when she was the BBC’s drama topper in London.

“Doctor Who,” starring Matt Smith as the 11th incarnation of the Doctor, is now one of the pubcaster’s most lucrative global TV franchises.

The series airs Stateside on BBC America.

The Tenth Doctor- David Tennant

Yates made clear that his movie adaptation would not follow on from the current TV series, but would take a completely fresh approach to the material.

“Russell T. Davies and then Steven Moffat have done their own transformations, which were fantastic, but we have to put that aside and start from scratch,” he said.

Yates and Tranter are looking for writers on both sides of the Atlantic.

“We want a British sensibility, but having said that, Steve Kloves wrote the Potter films and captured that British sensibility perfectly, so we are looking at American writers too,” he explained.

There are two previous films, based on the TV series: “Doctor Who and the Daleks” (1965) and “Doctor Who: Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.” (1966), both starring Peter Cushing.

The BBC has since made a few unsuccessful attempts to develop a “Doctor Who” feature, and shot a one-off telepic in 1996 at a time when the TV series was dormant.

But the combination of Yates and Tranter means this is the most high-powered effort to date to launch “Doctor Who” onto the bigscreen.

Before directing “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” and both parts of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” Yates worked with Tranter on several BBC TV series, including “The Way We Live Now” and “State of Play.”- Via Variety

The Ninth Doctor - Chris Eccleston

io9 had a few things to say about this rumor (and reminded readers that it IS a rumor).

First things first: Even though Yates was quoted in Variety saying he’s developing Doctor Who with the BBC’s Jane Tranter, there’s actually nothing official yet. As BBC America tweeted a while ago:

A Doctor Who feature film remains in development w/ BBC Worldwide Productions in LA. As of yet no script, cast or production crew in place.

And if every film that was ever in development had made it to the screen, we’d still be geeking out over the merits of Nic Cage as Superman, or Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune.

Edited to add: I meant to say here, that there are certainly a million question marks remaining. Literally all we know is that Yates told Variety he’s working on it, and he wants to strip the concept down to its essentials.

The Eighth Doctor - Paul McGann

That said, Yates is probably the right director to bring Doctor Who to the big screen — and there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that his approach, of starting afresh, is the correct one. It’s the approach that has the best chance of bringing in a huge new audience who have never heard of David Tennant or Matt Smith — which is what a movie version would have to do, to be worthwhile. And it’s the approach most in keeping with Doctor Who at its best.

What it boils down to is this: As a Doctor Who fan, I don’t want Doctor Who to be made for fans. I want Doctor Who to be for everybody.

The Seventh Doctor- Sylvester McCoy

Yates has a lovely eye for action, and a knack for making set pieces from the books exciting on screen. When you read interviews with the Harry Potter actors, you always come away with a sense that Yates is good at letting actors work, without crowding them, especially when they’re doing emotional scenes, of which there are a lot in the final Potter books. As Yates himself said, about filming Fred Weasley’s death scene: “My job is to make them feel comfortable and secure and just to sort of whisper in their ear if I think they’re trying too hard or if they’re not quite tapping into something.”

The Sixth Doctor - Colin Baker

The worst thing that could happen would be Yates deciding he only wants to make historical dramas from now on. Coming on the heels of four successful Potter movies, the notion that Yates wants to invest his creative capital in Doctor Who is pretty exciting.

The Doctor should keep his weird sense of quasi-Britishness, which even the American TV movie preserved. The Doctor should be played by a British actor — but given that most American characters are played by British actors at this point, this seems likely in any case. The Doctor’s ability to regenerate has become pretty fundamental to the character, as well — but that doesn’t come up until your original lead actor’s contract expires, which could be a decade.

The best Doctor Who stories have one thing in common: you don’t need to know anything about Doctor Who to appreciate them. Including Steven Moffat’s own “Blink.”

The core concept of Doctor Who is amazingly strong — it’s just a madman traveling around in a blue box. Everything else can, and does, change or get ignored.

As the Doctor himself says, “I have been renewed… Without it, I couldn’t survive.”

