Australian broadcaster ABC, Doctor Who’s home in the country since 1965, has lost the rights to screen new episodes when the programme returns in 2023. The end of the long-running agreement with the BBC means that viewers will have to take out a subscription to Disney+ if they want to follow the series.
ABC’s loss of Doctor Who is an inevitable result of the recent high-profile announcement that Disney+ would be the new home of the series outside the UK and Ireland. A statement by ABC said:
“After a long friendship, spanning more than 50 years, the universe has called the Doctor in a different direction and Doctor Who will no longer appear on the ABC beyond the current season. ABC audiences can currently enjoy past seasons of Doctor Who, including the recent centenary special, on ABC iview.
“We are incredibly grateful to the generations of Whovians who have enjoyed Doctor Who with us on the ABC. Everyone at the ABC wishes the Doctor well on their adventures and we hope the Time Lord will visit us again at some stage in the future.”
ABC’s relationship with Doctor Who goes back to March 1964 when they first purchased the programme. Transmissions began on ABC’s Perth station in January 1965, with prints often being physically transported from city to city for broadcast in this era. ABC was to become one of the few broadcasters in the world to show episodes of all the Doctors in (mostly) chronological order.
Australian TV censorship rules were harsher than those in the UK, leading to the country playing a small but important role in salvaging footage from missing episodes. ABC cut out sequences felt to be too violent or horrific from a number of episodes, but the clips were retained and forgotten about until they were recovered by Daniel Shanahan in 1996. As a result, we can at least have a small glimpse of stories which are otherwise wholly absent from the archives such as The Smugglers, Fury from the Deep, and The Macra Terror.
The BBC’s new agreement with Disney+ will likely generate mixed feelings for many fans. There’s the prospect of a considerably increased budget, a greater worldwide profile, and the tantalising possibility of new spin-off shows. But some will be saddened that a broadcaster such as ABC, which has been a loyal long-term friend of Doctor Who, should lose out to a huge global corporation in this way.
Then there’s the impact on viewers in Australia, who now face having to fork out $11.99 each month for a subscription if they want to keep up with the adventures of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Doctors. Doctor Who viewers in other countries where the series currently airs on public broadcast channels will presumably face having to make a similar choice.
It’s not the first time such a move has happened, of course – fans of franchises such as Star Trek, Star Wars, and Marvel have grown used to having to pay for streaming services to follow the latest shows from those universes. And it’s not surprising that the BBC, faced with increased competition and the prospect of the end of the licence fee, should seek to maximise revenue from one of its key global properties.
What do you think? Would you be prepared to subscribe to Disney+ to follow Doctor Who? Or are we losing too much by bringing the ‘house of mouse’ on board?