Saturday, 23 January 2010

Postcards from Another World 14

Disclaimer: this is a work of fiction.

Part Fourteen: Season 33 (1996)

Although JNT had been mostly successful in keeping Doctor Who’s ratings high in the UK, it became clear that the recent seasons, starring Sylvester McCoy, were not as popular in the USA as the ‘classic’ eras: namely Pertwee and the two Bakers. In the end it was this fact that caused the BBC executives to remove JNT after season 32 and replace him with someone they hoped could make the show appeal to the American audience.

They were prepared to throw money at it, too, as somewhere along the line somebody had realised that Doctor Who was a cash cow for the BBC. Ian Levine’s claim in 1987 that Doctor Who made more money for the BBC than it cost to make, through merchandising and overseas sales, was proved true beyond the wildest fantasies of the 1980s production team.

New Producer Philip Segal, brought in from outside the BBC, wasted no time in wielding the axe. Sophie Aldred’s Ace was the longest-serving Companion in the show’s history, having joined eight years earlier. Axed - new blood required. Sylvester McCoy had completed three seasons as the Doctor, and in spite of his popularity in the UK had never taken off in the USA. Axed - need someone who would appeal to the ‘target market.’

Their replacements were Dr Grace Holloway (American actress Daphne Ashbrook), taking over from Ace in the first serial of the season, and eighth Doctor Paul McGann, replacing McCoy in the middle of the season.

Changes were not just made to the cast - the TARDIS interior set was to be revamped again, but making it much, much bigger on the inside than ever before.

One thing Segal kept the same was the semi-regular return of favourite monsters and enemies from the past. In his first season he wanted to see Daleks, and he wanted to bring back the Master (last seen in 1987), though he did not wish to bring Anthony Ainley back to play the role, instead casting American actor Eric Roberts.

With hindsight, changes like this can be seen as favouring the American audience at the expense of the British audience. Unfortunately, while it took time for the viewing figures to build up in the USA (though build up they did), the drop off in the UK was almost immediate in the middle of season 33. The serial Enemy Within saw a new Doctor alongside a new Companion and facing a new Master (both of whom were being played by Americans), in a story set in San Francisco. The British press criticised the ‘Americanisation’ of a quintessentially British TV show.

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