Is Doctor Who Confidential Worth Saving?

Like 30,000 other like-minded people, I’m in favour of the efforts to save Doctor Who Confidential. It’s a piece of quality programming that is loved by many people and, according to the party line of Twitter campaigner @SaveDWC, “it’s educational, informative entertainment”. Of course, being a media student I’m inclined to agree with him. But at the same time, the show also has its flaws – do they ultimately drive the show beyond the point of no return?

My personal bugbear, as I mentioned in an earlier article, is what I see as an over-reliance on songs that have a tangential and incredibly obvious relation to the subject matter. For example (and I don’t think this is a real example but I hope not) for a bit where a set dresser cleans windows, a short snippet of George Formby’s “When I’m Cleaning Windows” would play. For a montage of a bridge being built, a snippet of “Bridge To Your Heart” by Wax would play. You get the idea.

I think that the making of Doctor Who is only interesting sometimes (and there’s only so many production staff with different roles on the show), and that like most creative pursuits there’s not always a spark of inspiration before the deadline looms so the resulting work is substandard. This is evident in the fact that not all the segments of Confidential are actually about the making of Doctor Who.

During the episode accompanying The Girl Who Waited, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill live out dreams of theirs (drive a car to 100mph and swim with sharks respectively), with only the slightest connection to the show. If I recall correctly, the connection was something to do with the fact that there were holodecks in the episode where your dreams could be played out in reality. Cue sharks and fast women. I honestly thought that the listings for Doctor Who Confidential and Top Gear had merged together and as such was very surprised when it actually happened.

If the show was to come back, the consensus seems to be that it could do with a reboot. The 45 minute run-time is too long (as I say above, they’re really struggling to fill it some weeks), so that would need to be looked at. 15 minutes seems too short, so perhaps a compromise somewhere between the two would do the trick. 25 minutes or so would give them time to cover the important stuff in the show (bear in mind that the segment explaining River Song’s timeline was 13 minutes long, so it would need to be seriously cut down or edited out altogether for a 15 minute Confidential), while getting rid of the non-essentials such as the stars’ interactions on the set (which were a bit like James Corden; they could be entertaining but frustrating if seen too often, as it detracts from the other content).

There are of course several examples of a show being rebooted in a different way after its cancellation, including Not Going Out, Futurama, Family Guy (although personally I can live without that one) and of course, Doctor Who itself. So I feel it would be appropriate for the show to undergo a reboot, or “regeneration”, if you will.

A recent example of the show doing some real good is the Script To Screen competition that got children to write scripts and submit them to the BBC, who picked one and turned it into an episode. Their effort was put onto the small screen as part of the last ever Confidential as Death Is The Only Answer and I’m sure they’ll be proud of it for the rest of their lives.

The bottom line is, I don’t think the petition will work. I want it to, but I doubt it will, as according to Edward Russell (BBC Brand manager) the BBC are treating SaveDWC’s efforts as “lobbying” and are probably filing all related correspondence in a bin marked ‘ignore’. (Thanks to Ian O’Brien for the info in the comments section of this earlier article!) With this in mind, I think we should mourn its early demise rather than try to prolong it beyond the point where people enjoy it.

At its best, Doctor Who Confidential was a great look into the making of one of the best shows on television at the moment. In the unfortunate but at this point likely event that the petition to revert the decision to axe it doesn’t work, then we should remember it as it was: a fun and yet educational show that showed how great it is to work on Doctor Who.

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  1. Elton Townend Jones says:

    I can see the value of DWC, and if people like it and support it, then there’s surely a place for it. It’s often very obvious, though, that while sometimes being wonderful telly (I reacll an episode called ‘Do You Remember the First Time?’ which was delightful), DWC does sometimes struggle with engaging content. It’s very party-line, too, and I think it’s been perhaps detrimental for comment and discussion of the parent show by putting words into commentators’ and viewers’ mouths regarding how we should be viewing the show. It has occasionally been responsible for indirectly telling us how to think, which has to some extent hindered free-thinking and alternative ways of looking at Doctor Who when fans and writers have come to criticise it (and I mean criticise in the literary sense). but if 30,000 people want to watch it, then let ’em, I say. Or take it off and put the money saved into the budget of the parent show – I’d much rather that.

  2. Mr K says:

    It’s a tv show about a tv show.. I’d much rather the money saved be spent on original programming.

  3. daniel says:

    Original Programming…Like Two Pints of Rubbish…and Repeats of Top Gear…and several lame “comedys” like Lee Nelson

    Dont get me wrong…stuff like Being human which has come from BBC Three is superb.