While I definitely disagree with the notion that “The core concept of Doctor Who is amazingly strong — it’s just a madman traveling around in a blue box. Everything else can, and does, change or get ignored,” I can appreciate the enthusiasm about a Doctor Who feature film. It’s just that this kind of thing never really works, does it? A director worth his/her paycheck would want to make their mark on something like Doctor Who and of course would change several of the core ideas including the leads actor.

The 1965/66 Peter Cushing films that the io9 article slags off without a second thought completely re-invented the character, setting, back story, etc while keeping the scripts of the Daleks and Dalek Invasion of Earth more or less intact. The story was maintained while the concepts were completely re-juggled about. That’s to be expected. For a devoted fan, the Cushing films are a travesty of Doctor Who as the Cushing plays a doddering inventor named Doctor Who with a daughter named Barbara and agranddaughter Susan. The notion of ‘wanderers in the 5th dimension’ is gone as are many other ideas. It’s a new concept made up simply for a one-off movie. Taken on its own, both films can be enjoyed and are pretty impressive production-wise.

In the 1970’s, Tom Baker attempted to get a movie off the ground ‘Doctor Who Meets Scratchman.’ It is even stated by co-star Louise Jameson that Baker remained in the role for an extra few years to generate interest in the project. Despite his star power and the high viewing figures, nothing came of this and the idea faded away. The interesting part of the Scratchman movie is that it is not a new interpretation of Doctor Who at all, simply a very weird adventure… with straw men and a giant pinball machine.

The Fifth Doctor - Peter Davison

After Doctor Who disappeared from TV screens in 1989, there were many new ideas as to how it could be brought back. In the 1990’s, there were several mad rumors circulating from an HBO film starring Rutger Hauer to a movie starring Dudley Moore or even Tim Curry. Again, nothing came of this.

The Fourth Doctor - Tom Baker

Despite all of these rumored comebacks, the most famous one has to be the Amblin Entertainment series. A devoted Doctor Who fan, producer Philip David Segal courted Steven Spielberg and it seemed that everything was a go. The series bible was developed by John Leekley. Cribbing from several classic stories such as Talons of Weng Chiang, Earthshock and inexplicably the Gunfighters, the program would again retain specific stories while tampering with the core idea.

In Leekley’s treatment, the Doctor was still a time traveling adventurer, but there were many new additions to his character and backstory:

The pilot was to feature the half-human Doctor seeking his father, Ulysses, through various time periods—contemporary Gallifrey (where Borusa dies and is merged with the TARDIS, and the Master becomes leader of the Time Lords), England during the Blitz, Ancient Egypt, and Skaro (where the Daleks are being created).[50] A writer for Doctor Who Magazine, when reviewing the Revisitations boxset from 2010 (which included special editions of “The Talons of Weng Chiang”, “The Caves of Androzani”, and the TV Movie), described the proposed idea as “a self-mythologizing guff”. (source: wikipedia )

The Third Doctor- Jon Pertwee

After failing to gain the support of Amblin, Segal kept at it and produced what would be a stepping stone from the classic series to what would later be the BBC Wales version. The 1996 Doctor Who movie that aired on Fox TV in the US was a mish-mash of ideas and plot-threads yet it maintained a line of continuity from the previous program to this new version. There were novels and comic strips that led up to the transmission of the movie that also served to cement the idea that this was the same Doctor Who, just with a new face. The pilot failed to gain strong ratings in the United States and remains an obscure note in the legacy of the program. However, nearly everyone who glimpses Paul McGann as the Doctor agrees that he’s the ideal choice and one of Doctor Who’s biggest missed opportunities.

The Second Doctor- Patrick Troughton

In 2009, at the peak of his popularity as the Doctor, it is rumored that David Tennant vied for a contract renewal including a big budget movie. The film never happened, however. Details are scarce and both Davies and Tennant have stated that no such project was ever in the works.

