Nothing has ever quite lived up to the day when the BBC announced to the world that they had found the “The Web of Fear” and “Enemy of the World” missing episodes and that an imminent ‘official announcement’ on them would be coming. Like many other fans I remember anxiously waiting for the press embargo to be lifted and the truth to be revealed. Nothing could ever compare to the joy of being able to download these jewels in Doctor Who’s crown that we had always believed to be forever missing.
Ever since that day every announcement about an announcement on Doctor Who has sadly been a disappointment. How could it not be? When Richard E. Grant was cast for the 2012 Christmas Special, the BBC released the information this way. Though a wonderful actor, worthy of playing the Doctor himself, many fans were disappointed. Each and every Whovian had had their own personal expectations of what the announcement would be and nothing could compare to them.
This week, when Doctor Who Official on Twitter again announced an announcement, I expected that I would be more cautious. But as the hashtag “DoctorWhoAnnnouncement’ went viral, I was swept along in the excitement. Hovering over Twitter, I refreshed and refreshed and retweeted and retweeted till my finger ached. It was wonderful bonding experience among fans all sharing the same thrill. “A mass Whovian group hug” as one tweep described it. It was how watching a live episode of Doctor Who used to be, when the whole country would all sit around the television together, before the arrival of catch-up TV.
Excitement was building. Every time Doctor Who Official tweeted, several fans received a notification. What would it be? Had they made the announcement early? We were frustrated to discover it was just publicity for another Doctor Who item. Was the BBC cynically taking advantage of fans who had worked themselves up into a speculative frenzy?
On a more positive note, we enjoyed an insight into the range of Whovian dreams and hopes from fans all over the world. Would David Tennant and Billie Piper return, perhaps in their own series? What about the Eighth? Would this much-missed incarnation be making a comeback? Not forgetting Captain Jack or even Kamelion and the Rani?! In our minds anything is possible. Or had more missing episodes been found? After all, Phillip Morris had been talking about the existence of ‘Web of Fear 3’ earlier in the week.
There was plenty of fun to be had and fans’ imagination ran wild. “Is it a spinoff called Miss Zygon – a tragic tale of a doomed romance involving a woman abandoned by her Zygon lover?”, “The next companion will be Benedict Cumberbatch with new director JJ Abrams!”, “Moffat will be the next Doctor!”, “The Doctor invents sonic underwear!”, “They’re announcing there will be an announcement in December!” or “The War Doctor is back!” with a photo of Jeremy Corbyn! Would Chris Eccleston return? Would Miss Piggy be the new companion and William Shatner the Doctor? Or perhaps had the other half of Davros been located?
When the announcement finally came, there was disappointment. Reality could not compete. Had anyone in fandom ever thought of, let alone wished for a Coal Hill spin-off, regardless of its potential merits?
Did a spin-off which would be broadcast on a channel soon to be downgraded to the Internet, the very channel which had cancelled fan-favourite “Doctor Who Confidential”, warrant an announcement about an announcement? The BBC was simply asking for trouble. What’s more, if a 2016 hiatus is announced, fans will resent “Class”, accusing it of diverting resources and manpower from the main show.
All but a few weeks ago the return of River Song was announced out of the blue. This was the correct approach. Many fans worldwide jumped for joy and in fact Twitter exploded. River Song was even trending in Argentina apparently! Others, on the other hand, just shrugged their shoulders and life went on. No harm done. No frustration. No anger.
I am happy that Doctor Who will have another spin-off in the capable hands of a popular and experienced writer. In fact I am nostalgic about the days when the ‘Mothership Who’ was protected by satellite shows “Torchwood” and “SJA”, a proud demonstration of the faith the BBC had in its flagship show. With that in mind, “Class” is a more than welcome addition to the Whoniverse.
Is Capaldi’s grown-up and dark Doctor Who with its late time slot suitable for younger viewers, those who represent the very lifeblood of the show? Are we running the risk of alienating them? If so, “Class” could provide a remedy and bring them back on board.
The BBC should rethink their social media strategy. I suspect that they have cried wolf one time too many. Fans will now be more sceptical about future announcements. On the other hand, fan opinions arguably don’t really count in the bigger picture of things. It is the general viewing public and the media who are quite understandably the BBC’s main target. But surely it doesn’t make sense to stir up bad feeling among the show’s loyal supporters? Or worse, damage the publicity and marketing of a potentially brilliant brand new show?