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Despite what seemed like an announcement yesterday, it’s still unclear whether the BBC is really working on a big-screen version of Doctor Who, with mooted-director David Yates’ comments on the subject seemingly contradicted by those working on the show within 24 hours. But if it is true, there are certain things that should be borne in mind by Yates and everyone else involved.
I’ll admit it: I’m worried about the Who movie that was seemingly teased by Yates in his Variety quotes. I like Yates as a director — more so, I admit for the original State of Play, which is one of my favorite thrillers of all time, than his Harry Potter turns, but he really made the last couple of movies work in a way that I wouldn’t have expected — but there seems something slightly off about the way he says things like, “Russell T. Davies and then Steven Moffat have done their own transformations, which were fantastic, but we have to put that aside and start from scratch” and “We want a British sensibility, but having said that, Steve Kloves wrote the Potter films and captured that British sensibility perfectly, so we are looking at American writers too,” in a way that I can’t put my finger on.
Part of it, I guess, is the idea of rebooting Who at all. It’s not just that I don’t see the point — the Doctor regenerates, which could explain away any actor discrepancy, and Who is a show that thrives on its multiple mythologies and histories, especially in its current, successful, television incarnation. I’m not sure what, necessarily, is gained in starting from scratch for a movie, aside from the chance to pick and choose from existing stories to retell instead of going with something new.
(Also, if the movie really is headed towards a potential 2013 release, it seems odd to reboot the franchise on its 50th anniversary; it feels like it confuses the brand, to be annoyingly business minded for a second, with multiple continuities needlessly, instead of offering a big-screen blowout that will then push audiences back toward the television series instead of contradicting it.)
My real worry about starting over, though, is the potential to throw out all the things that make Who special. More than any other sci-fi series, I’d argue, Who is about execution so much more than its central concept. Look at the way it’s described in the Variety piece: “the adventures across space and time of a super-intelligent alien in human form, who battles a variety of cosmic bad guys aided by plucky human companions.” There’s nothing wrong there, factually, but it doesn’t come close to explaining the appeal or the tone of the show at all. Yes, part of it is, I guess, “a British sensibility,” but it’s more than just a national thing: There is, in the best Who, a mix of fragility and protectiveness aimed directly at the kids in the audience, even the grown up ones (“We’ll scare you, but not too much,” to be reductive) that feels like it is so particular that an attempt to replicate it from a year zero approach could be disastrous.
Who isn’t Potter; there’s more wonder, more thinking and less … I don’t know how to put it … angst, perhaps (Which isn’t meant to put down Potter, which is great for what it is, just different from Who). Maybe it’s the odd implication both in Yates’ selection and the mention of Potter screenwriter Kloves that the two are analogous, but I’ve already got the feeling that the future Who movie that would result from this union would be a well-meaning misfire. Is it wrong to be so nervous before a project is even real?