David Yates Hears a “Who” (Movie News)

November 15, 2011

Are you ready for Doctor Who times two? According to Variety, the BBC is working with multiple Harry Potter-helmer David Yates to turn “its iconic sci-fi TV series… into a big screen franchise.”

This should be great news for Who fans, right? After all, Doctor Who hasn’t graced the silver screen since Peter Cushing (we should have recognized his foul stench when… oh, sorry, wrong franchise) played the role in two 1960s films: Doctor Who and the Daleks (1965; based on the second television serial, “The Daleks“) and its sequel, Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1965).

Of course, Cushing didn’t exactly play the character we now know–his Doctor was a completely human inventor whose last name actually was “Who”–so fans frequently argue that our Doctor, the real Doctor, the regenerating Time Lord from Gallifrey, still has yet to materialize at the local multiplex.

So, what better time to bring the TARDIS to the box office than now, as 2013, the franchise’s golden anniversary year, draws near?

Not so fast. Yates apparently isn’t interested in the nearly half-century of Who history. Quoth Variety:

Yates made clear that his movie adaptation would not follow on from the current TV series, but would take a completely fresh approach to the material. “Russell T. Davies and then Steven Moffat have done their own transformations, which were fantastic, but we have to put that aside and start from scratch,” he said.

Really? We do? When Davies’ 2005 resuscitation of the series managed to capture a legion of new fans for the show’s concept and central character? When Moffat’s Doctor, Matt Smith, rivals his immediate predecessor, David Tennant, as one of the most popular and recognizable actors ever to play the part? When Doctor Who is finally gaining a wide following here in the colonies, garnering stellar ratings for BBC America and generating much (and much-needed) money for the BBC coffers?

Now we “have to start from scratch”?

To be clear, no one has suggested (yet) that Yates’ franchise would replace the ongoing television series. Moffat, Smith, and others connected with the production have hinted, on numerous occasions, that big plans are falling into place for the impending anniversary. If nothing else, the recent finale of series six has all but promised viewers that we will witness the Eleventh Doctor’s final adventure “on the fields of Trenzalore.” But could it be that once that adventure occurs–once “the first question, the question that must never be answered” is asked–we will witness somethng like Nero’s incursion into Federation space in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek,  and our Doctor, “Doctor Prime,” will effectively be wiped from existence as we “start from scratch” with Yates’ movie?

Perhaps the BBC still thinks, despite ever-increasing evidence to the contrary, that America won”t embrace this indisputably British show. Variety also reports Yates is “looking for writers on both sides of the Atlantic. ‘We want a British sensibility, but having said that, Steve Kloves wrote the Potter films and captured that British sensibility perfectly, so we are looking at American writers too.'” Maybe it’s just that simple. Or maybe Yates wants American writers to inject more American sensibilities into the Doctor’s character and universe. Maybe even last series’ well-received trek to Utah hasn’t fully soothed the sting of the 1996 TV movie’s “failure” for BBC executives.

I haven’t actually convinced myself that any conspiracy against the current series is afoot (though one never knows…) But I do find Yates’ stated intention, not to mention the BBC’s blessing of it, confusing. Moffat has, in effect, just given the franchise an opportunity to “start from scratch.” In “The Wedding of River Song,” Moffat cleaned the slate for the Doctor and his fans about as fully as possible. “I got too big,” the Doctor said, in a marvelously “meta” moment. “Too noisy. Time to step back into the shadows.” Moffat has stated that when the Doctor returns, we can expect many more standalone stories, adventures patterned on the classic series’ template, which Variety not unfairly sums up as “the adventures across space and time of a super-intelligent alien in human form, who battles a variety of cosmic bad guys aided by plucky human companions.” To my mind, that’s a premise hard to improve upon or make “fresher.” It’s inherently “fresh.”

But we humans are forever attracted to the new, the “fresh,” the “cool,” the “relevant.” Remember the folks at Mars Hill in the book of Acts? “Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17.21).

That’s likely the only reason behind this “new ‘new Who.'” It’s what motivates every relaunch and remake, from Abrams’ Trek to the Andrew Garfield Spider-Man reboot to the (absolutely boneheaded) project of a Joss Whedon-less Buffy the Vampire Slayer to “the new 52” at DC Comics. It’s what makes one of my friend’s film studies students groan whenever she assigns them a movie made before 1970, or filmed in black-and-white. It’s what author Robin Phillips recently called “the human bias for newness.” She approvingly quotes C.S. Lewis:

How has it come about that we use the highly emotive word “stagnation,” with all its malodorous and malarial overtones, for what other ages would have called “permanence”?…Why does “latest” in advertisements mean “best?'”

Of course, as Qohelet told us long ago, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1.9).

