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Could Doctor Who work as a film franchise?

Doctor Who will be a feature film, but will it be successful?
Courtesy of BBC

Making a movie out of a popular franchise seems to be all the rage in Hollywood these days. Unforunately, aside from the big screen adaptation of The Fugitive, alot of the elements that any successful television show work are often removed. When Michael Mann decided to take Miami Vice (he produced the NBC original in the 1980s) and make a feature film out of it, he seemed he could care less about what cemented the success of the very thing he worked on.

Miami Vice was a cop show with a comic book sensiblity; instead of the cops wearing tights and having superpowers to fight crime, they fought crime wearing fly clothes while driving a fly car and sleeping with fine ladies. The Michael Mann adaptation washed out those bright colors for some kind of half-assed attempt at "reality". The whole film, in tone and in story, was so dark that I might as well have inserted a damn flashlight on my TV set to see who is shooting who.

This is where I come into discussing the issue I have with the recently announced Doctor Who film.

For those of who that don't know, Doctor Who is a popular science fiction show that airs in the UK centered around an eccentric time-traveler whose ship masks as a police box. Since 1963, the series has gone thru at least ten actors who have played the main character. The longest of these actors in the series original run (which ended in 1989) was Tom Baker, who played the character from 1974 to 1981.

I grew up mostly watching Tom Baker's episodes back in my youth when they originally aired on WTTW (a PBS station here in Chicago). He played the character, unlike previous actors before him, as a loveable, yet slightly moody goofball. When Baker left, that weird magic he brought to the role left with him. Although I did like Peter Davison's time, I felt that the lazy storytelling shined through more than any acting he did. Baker at least knew how to make even a turkey interesting (a good example is the rather boring story arc "Underworld").

With the hiring of David Yates, who directed some of the Harry Potter films, I suspect the BBC is hoping to bring some of the sucess of the former franchise to the Doctor Who films. That being said, Harry Potter is a much different creature than Doctor Who considering it's got a longer history. I'm one of the many in the camp that no one will ever be as good as Tom Baker in the role, which makes going to watch an hour long film of the show even more difficult.

Good acting aside, I also present another problem I'd have with a Doctor Who movie: what kind of a script would work for a feature film format?

The current Steven Moffat version of the TV series is loaded with a certain heavy-handedness that works only in the context of a show like Lost. Mystery has always been apart of Doctor Who, but the show was always very good about allowing your brain to fill in the blanks even thou the actors were given words to recap what happened before. Moffat doesn't seem to care for that much and only does so when he wants to present another mystery.

Russell T. Davies, who brought the show back and produced the first half of the new series, was also into keeping viewers guesing as to what was next. The biggest difference of between the two is that he knew how to let some of the stories take a breath from whatever massive thread was inserted into the show's plots for that particular season. If the film franchise, which claims not to want to appear similar to the television show, goes that route, that will be a huge gamble for the BBC.

If the Doctor Who film fails to grab the kind of money expected by the BBC, it would be sort of a sitting duck in their film library much like Superman Returns is within the Superman film franchise; you can't really move forward with what you have if you don't like it. The television version of the show knew at least to get rid of what they percieve as the bad egg holding the show back and keep it moving.

A film franchise can be broken easily if the first outing doesn't generate any interest, especially when the actor signed is supposed to do it for a number of them. The flexibility and time of a television format is more suitable for Doctor Who. Considering I am not at the wheel making these kinds of decisions, I can only hope this doesn't become another turkey like the 1996 TV movie was.


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