So last night, I had a dream that the current Who revival in the UK (2005-present) was ongoing, and exactly the same as it is in the real world (3 doctors, 81 episodes, five companions, etc), but that the 1996 American attempt to revive the franchise on the Fox network in 1996 had been a success. In my dream, the Eighth* Doctor (Paul McGann) did 110 episodes over 5 seasons. Despite this, however, the series had been all-but-forgotten by everyone but me, and when I talked about it, the only thing people remembered was the crappy TV movie. It was a dream, after all, that’s how these things work.
During the course of the dream, I realized several things: Byronesque was probably the wrong way to go; a British show penned by castoff writers from Star Trek: The Next Generation probably wouldn’t have the requisite sensibilities; actually having the Doctor have sexual relationships with human women is a bad idea from a character and narrative stance, and so forth; that the show would take a *long* time to find itself, stylistically; that companions *can* stay on hand too long (Well, we already knew that from Rose Tyler, right?); and so forth. All these became apparent as I watched the nonexistent series. The most interesting thing that I realized in the course of the dream, however, was this:
There would have been only one Doctor!
In general, in average, actors stay in the role for about three and a half years. Some do longer: the first and third ones, and David Tennant (Who, truth be told, stayed a bit too long). Tom Baker did *seven* years! Eccleston, did less than three. The average, though, is three and a half. Five years, and 110 episodes is a *long* time to spend with one iteration of the character. That’d end up being 24 more hours of screen time than Tom Baker had.**
When I woke up, I realized two things:
1) The show was on Fox, so even if it had managed to go to series, it would have been cancelled in 13 episodes; and
2) My sleeping mind was right: There would have been only one doctor.
Think about it: Would network executives or TV producers, or American Audiences accept the re-casting fo *the* star of the show? Would they accept a completely new take on the character, a new personality, after the re-casting? Ok, maybe PBS-watching mouth breathers like me would, but what about your average Trekie or X-files fan? Probably not. Far less likely still is the idea that casual SF fans would accept it, or even understand it.
Furthermore, the BBC leased the character to Fox, they didn’t *sell* it to them. They had no intention at that time to revive the series on their own, but even so, they must have been mindful of the character’s eventual worth if they decided to hold on to it. (Conversely, they sold their rights to “The Saint” and “The Avengers” and various other shows outright) If that’s the case, do you think they’d really want some upstart Americans burning through *their* Doctor’s remaining lives? Of course not! So: One life to live, and one life only.
The terms of the BBC contract with Fox have never been made entirely clear. Some say the period of licensure was ten years, and that’s why the BBC had to wait until 2005 to revive it; others say it was just five years, and it didn’t get revived until 2005 because the BBC simply didn’t care until Russel T. Davies forced it down their throats. After my dream, I’m increasingly of the opinion that the latter is correct. The preferred run for a dramatic series in the US is five seasons, after all. That’s why the original Enterprise was on a five year mission and not a six or four year one. That’s why Babylon Five had a story that played out over five years. Stargate: Atlantis was contracted for six years, but since they only did 20 episodes a season, the six would have added up to 110 episodes, which is the same as a broadcast network contract for five. Five seasons (And/or 110 episodes) is considered gold for syndication: Anything less is too short to really syndicate effectively under normal circumstances; anything longer is a case of diminishing returns.
And I just *knew* when I woke up that in that five years there’d have only been *one* Doctor. So, really, had the show gotten picked up, and had it survived beyond 13 episodes, it wouldn’t really have changed anything in the present.
*- “Eighth” is one of those words that just looks wrong, you know? I spelled it out three different times in three different ways until I gave in and let spellcheck fix it for me, and it *still* looks wrong.
**- Though about 64 fewer episodes. The show only ran a half hour in the old days.