AAlmost 60 years later, Dr. leaves his aunt and moves in with Mouse. The much-loved British sci-fi show will not be seen on the ABC for the first time since 1965, when it was pulled from Australian free-to-air television after the BBC signed a deal with Disney to distribute it worldwide.
Australia has a long and meaningful relationship with Doctor Who: Australian composer Ron Greiner wrote the original theme song, and a surly flight attendant from Brisbane served as one of the Doctor’s most memorable – and loudest – companions. (Janet Fielding as Tegan Jovanga, the companion of the Fourth and Fifth Doctors.)
ABC was one of the first networks to license Doctor Who, airing the first episode in January 1965. While the UK only got one episode a week, Australians could watch Doctor Who every weeknight. For more than five decades Australian parents have turned on the ABC and sat with their children to watch the unspeakable horrors of the Gallifreyan conflict. Those kids grew up and showed it to their kids, who in turn showed it to their kids. Just as the Doctor was reborn, so were the fans.
But now Doctor Who is only available to Australian viewers on Disney+. The three new specials, the first of which debuts Sunday local time, are from genius Russell D Davies, who designed both seasons of Christopher Eccleston (the Ninth Doctor) and David Tennant (the 10th).
„I don’t plan on coming back!” Davies says, zooming in on me from an opulent drawing room. „Until the pandemic hit, a fan called Emily Cook had the idea to tweet with a few episodes. She got me, David, and Catherine involved … Trust me, you took David and Catherine to a computer to tweet? A major job. It’s easy to climb the Eiger naked. „
But all three of them „loved” re-watching old episodes they hadn’t seen in years. Russell says that Tate himself insisted that they get back together for something new. „I thought, 'Never gonna happen.’ Then she texted me, 'David says yes!’ At the time I thought… Well, now it’s my job to tell the BBC!”
Davis exudes hope and romance in both his speech and writing. He looks really bitter when I say that. „It’s the most beautiful thing,” he says, hand over heart. „I think that describes my writing, and sometimes I think the opposite. I mean, there’s no such thing as a love story that ends happily because one of them dies first. Sometimes I think I write fiction to find happy endings.
„Even though Doctor Who is intended to be watched by everyone, it’s very powerful – I think it’s a show that kids can watch,” he adds. „Really, there’s a lot of concern in the world about the mental state of kids. They’re seeing bad things online. I think they’re being told every day that the world is burning, flooding, and ending. And, Doctor Who can be positive and optimistic and give them 45 minutes of well-mannered heroes to escape from.” … Well, I guess that’s not a bad thing.
Those 45 minutes will now, for Australians, air on Disney+, but while some fans are up in arms, others don’t care. „Controversially,” says Rowe McManus, who is ABC’s Doctor Who sitcom Whovians, „I don’t see the show moving to Disney as a problem. I think it’s important for the longevity of the show to have someone who can present it in a modern way.”
„I know there are people who are upset by this move and I totally get it,” he adds. „But if you’re a fan of Doctor Who and you’re mad about this, you’re probably also a fan who’s already watching Marvel shows, Star Wars shows. Maybe if you’re mad, you already are. On that day That particular streamer?”
„It’s hard to find everything in one place,” says lifelong fan Jane Burke, from Bendigo, Victoria. „Honestly, if it’s all on one streamer and looking good – and the new stuff is good, obviously – I’m a happy camper!”
„I’m sad to see Doctor Who leave its longtime home,” says Stephen „Bajo” O’Donnell, Whovians regular and former Good Game host. „No doubt it will be less available to some existing fans, but I’m excited to see it exposed to a new audience, and hopefully in 4K! It’ll be great for Aussie players to see it really shine for the first time.
Davies sympathizes with any Australians upset by the move. „I know it was tough in Australia!” he exclaims. „I know a lot of lifelong fans who’ve followed it on ABC feel terrible about changing channels, and I had to take a deep breath and say … That’s what happens with shows now. I’m equally comfortable with going and finding Drag Race on a separate channel.
But, I ask him, can an American company like Disney act as a steward for such an intrinsically British show? „They don’t come in as producers to change that,” he says. „They really fell in love. It was a real joy in the production … to see them fall in love with it, to see how far it could go, how wild it could go. I think the only question we had on a cultural level was …”
He pauses for effect, „… they don’t know what a trolley is.”
The new Doctor Who special, The Star Beast, is available to stream in Australia from November 26 on Disney+.
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