Christ, I’m sick of hearing about the sodding thing already. Mooted cinematic Doctor Who outings have so consistently gone nowhere that this feels too abstract to really believe that in four years I might be here reviewing it.
But – regardless of the actual likelihood of this whole thing coming to aught – my initial response, that refitting Doctor Who for a global audience will no doubt be seen to require some major work, fills me with horror. But, actually, there’s a lot about the template Davies established (and which Moffat has done little to change, fundamentally) that I don’t like in the present incarnation of the series, so the idea of an entirely fresh approach could in fact yield something amazing, and perhaps unprecedented.
Maybe a ‘new take’ (in the sense that the UNIT era, or season 18, or the Cartmel seasons – and numerous others – were relative departures at the time) is quite exciting – there just seems to be an arrogance immediately apparent in Yates’ patronising ‘they did a good job, but we’re going to do something better’ implication… which reet puts my back up. On an entirely first-impressions basis, I’m feeling maybe it’ll be a godsend if this is entirely separate from the series, and even the existing canon/continuity (rendering it as apocryphal as the Dalek movies).
Obviously, speculation at this stage on whether a film might be a continuation of the series, or replace it (at least temporarily), or exist entirely separately, is patently futile, so let’s put that to one side. More to the point, a film, at least if done relatively straightforwardly – eccentric, mysterious time traveller fights aliens – could be great. But David Yates' hand on the tiller doesn’t fill me with massive amounts of confidence. Okay, he’s done some worthy TV, and Harry Potter admittedly isn’t my bag, but he doesn’t strike me as a director with the individualistic or original sensibility that a project like this might really benefit from. (The Harry Potter movies’ self-importance and sense of undeserved weightiness is actually not a million miles away from the TVM. And if you've read my thoughts on that, well – ALARM BELLS, to put it mildly.) Of course, from an industry perspective, what you could politely term ‘a safe pair of hands’ (ie, not a Terry Gilliam) is always going to be the preferred route – the path of least resistance - but creatively, that thinking is death.
In a period characterised by the bastardisation of anything vaguely worthwhile (remaking The Wicker Man, The Ladykillers, Akira, Let the Right One In, Straw Dogs, blah blah blah…), I can’t begin to imagine how horrendous a big-screen ‘reimagining’ has the potential to be. Either the excessive, pointless backstory-wank of the post-Survival movie pitches, or some ‘postmodern’ Bewitched-style metatextual abortion where ‘the Doctor’ is really Peter Cushing’s son. Pretending to be an alien. (Or something.)
I shudder to think the liberties that might be taken in the interests of making the property accessible to a global audience to whom Doctor Who means nothing. If the twenty-first century revival has shown us anything, it’s that respect for the existing series is not only possible in light of an effective reboot, but desirable in terms of depth of story and also fan/audience goodwill. There’s definitely an unfortunate potential for a movie to try to define itself as a separate entity from the series (even if it does prove to be ostensibly linked to the existing continuity) with gratuitous redesigns and rethinking of established elements. (Which seems a bit pointless given the infinite possibility for satisfying adventures within the ‘mad man with a box’ template.) I just really hope things aren’t changed things for the sake of change, or that they're at least justified narratively if they are.
Also, in structural terms, with so much riding on a (by comparison to TV) large budget and a short running time, I can imagine a one-off Doctor Who movie becoming hamstrung by trying to represent the entire franchise with a standalone hour-and-a-half story, and ending up trying to be all things to all people and doing too much. This could be ugly. Given Doctor Who’s ability (in a series) to change from episode to episode, maybe the way to equal that in film would be a wide-ranging, multi-location story akin to Moffat’s finales. It would also be good to see the budget used for foreign location filming outside of the series’ means, but I imagine a biscuit-tin England is more likely, given its ‘Englishness’ will no doubt be used as an international selling point.
More generally, in terms of money, I’ve repeatedly said that, in recent years, my favourite stories have been the lower-budget ones that have to get by on invention rather than money, so the prospect of a big budget take makes my heart sink. Though, on the (admittedly, rather meagre) plus side, a cast of actors of the calibre of Maggie Smith, Richard Harris, John Hurt, Fiona Shaw, et al, in Doctor Who, would be pretty nifty.
So, I dunno. I’m not actually as absolutely scandalised by this announcement as I could be – although apathy could be doing its bit there. A big, fun, exciting, scary, mad adventure (which doesn’t mess up or, necessarily, even engage with existing continuity) – sounds like it should be easy. Just as long as it’s not mired in continuity, backstory, infodumps. Or Gallifrey.
(I’ve seen a lot of messageboard comments suggesting pre-100,000 BC adventures. To which I can only say: please, god, no. Not only because of my massive affection for the earliest seasons, but because (DUH!) elucidating origins that have remained opaque for 50 years would be even more of a disaster than, say, ahem, opening a stand-alone movie with a regeneration. More prosaically, the First Doctor doesn’t even like humans at the time of that first story, and he’s certainly not a moral crusader at that point, so how would earlier stories work? A Hartnell lookalike collecting soil samples hardly screams moneyspinner.)
I will monitor development with… trepidation.
Oh, and, okay, while we’re at it: the inevitable casting mêlée. The one slightly interesting suggestion that I’ve heard so far (read as: which will never, ever happen) is Andy Serkis. I’d go with Toshiro Mifune, myself. But he’s dead. Or take a punt on Klaus Kinski. But he’s insane and dead. Or Tilda Swinton. But that would be too ‘edgy’. Or Simon Russell Beale. But he’s rotund, 50, and no-one knows who he is. More realistically, Chiwetel Ejiofor could be good. Maybe Peter Capaldi, or Dominic West (a burlier Doctor?). Just no-one boringly young, bland and good-looking – ta.