Doctor Who The Eighth Doctor

Published on October 9th, 2013 | by James Lomond

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Why The Wilderness Years Weren’t So Bad

The BBC know how to treat Doctor Who, it being the prized work of genius we Oldies have always maintained it was, but this wasn’t always so.

When the final episode of the Classic series broadcast in 1989, that was that – thanks for the past twenty six years, now you leave through the back door and take the dustbins with you. The BFI’s 50th Anniversary screenings have tracked the show Doctor by Doctor and Yahoo Blogger Amanda Keats reflects on the Eighth Doctor’s panel discussion of the Wilderness Years. She discovers that after the initial silence (much like the Zygon infested waters of Loch Ness), the period between Classic and New Who may have been calm, but was never empty…

“After the Doctor Who movie didn’t immediately lead to a continuation of the TV show, it seemed like it was over but, through their work at Big Finish, more stories continued to be told. [Producer, Marcus] Hearn insisted that he and many of the panel spent the 90s in a bubble because of it. To them, the show continued. It just wasn’t on TV.”

She notes an interesting observation that videos and DVDs of old stories became more widely available in the 1990s and there was actually more Doctor Who around for those who sought it out. Many fans of the current show first discovered the Doctor in various guises on home video without having to wait a week between cliff-hangers. And without Who on the telly, imaginations of the faithful were free to take over…

“What followed was what fans have come to call ‘The Wilderness Years’ but this wildnerness did not seem to touch the panel who all had plenty to say about the fandom. [Gary] Russell speculated that ‘everyone who grew up watching Doctor Who wanted to do something creative’… [Justin] Richards said that it’s a ‘very open format’, explaining that there are always more stories to tell. [Jason] Haigh-Ellery also speculated that the Doctor will always be with us in some form or another, just like Sherlock Holmes..”

And this all followed in the wake of the sudden cancellation of the original series. Andrew Cartmel commented that after this ‘there was just silence’ and I recall it certainly feeling that way at the time. But there was such a lot of enthusiasm for the show and creative energy that, arguably, the Wilderness Years had hidden benefits. Many of the team currently making the international hit that Doctor Who has become (again) were fans who simply loved the show. After it was cancelled, and silence fell, suddenly they had the freedom (and the need) to develop their own vision. In fact it may be fair to say that without the gap between Classic and New, we wouldn’t have the wonderful version we have today. No Silence without the silence?

What do you think – was the cancellation somehow important to the show’s current success, or were we cheated out of a wonderful Series 27?

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5 Responses to Why The Wilderness Years Weren’t So Bad

  1. avatar Nic Manuel says:

    Being a child of the nineties who later discovered Doctor Who, I was interested to see the developments that took place during my childhood. The wilderness years have since become one of my favorite periods of Who. It was a time in which the fans truly had control over their show and thus it became an unprecedented labor of love. While the WYs start off as a direct continuation of the classic series, the novels, comics, and later BF audios show a clear transition to the New Series, with the New Series even being influenced by Wilderness output such as Paul Cornell’s Human Nature and Rob Shearman’s Jubilee among many others. The Wilderness Years are arguably one of the most creative periods in Doctor Who’s history and essential to truly understanding the saga that is the past 50 years.

  2. avatar Bob James says:

    I do remember thinking, quite distinctly, that if Big Finish was how we were going to get new, ongoing Doctor Who from there on out, I wouldn’t have minded one bit. They “got” Doctor Who, and while maintaining its integrity and identity, took it forward with the kinds of stories that we never ever got before, and until, well, now. The Virgin and BBC Books were feast or famine for me. In my opinion, they were at times brilliant, and conversely, at other times, clueless. There were a lot of talented writers with great ideas, writing solid stories, that had nothing whatsoever to do with Doctor Who other than that there was someone called “The Doctor” and something called the “Tardis” in them. Lots of up and coming talented writers, and let’s face it, it’s much easier to get published when you’ve got the “brand” Doctor Who blazing on your book covers, rather than “Bold new Universe and Mythology, with all new characters”. The EDA’s in particular, for me, were something that either hit all the marks, or ran off the rails completely. Big Finish got a bit loopy with the whole “Divergent Universe” arc, but at least McGann was still in there keeping it grounded. For me, it would certainly have been better that Big Finish keep the fires burning than have had Doctor Who return, and been awful. Even the BBCi “Scream Of The Shalka” going on to more stories with Richard E Grant would have been welcome. But the BBC woke up, and did right by Doctor Who. It’s comforting to know that if that ever changes, we can all flee into the “Wilderness” again, hopefully.

  3. avatar S Miscandlon says:

    Excuse the shameless self-promotion (though it is for charity, kids), but I wrote a bit about this subject in the introduction to my Doctor Who fanzine compilation, Fourth Dimension. If anyone’s interested, you can read the intro here: http://fourthdimensionbook.weebly.com/read-the-introduction.html

  4. avatar Geoff says:

    I think with the benefit of hindsight: the knowledge that things DID get better it’s very easy to be nostalgic about something that seemed thoroughly miserable at the time. While I now feel a sense of fondness when I look back to being a fan in the latter years and post cancellation I must temper my current feelings by remembering at the time it just felt miserable and frustrating.

  5. avatar John Miller says:

    It will likely upset some, but I actually PREFERRED the Wilderness Years to a lot to what came after. You had different people each giving their vision of Doctor Who. There was no clear head. Some of it was brilliant, some alright, some total crap, but you got a lot of different peoples’ takes on it(including sadly from some people who clearly had never seen a single episode). But it was everything and all things. And there were multiple possible futures(Good Companions, Briggs, Cabinet of Light, Faction Paradox, Shalka etc.) all equally real. When RTD took over it actually pigeonholed everything. Now there was A Ninth Doctor, and everything for five years was RTD’s vision. Moffat took over, and now it’s his vision. It’s not really a question of “good” versus “bad”. it’s a question of a multitude of possibilities, and various people with differing visions(some indeed very good, and some very very bad), versus one exact thing that is, and nothing else can be.

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