    However, theres bigger wastage on BBC Three than Doctor Who Confidential

    I agree though that the format of 45 mins is far too long…in fact i have thought that since 2006 when it changed

  4. Alex says:

    Absolutely it’s worth saving, and the so-called tangents are what makes the show more than just a “making of” with a bunch of talking heads, whether it be the “living the dream” segments in the Girl Who Waited episode or the bit last year where Karen visited Greenwich (and most definitely the segment in another episode detailing Karen and Matt’s bus tour). The only reason I could imagine people not enjoying seeing the cast get involved in things is if they don’t like the cast.

    Did the show stumble a bit? Yes. There was, for example, no need to go to Venice to film that one installment last year when the show wasn’t even filmed there.

    The use of music is something easily addressed. I agree it was overdone sometimes and also everytime I saw a segment with a song playing behind it, I’d go “well that won’t be on the DVD”.

    And that’s probably Confidential’s biggest problem: due to its length and the use of licensed material, 2 Entertain was rarely able to include full-length versions of Confidential on the various DVD releases. And the fact the show isn’t circulated in that way probably hurt its long-term commercial viability (even though it does play on PBS in the States). Of course in order to include 14 Confidentials would require the Doctor Who season sets to be double their size, and people already gripe about the cost of the sets as it is. So in some respects it’s a no-win for the show.

    Unfortunately, having said all that, ultimately I don’t think the petition will go anywhere. Not after yesterday’s announcement of sweeping cuts at the BBC (2000 job losses, BBCHD shut down, even Blue Peter is on shaky ground and about to be shunted off to another channel). The only hope is for a third party to be brought in to make the shows independently, if the BBC would even allow such a thing. Reeltime Pictures, who for years made those Myth Makers interview tapes, would seem to be the logical choice if it still exists.

    • Alex says:

      ^ I need to correct a typo in my posting above. I meant to type BBC One HD which is what I understand is being shut down. But there’s supposed to be a BBC Two HD replacing it. Not sure what the difference is but then not being in the UK I sometimes can’t tell the difference between the different ones (I didn’t even know there was a BBC 4 until yesterday).

  5. Drew Fleming says:

    My gripe concerning DWC’s demise (probably inevitable given the current economic situation and the ideology of the present British government) is that it gives out a very mixed message to viewers. On one hand they’re saying that they will be giving the show a great deal of support as we go into the 50th Anniversary but then they cancel one of the shows that promotes it. Next year there will be no Torchwood, no Sarah Jane Adventures and a potentially curtailed run of Doctor Who without DWC. I also suspect that Doctor Who Adventures will fold. These are dark days and not the golden age we have been promised.

    • From what we understand Doctor Who Adventures is safe, and was one of the prime licenses in the recent deal with BBC Worldwide and the buyers of the BBC Magazines business.

      • Drew Fleming says:

        The worry I have with DWA is that being a weekly magazine it might struggle to survive Doctor Who being off the air for nine months. No new episodes equals no new material to fill the pages. If I remember correctly (and I could be wrong about this) DWA’s circulation figures fell somewhat during the 2009 specials season and that was with a new episode airing at easter time. Potentially there could be no new episodes airing from 26/12/2011 until at least 28/8/2012. What’s to stop the kids from finding a new shiny thing and deserting DWA?

  6. Marcus says:

    My biggest problem with DWC wasn’t the tangents (which were great) or the music (which I just found fun) but the fact that for a lot of them, we would be watching what we had just watched half an hour earlier on BBC1. The Confidential episode for the recent hotel/minotaur episode was abysmal – if you took out the BBC1 broadcast footage and the same footage being viewed on a camera viewscreen, the episode would have been 15 minutes long. Add to that completely un-necessary bits where the writer ‘recaps’ the script (i.e. tells you what you already know because you have just seen it!) and the show really does become dull dull dull.

    When it does it right, it is brilliant and informative. But 45 mins is too long and it shows.

    I’ve just had a brilliant idea: they would be better served by having a 15 minute show put up on the website after every episode has gone out on BBC1.

  7. Simon says:

    If they’re not going to show them on TV, the least they could do is sell them on the DVDs/Blu-Rays when they come out. Then they’d still have a making-of without the broacasting costs.

  8. Matt Badham says:

    Could it come back as a radio doc aired later on Saturday night (perhaps on Radio 4)?

    • The problem with that is that Doctor Who Confidential is a visual show. How could they show us Karen and Arthur swimming with sharks over the wireless? Maybe if it was just the writers jabbering on about the show, which would probably be acceptable.

  9. Matt Badham says:

    Hi Scott

    I take your point, but…

    Just before Nu Who came back in 2005 there was an in-depth radio doc about its return. That featured Russell T, Mr. Gatiss, Chris Ecc and various other production peeps talking about Who and its return.

    I remember it being a very satisfying listen and pretty illuminating.

    Plus, if it were on the radio maybe DWC would lose some of the ‘fluff’ and ‘filler’ (such as the racing car and swimming with sharks sequences) that seems to have riled some fans.


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