The creative head of BBC sci-fi drama series Doctor Who has told that fan reaction to the show in China has been”thrilling” and hinted that future travels in time and space could take the Doctor, played by Jodie Whittaker, to the country.
Speaking ahead of next year’s new series, show runner Chris Chibnall said he was delighted by how well the long-established series had gone down with one of its newest audiences.
“The last series had more than 100 million viewers worldwide－it’s a real privilege to do something that spreads around the world like that,” he said. “Streaming means the show is now available to a much bigger audience, so, for me, the fan response from China in particular has been thrilling and unexpected. The Doctor won’t go to China in this new series, but, would we like to do a story set in China? Yes, it’d be amazing.”
Doctor Who features the adventures of an alien known as a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey who takes on human form, and accompanied by a succession of assistants, travels through time and space. It was first broadcast in 1963.
The Doctor’s character regenerates and has been played on television by 13 actors, with the latest, Jodie Whittaker, the first female Doctor.
A recent series of posters featuring the Chinese-styled artwork of Ruan FeiFei shows the importance of the Chinese audience.
“I love those pictures,” said Whittaker.”If it wasn’t a bit weird to have a big picture of myself on the wall, then I’d definitely have them! I’m not on social media, so I’ve not experienced it directly, but I know there has been enough interaction to make it clear that the show is watched and enjoyed all over the world. That’s amazing.”
Over the decades the show’s storylines and characters have developed a universe of their own, and a devoted fanbase known as Whovians. Much of its success is down to its suitability for all ages, something Chibnall, who grew up as a fan, is keen to continue.
“The most exciting thing is the show makes us feel like children again－that sense of wonder is really important,” he said.
Whittaker’s first season in the role consciously sought to bring in new viewers, he said, but the next one will be different.
“Season one was all about access－you want as many new people as possible to get interested and involved－but the new ones delve deeper into the Doctor and her companions (played by Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill and Tosin Cole), it finds things from the past.”
“You want it to be inclusive,” added Whittaker. “The story has covered so much and can go in so many directions, but if you needed all that knowledge to start with my first episode, it would only be for knowledgeable fans. They’re great, but we want it to be for everyone. We’re not about being exclusive.”
As the first female Doctor, Whittaker’s debut received huge attention. But she said she did not feel any extra pressure－in fact, quite the opposite.
“As a woman, of course I’ll be different, so I think there was more pressure on the male actors,” she said.”The Doctor is an alien, so really I’m no different from the men who played the role before me. The Doctor hasn’t changed, I’ve just got different sized feet! At fan events, I see children dressed up as The Doctor, not as a boy or a girl, just as their favorite character.”
It is not only children who enjoy dressing up.
“I once saw someone come at my local train station dressed as me, and thought he must have worked out where I live,” she explained.”I went over and asked him if he wanted a photo, and he was shocked－it was a total coincidence. He didn’t know I lived there and was just on his way home from college, having gone in dressed like that. He looked great!”
The show’s reach has led to some strange encounters. Walsh was recognized on holiday in the Maldives, Cole once found himself on a train sitting next to someone who was watching the program, unaware he was next to one of its stars, and Gill sat opposite someone reading a book with her on the front cover, waiting for her to notice. An encounter with Chinese fans in London produced probably the best example of the closeness between the show’s viewers and its stars.
“We were queuing at a restaurant in Chinatown and there were a group of Chinese girls behind us. One of them had a Doctor Who phone case with Jodie on it, and there they were, next to her in the queue,” said Gill. “They didn’t speak much English, so we made the international sign for ‘do you want a photo?’ I was even more excited for them than they were!”
Amazingly for what is such a global success, from 1989 to 2005, the BBC stopped making the show with the exception of a one-off episode in 1996. But fans kept the spirit alive, and now it is back, bigger than ever.
“The messages and storylines are something we’re proud of, it goes out to so many people and is appropriate for all ages－that’s really unusual,” said Whittaker.”To know that people love watching it as much we love making it, that’s amazing.”