Mark Thompson, the one-time BBC Director General, tried to get the popular science-fiction drama series Doctor Who cancelled, it has emerged.
The revelation emerged during an interview with Jane Tranter who, as Controller of Drama Commissioning, was one of the key people responsible for bringing the long-running television series back to television in 2005.
In the first part of an extensive article in the new issue of Doctor Who Magazine (DWM ), Tranter says that she was asked to stop production of Doctor Who by Thompson, following the appointment of Michael Grade as the corporation’s new chairman.
Grade – who is notoriously anti-Doctor Who – was the person responsible for cancelling Doctor Who in the 1980s. In 1985, during his time as Controller of BBC 1, Grade first put the series on hiatus, then demanded that Sixth Doctor actor Colin Baker be sacked.
Although the part of the lead role was recast – Sylvester McCoy becoming the Seventh Doctor – the BBC hierarchy’s commitment to their own show was virtually nonexistent.
Consequently, in 1989, Grade ensured that Doctor Who was taken off air permanently.
In September 2003, after years of lobbying by fans and barely two months before Doctor Who ’s 40th anniversary, a successor of Grade’s as BBC 1 Controller, Lorraine Heggessey, announced that Doctor Who would finally be returning to TV screens.
“Michael Grade didn’t like Doctor Who at all,” Tranter tells DWM. “He thought it was hopeless.” That much, Doctor Who fans and BBC personnel have long been aware of. What hasn’t been commonly known though is what Tranter divulges next:
When he [Grade] arrived as [the BBC’s new] Chairman, Mark Thompson was back as [its] Director General and [he] actually asked me if we could stop [production of Doctor Who].”
Tranter’s unequivocal response to her boss was “No!” However, Thompson didn’t leave it there, demanding to know whether any part of the BBC had carried out research to show that viewers wanted Doctor Who to return.
Apparently, very little had been done officially to ascertain Doctor Who ’s popularity, but Tranter didn’t admit to that. “I lied,” she tells DWM. “I said we hadn’t any research at all,” when, in fact, BBC Worldwide did have some findings that were less than complimentary about Doctor Who.
Tranter continues, saying that BBC Worldwide hadn’t specifically asked people, ‘ “Do you want to watch Doctor Who?’ [But] focused on how much [they] knew about the show.”
Doctor Who Magazine
Doctor Who Magazine (September 2013)
The result? “The reaction was very much that there was a chunk of people who didn’t want to see it at all,” Tranter concedes. However, she did not relay this to Thompson. “What’s the point of making problems for yourself? So we just carried on …” she said.
History of the Whoniverse
And, the rest, as they say, is history. Since Doctor Who ’s triumphant return to TV screens in 2005, the once cult-favourite but “largely unloved by so many” science-fiction drama has become a worldwide phenomenon, garnering millions of regular viewers worldwide, dozens of awards and creating acres of news copy.
Today, Doctor Who is one of the BBC’s flagship programmes, currently celebrating its 50th year since the first episode was broadcast – on Saturday, 23 November 1963 – and in the process of choosing the twelfth person to take control of the Doctor’s space–time machine – the TARDIS.
Doctor Who returns to TV screens on 23 November, for a feature-length 50th-anniversary special. The still-to-be-announced actor replacing Matt Smith will be seen in this year’s Christmas special, Smith’s final episode as the Eleventh Doctor, a part he’ll have played for four years.