The First Doctor- William Hartnell

That brings us more or less to this latest rumor, the David Yates rumor. Actor Matt Smith is probably going to remain in the role for two more years, bringing his run to a respectable four years total, but while I wager he’s interested, I highly doubt that he has time for a movie. That means a new actor would need to be cast in the part, and hints that there would likely be many changes made to the ideas of Doctor Who such as where he is from and what he is like… and the interior of the TARDIS… and his sex life no doubt.

The program is wildly successful but that is what it is and a movie would not be the same thing or even use the same writers, directors or cast. That means a feature film Doctor Who would be a new entity and draw from the popularity of the program while attracting people who had never heard of the series. The motion picture industry loves franchises and Doctor Who may appear to be a wealth of ideas, but more likely than not a movie would just cherry pick what has already been done on screen and revamp it for a modern audience…. much like the Cushing films. That would likely anger fans and not interest new viewers.

Show anyone not in love with Doctor Who a Dalek and they do not see an alien killing machine, they see a trashcan.

That said, is the world really all that interested in a Doctor Who movie? I doubt it.

For more info bookmark Tardisnewsroom, the best resource for Doctor Who news.


Doctor Who: The Dalek Invasion of Earth

Doctor Who - Lost in Time Collection of Rare Episodes

Doctor Who: The Invasion

Doctor Who: Spearhead from Space

Doctor Who: The Robots of Death

Doctor Who: New Beginnings

Doctor Who: The Black Guardian Trilogy

Doctor Who: Mark of the Rani

Doctor Who: The Curse of Fenric

Doctor Who: Storm Warning


Doctor Who and The Seeds of Death

Doctor Who and The Seeds of Death

Story 048
By Brian Hayles
Transmission dates 25 January – 1 March 1969

In the far future, the revolutionary T-Mat system has taken precedence as the only form of travel, allowing people to transport themselves or goods to key metropolitan centers all over the planet. The entire affair is overseen by a hub on Earth and a remote moonbase staffed by a skeleton crew. When the moonbase drops out of communication, T-Mat falls into chaos and the planet struggles to maintain control. A stranger named the Doctor and his friends hold the only hope of uncovering the mystery of what happened on the moon, but is even the Doctor prepared to face an old enemy from Mars, the planet of war?

The Troughton era is famous for the over-use of core ideas such as the ‘base under siege’ seen in both The Web of Fear, The Invasion and of course The Seeds of Death. What is sometimes forgotten is how well these core concepts were used and how it allowed the production team to create bizarre imagery as seen in the Tomb of the Cybermen, the Dominators and Web of Fear. In addition, Troughton was an accomplished character actor and excelled at depicting great intelligence or buffoonery on the head of a dime. These rather straight forward adventures may seem repetitive (because they are) but they are also some of the best Classic Doctor Who adventures.

The Doctor sheepishly confronts the Ice Warriors

Writer Brian Hayles had already delivered the stunning epic introducing the Ice Warriors the previous year. Rumor has it that a sequel was put into place to justify the extravagant cost of the Ice Warrior costumes and capitalize on their popularity. The Troughton years are often referred to as ‘monster era’ and for good reason; two Daleks adventures, two Yeti stories, four Cybermen battles, the Quarks, Krotons, Seaweed creatures and two confrontations with the Ice Warriors make it perhaps the most monster-centric period of the program. Hayle’s first story and this one are very similar in that each depicts a future society held together by technology and easily drawn into confusion by an outside threat. Whereas the Ice Warriors in their first adventure were introduced by accident, this second encounter is one of invasion.

The Doctor and his crew arrive in a dilapidated space museum maintained by the eccentric rocket scientist Professor Eldred. When communication with the T-Mat moonbase is lost, Commander Radnor thinks of his old friend Eldred and jumps at the opportunity to utilize his knowledge and skill in order to launch a rescue mission. Somehow the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe quickly earn the trust of Eldred and Radnor and end up on the only attempt that Earth has at success aboard a rocket aimed at the moon… somehow put into action in just a few hours. The rocket scenes are incredibly silly but the cast are very aware of this, Frazer Hines goofs about as the simpleton Jamie (and even makes a pass at Zoe- Wendy Padbury) and the Troughton’s Doctor larks about with wires, blustering at random fires from the control board. When the rocket loses contact with the homing beacon needed to land, a new character emerges named Phipps who has luckily found a cabinet of resourceful devices and helps the Doctor get back on track.

