Doctor Who: it’s the longest-running, “most successful” (according to Guiness World Records) and highest rated sci-fi series worldwide. In January 2014, British Broadcasting Corporation News reported that Sony Pictures Entertainment International Chief Andrea Wong, in a bid to save their declining empire, had communicated with BBC Television Director Danny Cohen about adapting Doctor Who into a film. Cohen declined on showrunner Steven Moffat’s behalf. Wong explained to SPE Chief Executive Officer Michael Lynton that a Doctor Who film would likely happen from June 2015 – 2023, as Doctor Who‘s brand was still being planned to that time, and would come from BBC Worldwide, who aren’t funded by the British taxpayer’s license fee.
Thus, a Doctor Who film in cinemas wouldn’t just require third-party funding, like SPE could provide, but would also need to gross a return on its own. In cinema, ratings are gross. And while an argument could be made that the time, effort and money spent on a Doctor Who film should be used to the benefit of the series, an even more valid one would be that the BBC wouldn’t want to be perceived as using Doctor Who as a popular brand to exploit its viewers into paying to see it in a cinema, when they’d normally be able to watch it at home for free, given they technically funded it. An analogy I like to use is the Star Trek: The Next Generation analogy.
In Entertainment Weekly, Paramount Pictures Domestic Television Executive Vice President Joel Berman explained why Star Trek: The Next Generation had been cancelled:
a successful feature-film franchise can be more profitable than a TV series. We thought it was time to launch [The] Next Generation as a movie franchise, and we didn’t think we could do the television series at the same time. Why would people go to movie theaters to see [The] Next Generation if new episodes were available on TV every week? The movie wouldn’t be as special.
Would the fans pay to see it? Yes. But they pay for every other tie-in product, so that’s irrelevant. And the fanbase isn’t the target market – that’s the general public.
And Doctor Who‘s worldwide syndication would contradict the point of it. Were it not currently on television… I’d still say no, because the project would be better served in that situation as being a new season. The series is the heart of the franchise, and the BBC will tell you that themselves. And if being cancelled is what it takes for Doctor Who to become a film, I’d honestly rather not bother.
And that would almost have to be the case, in reality. Speaking at San Diego Comic Con International 2015, Moffat said
If it’s the same Doctor, what do we do, take all that time off? Do you really want one big movie instead of a whole series? Because that’s the arithmetic.
I draw your attention to The Simpsons Movie (by James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, Ian Maxtone-Graham, George Meyer, David Mirkin, Mike Reiss, Mike Scully, Matt Selman, John Swartzwelder and Jon Vitti): when adapting The Simpsons into a film, the producers were sceptical of how to divide their crew and resources, given the series was in production simultaneously. The same would be the case for Doctor Who – a film would mean the series taking a break for a year, and the new season is already lined-up to begin production in May, after-which it’s full steam ahead for Moffat’s replacement, Chris Chibnall – a showrunner hired for his experience as a television writer, not as a film producer. And were it even to go ahead, there’d be the controversial subject of who would be the Doctor. When David Hayman announced plans to produce a film reboot of Doctor Who (despite this being complete bullshit on account of a producer announcing something not being enough to make that true), the plan was to cast Daniel Radcliffe.
In fact, there’s an entire book – The Nth Doctor – about the various attempts to bring Doctor Who to cinemas, after the success of two actual Doctor Who films starring Peter Cushing: Dr. Who and the Daleks (Milton Subotsky), an adaptation of The Daleks serial, and Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D., an adaptation of The Dalek Invasion of Earth serial. A third film, Daleks vs. Mechons, an adaptation of The Chase serial was shelved after Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. performed poorly. Tom Baker was in the frame to star in Doctor Who Meets Scratchman(Tom Baker and Ian Marter). Script Editor Douglas Adams then adapted his unwritten serial The Krikkitmen into Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen (starring Tom Baker).
Others that followed were Return to Varnax (Mark Ezra), The Time Lord (Johnny Byrne), Last of the Time Lords and The Jewels of Time (Denny Martin Flinn). That said, Moffat has said in the past that the BBC’s policy on a Doctor Who film would be to star the same Doctor Who as currently in the television series:
If it’s a different Doctor, suddenly you’re trying to promote two Doctors at the same time, and how does that work? You don’t have one James Bond in the movies and one James Bond on a TV series. So I think there’s problems with it.
And since the BBC are the only party with the power to make a Doctor Who film happen, there’s no debate as to who the Doctor would be – whoever it is at the time. Which… won’t be Peter Capaldi, then, since just about every fan has worked-out that the Twelfth Doctor will become the Thirteenth Doctor in the 2017 Christmas special, Moffat’s final episode. Especially after the Mirror reported it. They might be a tabloid, but it’s a mainstream source speaking for all of us.
So whoever the Thirteenth Doctor is – I’d personally cast Steve Coogan on account of his being the world’s best actor, but I can tell you the BBC are looking at Aiden Turner – that’s who’d be the only actor considered to star in a Doctor Who film were it be made during their era of the series. This transition from one showrunner to another is primarily the reason for 2016 only having a Christmas special – not to free-up time to make a film. Some have even suggested that a multi-Doctor story could be a good way of engaging with various fans from different eras. The idea of a multi-Doctor film is said to potentially be able to work like a comic book team-up, in the style of Marvel’s The Avengers (Joss Whedon), Justice League (David S. Goyer and Chris Terrio) or X-Men (David Hayter).
Any more than three would be difficult to handle, though. The most that have ever been featured in an episode in more than just archive footage or cameos is five, in The Five Doctors (Terrance Dicks), and they were separated for the majority of that. The Day of the Doctor (Steven Moffat) proved that three’s all you need, so were it to happen, the most recent three Doctors would likely be the cast. Of course, the plot would involve fighting the Daleks (because you’ve got to start as big as possible), and potentially the Cybermen could be there, if not the sequel.
And while seeing three Doctors fighting the Daleks and/or Cybermen on the big screen sounds appealing, the circumstances of it happening would impact the series too negatively. The prospect of a multi-Doctor story becoming the way the films worked would: a) be difficult to make original every time; and b) become too commonplace for the format of Doctor Who to work for what it is, rather than being a celebration of its own existence. Look at Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for further examples of mindless self-indulgence – a Doctor Who film as a multi-Doctor team-up risks becoming the reverse of the problem. Doctor Who‘s budget is about $1M per episode, so it would a lot more for a film – an amount that BBC Worldwide are either unwilling to provide, or unable to provide.
Not that budget creates quality, but it does buy credibility, and in sci-fi, the money required to do that is in the hundreds of millions. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens had an estimated budget of $200M, and has currently grossed ten times that amount. If it happens, it has to be a success or Doctor Who: The Movie won’t be getting a sequel. But unfortunately, the cost is too high to risk for a series that’s accessible on international syndication for free.
And the only way to justify even doing it would be to cancel the series. Which is the worst thing the BBC should be doing. But were it to happen, the ideal time would be for the sixtieth anniversary in 2023, which would be within the eight-year time frame the BBC were planning for the brand during SPE’s enquiry. Could Doctor Who‘s sixtieth anniversary special be a film?
Well, it shouldn’t be, because it’s a celebration of a series. But were it happen, the Twelfth Doctor would likely appear with the Thirteenth Doctor and Fourteenth Doctor.