Could Doctor Who regenerate into a Marvel-style franchise with Disney+ platform deal?

The deal is done. The BBC is partnering with Disney Branded Television on Doctor Who. From 2023, Disney+ is going to be “the exclusive home for new seasons of Doctor Who outside the UK and Ireland.”

The joint statement released yesterday is quick to reassure British fans that “new episodes will premiere on the BBC,” with showrunner Russell T Davies calling it “the best of both worlds.”

He added that with “the vision and joy of the BBC and Disney+, 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.”

All in all, this feels like a big announcement.

Why? Well, because the partners “have come together to transform Doctor Who into a global franchise” and they have “a shared creative vision” for Doctor Who going forward. That’s why.

This is a partnership that will as Charlotte Moore, BBC’s Chief Content Officer says “elevate the show to even greater heights and reach new audiences.”

So what does all this mean?

Well, at this stage it’s quite hard to say, but we do have a pretty new logo (above) to celebrate the partnership.

It’s clear that global streaming platforms are opening up new opportunities for franchises to expand further and faster than ever before.

The acceleration of the success of Marvel and Star Wars as science fiction franchises under the ownership of Disney is surely something that hasn’t gone unnoticed at the BBC, and at a time when the licence fee is being questioned as a funding model and inflation will squeeze production costs available in public service broadcasting, the idea of deep-pocketed partners with experience of developing TV and movie franchises seems like a smart idea. And although Disney is not “buying” Doctor Who, this is a chance for the show and further developments of it to have a thriving global platform on which to be showcased. What is more, Doctor Who is a perfect fit for a family-friendly Disney+.

Now, some fans of the BBC show will immediately be worried by any apparent influence from an American media titan like Disney. Is not the charm of Doctor Who its quintessentially Britishness, its relatively low budgets and its reliance on great storytelling and characterisation to entertain rather than movie-studio budgets and world-class CGI?

If Doctor Who is going to “introduce the show to the next generation of audiences in more than 150 markets around the world” as Alisa Bowen, President, Disney+ says, could there be pressure to feel more like a product of global media which lacks a true identity, rather than an eccentric British science fiction show about a Time Lord with two hearts in a spaceship that looks like a 1960s police box?

Dissenters will point to the 2011 final season of Torchwood called Miracle Day, which was a co-production between the BBC and US network STARZ. With lots of the show set in America and featuring big-name US talent like Bill Pullman, some fans felt at the time that the show had lost its connection to Cardiff where the Torchwood Institute was based. Others will reference the 1996 TV movie starring Paul McGann that was co-produced between BBC Worldwide and Universal Studios.

But moving beyond the doubts, could this be the start of something really very big and exciting for Doctor Who?

Russell T Davies is back at the helm of the show, the man who rebooted the show in 2005. A fan favourite and someone with big ideas we’re told that “both partners have aligned under returning showrunner Russell T Davies’ bold vision” and so shouldn’t we trust that Doctor Who is about to get bigger and better than ever before?

But most interesting of all is how does this “global franchise” develop?

Some might argue that Doctor Who is already a global franchise, but could it become the next Marvel or Star Wars?

We know that Russell T Davies has experience spinning off the series, with Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, and of course, there have been other attempts to make new shows from the premise before, including 1980s K-9 and Company and more recently in 2016, Class, set in Coal Hill School.

Could Disney’s platform and the shared ambition to catapult the Whoniverse further see the return of Torchwood as some have been hoping for in recent times? Might we see a whole raft of new commissions over the coming years that take the Doctor, the Doctor’s companions and some of the most interesting subplots from the series off into their own shows but stay part of a connected universe?

Could we see another Doctor Who movie or movies? Yes, I said it. Disney are good at movies, and frankly, The Power of the Doctor was feature-length and there are bound to be longer, bigger and glossier episodes than ever before – so could a movie series sit alongside the TV series like Marvel, but starting from the other side of the entertainment spectrum.

Perhaps this is all rather breathless excitement at the beginning of a new journey for the show, but you can see how Doctor Who has permission to be an even bigger and more influential franchise in the world of entertainment. That is not to understate its importance in science fiction or British television – but with nearly 60 years of heritage and storytelling to draw on, it feels like there are many more opportunities to explore.

Perhaps Doctor Who isn’t quite yet about to go on the same journey as Marvel and Star Wars with their near-constant stream of new TV shows and movies… but with this new partnership, it does feel like the show is about to regenerate in ways we could never have previously imagined.

Tim Glanfield

Tim Glanfield is a journalist, editor and broadcaster with more than 15 years experience writing about television, film and the entertainment business. He has been editor of RadioTimes.com, a writer for The Times (of London) and the Guardian as well as a freelance contributor to newspapers, magazines and websites across the world. He is author of the book Digital Economy or Bust: The Story of a New Media Startup and makes regular appearances on TV and radio in the UK.

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