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More like 'Doctor When'?

BBC won't shoot new episodes of 'Doctor Who' for about a year. Sci Fi faces time warp.

August 02, 2008|Choire Sicha | Special to The Times

Like a grandparent's birthday, the Sci Fi Channel's fourth season finale for "Doctor Who" reeled back in its children.

Characters from the cult hit show's two BBC spinoffs, "Torchwood" and "The Sarah Jane Adventures," pitched in to help the Doctor (well, two-and-a-half Doctors, really! Long story!) save the whole universe from certain doom.

"It created a tremendous buzz when it was shown in Britain," said Steven Moffat, the show's incoming head writer and executive producer who was in Southern California for Comic-Con last week. He credited predecessor Russell T. Davies for the big dramatic splash.

"That was Russell saying, 'What would happen if I press every button at once?' " said Moffat, who came to town with Julie Gardner, the BBC's controller of drama commissioning and an outgoing executive producer of "Doctor Who" as well.

In the age of networks becoming brand-builders, it was also a wily marketing opportunity.

"It's a massive brand, that's what it is," Moffat added. "No use pretending -- it's not art house, it's not even authored, in a way. It's a big massive brand, a BBC brand, the most important show."

But "Doctor Who" will not shoot new episodes for a year and won't return to the BBC until 2010. For the Sci Fi Channel, the scheduling blip raises the possibility it may not seek to reacquire the show. There's always been a perceived gap between how the BBC and Sci Fi program the show -- intended in Britain for families. "The interesting question is where to place it for that family audience," Gardner said. "It does moderately well for the Sci Fi Channel but it transmits for a 9 p.m. slot, which it isn't written or made for."

But Sci Fi officials still want a look at the next season of "Doctor Who."

"Sure, we'll be interested -- definitely interested," said Thomas Vitale, Sci Fi's senior vice president for programming and original movies, who would not comment on what the network paid for the series. "You know what, we're pleased with the way it's been performing for us."

Another lingering question is if David Tennant, who plays the title character, will be returning for Season 5. Gardner confirmed that Tennant has made and given his decision to the BBC. She added that she was not privy to it.

What of Tennant's plans? "Don't waste your time with the question," Moffat said.

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