Doctor Who returns on Disney+ 60 years after BBC launch

The famed UK series, which has brought RM1.5b to the local economy, prepares to use the streaming service to take on a new universe 


SIX years before man first set foot on the moon in real life, the time-and-space travelling Doctor Who materialised on the BBC. 

The iconic British sci-fi series, which follows the Doctor’s intergalactic adventures opposite such iconic foes as the tyrannical Daleks and Cybermen, premiered in November 1963. Two weeks ago, it celebrated its 60th anniversary. 

The show has had more than a cultural impact. A just-released economic report from the BBC estimates that the last 13 series contributed more than £256 million (RM1.51 billion) to the UK economy, through channels like job creation and set and costume design. 

Generations watched the original series, which ran from 1963-1989, on family TVs from their sofas, and sometimes crouched behind them. Now, Doctor Who finds itself in a much more modern universe dominated by the streaming giants. 

On Nov 25, the show will have a global relaunch, marked by the first of three special episodes appearing exclusively on Disney+ outside of the UK. 

The deal between BBC and Walt Disney Co, first reported by Bloomberg, broadens the brand’s international reach, all new episodes will run on Disney+. UK viewers will still access the show through BBC, where the back catalogue (over 800 episodes) is available to stream under the new brand, the Whoniverse. 

The forthcoming 2024 series — which will arrive in the new year — will officially be known as Season 1 both at home and abroad. 

“It opens (Doctor Who’s) accessibility…to have that moment where it’s new to some, and beloved and well known to others,” says the show’s executive producer Joel Collins. “There’s no barrier to entry…you can either come afresh or you can enjoy everything that’s been.” 

Collins insists that the show’s distinctive British character will be maintained with the Disney partnership: “It’s the opportunity to share that work…on a much bigger platform for people to enjoy.” He adds that the show now has the opportunity to engage a new audience, “that are used to all the new streamers, and (the) money they can spend”. 

Analysts agree that this is a good opportunity for the UK broadcaster. “The future of BBC at this point as an international player may be to strike deals with (streaming companies),” says Francois Godard, senior media and telecoms analyst at Enders Analysis, the media research firm. Platforms are, he continues, looking for “outside content, third party content, because they are cutting costs”. 

Godard also noted the advantages for companies that have produced popular shows to partner with streaming media companies: “Disney has a capacity to leverage, to monetise brands that BBC doesn’t have.” But he added a caveat: “The only worry for me about BBC is that they find themselves dependent on Disney. Dependent on Disney for the budget of new episodes… and the international brand of Doctor Who.” 

The show has generated a constellation of collectables, with 13 million action figures sold since 2005, along with more than one million tickets for live events, from concerts to exhibitions. The show’s online reach has also been steadily growing, with 100 million video views on YouTube in the last year alone. 

And now, on its 60th birthday, the show is looking both backward and forward. 

Actor David Tennant, perhaps the most famous of the title characters, is returning to pilot the Tardis, the Doctor’s time machine, for the three special episodes. Then, Ncuti Gatwa takes over as the series’ 15th doctor, the latest in a line of actors to play the Timelord. 

The decision to cast Gatwa, best known as Eric in Netflix’s Sex Education, signals BBC’s desire to expand the show’s reach among a new generation. He has a personal Instagram following of 2.8 million, dwarfing the show’s official account at 825,000. 

Once again, the time-travelling Doctor Who shows that it can move with the times. Bloomberg

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition