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Published on May 28th, 2014 | by Jonathan Appleton

Revealed At Last: Doctor Who Could Have Ended In 2008

Could Doctor Who have ended in 2008? It sounds unlikely but that’s the intriguing alternate reality floated by showrunner Steven Moffat, who says there was a very real possibility that the programme could have been canned with the departure of David Tennant.

Speaking at the Hay Festival he said:

“David owned that role in a spectacular way, gave it an all-new cheeky sexy performance and became a national treasure. And he didn’t do it instantly, he did it over time. So the idea that Doctor Who could go on at all in the absence of David was a huge question.”

“I didn’t realise how many people thought it wouldn’t succeed at all. That was quite terrifying when I found out about it later. I think there were plans maybe to consider ending it. It was Russell T Davies saying, you are not allowed to end it.”

On the face of it, the notion that Doctor Who could have ended in 2008 or 2009 seems fanciful. The first three series of the revived show had been a storming success, rounded out with 2007′s Christmas special Voyage of the Damned achieving an audience figure of 13.3million. Russell T Davies The Writer’s Tale confirms that the BBC were ‘desperate for a Series 5 as soon as possible’ when the idea was floated to have a year of special episodes in 2009, and he writes of some bafflement high up in the organisation at the thought of any production hiatus when they had such a hit on their hands.

Against that, before the news broke that there wouldn’t be a full series in 2009 there were rumours online that the programme would be coming to an end. Perhaps Moffat’s comments reflect the uncertainty and gossip that people connected to the programme were encountering? We’ll probably have to wait for a Moffat-authored Writer’s Tale to find out more. And it’s important to note that his remarks are very much from his point of view and qualified with a fair amount of caution.

The more interesting question is surely this: if Doctor Who had bowed out at the close of the Tenth Doctor’s era, how would it have ended? There are different possibilities depending on when the axe had fallen… If we take the close of Series 4 as our imaginary endpoint that means Journey’s End, with its roll-call of companions from Series 1-4, would have been a particularly apt title. Not such a bad note to end on, really – the Doctor’s friends all do their bit to save the world from Davros and the Daleks, and Rose pairing up with the other Doctor would have left a whole new universe of possibilities for fan fiction….

Or if we’re to take it that The End of Time would also have been The End of the Series, that means the Doctor would have bowed out due to… well, maybe that massive dose of radiation in the Gate’s isolation chamber? Or would he have been forced to sacrifice himself to ensure he sent Rassilon ‘back into hell’? Or perhaps he would have just died of old age on that very extensive farewell tour, saying goodbye to his old pals?

All of this is fun and frippery, of course. Doctor Who didn’t end in 2008, just as it didn’t end in 1989. The people who love the programme saw to that. The one thing we can be sure of is that, even if the series had been cancelled or suspended with the departure of David Tennant, the fans would have kept it going in some form, whether that be comics, magazines, audios, online episodes… That’s the most important lesson to take from any of the attempts to cancel Doctor Who – the fans just won’t go along with it.

What do you think? Say Moffat is correct that the show might have ended – what would have been the impact? Demonstrations in the streets? Tenth Doctor stories from Big Finish? A re-release of Doctor in Distress? Let us know!

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About the Author


has watched Doctor Who since those great big spiders did for Jon Pertwee, and it's way too late to stop now. When he's not at his job working for a charity he spends his time following Hull City's fortunes, listening to Bruce Springsteen and wondering why it took thirty years too long for Doctor Who action figures to come along. Currently listening to: The Fifth Doctor Box Set. By, it were a crowded old TARDIS in them days...

8 Responses to Revealed At Last: Doctor Who Could Have Ended In 2008

  1. avatar Rick says:

    I don’t think the Doctor would have died in The End Of Time, if the series had been cancelled. They would have left it open, for another revival, in whatever medium that may be.

  2. avatar Spider-pope says:

    I can certainly believe it was a possibility. 2008 and David Tennant was arguably the most popular actor in the country. Swapping him for an unknown like Matt Smith would have given anyone pause.

  3. avatar Simon Magellan says:

    ” I think there were plans maybe to consider ending it” – hardly a definite statement. It’s possible – it’s possible the show could end every time the actor changes, but I really doubt that it would have happened then. It was probably at its height, and the BBC would have looked very stupid ending it when it was doing so well.

  4. avatar rickjlundeen says:

    Oh, I’m sure there were some suits in the Beeb who considered that maybe it should end when Tennant left. I’m sure there were also some fans who may have thought this as well. Well, the people who thought that had very little imagination and more importantly, we’re not real DW fans and didn’t understand the show at all. I mean, come on, Eccleston regenerating into a somewhat unknown Tennant should have clued them in. Hopefully everyone is on board and paying attention now that we’ve had THREE regenerations now in the past 9 years and the show is here to stay.

  5. avatar DonnaM says:

    I daresay it’s human nature to be pessimistic (it certainly is in this human’s case :-) ) I can understand some people in senior positions possibly thinking “This is as good as it gets, it’s got to be downhill from here”.

    That’s a long way from actually pulling the show – and there are enough ifs and maybes in Moff’s remark to imply wiser (and possibly older, who remembered the show surviving popular leads’ departures in the past) heads were always present, but if there’s anything at allin what he says – that’s another one we owe you, Russell T Davies!

  6. avatar TimeChaser says:

    The idea that it couldn’t have gone on just because David left is ridiculous considering the show’s history. People thought the same thing after Hartnell had to leave, and probably even when Tom Baker was departing. And each time, just as always, they found brilliant actors to come in and take the reins and ensure the show’s longevity. For people to think the show is entirely dependent upon a single actor’s portrayal as the Doctor is absurd.

  7. avatar Ian Scales says:

    Moffat’s comment that RTD insisted it shouldn’t end is interesting. I remember reading in one respected book range a suggestion that RTD insisted the show SHOULD end when he left as show-runner. Good that a counter perspective (which I think is more convincing) has come to the fore from someone more in a position to know.

  8. avatar STLShawn says:

    So, 2008,,,, Tennant says he’s leaving, RTD is making noise of leaving (probably asking for more cash), Torchwood is wearing thin,,, I could see someone going “well, maybe it is time”.

    Think about it, the show had to be completely recreated with very few of the original talent from the 2007 series remaining. If Moff and Smith were not so good at what they did, and Karen Gillian was not so fantastic for the companion, it could have gone bad.

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