Adi Tantimedh writes:
Ahhh, a new season of Doctor Who with a shiny new Doctor for everyone to coo over. It starts again, that annual ritual of arguing over the writing, the gender politics, the actors and everything in-between. It’s the geek equivalent of the Queen’s Christmas Speech. The show always takes on a new tone and energy with a new Doctor, but there’s something different about it this time.
I’m not going to review the series premiere. Plenty of people are doing that already. What interests me is how the show is being treated and presented. BBC Worldwide, the commercial wing of the BBC, announced a world tour to promote the show. Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman and showrunner Steven Moffat travelled across the world, stopping in Australia, South Korea, Mexico, the US, and Brazil to push the premiere of the show and introduce Capaldi to fans.
This struck me as interesting on a wider social, political and business perspective. I thought I sensed a bit of anxiety on the part of the BBC that casting an older actor instead of the young leading men might cost them teen and twenty-something female viewers, who form a crucial part of why the show has been a global success in the last eight years. When the show returned in 2005, there was a conscious effort on then showrunner Russell T. Davies’ part to broaden the emotional part of the show to appeal to female viewers and keep it from being just a show for young boys. It was a family show after all. But that first season in 2005 felt more like a show designed to appeal primarily to a domestic British audience. It wasn’t until the next seasons that it was promoted as a global pop phenomenon. By the time Matt Smith joined the show, it was presented as a full-on international franchise, flying the cast and Steven Moffat to the US annually to promote each new season. The world tour is an even bigger, more elaborate deal.
It’s interesting to read the world tour on a number of levels. It’s a way to promote the show and generate excitement, to engender the sense of community amongst the fans and make them feel a part of a global community. It’s also sending a message to everyone else who hears about it that it’s an exciting show to get on-board if they hadn’t watched it before. This is the most aggressive and organised I’ve seen the BBC use social media and Youtube to spread the word and excitement for a show, and it’s only Doctor Who that they can do it with. They know it. Doctor Who is possibly the most culturally important show they produce now, earning the corporation around $150 million a year in licensing and foreign sales every year. They need to reassure fans and the networks buying the show that it’s in good hands with the new star.
The world tour is sending a message. To the countries they stop at, they are acknowledging not just the fans, but also the networks that buy the show. It’s a show of customer support. The host countries also get to show themselves in their best light. The surprise here is that the show is big in South Korea (after all, who knew until this tour?). Given that the Korean government has an initative to showcase its modernity and pop culture savvy for international import, this is a quid pro quo. The same could apply to Australia, Mexico, Brazil and New York.
On an even broader level, Doctor Who now represents Britain Abroad. It’s exporting British liberal values, British humour, British culture, and Britain as a tourist destination. A far cry from being just a family science fiction show back in the 1960s and 1970s, this is the entire collection of meanings the show carries on its shoulders, and Peter Capaldi has become an ambassador of all that as well as the show. The show has become an important cultural export, more than Eastenders or Top Gear are.
And it’s interesting the way Capaldi is being presented: not just as a pop star as Smith was on previous promotional tours to the US, but as an elder statesman. He’s being presented as the uber-fan, articulating the appeal of the show as the one of them, implying that this might be where they can end up. Both he and Moffat have said on the tour that Doctor Who is a fan-driven phenomenon, a piece of pop culture that creates a space for a fan to occupy and mold to their liking and desire. Fan fiction, cosplay, art, music, videos and graphic design created by fans inspired by the show are, as Moffat points out, how fans begin to enter the creative industries. The show is a gateway to creative expression for kids and older fans, be they writers, artists, filmmakers, actors, designers, special effects designers, costumer designers, musicians, scientists, academics.
Only the Japanese manga and anime industry are this adept at encouraging and inspiring the fans to do more than passively consume the stories, to engage with creating their own. In the West, Marvel and DC Comics do not really acknowledge the fans and their creative engagement so openly because of a need to protect their copyrights and trademarks. Star Trek tacitly acknowledges its fan community and their creativity, but it’s Doctor Who that has come out and explicitly owns it. It’s taken about 50 years of fan following building up for the BBC to acknowledge that fans are the lifeblood of a show and should be nurtured. By this year, that nurturing has been honed to a polish, fanned with the world tour and posts on social media. They are what enables a piece of intellectual property to prosper.
At the end of the day, it’s good business. It’s how to sell a show and keep selling a show. It’s how a franchise endures and continues. It’s how a brand thrives in this advanced age of social media and the 24-hour news cycle. I wonder if the cast and crew slept for days after they got home from the tour.
Stuck in Time and Space again at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Look! It Moves! © Adisakdi Tantimedh