Doctor Who’s 49th Anniversary: The Future History Of Who
We’ve been to the future and seen the destiny of Doctor Who! Of course… it could have been an alternate future. Or a cheese-fuelled dream.
(This is the Director’s Cut of a feature that appeared in SFX’s Doctor Who The Fanzine, with never-seen-before… erm, sentences.)
Will our predictions for Doctor Who be any more accurate than HG Wells’s in Things To Come?
With the public still acclimatising to the idea of the first female Doctor (introduced at the end of the of the 2013 Christmas Special, “The Time Lord Who Stole Christmas”), the new star of the show, Amara Karan, embarks on her first six episodes (the series once again having been split over autumn and spring).
Both Moffat and current companion October Spring bow out at the end of the eighth series, with Spring leaving after a controversial storyline in which even through the Doctor has changed sex, she still fancies her. Moffat is replaced by The Fades’ Jack Thorne. He promises his era will reflect, “Current trends in telefantasy” and immediately commissions a Christmas special called “Cybermen Versus Zombies”.
A 90-minute Torchwood special finally kills off Captain Jack. His last words to Rex are, “I always thought you looked a bit more like Bo, anyway… you big headed yank, you. Give us a kiss.”
Rose Tyler: Defender Of The F**king Earth launches in the US on HBO, starring Billie Piper, executive produced by Russell T Davies and showrun by Ben Edlund. It breaks the record for downloads via illegal filesharing sites, but is only watched by eight people live. HBO rapidly relaunches it as an exclusive web series, and makes gazillions of dollars. This is deemed, “The Way 4Ward 4 Cult TV” (Variety, August, 2015).
Back in Britain something similar is happening. More people are now watching Doctor Who on time-shift, iPlayer and iTunes than live. The series finale, “Daleks Versus Zombies” has five million views on iPlayer alone. The BBC announces that the next series will air on Tuesdays at 3am, because it no longer matters when they air the show on real TV.
There is still a prime time showing for the Christmas special, though: “Santa Versus Zombies”. Fans claim Jack Thorne is one-trick pony.
Determined to find new ways to bring a general audience back to the show rather than just appeal to downloading fans, the BBC commission three 3D Doctor Who specials to air in prime instead of a regular series. “Ice Warriors Versus Zombies 3D”, “Sontarans Versus Zombies 3D” and “Daleks Versus Simon Cowell 3D” are all massive ratings successes, partly because even in 2016, illegal download sites cannot replicate the 3D.
The new series is entirely made in 3D. The first ever regular CG companion, a shapeshifting cyborg rabbit called Ginger, is introduced. Doctor 12 regenerates. Doctor 13 is played by 16 year-old Joe Pluggins. Outgoing producer Jack Thorne says, “He may look young but he has old feet.” Pluggins vows to play the Doctor as a “kick-ass warrior mage from World Of Warcraft.” The new showrunner is imported from Doctors, which finally expires on daytime BBC.
The film, Doctor Who 4D, finally premieres. It’s a massive critical hit, and moderate box office success, though nobody can really explain the plot – especially the bit when Doctor 10 and Doctor 11 embrace, time becomes a Moebius strip and every bloke called Dave Ross throughout history turns into a Dalek.
Everyone hates the new series. Downloads and viewers are way down. The BBC drastically cuts the budget.
However, BBC3 launches George, the story of a troubled teenager who is having trouble telling reality from illusions of his own creations, while CBBC launches Stormageddon, a sitcom starring James Corden as the bumbling dad of a precocious nine year-old inventor, determined to create a time machine.
The budget cuts mean the latest season of Doctor Who is set entirely in Cardiff. Only old monsters, already in the stock cupboard – or down the road at the Doctor Who Experience – are used. The Giant Robot makes a comeback but doesn’t grow. Or move much. The Doctor regenerates into a kid straight out of drama school who’ll accept peanuts for pay, and the BBC saves on script costs by running a “write a Doctor Who script” compo on Blue Peter.
The Conservative Government finally scraps the license fee, and the BBC is forced to generate its own funding. Doctor Who suddenly becomes a crucial property. Not only does the BBC commission an iPlayer exclusive series, taking advantage of new EDS (Express Download Speeds) that enable instant HD quality images, but it also franchises the property out around the world. Suddenly, 178 different versions of Doctor Who are being made around the world, from Australia to Zimbabwe, on all kinds of platforms.
In the UK, Edinburgh Fringe Perrier Award winning comedian Steve Stokes is the new Doctor, with a robot companion and portaloo-shaped TARDIS. Oddly, UK viewers prefer to download the US version, which stars Summer Glau as an ass-kicking female Doctor with a guy who spends most of time with his shirt off as her companion. Even more oddly, Norwegians love the UK version.
A Cyberman from “Cybermen Vs Zombies”. Possibly. (Image by Paul Gerrard: gerrardart.com)
60th anniversary time. UK producer KJ Powell manages to produce a two-hour special called “The 60 Doctors” featuring every still-alive Doctor actor – not just in the UK but from all those franchises around the world – except Christopher Eccleston. It’s a complete mess, but kinda fun.
Doctor Who (US version – now starring Justin Bieber, undergoing a massive career renaissance) is the first show in the world to be made for Total Immersion TV, a primitive form of Virtual Reality, with a limited interactive element. Soon the BBC and eight other Who franchises are following suit. The set-up involves sitting inside a specially constructed pod. It’s not long before all these booths are generally called TARDISes, whatever you’re using them to watch.
