This is, at least, an interesting development. I already knew David Tennant was signed up for a run as Hamlet in late 2008, which would make continuing as the Doctor rather difficult. Plus, there’s been grumblings about the production team being worn out by the nine month schedule (which is, to be honest, one of the reasons why changing around roles in the production team is a good idea), so something was going to have to give somewhere.
Turns out, the fifth full season of New Who won’t be screening until Spring 2010. Instead, we’ll be getting three “specials” in 2009, all written by RTD, and all with Tennant apparently confirmed as the Doctor, plus yet another Christmas Special in December 2008 (I’d lay bets that the third special airs Christmas 2009).
Not sure how I feel about this. I’m already pretty much resigned to sitting out next season– RTD’s most recent interview in Doctor Who Magazine basically says that we shouldn’t expect the show to get darker- in fact, they’re going in the opposite direction. Less Human Nature and Blink, more Smith and Jones and The Shakespeare Code. Peachy. Seems treating the audience like adults really is too much like hard work… Anyway, this, combined with the human cluster-bomb that is Catherine Tate as Donna (I could almost cope if she was playing a different character– it’s just going to be comedy bellowing by the sound of it, and, just to make things worse, RTD has assured us that her grotesque Only Fools and Horses-style parents from Runaway Bride are going to be back…) is taking most of my appreciation of the new series far away.
To the positive, the scheduling news is a sign that Tennant really is comitted to the role. By the end of Season 4, he’ll have sailed past Davison in terms of onscreen time, and he’d be completely justified in calling it quits if he wanted to- the fact that he isn’t, and that the BBC are partly arranging things around his schedule, is undoubtedly a positive thing. He’s had his rocky moments, but Season 3 really gave Tennant the chance to shine, and at his best he’s one of the finest Doctors we’ve yet seen.
Unfortunately, this also means that any hope of RTD heading off into the sunset anytime soon is fairly small. The scheduling is no doubt also to give him the chance to do other things, and also means that we won’t see any New Who in 2009 that isn’t written by RTD– which isn’t a good thing in anybody’s book. It does, however, say rather worrying things about the show’s capacity for change, and the fact that RTD is being viewed as absolutely integral to the continued success of the series. Who lasted for so long because it was a never-ending juggernaut, always moving forward, always having to change or die, and the only time it ever stopped for longer than a year was the infamous 1985 hiatus imposed by Michael Grade. Letting RTD get comfortable and giving him all the manuvering room he needs might be very good business sense– but I can’t help feeling that it’s a bad move creatively. There were already signs of creative wheel-spinning in Season 3, and no doubt we’ll be seeing more of it next year. By 2010, RTD’s vision of the show is going to have to evolve pretty significantly, or the show’s going to start looking long in the tooth. New blood is a risk, but sometimes it’s a risk worth taking, but sadly it seems the BBC’s too afraid of losing its cash cow.
Plus, it also removes the 13 weeks of non-stop Who, turning it into a far more ephemeral presence for two years. Lengthy episode runs are the backbone of Who- it’s what gives it a feeling of prescence (especially back in the years of 26-week seasons), and no matter how ‘special’ these special episodes are, they aren’t going to be the same as 13 weeks of episodes.
But, of course, it does mean that if she hasn’t been gotten rid of by then, there’ll be a little less Catherine Tate to deal with. Maybe things aren’t so bad after all…