There’s been a lot of speculation about whether Disney is changing Doctor Who. The BBC sold the streaming rights for new Doctor Who to Disney, so while the BBC broadcasts the show in the UK, Disney is streaming it everywhere else.
From the outset, the main concern was that the House of Mouse would stick its venomous, corporate teeth into the program, take control away from the Beeb, enslave Russell T Davies in their basement, and force him to squeeze out Who scripts under the watchful eyes of the frozen, disembodied head of Walt Disney himself.
You see, the Sony Corporation, who has a friendly relationship with Disney, owns Bad Wolf Studio, who has a friendly relationship with the BBC, and employs Russell. So this hook up was somewhat natural. An alliance that benefits everyone.
RTD has total creative control of Doctor Who, but the show is owned by the BBC, so they’re allowed to have input. Russell works for Bad Wolf and thus Sony, so they, too, have input. Disney owns nothing but the streaming rights for the show, but since it’s streaming on their platform, they have the right to have input as well. Here’s where the worry and fear pops up. Constantly.
The fear that somehow, Disney controls everything, and strong arms everything to their liking.
Not so. It’s very likely they have the same amount of input as Bad Wolf and the Beeb. Maybe a bit less since the Beeb owns the property.
So, if you’re worried about the Mouse making Who all “Disney-ish”, have no fear. Disney won’t be doing that.
If it happens, Russell will be the one who’s doing it.
In a recent interview in SFX magazine (and shared via Games Radar), executive producer Joel Collins refuted the “Disneyfication” claim, saying “that would only happen if it wasn’t being made by Russell. Or by somebody who wasn’t as big a fan as Russell.”
But an important point — Russell is a fan of a lot of the work Disney’s Pixar has produced and that might be part of what we’re seeing. Collins explains that RTD has been inspired by some of Disney’s output:
“Russell wanted to bring fun to it, he just wanted to bring joy into the show and challenge people in all the right ways that Russell does. But also make it fun at the right points, make it really fun, take you on a ride. So, I think that’s where the barrier to entry is removed, because adults and children alike enjoy that. And it’s not like, ‘Oh, it’s just for kids,’ or ‘It’s just for adults’ or any of this stuff.”
It might just be semantics, but even though Disney’s not injecting itself into the programme, Russell is bringing a Disney flavour to the show and shall probably continue to do so. The comments he’s made about adding more fantasy into the show going forward lends itself to this.
Another possible factor is Bigger Audience Syndrome.
When preparing to accommodate an exponentially larger audience, it sometimes affects how the creator approaches the production of their series.
It’s at this point I have to cite a few entertainment examples from American late night television.
Jay Leno was once the most popular and acclaimed stand up comic in the country, revered by all his peers. His act was edgy but he wasn’t foul mouthed or dirty, and mostly suitable for all audiences. But when he was controversially given The Tonight Show, he severely watered down his content to homogenize his jokes so grandmothers across the country would like and accept him. This dumbed down, bland approach worked and he received good ratings.
When David Letterman moved from the Late Night slot at NBC to the hour earlier Late Show on CBS, he felt he had to be a bit more responsible with his content, not just playing for the college crowd. So he toned down his material as well, just not anywhere nearly as bland as Leno.
The point is, the much larger audience might be factored in to these new approaches to the writing, the creative in general. Whether that’s a good or bad thing in Who’s situation remains to be seen.
The prevailing thought is that Doctor Who has now gone from just the UK to worldwide status thanks to Disney, so one can only wonder how much this bigger stage will affect how Davies moves forward with the show.
Although, considering that over the past six decades, Who has been sold and distributed to dozens of countries, and the 50th anniversary special was simultaneously broadcast in 91 countries, there’s no question that the world is well aware of Doctor Who. Or should be anyway.
Yet somehow, it being streamed through Disney+ has it allegedly reaching an even bigger audience.
By all accounts, going forward with “Season 1” (Series 1/Series 14/Season 40 – your choice), we are going to see this new direction incorporating more fantasy along with our science fiction, as it streams worldwide.
And it is slated to be lighter and have “more fun and joy” thrown into it, and it might indeed feel more like Disney in some ways. But let’s be clear for the record — the main force behind that is not going be Disney.
That will be Russell T Davies.