I realize I sound like every fan of any franchise that’s ever faced an update. And, yes, I’m overreacting: maybe two “streams” of Doctor Who–one on the small screen, another on the large–will work out just fine. But the enterprise still strikes me as misguided. Maybe Yates should make an Inspector Spacetime movie instead. Doctor Who can’t help but be “completely fresh.” After all, it has regeneration at its heart(s).

What do you think? Are you game for Yates to work his movie magic on Doctor Who? Or is one more Who, for you, one Who too many?

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7 comments on “David Yates Hears a “Who” (Movie News)

  1. Palindrome Nov 15, 2011

    I have been a Doctor Who fan for a long time, and the longer I continue watching Doctor Who the more I realize that we fans are sorely abused. BBC seems to think they can do anything to us and we’ll take it, just because they can rip away each doctor after we’ve grown to love and care for him and replace him with some random stranger, and after we stop complaining and actually watch the show again, we’ll end up loving the new guy just as much if not more. We, as a fan community, are far too forgiving.

    I have very mixed feelings about this announcement though. On one hand I feel that if there was a movie and if it remotely resembled the Doctor Who that we all love, then Doctor Who would become even more popular, and draw more legions of fans to the show. And we would we probably like it. On the other hand, I have seen the first Peter Cushing movie, and it was offensive in its inaccuracies. If Yates were to make a movie that ignores all the history of the show I am afraid it would turn out like that. But ignoring the show’s history seems to be the only way one could make a non-canon movie that would be any good.

    They shouldn’t make non-canon. They should show the time war. That story has a lot of potential. They could use McGann and Eccleston, and we might not even have to have any annoying human companions. But they won’t.

    Let’s just go for Inspector Spacetime: Attack of the Blogons!

    • Michael Nov 15, 2011

      I hear you, Palindrome. As a long-time Trekkie, I’ve often felt the same way about that franchise, especially when, despite my better judgment, I was tuning in for “Voyager” and “Enterprise” (well, season 4 of that was actually pretty good).

      I think you are right: I would definitely go see in the theater and probably, like you, enjoy a “fresh from scratch” Who film, just as (I must say) I thoroughly enjoyed (and still do) Abrams’ “Star Trek.” But I don’t think Who’s decades of continuity is the hindrance that Trek’s had become. Look at what “The Eleventh Hour” did: it basically restarted Who “from scratch,” so that a total newbie like me could watch it and immediately fall in love with the show and its premise; but it did so without sacrificing the past. Even as a non-fan (then), I appreciated the scene where Matt Smith walks through the holograms of his ten predcessors and announces, “I’m the Doctor.” I thought, “Awesome! Look at all I still have to discover about this guy!” And yet, had I chosen only to watch Smith going forward, that option was there, too. So I don’t think ignoring the history is the only way to make a new Who good: Moffat proved it can be done while acknowledging but not fixating on the history. Leave all that backstory for further adventures, as a resource to be mined at leisure later, not a “burden” to be shed as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

      I’d love a Time War movie, although (1) there is something to be said for preserving the mystery of what exactly happpened, what dark deed, exactly, the Doctor felt compelled to do to end it; and (2) a Time War movie might likely only appeal to current fans, unless it were carefully crafted as a standalone adventure, with no previous knowledge of what came before or after required.

      I haven’t yet seen the Cushing films but (to again quote my other favorite franchise) “I am understandably curious.” Are they available on legit DVD or video?

      Thanks for reading and commenting, as ever!

  2. I’m not too happy about this news. I never watched the classic era “Who” so I can imagine that those who have would be even more disgusted by this than I; however, the new series is what got me into Doctor Who and that is what it is: THE NEW SERIES! It was only re-“whatever you want to call it” six years ago. Let it breathe! Let it continue its fantastic run in peace. Then, maybe, ten or fifteen years down the road when the show has been off the air for quite some time (hopefully this won’t really be the case), bring it back as a big screen adaptation. This is how I feel about the news of a Battlestar Galactica movie. The show has been off for just about three years and already they want to make a movie starting over. Milk it for what it’s worth I suppose. Shame. Hopefully this article has more merit than what has been floating around the internet for the past couple of days http://blastr.com/2011/11/doctor-who-movie-the-bbc.php

    • Michael Nov 17, 2011

      Yes, Max, the proposed BSG film — I *knew* there was some other example of “the tyranny of the new” currently afoot in sci-fi, and I just couldn’t think of it! Exactly so.

      Thanks for the link to the blastr article. I’ve heard conflicting “tweets” about how seriously to take the Yates story or not. Time (and space!) will tell…!

  3. FYI: One of the Cushing Dr Who movies is on YouTube for free.

    • Michael Nov 17, 2011

      Thanks for the tip, Purpleslog. Is You Tube the only place you’ve been able to find it? I’d be surprised if someone hasn’t tried to make money from an official release, but I honestly haven’t had a chance to dig too deeply into it.

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