Saturday, 16 January 2010

Postcards from Another World 7

Disclaimer: this is a work of fiction.

Part Seven: The Trial

After season 23 received some criticism from the media, Michael Grade (Controller of BBC1) and Jonathan Powell (Head of Drama) attacked the series by circulating an internal BBC memo raising concerns over the show’s future and casting doubts over its “value for money.” This was, of course, leaked to the press, prompting a tabloid story under the headline “Dr Who Axed in BBC plot” and leading to The Sun’s campaign to “Save Dr Who.”

Minutes of meetings in the Doctor Who production office around this time show that opinion was divided about what to do - all their jobs were at stake if Doctor Who was indeed “axed” so the feeling was that they should do something. But the collective decision was taken to not get involved with the “Save Dr Who” campaign, as this might demonstrate weakness and so be playing into the hands of their enemies.

Cooler heads prevailed in the production team - all that was done was that Unofficial Continuity Advisor Ian Levine leaked to the press that Doctor Who made more money for the BBC than it cost to make, through merchandising and overseas sales (it is worth noting that although that is certainly true today, it remains unknown if it was true in the mid-1980s or if this was being economical with the actuality).

With hindsight it seems clear that this response, though it doubtless seemed sensible enough at the time, was not enough. Several ideas that could have raised Doctor Who’s profile, and thus garnered crucial public support, were not adopted. In the end Doctor Who was not “axed” by Powell & Grade, but it did see its budget reduced yet again. In practical terms, there was simply not enough money to make thirteen 45-minute episodes, and JNT said so publicly. On this occasion he had misjudged the response from the executives and instead of the budget being increased, the number of episodes was decreased - from thirteen to seven.

Only after this decision was public knowledge were JNT and Saward forced into action. They believed that they only had seven episodes with which to save Doctor Who. All the stops were to be pulled out to make this season, though reduced in length, the best quality it could possibly be. Saward turned to the man he thought could save Doctor Who - a man acknowledged as one of the series’ greatest writers and Script Editors - Robert Holmes. Between the two of them they concocted the idea for an over-arching story for all seven episodes, the epic Trial of A Time Lord.

Never has Doctor Who come so close to disaster as with what happened next…

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