Leaps in CG technology, and a subsequent lowering of production costs, means that the Doctor Who Restoration Team finally creates totally authentic-looking recreations of all the lost episodes from the ’60s.
The BBC is so impressed with the results – especially the CG versions no-longer living Doctors – it commissions a special Total Immersion episode featuring William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker to star alongside current Doctor, ex-porn star Cassie Loengard. Peter Davison refuses to allow his likeness to be used while he’s still alive (“It’d be like I’d be doing myself out of a job, ” he tells The Guardian). The CG animators refuse to include Colin Baker’s Doctor because prolonged exposure to his coat would make them go blind. They claim.
Cardiff becomes a Doctor Who theme park.
The 70th anniversary is hardly celebrated at all. Russell T Davies appears on lots of chat show promoting his new book, How Doctor Who Saved The BBC. The BBC says it is planning something special for the 75th anniversary. A West End play by award winning writer Sally Spears, called Lonely God, dramatises Christopher Eccelston’s turbulent year as the Doctor, using it as a metaphor for the unions struggling to maintain integrity in a society obsessed with time management. Christopher Eccleston calls it, “Rubbish”.
The Daleks undergo a major redesign… sponsored by Derma Quash, a spot cream. The new Daleks have no eye-stalk, plunger or gun… or anything else that would make a Dalek-shaped DermaQuash bottle expensive to mass produce, In fact, they look like pepper pots. “We’re not selling out,” says current producer Dermot O’Leary. “It’s a return to the original vision.”
The new US Doctor now has a sonic Bosch© power drill. Soon, all territories are at it. Sponsorship goes mad. In Germany, they cast an ex-Olympic snowboarder in the lead and costume him out entirely in Adidas gear. The TARDIS gets go-faster stripes. Three of them.
It’s the 75th Anniversary and the BBC celebrates with Ware Of The Daleks – a 13-part epic on Total Immersion TV. It’s so scary that a new BBFC rating is created – PAC (Parental Accompaniment Compulsory). Three grandmothers and a elderly guardian die when forced to accompany their children… all of whom declare it. “Way cool!”
The BBC-produced Who episode “The Flatulence Of The Ice Warriors” becomes the first ever Doctor Who to be filmed on the moon, as part of a deal with the newly-formed Virgin Lunar Tours to promote holidays on Earth’s only natural satellite. Most viewers just figure it’s been faked as it doesn’t look as good as the game Moon Killer Elite on Total Immersion-Station 360.
DCD (Direct Cortex Download) is launched, allowing people to download virtual experiences direct to their brains. Ddoctor Who takes full advantage of the new platform, allowing users to play the Doctor’s companion, and choose their favourite Doctor to accompany. This leads to a sudden resurrection of interest in Sylvester McCoy, when players discover that he does really amusing pratfalls when you kick him in the ’nads. “He was the unsung Charlie Chaplin of his day,” claims comedian and games fan Paul Merton III, before boring everybody rotten with a series about the pre-3D days of television.
The 80th anniversary is the most astonishing yet, as a new episode, “The 27.5 Doctors” is filmed with clones of William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Bill Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann taking part (the scientists got the test tubes mixed up a bit, but thought that any Pertwee was better than none). Sadly, the boffins couldn’t also clone their acting abilities, and there isn’t time to train them, so the experiment doesn’t quite work. “They could have just used Madam Tussaud’s waxworks!” blasts The Daily Mail.
One unforeseen side effect of the cloning experiment, though, is that the Cardiff theme park can now populate its attractions with incredibly realistic Doctors. “It’s all a bit Jurassic Park!” claims one Kronk Burger seller. “You can see water rippling in cups when the Colin Baker clones are approaching.”
World War 3.01 puts a stop to all Doctor Who production as all DCD terminals around the planet are shut down for fear of global virtual terrorism. For the next nine years, the only new Who products are old-fashioned propaganda films and motion comics. Many old Total Immersion and DCD episodes are wiped or destroyed, though dodgy 2D copies playable on old-fashioned laptops do the rounds on the black market. A few episodes seem lost forever, though. The holy grail becomes the fourth episode of “The Ninth Planet (Because Pluto Isn’t Actually A Planet Anymore)” when 23rd Doctor Zillian Phoenix regenerated into a CG ape called Bob.
The war is over, and the new Indo-Asian power block bans all science fiction as Western propaganda. Doctor Who survives by word of mouth and illegal downloads only. The digi-fanzine culture goes into overdrive. The Doctor becomes a cult figure; a Robin Hood for late 21st century; an icon for individuality and freedom.
A cultural revolution lead by digital artistic dissidents ushers in the rebirth of crowd-pleasing, anti-imperial multi-platform immersion entertainment. The ruling powers try to control the burgeoning new media outlets but are losing the battle. They allow an ambitious and visionary media-generator to create what they hope will be an instructional new scientific adventure for DCD Plus called Doctor Who, based on an old Western myth, telling her, “But none of those decadent bug eyes monsters, okay?!” By the fourth episode, it’s already causing a phenomenon with the introduction of some mechanical creatures the likes of which have never been seen before…
• Check out our other Doctor Who 49th anniversary gubbins