Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

This Sorry Tale Of Whose Who

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HERE'S an interesting tale. In 1989, Doctor Who, that lovable old televisual war-horse, was taken off the air.

Its ratings were down, the stories were getting sillier, and the programme was generally considered to be past its dematerialise-by date.

And yet, not unlike Star Trek 20 years before, it refused to lie down and expire quietly. When BBC Enterprises released videotapes of the old programmes, some of them in black and white, all of them as ludicrous and unconvincing as we remember them, they sold in huge quantities.

Last year, the black-and-white Tomb Of The Cybermen earned BBC Enterprises more than £1million. When BBC2 carried a few early evening repeats, three or four million people tuned in. In short, the audience was still there.

Unfortunately, Jonathan Powell, at that time the Controller of BBC1, was an implacable enemy of the show - a Cyberman in human form, if you like - and refused to consider its return. So when a bright freelance writer came up with a script idea to resuscitate the series, he took it not to Powell but direct to BBC Enterprises.

Sniffing cash in huge quantities, Enterprises was considerably tempted. It could make a 30th anniversary special - 1993 turned out to mark that particular milestone - sell it straight to video, clean up, and perhaps even flog it on to television later. In the bright new BBC, with its 'internal markets' and 'producer choice', such initiative would surely be rewarded.

Powell, though, was having none of it. Last November he reminded Enterprises that, by its own articles of association, it could sell and merchandise BBC programmes, but actually making them was out of the question.

But this spring Powell left and was replaced by Alan Yentob, who was rather more open to persuasion on the matter. Yentob, after all, was the man who had scheduled the BBC2 repeats in the first place.

And so, in mid-May, it was announced that a 90-minute special would be produced, featuring the five surviving Doctors, to be shown on BBC1 in November and released on video shortly afterwards. Similar 30th anniversary screenings would be arranged in Australia, Canada and the U.S.

THE only problem was, who would make it? BBC Enterprises, with no overheads, bid around £750,000; BBC Drama, with its massive infrastructure, could get no lower than £1.2million. Enterprises got the nod.

All fine and dandy, except that Enterprises had no experience of making drama, and as the project continued, its shaky grasp on the essentials became increasingly clear. When the script was delivered, three of the Doctors complained about their small roles.

In July, while Yentob and Tony Greenwood, Head of BBC Enterprises, were out of town, those in the BBC who wished to scupper the project made their concerns known to the Board of Management. This was, they said, a case of commercialism over creativity.

So the project was cancelled. Yentob and Greenwood are reportedly furious. But a change of mind seems unlikely - well, the Board of Management wouldn't want to lose face, would they?

The much trumpeted return of Doctor Who is no more. A resuscitation of the project is still a possibility, but that's the optimist's view.

As a result of this fiasco, John Birt's attempts to introduce competition into the BBC look even more tattered than before.

BBC Enterprises has lost the opportunity to clean up on the anniversary, and, most important, the programme's fans have been deprived of their promised special.

Could there be any greater example of institutional daftness? An interesting tale indeed.

Graphic: Which Doctor? Jon Pertwee And Katy Manning

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to whovian@cuttingsarchive.org

  • APA 6th ed.: Berkmann, Marcus (1993-08-07). This Sorry Tale Of Whose Who. The Daily Mail p. 37.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Berkmann, Marcus. "This Sorry Tale Of Whose Who." The Daily Mail [add city] 1993-08-07, 37. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Berkmann, Marcus. "This Sorry Tale Of Whose Who." The Daily Mail, edition, sec., 1993-08-07
  • Turabian: Berkmann, Marcus. "This Sorry Tale Of Whose Who." The Daily Mail, 1993-08-07, section, 37 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=This Sorry Tale Of Whose Who | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/This_Sorry_Tale_Of_Whose_Who | work=The Daily Mail | pages=37 | date=1993-08-07 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=23 July 2021 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=This Sorry Tale Of Whose Who | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/This_Sorry_Tale_Of_Whose_Who | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=23 July 2021}}</ref>