Doctor Who: The Plate-Spinner’s Conundrum

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Tony Fyler cries ‘Don’t Panic!’ and offers a rebuttal to Diminishing Returns, Degeneration, and Cancellation.

Must love Who-fans. Must love Who-fans. Must love Who-fans…

The alternative to loving all Who-fans seems to be to run around town with a nerf bat, bopping them round the head and yelling ‘Stop taking yourself so seriously!’ And, y’know, there are laws against that sort of thing. Still. #thanksobama.

Rumours are fun. Rumours are speculation, and who doesn’t love a bit of that? Rumours though – even here in 2015 where Donald Trump is being considered as a Presidential candidate and Boris Johnson is allowed to tie his own shoelaces – are not facts.

Here’s the thing about things that aren’t facts. They don’t prove anything.

Beliefs are sweet and all – they’ll keep you warm against the coldness of a universe that really doesn’t give a toss whether you exist or not, let alone what you think. But beliefs aren’t facts. Ergo the whole not proving anything…erm…thing.

Why am I wittering on about this?

As I say, I love all Who-fans. It’s a struggle, but I do it. I even love Who-fans when they’re taking things that aren’t facts, applying their own skewed reasoning to explain why the things that aren’t facts are happening (irrespective of whether or not they’re actually happening, in what we laughably like to call ‘the real world’), and then crowing that they were right to predict the end of the world, because ‘look, look – this is happening. So, I’m right!’

One of the things I love about WarpedFactor is the diversity of fan opinion. And anyone who’s dementedly avid might even know that I have an ongoing sparring session with our resident self-christened Cassandra, who never fails to predict the coming doom of Doctor Who. We’ve gone back and forth on the viewing figures for Capaldi’s first series, on the question of Moffat’s irretrievably harming the show, on – well, to be fair, on practically everything.

Now there are rumours about what might be happening to the show – we’ve even run some of them here, because if there’s one thing that’s incontrovertible it’s that everyone loves to read a good rumour (Brit-fans – any lingering doubts why the Mirror always does it?).

There are rumours that there’s going to be only a limited series ten. There are other rumours that say there’s going to be no Who at all in 2016. And of course, there’s the lovely, juicy rumour about the return of Paul McGann. Have we covered the perennial ‘Return of the Valeyard’ rumour yet? The ‘Capaldi’s leaving at the end of the series’ rumour? The ‘Clara is the next Doctor’ rumour?

Any or all of those could be true for all I know. None of it could also be true.

None of it means the sky is falling.

My pal Cassandra recently wrote a piece here saying ‘I was mocked when I said the fiscal world could ever slow the juggernaut of our beloved show.’

Firstly, she wasn’t – she was questioned on the legitimacy of offering no evidence to support an op-ed that flew frankly in the face of what evidence there was. But now, Cassandra claims that these rumours prove she was right all along, and ‘I can’t bring myself to say I told you so, but…’ – she told us so.

So let’s see. Firstly – rumours are rumours and prove nothing. They can’t be used to claim victory over reality. That’s not how reality works.

Secondly – if the rumours are true that there’s no new Who in 2016, it’s still an enormous leap to take (and one unsupported by fact) to claim that that would be down to any contraction of demand for new Who. There was no Sherlock between the end of the 2014 season and Christmas 2015 (may the television-gods forever forbid Who-fans have to deal with the three-episode-a-year privations of the Sherlock-fan, we’d clearly lose the last vestige of our shit): clearly this shortfall on what we expect means Sherlock is getting less and less popular and will soon be cancelled.

The point is that both shows are ultimately in the creative hands of the same man, and here in ‘the real world’ there are no Tardises, meaning there are just 24 hours in every day, and if you burn out, you don’t regenerate, you go away somewhere quiet and aren’t allowed near the butter-knives. If there’s no Who in 2016, and Steven Moffat’s still in charge, all it means is that he’s answering the wailing of the deprived Sherlock fans next year, as he answered the wailing of Who fans this year. If you’re going to have two bottles of simultaneous world-beating lightning, it’s going to work something along those lines, or it’s going to kill you. The strain of writing two successful shows is a huge one, as Russell T Davies testified to Moffat when he left. That Moffat ended up with Sherlock being a bigger international success than Torchwood is possibly just Fate having a laugh at his expense, but it inherently means there’s a creative tension between the shows, a give and take that can only be met by spinning plates. Incredibly fast. Any year that has both Sherlock and Who in it prrrrobably means Moffat weeping quietly in a corner taking nerve pills, and another handful of years lopped off his life expectancy. It doesn’t mean some mystical unproven financial reality is catching up with Doctor Who and that there’s less demand for the world-bestriding product that it is.

The thing is, you have to be right to claim Cassandra’s legacy. And using rumours, then misapplying justifications to support those rumours, doesn’t make you right. It makes you, in a word, wrong.

Bit of an #epicCassandrafail there.

Now, as I say, I make a conscious effort to love all Who-fans, even when they’re claiming black is white and up is down and rumours are facts and therefore mean ‘x’ because they like the ‘x’ conclusion. So let me say that our prophetess of doooooom makes some interesting points about the effect of binge watching. But has binge watching negatively affected the ‘value’ of Who?

Well, who but geeks invented the concept of binge-watching? If you watch four episodes of Pyramids of Mars one after another, does it devalue Pyramids of Mars? If you watch all of Series 4 over the course of a day, does it somehow mean less? Do its messages and motifs and humour somehow mean less by virtue of mass consumption than they would if you rationed yourself to one episode a week? Doesn’t seem a terribly convincing hypothesis, somehow. Is binge-watching changing the TV landscape? Yes – meaning shows are made more with mass or binge-consumption in mind – though again arguably, geek shows like Who have pretty much been made with binge-watching in mind for longer than mainstream shows have even known such a thing was possible, because that’s the nature of the geek – we consume, powerfully, hungrily, the things we like, and then cry for more.

That doesn’t mean Who is on the road to cancellation again, either. Far from it, in fact. It means there’s an insatiable demand for Who of all kinds out there, and the show can only do so much in any given year without everybody involved going completely and utterly mad. But Who as a ‘juggernaut’ continues stronger than ever – more countries conquered, more merchandising sold, and alternative delivery avenues like the Big Finish audios and the Titan Comics getting stronger month by month. It would be in nobody’s interest to cancel Who at this point – that would be like slamming the brakes on at 120 miles an hour. If there’s no new Who next year, all it means is that the plate of Sherlock is due for spinning, not that the plate of Who is about to come crashing round our ankles.

Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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