It still strikes me as odd that Christopher Coll (Phipps) was being considered as a replacement for Jamie. Frazer Hines’ agent was anxious for the actor to move on, so it is understandable that the BBC would want a fall back plan, but… seriously?

Once on the moon, the story changes and becomes an adventure of survival. The moonbase is over-ridden by deadly Ice Warriors and the Doctor and Phipps are unable to contend with them. What follows is some very silly padding as Troughton runs up and down corridors, coattails flapping. Doctor Who was clearly a family program in 1969, so it should come as no surprise that there would be some silliness at the expense of the monsters. Troughton trips past them, turns the awkward creatures about by their arms and narrowly escapes death several times over. I’m sure this was an attempt to lighten the mood somewhat so that the kiddies could sleep at night without worrying about the Doctor getting murdered by these things.

Alan Bennion as Ice Lord Slaar

The Doctor quickly explains that Mars is a dying world and that the Ice Warriors are in search of a new home, but that hardly earns them any sympathy. At this stage, not much is known about the Ice Warriors. They appear to be like massive reptilian creatures with similarities to turtles with their shell-like armor. Later stories would flesh out a culture based on honor and a warrior’s code, but here they are no different to any number of cold war pulp monsters from space. That’s not really a problem, as they excel at being one of the most memorable monsters from the 1960’s. In this story, Ice Lord Slaar is introduced and is simply terrifying. Sleeker and more nimble than his lumbering counterparts, Slaar hisses through jagged sharp teeth and proves to be a devastatingly menacing villain.

The Ice Warriors returned twice in the 1970’s (in The Curse of Peladon and The Monster of Peladon) and were just as successful then as in the previous decade. I recall hearing that there were several plans to bring the Ice Warriors back in the 1980’s that all fell through and even though Waters of Mars hinted at them, we have to date not seen a modernized take on these classic baddies (though they are surely next in the list after the Yeti).

The Ice Warriors are armed with a sonic gun that produces an outstanding visual effect, tearing the victim apart with a horrifying sound. This is of course accomplished with the miracle of camera trickery and mirrors… but I still quite like it. Along with the Dalek deathray, it’s one of the most iconic effects of the program.

The direction by Michael Ferguson is outstanding. Doctor Who is often given some stick for looking cheap, but this story is very stylish. For a mainly studio-bound adventure, it is very innovative. He had previously directed one of my favorite Hartnell stories the War Machines and would later direct both The Ambassadors of Death in 1970 and The Claws of Axos in 1971. His gift for pacing and camera angles is evident in this story. The take off sequence remains eye-catching as do the scenes showing the Ice Warriors lurching about on location.

Ms. Kelly and Zoe craft up a trap

Later programs would attempt to directly approach women’s lib, but there’s a definite move in that direction here with Miss Kelly, the shapely genius that the future cannot do without. Terse and to the point, Kelly is a cold and unsympathetic character, yet she is also the cleverest person this side of the Doctor. Introducing her to the mix not only gives more attention to the world of the future, it also gives Zoe someone to bond with and act off of. The scenes where the two of them are working in the solar power room are kind of mystifying simply because they are both so emotionless and socially removed from the situation.

The Earth of the future is a rather odd place in that all technology not associated with T-Mat is disregarded, as seen in the space museum where the TARDIS initially lands. The culture is shown to be rather sedate as people lazily go about their business living in a paradise where everything is instantly provided for them. In the face of a crisis, Commander Radnor responds quite well, but is driven to panic at losing Miss Kelly since she’s ‘the only person who understands T-Mat.’ That’s job security for you. Maybe this is why the cast are dressed in less than complimentary hip-hugging uniforms looking more like a child’s playsuit than clothing?

The sudden arrival of gun-toting security guards is very out of the blue, as are their contemporary firearms in place of the expected rayguns.

