We all know Hollywood has an originality problem. The studios tasked with green lighting films have yet to meet a bestselling novel, comic book superhero or videogame that didn’t look ripe for adaptation. While I can hardly get behind Hollywood’s sudden urge to raid the boardgame cupboard for inspiration, there is one trend that I’ll always support: television adaptations.
On November 14, 2011, Harry Potter director David Yates announced he was going to direct a big screen version of the seminal British television series, Doctor Who. His announcement was the latest in a flurry of television to film announcements that have been sweeping across the web since the summer. Big screen adaptations of Arrested Development, Party Down and even Friday Night Lights are rumored to be in the works. How many of these projects will actually get off the ground is anyone’s guess, but even the possibility of seeing these beloved shows make the leap to the big screen is enough to make a fangirl giddy.
As long as they’re done right, anyway. In the cases of Arrested Development, Party Down and Friday Night Lights there’s not much cause for concern thanks to the involvement of the original casts and writers. But for an ever-evolving franchise like Doctor Who things are a little bit trickier.
Unlike those other series, Doctor Who is still on air and it is massively successful both in Britain and America. Fans aren’t jonesing for a Who fix because thanks to Steven Moffat, The Doctor is flying about in his TARDIS and reminding us why bow ties and Stetsons are cool are on a weekly basis. To new Who fans, Matt Smith is The Doctor (or David Tennant, or Christopher Eccleston…it depends on who you ask, really), but Yates told Variety he would be ignoring the show’s current canon in favor of starting from scratch.
While that may sound like worrisome news to current Doctor Who fans, it may be a necessary evil if the film has any hope of attracting a more mainstream audience, and in order for the film to be a financially viable movie franchise, it’s going to have to woo some newbies. The real struggle for Yates is going to be drawing in newcomers without alienating the existing fanbase. Past movies based on sci-fi television shows like Firefly and The X-Files have underperformed at the box office by only appealing to the niche audience that already loved them.
So what can Yates do to appease fans without alienating new viewers? Stay true to the heart of the series. Doctor Who is all about the adventure, the wanderlust and The Doctor’s overwhelming love for humanity. These themes have defined every incarnation of The Doctor and as long as they stay in tact, canon compliance isn’t going to be an issue. In fact, there’s no reason the film can’t act as a standalone story. Many of the show’s best episodes (such as “Blink,” “Midnight” and “Vincent and The Doctor”) have been largely self-contained and the themes of friendship, love and adventure that define the show are universal draws.
It would also help if Yates avoided the typical Hollywood impulse to turn every hero into a gunslinger. The Doctor doesn’t like guns; that’s one thing that never changes. Another non-negotiable? He absolutely must be British, so if for some reason they hire an American, he had better be able to pull off a convincing accent. Finally, the TARDIS is a blue police box. It shouldn’t change colors, nor should it be ridiculously high tech inside. These are the bare bones of the franchise, the iconic attributes that make Doctor Who, Doctor Who; without them Yates would just be making a film about a wacky alien flying through space and time while nattering about bow ties (no seriously, he’s still going to like bow ties, right?).
The Doctor Who movie is tentatively set to hit theaters some time in 2013, which also happens to be the year the show will celebrate its 50th anniversary.