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

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Doctor Who: The Curse of Fenric

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Doctor Who Meets Scratchman (1975?)

In the mid 1970’s, Doctor Who was enjoying a very successful season. The public seemed mad for more of Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen and the bug-eyed monsters that threatened the universe. It should therefore come as no surprise that a feature film was once in development starring Tom Baker called Doctor Who Meets Scratchman.

This would have been the third feature film based on Doctor Who, the previous two starring Peter Cushing being mainly revamps of the first Dalek adventures in technicolour. Doctor Who Meets Scratchman would be an entirely different affair, however, as it would focus on a new story and fit within the continuity of the weekly program. The plot was a mystery until 2007 when a summary of the proposed movie was printed in Doctor Who Magazine.

Co-written by Tom Baker and Ian Marter (Harry Sullivan), the script is a baudy romp through Scotland involving scarecrows, humorous TARDIS dematerializations and lots of ambitious scenes inside the Doctor’s craft revealing that its internal workings are not only immense but include a massive jigsaw puzzle room and a grandfather clock bigger than Big Ben on the inside. The Doctor is far more random and Marks Brothers-like in this, using his long scarf in various ingenuous ways to defeat his enemies. So bizarre and insane is the Doctor that after discovering that a Black Shadow has brought him to face what appears to be the Devil, the Doctor plays with a yo-yo in retaliation.

From the Doctor Who Database:

Tom Baker- The script was about scarecrows becoming animated when a fertilizer on Earth goes horribly wrong. The scarecrows were able to make other scarecrows and they go on the rampage, raiding stores and using their sticks as weapons. The Cybermen came into it, too; there were wonderful scenes of the Cybermen coming out of the sea.

“The whole thing hinged on the fact that somewhere out in space was this creature called Scratchman, which is an old-world name for the Devil. He just wanted to make trouble. I remember the ending: we were going to turn the whole studio into a giant pinball table. The Doctor and his companions were stuck on this table and Scratchman was firing these balls at us. The balls disappeared down holes which were sort of gateways into other hells. It was a very violent film, but very funny too. The production office saw it and hated it, but I thought it was marvellous.”

Vincent Price was to play the main villain (Scratch) and the final confrontation centered on an enormous pinball game. Scratch cheats at one point by introducing Daleks into the pinball table (no doubt the Rolykin variety), but  the Doctor manages to change the game of pinball into cricket at the last minute to save the day.

I remember reading a short mention of this rumored film back in the day and that producer Philip Hinchcliff viewed the movie project as pointless after seeing Star Wars, but that hardly seems to be the main problem. Perhaps the movie would have been entirely different if we had gotten to watch it, but the summary (reprinted here at the tardis wikia) is just bonkers.

The first two Doctor Who movies were successful, but not enough for the studio to invest in a third that would have adapted the madcap adventure the Chase. But there are some brilliant individuals who have theorized what a third Cushing project based on the Chase called Daleks Vs. Mechons would look like. The trailer is brilliant and incorporates ideas from Terry Nation’s script such as the evil robot version of the Doctor, the guest appearance of the Beatles and a robotic version of Dracula.

During the 1989-1996 hiatus there was talk of a cinematic adaption starring everyone from Rutger Hauer to Dudley Moore. In 2007. David Tennant was attempting to secure a higher salary anf a starring role in a bid budget Doctor Who movie that ended up not happening. There are still rumors of a new Doctor Who movie (see the recent Johnny Depp rumor), but so far we still only have the two 60’s Cushing films.

But, honestly, what would a modern big budget Doctor Who theatrical film look like?