My Turn

Care And Feeding Of 'Doctor Who' And Its Fans

11/19/2013 3:13 PM

Along with filling the schedule this week with nearly everything imaginable related to Doctor Who, BBC America is doing a lot of listening to its fans – and trying to respond in their language.

“We cultivate the fandom and we encourage it in a way that’s kind of authentic and organic and not the way a corporation would do it,” Herb Scannell, the president of BBC Worldwide America, said last week in a chat about the care and feeding of the BBC’s star science-fiction franchise, celebrating its 50th anniversary this coming Saturday.

Early on Saturday, hours before the 2:50 p.m. Eastern time debut of the 50th anniversary special Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor – a special being simulcast to more than 75 countries – about a dozen members of BBC America’s social-media team will be at work monitoring Doctor Who related utterances on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, GetGlue and other social media.Matt Smith and David Tennant in 'The Day of the Doctor,' ADRIAN ROGERS, © BBC/BBC Worldwide

Special attention to fans is warranted because Doctor Who and a couple of other shows this year, sci-fi drama Orphan Black and murder mystery Broadchurch (now trendy as Fox prepares its U.S. remake, also starring former Doctor Who star David Tennant), have helped make BBC America “a buzz brand,” Scannell said.

The special on Saturday will no doubt do very well by BBC America standards. The series is the network’s highest rated. When the current seventh season returned to the schedule this past March, introducing Jenna Coleman as new companion to the time-traveling Doctor played by Matt Smith, the premiere episode drew about 1.5 million viewers on average, a figure that rose above 2 million when an additional day’s worth of DVR replays were added in.

BBCA is doing more than directing fans to the telecast, though. A 3D version of the special will air in closed-circuit theaters on Saturday on more than 20 screens in 11 markets. It also will be seen on more than 500 screens across the country on Monday. More than 200,000 movie theater tickets have been sold in North America, including more than 175,000 in the States.

After the 50th anniversary fervor subsides, Doctor Who will have the curiosity factor surrounding Peter Capaldi, the veteran British actor who’ll be replacing Smith in the title role. Capaldi also will be featured as Cardinal Richelieu in BBCA’s upcoming series The Musketeers.

Before the special airs on Saturday, BBC America will this week be airing marathons of the show and a variety of related specials, including last night’s premieres of Doctor Who: Tales from the TARDIS and The Science of Doctor Who With Brian Cox.

Friday night the network will debut Doctor Who Explained. And Doctor Who: The Doctors Revisited – The Eleventh Doctor, about Matt Smith’s tenure, will air on Sunday.

An Adventure in Space and Time, a film about the series and its production team, also will premiere on Friday at 9 p.m.

Today, the network said it will air a pre-event show on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Eastern – a show that also will stream on BBCA’s YouTube channel.

“We celebrate fandom,” Scannell said. “To me, the future of television in some ways is about getting a deeper engagement with your audience and not being the corporate voice but being part of the conversation.”

Tapping that demonstrated attachment of fans to a show can help that show, or its TV home, punch above its weight, as BBC America has done, per Scannell.

“It’s just the show that keeps on giving,” he said.

I asked Scannell his take on what has made Doctor Who the phenomenon it is, given it was a show born in the days of black-and-white TV in England and, other than a movie special in 1996, it was not even on the air between 1989 and 2005, when writer Russell T Davies revived it (with Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor), according to a BBCA timeline. Steven Moffat is at the helm these days.

“Part of it is because it’s unlike anything else,” Scannell said. The Doctor, a Time Lord, is somewhat eccentric, with a a sense of humor. The storylines are clever and complicated in a way that doesn’t take the audience for granted.

“Add in the fact that it has monsters that are sometimes scary looking and sometimes not,” while written to come off as ominous, Scannell said. In the U.K. it’s a family show, whereas here it has caught on with young adults.

“My sense is that it’s because it’s well written, the characters are good, the relationships are clear, it’s got ominous elements to it and the storylines are complex but accessible,” he summed up.

It also has a lead character that can regenerate.

And fans; lots of them.

Pictured: Matt Smith (l.) and David Tennant in Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor (ADRIAN ROGERS, © BBC/BBC Worldwide).