Lately, a lot of the chatter amongst Doctor Who fandom has been the possibility of a Who feature-film entering into development. I’ve found it very entertaining, as if anyone should know that there is a world of difference between saying a film is “being developed” and “coming out soon”, it’s Doctor Who fans. And yet, the bulk of online reactions seem to be from people operating under the assumption that the film is a done deal. Which, of course, leads to Who fans making decidedly definitive statements about what a Who film absolutely must or must not be.
One popular theory is that the film would be a continuation of the story about the half-human Doctor and Rose in the parallel world, because this wouldn’t cause any contradictions with television continuity. That this only leads to other fans complaining that such a film wouldn’t “count” because it doesn’t feature the “real” Doctor leads to amusing shouting matches, but not much else. A larger problem, as I see it, is that Billie Piper, charming though she may be, is not exactly a big name in the United States. And that’s the larger problem with any fan discussion of a Who film; fans don’t seem to want to take into consideration that the United States is a very different country from Great Britain.
Let’s be blunt here: a Doctor Who film is unlikely to get made without American money. Which means American input. It also means, by necessity, a story that acts as a fresh start for a new audience of film-goers, many of whom will probably never have heard of Doctor Who. That’s just simple fiscal and demographic reality. Compromises must be made to reach an audience larger than British television viewers who don’t care for reality competitions. If Who fans are very lucky, we might reasonably expect that David Tennant will play the Doctor, as anyone with only vague familiarity with the show probably associates his face at least with the role. But beyond that, it seems unlikely that any other cast members of the television show would make it into an American-financed film; they simply don’t have the recognition. The most probable outcome would be for a new companion to be cast, either an affordable known quantity or a cheap up-and-comer.
If the producers of a film version want to have any kind of connection to the current television series, that might actually be the most sensible approach to take anyway. A Who film has to introduce the entire concept of the show to an American audience. That means, to borrow metaphors from the last four years, that a movie would not follow the pattern of, say, “New Earth” or “Partners in Crime.” A film’s structure would probably have to follow something like “Rose” or “Smith and Jones” as a model: introduce us to the companion first, make us care about her, and then have the Doctor enter her world. The companion, at best, is more than simply someone for the Doctor to exposition at; she’s the view-point character that allows the audience to identify with what they’re seeing on screen. Someone with potential global appeal (and probably an American accent) would be the best choice for the role.
That is, of course, assuming that any kind of connection to the television series would be desired. Given the success of Star Trek and the drubbing of Terminator: Salvation, it’s understandable that the word du jour in Los Angeles is “reboot.” In such a climate, a Peter Cushing-style Who film could be very likely. Take the core concepts of the show (time and space travel, a ship that is bigger on the inside than the outside, and the roles of the Doctor and the companion) and toss everything else out in the name of narrative simplicity. As much as purist Who fans would wail, they are only a very small percentage of the total global film-going population, and divorcing the film of all that fan-baggage could easily be seen as a good thing. After all, fan anger over the “rape” of Deadpool in the Wolverine film, and the loud disapprobation of online fans over the film in general, does not appear to have hurt it at all financially (a fact more fans should probably take to heart and likely won’t).
In any case, if a Doctor Who film gets made, and that’s a pretty damn big “if”, what we’re likely to see is something between what we think we want to see as Who fans and our worst nightmares:
So, Doctor Who, once again we see that there is nothing in this space-universe that you can have that I cannot take away. Now, pitiful fool, if you value the life of your companion, you will toss me the X-TARDIS space-keys or I shall kill her slowly at the hands of my minions, the Al-Daleks.
Don’t do it, Doctor Who! My life isn’t as important as yours! I’m just a former space-whore trying to turn her life around! You are the last of the X-Lords! Only you can stop the Al-Daleks!
Baby, the death of all the other Xtreme Lords would have been for nothing if I let an ass as fine as yours get wasted by this queer. K-9, get your metal rear end over here and toss me my Sonic 9 Mili-Meter.
Yeah, baby! Now we’re going to see some serious ball-busting!
Eat Sonic Lead, Davros.
[DOCTOR WHO shoots DAVROS. DAVROS and the Al-Daleks explode.]
Doctor Who, you saved me! How can I ever repay you?
I think you know how. Just do that thing with your tongues again this time.
Yeah, baby! The X-TARDIS is going to be rocking tonight!
[Cue end credits and Nickelback song]
“Breastina” © 2009 Mike Sterling and is used by permission.