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This is the official blog of Phoenix Roleplaying, a multi-genre simming site, created in August 2010.

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Saturday, 13 April 2013

Big screens and big audiences ('Doctor Who': Film and TV spinoffs)

Doctor Who has not just been one single television show since 1963 – not by any means. In this post, the first of mine covering the expanded universe, I will look at the other live-action appearances of our favourite Time Lord.

Firstly, we’ll be going cinematic. While various main continuity Doctor Who movies have been proposed and gotten to various stages (such as the ‘Scratchman’ movie discussed in footnote 3 of this post), only two have actually been made, both starring Peter Cushing as a human inventor called Doctor Who and basically adapting the first two Dalek stories. These films, not considered canon at all, were both intended to cash in on the Dalekmania craze of the mid-1960s. They are aired on British TV from time to time.


Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965)


Doctor Who, his two granddaughters Susan and Barbara, along with the latter’s boyfriend Ian, end up taking TARDIS to a devastated world that is home to the Daleks.


I’ve seen this movie… and I didn't like it. Opinion in fandom appears to be divided over this too.

Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966)

A policeman wanders into TARDIS and ends up going with its crew to 2150 and a Dalek-ruled Earth.

Not seen this one, but it contains a notable star – Bernard Cribbins, who over 40 years later would play Wilfred “Wilf” Mott in the regular TV series[1]. The reviews were not great and the box office wasn’t much better, so a third film was cancelled.

There have been three ‘official’ fictional spin-offs from the show, a fourth not licenced by the BBC and also three non-fictional behind the scenes shows[3].


Torchwood (2006-?[4])


“Outside the government, beyond the police…”


A darker and more adult show (sometimes overdoing it, especially early on with the notorious “Day One”) involving a secret British government organisation that salvages alien technology for its own use, focussing on the team based in Cardiff, which just happens to be home to a dimensional rift. After two full seasons and a five-part miniseries (Children of Earth), the BBC teamed up with Starz to co-produce the fourth run called Torchwood: Miracle Day – this was reviewed here. While Russell T Davies produced the show, a good number of scripts for the first two seasons were written by Chris Chibnall, an award-winning writer whose Whoniverse work hasn’t always been up to scratch – he got a very bad rep in fandom as a result.


Evolving from an idea RTD had for an Earth-based sci-fi show, it acquired its name from the anagram of Doctor Who used to disguise tapes of the show. A full discussion of a rather complex show will is one for another time, but as we are here, we had best focus on the show’s lead character….


Box Office Star – Captain Jack Harkness


Introduced in “The Empty Child”, ‘Captain Jack Harkness’ not his real name, is a former con man and Time Agent who loves to see the universe, meet interesting beings and sleep with the good looking ones. After events in “The Parting of the Ways”, he is also immortal – you can kill him, but he keeps coming back to life.


Captain Jack is portrayed by John Barrowman (1967-). Born in Glasgow, Barrowman grew up in Illinois, where he acquired an American accent[5] and matinee idol good looks that have served him well on stage and screen; he started off in the CBBC Saturday morning show Live & Kicking but his television career on both sides of the Atlantic (he has dual nationality) is extensive. He appears to the point of ubiquity on British television (especially in light entertainment), although he has also appeared in Desperate Housewives and more recently the CW’s Arrow[6]. On stage, he frequently does musicals and pantomime – the fact he is openly gay is of course a mere coincidence. He and his sister have also written a number of novels, including Torchwood ones.


The Sarah Jane Adventures (2007-2011)


13 Bannerman Road is where Sarah Jane Smith lives. And it's home to things way beyond your imagination”.


With Torchwood for adults, The Sarah Jane Adventures (SJA for short) was for children, but not in a pandering way[7]. Set after her appearance in “School Reunion”, this CBBC series focussed on Sarah Jane and a group of teenagers (including her adopted son) fighting threats to Earth from their home in West London. I’ve only seen a few episodes of this – namely the ones where the Doctor (in his tenth and eleventh forms) appeared, which I enjoyed – but the show overall was a ratings and critical success for the CBBC channel.


What ended the show was the death of Lis Sladen. She completed three of the planned six serials of the fifth season before her illness became too much and after her passing, no-one wished to continue. The three recorded stories were aired posthumously.


Sarah Jane's Alien Files (2009-2010)


A spin off of SJA, this was a clip show with extra narration by Alexander Armstrong as Sarah Jane’s computer Mr Smith – its first run was a series of 3-minute webisodes, then it became a half-hour TV series airing after the first part of that week’s story.


K9 (2009-?)


Featuring an updated version of K-9 Mark 2 (voiced by John Leeson as before) and set in near-future London, this Australian production is not licenced or produced by the BBC (who don’t own the character, but do own the design, forcing a major change in appearance[8]), instead airing on the Ten Network down under for its first run of 26 thirty-minute episodes. A second series is planned, but no date for it has been announced yet.


I’ve never seen an episode of it, so I can’t comment on quality.


Doctor Who Confidential (2005-2011)


A behind the scenes show that aired after each episode on digital network  BBC3, airing 45-minute looks at the particular episode and how it was made, along with interviews etc. Fifteen minute long cut down versions were released on the DVDs (along with extra editions) – for one thing, the full versions had extensive use of music that would have required rights clearances.


Rated in a poll as the best BBC3 show of all time (ahead of Torchwood and the original British version of Being Human), this popular and well-made show fell to budget cuts in 2011 amid considerable fan protest, although the official website for the show still airs mini behind the scenes videos for each episode.


Totally Doctor Who (2006-7)


In essence a junior version of Confidential, with added competitions and so on that ran on the CBBC channel with Seasons 28 and 29. It also played host to an animated serial in its second and final season, “The Infinite Quest”, which will be covered in Season 29’s article. It was canned in favour of The Sarah Jane Adventures as the CBBC budget did not cover both. I watched it and found it OK, but I don’t miss it.


Torchwood Declassified


A 10-minute behind the scenes show that aired after each episode of the first two runs of Torchwood – the first one on BBC3, the second on BBC2. A 30-minute version for “Children of Earth” was released with the DVD.

These were not the only video appearances of the Whoniverse. In our next edition, we cover the lesser known spinoffs – those that appeared online or only on home video.

[1]Originally a one-shot character for “Voyage of the Damned”, Wilf was elevated to the position of Donna Noble’s maternal grandfather after the death of Howard Attfield in 2007 – Attfield had played Donna’s father in “The Runaway Bride”, but died after filming several scenes for “Partners in Crime” – these were redone with Cribbins. As Wilf is the effective companion in David Tennant’s final story, Cribbins holds the clear record for oldest person to play a companion – although he is not the oldest living regular DW actor, a title currently held by William Russell (Ian Chesterton).

[2]Another spin-off for Rose Tyler, called Rose Tyler: Earth Defender, which would have covered Rose’s adventures on the parallel Earth she ended up in after “Doomsday” actually got to budgeting stage before Russell T Davies decided this was a spin-off too far and canned the project.

[3]I am not counting the pilot-only K-9 and Company, covered elsewhere.

[4]The show is in indefinite hiatus – Russell T Davies had to return to the UK for personal reasons and is currently only working on CBBC show Wizards vs. Aliens.

[5]Although he can switch to Scottish easily.

[6]Which has also featured Alex Kingston.

[7]You cannot really accuse the BBC’s prolific content for children of this – many of its shows have handled mature issues with aplomb and I personally will never forget the death of one particular Byker Grove character.

[8]It also did not air on the Beeb, instead making its first British appearance on Disney XD and then a terrestrial airing on Channel 5.

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