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The American Version of Doctor Who

Please put the sharp instruments, torches, and brass knuckles down and hear me out. 

I just want to clarify up front I don’t really want this and historically, it’s just a bad idea when we try to adapt a British show, just like it’s usually a mistake when Brits try and adapt American TV. 

As far as I’m concerned, we can try and adapt all the British shows ever, but the very last on the list would be Doctor Who. Why? The Britishness.

It’s not because we don’t have any good TV over here, in the US. We do. We have just as many, if not more, quality shows over here. Make no mistake though: while we have more quality shows, we also have more cr*p. So right off the bat, let’s not focus on the wrong things. Fair enough? Alright, so… Britishness.

99% of Doctor Who‘s charm involves good stories, good performances, and Britishness. The iconic Police Box alone screams Britishness. 

So, years ago, I’d thought about America making a Doctor Who programme. It’s an interesting exercise. You first have to think how it would be approached. You’d have to have a showrunner that knows what works and what doesn’t for an American audience. What elements to keep, dump, and change. 

The conclusion I’ve come to is you’d have to exorcise the Britishness out of it. Frank, put down the flamethrower. Where did you get a– ? Never mind. 

Something I’d like to point out here: when Russell T Davies left Doctor Who and went to America to work with BBC International, I was very worried they’d talk him into doing an American version. You know the suits lined up with their idiot ideas. Because we’ve seen the suits line up here before with idiot ideas. We’ve seen the suits at the BBC line up with… ideas recently, and look where the show is now.

Let’s face it, over here, we would try to adapt anything and everything, so you just know Doctor Who was on the table at some point. Thankfully, they were seemingly convinced that it was just not a good idea. I think we all agree, that although it wouldn’t be impossible, it’s highly improbable that we could reinvent the show here and have it be highly successful. 

And to be more clear, the main reason I’ve been thinking about this at all, is because of where the current show is. If the Timeless Child mandate is upheld and/or reenforced by Chibnall– well, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a very different show now and hey, all bets are off. May as well try to create some Doctor Who. It’s not really brain surgery. Is it? Maybe.

It is, however, a very engaging puzzle. An interesting hypothetical exercise; a game, if you will, and the only way to win would be to figure out an angle in which it would be successful. In which it would work. An uphill battle but what the hell, I’m not going anywhere.

So, here I am in my Hollywood office, getting paid obscene amounts of money to come up with an American version of Doctor Who. Russell just slowly wandered by my open doorway, shaking his head with a look of pity on his face. I shut the door, as he’s not helping. I’ve already decided that except for a possible British companion far down the line, this has show to have an independent American vibe, but a good one. Verisimilitude. All the characters within this world and the actors portraying them must respect this world and treat the material accordingly. This is not camp; this is not OTT.

Item one: The TARDIS. Of all the hurdles, this might be the largest one. I’ve spent a LOT of time thinking about this. A structure that is easily and readily identifiable to an American audience but also an international audience, as much as possible. A structure that takes up roughly the same footprint as the police box, give or take a foot. The answer? A dilapidated, blue garden shed with white trim, with maybe a weather vane on top that spins around. Double doors, a few frosted windows. Inside? Possibilities are endless but I think I’d start out with a console room that lay somewhere in between Peter Capaldi’s, Paul McGanns, and Season 14. And maybe the console itself would be the original Hartnell version.

Item two: The writing. The showrunning. Lots of discussions here but it would depend on who wants the jobs and what they’re pitching. Verisimilitude again. And it should be aimed at the whole family. We don’t want to go Deadwood, but we also definitely don’t want to go Scooby Doo. Give me the imagination of Rod Serling, the characterisation of Ira Steven Behr — actually, Behr’s not a bad choice for showrunner. He did a helluva job on Deep Space Nine. But you get the idea.

Item three: The show pilot. The main character is known as the Doctor. He is not from this planet. At the start, he is an older man, maybe late 50s, and has a granddaughter named Susan. She has two teachers whose curiosity about the strange girl land them in a confrontation with this mysterious grandfather, the Doctor. This happens after finding out to their horror, that she evidently lives with the old man in a small shed in the back of a junk yard. An attempted call to child services! A struggle ensues, landing them all inside the shed to find the inside is much larger than the outside and they’re about to find out that it’s a time machine. Having been exposed, the Doctor cuts his losses, activating the dematerialisation circuit, whisking them off to prehistoric times.

Note: I do believe patterning the pilot more or less after the original is a very good idea for obvious reasons and the principle characters will work here again. Ian is still a science teacher; Barbara, a history teacher. The TARDIS is still hidden away in a junkyard, the Doctor is still a somewhat suspicious, prickly old man, Ian and Barbara are still horrified to find Susan stashed away in a box. Susan, instead of being a screamer, is actually more accomplished and acts mature beyond her years. The Doctor makes it clear again that stopping in this one time on this one planet and letting Susan experience that stupid school has now caused all this!

Item four: The Doctor. Why so far down on the list? Because you need the proper set up, the writing, an actual writers’ room, a good road map for what you want to do first. Then you hold your auditions. Initially, we would specifically be casting a white male but with the explicit plan to audition only women of any and all colours when the time comes for regeneration, to immediately illustrate that anything can happen with regeneration. After that, a third Doctor could be virtually anyone, but there’d always be a rigorous audition process to get the best Doctor possible. The same holds true for the companions starting off with Ian, Barbara, and Susan. 

Item 5: The Doctor’s history. This show would start fresh but aside from the set up as mentioned above, certain things would be revealed in time. Probably sooner rather than later. The original producers were adding bits of history as they went and some of it can stay as it does makes sense within the narrative. The Doctor would still be a Time Lord from Gallifrey that can regenerate. 12 regenerations /13 bodies and you’re done. It’s good to have boundaries but of course you wouldn’t necessarily have to deal with running out of bodies for at least a half century as we know. Absolutely NO plans to turn the character into a billion year old God that’s not from Gallifrey. That would be bonkers. 

Item 6: Season length. While there is sometimes still a tendency to do 22 or 23 episode seasons over here, I’d definitely go with a shorter season, because as we’ve seen with so many quality shows, like Breaking Bad, The Americans, and The Sopranos, you can get a much tighter narrative doing 13x 45 minute episodes and I think we’ve seen this successfully played out in NuWho in Britain as well. The overall season and story breakdown would determine which episodes would be one shots, two parters, etc.

The network: I’d be more inclined to reach out to a network like AMC or perhaps go right to Netflix or Amazon Prime, as there’s a bit more freedom and respect for the creative process and the creators wishes than with say, the CW, NBC, CBS, et al. 

And there you have it. It probably shouldn’t and wouldn’t be done, but if it is, I think it best to do it right, if at all humanly possible. 

I’m sure this idea is less welcome than Kill the Moon to most Doctor Who fans but I’m at least more open to it now than ever before. And heck, I like Kill the Moon.

Rick Lundeen

The American Version of Doctor Who

by Rick Lundeen time to read: 6 min
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