Doctor Who: American Style
They adopted Showrunners. Now…
Exclusive: Production of the sci-fi classic poised to undergo a major change in 2018 under its new boss with the possible adoption of the American practice of engaging multiple writers on certain episodes.
Doctor Who could be scripted by an American-style “writers room” for the first time when Chris Chibnall takes the reins of the show for series 11 in 2018, RadioTimes.com can exclusively reveal.
Chibnall has been discussing numerous ideas about how the show will be scripted. And while he remains committed to writing episodes on his own he is understood to have been examining the possibility of a writers room for some instalments of the flagship sci-fi drama.
The BBC has already met with the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain [WGGB] – the union for professional scriptwriters – to discuss new approaches to writing the scripts. One area that had been discussed was a “writers room” and the union has indicated that it had no particular objections to the proposals.
“If it’s what the BBC wants and it’s what the writers want it then it’s fine by us,” said Bernie Corbett, who was general secretary of the union when the BBC discussed the ideas with his organisation.
“Nobody’s against it. Lots of writers would like to try it but you have to get round those practical difficulties. Our job as a Trade Union is not to disrupt things or hold things back if they think it is a good idea.”
A BBC spokesperson said: “It’s still very early days and no fixed model has been decided upon yet. Chris Chibnall as the new showrunner will write his own episodes and is currently exploring different ways of working with new and established writers on the show. “
The Broadchurch writer is due to take over showrunning duties next year and his first series in charge will air sometime in 2018. Steven Moffat is due to write this year’s Christmas special and a series which airs in spring next year. Moffat is also expected to pen the 2017 Christmas special.
The idea of a Doctor Who writers room has long been suggested.
In 2008 Doctor Who writer Paul Cornell, who scripted the double episode Human Nature and Family of Blood for David Tennant’s Doctor in 2007, called for the show to be written by a group of paid writers.
In an interview with the BBC’s Writersroom website he said: “There’s all sorts of reasons that doesn’t happen in Britain, one of which is that we’ve produced much shorter runs of things. We have a showrunner and a bunch of freelancers who are doing other things at the same time, who don’t clock in and aren’t paid a wage but are just paid for their script. Some of that is, I think, down to the old-fashioned gentlemen and players thing, that writers are still not quite seen as employees.”
Russell T Davies introduced the showrunner idea to Doctor Who when he took over the rebooted series in 2005 but stopped short of introducing a writers room.
Under the system he mapped out the whole series, then divided episodes between a pool of writers. There was no formally organised collaboration although there were regular meetings to discuss tone and to engage in read-throughs of completed scripts.
This system has largely been maintained by current showrunner Steven Moffat.
Corbett, who stepped down from his role heading The Writers’ Guild this week after 16 years in the role to work as finance and business manager, said that the union would be looking with interest at any changes to the way Doctor Who is scripted.
He said: “If there are problems then the writers can come to us and we can take their concerns up with the BBC but we expect there will be a good system in place that will look after their interests.”
Corbett added that the introduction of the new system – which is favoured in the US but is virtually unheard of in the UK – was a potentially exciting development.
He added: ”In Britain writers tend to be more individuals and in the US there is a concentration of production talent in LA and New York. Our writers tend to live all over the place in London, in Bristol, Bath and Durham and it may be difficult for them to attend a writers room. But if they can all come together to work on the show then it sounds like a great idea.”
However Corbett cautioned that because many UK-based writers are dispersed across the country it could make it difficult to construct a “workplace writers room” in the UK in the same way they can in the US.
He added that UK writers tend have low incomes so it would be impossible for them to relocate to London unless the pay was at “LA levels.”
“They might not want to and if that happened it would distort the market throughout the UK,” he said.
“Also [writers rooms] are expensive and they tend to have big dollars in the US with long running shows. Doctor Who is in many ways a show that is perhaps moving towards that kind of scale as US shows so it seems a good fit. It’s not that we don’t want to do it in the UK, but it is about scale.
“Three writers is not a writers room it is a relationship but a writers room is in a sense, though not in a bad way, a factory of writing. It’s a big step.
“If problems arise we will step in. A union has to say that. But a union isn’t here to block progress. We’re here to deal with new ideas as well as old practices.”