6 Quick Unanswered Questions About That Doctor Who/Disney Plus Deal

Here I thought the biggest Doctor Who news this week was simply going to be the airing of The Power of The Doctor. But it’s not, and there’s a lot of detail we don’t yet know about the tie-up between Doctor Who and Disney Plus.

Those who follow me know that I’m fanatical about a few things — Bubble Bobble, Prince, Retro gaming in general, and of course, Doctor Who.

This week saw the airing of Jodie Whittaker’s last episode in the role of The Doctor — that’s not a spoiler, as it’s been widely announced for many months now — but this isn’t my review of The Power Of The Doctor. Maybe later.

However, I do hate spoilers, so I’m not going to reference that episode or what happens in it, just in case you’ve not watched the ep yet. I do hate that theory that says that if you get something spoiled it’s somehow your fault, but let’s just keep it spoiler-free, OK?

The bigger news this week was the BBC’s surprise announcement that it was joining up with Disney+ for future Doctor Who episodes, making the house of mouse the “exclusive home” of Doctor Who outside the UK and Ireland from 2023.

Here’s the official announcement of the Doctor Who/Disney Plus deal if you want to read it.

For those of us in Australia, it’s a sad day, because it means that the national broadcaster, the ABC loses a show it’s had for all of its existence, through cancellations, reboots, even finding lost episodes along the way. The ABC has confirmed that the show won’t be landing with the ABC going forward, noting that:

After a long friendship, spanning more than 50 years, the universe has called the Doctor in a different direction and Doctor Who will no longer appear on the ABC beyond the current season.

The official BBC statement is full of the usual happy corporate-speak, no doubt washed through multiple PR hands, sign-offs and rewrites before going public.

Still, there’s a lot it doesn’t say, and it’s detail that would be very interesting to know. Here’s the top five thoughts I had when reading the news this morning:

  • Does Disney+ get simulcast rights? For the longest while with the “new” series (or 2005 reboot, or “New Who”, or whatever you want to call it), we’d get episodes on ABC iView, but only at the minute they finished their BBC broadcast. If I’m Disney, I probably want to be able to drop episodes at the same time as the Beeb… but will they be able to?
  • How long is the deal actually for? This is actually quite critical, because the BBC’s statement simply says “new seasons”, which at least implies more than one. Then again, this all starts with the 60th anniversary specials next year, and a freshly announced festive special.
    Maybe that’s one season all by itself before we get a full series with new Doctor Ncuti Gatwa in command. This matters because streaming shows are ALL about the metrics, and Disney will undoubtedly be looking at how well Doctor Who does for them on a viewing scale. If it doesn’t perform the way it wants to, it could cut the deal, leaving the future of the show in serious limbo. Even more complex when you realise that Russell T Davies production company, Bad Wolf is now actually producing the show, not the BBC, so there’s a lot of different people to keep happy in a numbers way.
  • What does that mean for Blu-Ray or DVD releases? I watch a lot of streaming TV, but Doctor Who is the one show that I do buy physical media for. Partly for the collection if I’m honest, but also because it means I have a copy I can legally watch at any time I like.
    If I’m Disney paying big bucks for the Time Lord, have I also paid to stop it getting a physical release for some period of time, or will we see regular series and single disc releases still?
  • What exactly is Disney+ getting — or not getting? Disney+ will be the “new global home for upcoming seasons of Doctor Who” according to the release. That seems pretty clear, but it also leaves 59 years of show history behind it.
    Is Disney getting all of New Who, so that all these presumed fans can “catch up” with the history of the Doctor? Is it getting Classic Who, which would be a huge content dump all at once into the house of Mouse? Right now, those rights are mixed between the ABC, Stan and Britbox in Australia. It’s not hard to guess that those deals will expire over time and not be renewed… if Disney actually wants those rights in the first place.
  • How prepared is the BBC’s geoblocking team? The other place that Doctor Who will stream online will be the BBC’s own iPlayer platform, exclusively available in the UK for TV licence holders.
    That’s the BBC’s call, but, well, VPNs exist, and there’s already form in Australians getting hold of Doctor Who eps by dodgy means in their thousands if they feel so inclined. They’d better be ready for a deluge of sudden new users, all mysteriously coming from the same flat somewhere in Manchester, is all I’m saying.
  • What the hell does “transform Doctor Who into a global franchise” mean? OK, this is basically just me getting annoyed at stupid, meaningless marketing-speak. Doctor Who already is a global franchise, and depending on how you want to count it, it has been for more than 50 years.
    Even if you only viewed it as a “commonwealth countries” show (not accurate in the least, but let’s go with it) for the classic series, the revival from Ecclestone onwards was a true global smash, with global tours that took in places from South Korea to Sydney (I was there for the Q&A, I remember it well). Or by “global”, do they mean “so that folks in Arkansas know it exists”? It’s probably that, isn’t it?

About the author

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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