Earth Security forces

... another fine mess

The trio of Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury is one of the finest lineups of Doctor Who. As I had pointed out previously, with a few exceptions (The Mind Robber, The Enemy of the World) many of the Troughton era adventures centered around similar themes of alien invasion. In any other situation this would have made the program boring and predictable but in this case the regular cast was so strong that they carried it off with great success.

I don’t mean to write off Deborah Watling as Victoria Waterfield as I also enjoy her but the chemistry between Hines and Padbury is infectious. The main cast are simply having the time of their life and it’s great fun to watch.

Zoe- the girl from the future and Jamie -the boy from the past is an ingenious angle that I am surprised has not been used more often. It not only acknowledges that the Doctor travels through all of time but it also gives the viewer differing points of reference to relate to. Ever the pragmatist, Jamie mainly accepts things for what they are while Zoe is determined to understand and decipher them. I wonder if we will see a pairing of companions like this again?

Leading Jamie and Zoe is the Doctor who knows more than he lets on and while he is joyful to live a life of excitement he is also full of anxiety at the dangers they face. He  frenetically scampers from scene to scene, leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. There have been attempts to replicate or pay homage to his performance (I’m looking at you, McCoy and Smith), but there is no other Doctor more animated than Troughton.

Regarded by many  as the best actor to play the role, Patrick Troughton’s depiction of the ‘cosmic hobo’ would be echoed in subsequent actors and become a staple of the character.

There is a strange mixture of comedy, drama, horror and action in the Troughton era and the main cast manage it admirably, never over-selling a joke, over-reacting to a monster or over-playing tension.

Fewsham is brow-beaten by the Ice Lord Slaar

As Fewsham, Terry Scully really steals the show. Throughout Seeds of Death, Fewsham appears to be a cowardly traitor, collaborating with the Ice Warriors in their attack on the Earth. Even Commander Radnor and Miss Kelly write him off as useless when it pointed out that he is their only hope of regaining contact. Throughout a long story such as this (6 parts), several strong supporting characters are called for and Scully does much of that work here – stuttering his way through scenes with Slaar and teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

The Doctor's death ray

In his first incarnation, the Doctor was a canny fellow who operated from a position of dignity and power. His second incarnation is an entirely different affair and puts up the false front of a clown while secretly scheming the downfall of his foes. While other incarnations may be more pacifistic, the Second Doctor has no qualms about dispatching his enemies with extreme prejudice. The creation heat ray may have been a desperate creation by Phipps, but the Doctor creates a lash-up death ray that he uses to make quick work of the deadly Ice Warriors. One can argue that this was an unusual situation in which the human race was facing absolute extinction, but it strikes me as odd that the Doctor’s solution is such a violent one.

Hindered as all Doctor Who monsters are, The Ice Warriors do not plan to simply arrive on Earth and take over, their small squad of roughly four soldiers against the eleven speaking parts and extras on the planet below. Through the use of chemical warfare, they will pave their way to victory. This is so attractive an idea that the modern BBC Wales program still uses it even though its budget is extraordinarily higher than ever. In the case of the Seeds of Death, seed pods are sent to the planet that expand and burst, consuming oxygen and terra-forming the planet to better suit the martians all at once. Neat, huh? To visualize this, a foam machine is inexplicably employed and its silliness all over again as Troughton slips about covered head to toe in suds.

It is a shame that there are not more examples of the Patrick Troughton era as so many of these episodes are still missing from the archives. I remember back in 1983 when my local PBS station showed a few omnibus edition examples of previous Doctor Who stories (they mainly played Tom Baker and Peter Davison episodes) and The Seeds of Death was chosen as the Troughton story (The Daleks and Carnival of Monsters were also shown). It encapsulates so many themes and ideas of the classic Doctor Who that one could point to it as a perfect example of the series. Monsters that can’t move properly or see straight, a world in peril and a strange silly man in a long coat saving the day.

Overwhelmed by a deadly plague or soap suds?


(more colourised images of Doctor Who can be found here)

Doctor Who: The Seeds of Death

Doctor Who - Lost in Time Collection of Rare Episodes

Doctor Who: The War Games

Doctor Who the Handbook: The Second Doctor