Secrets that must never be told, knowledge that must never be spoken! How have producers managed to keep a lid on Doctor Who spoilers over the years?
Doctor Who spoilers weren’t always a thing. In the early days, it was relatively easy to maintain secrecy. Location filming was minimal, and the internet had not been invented (well, not in its current form.) At the same time – popular though it was – Doctor Who was not really under the microscope of fan scrutiny. The producers could make the show in relative comfort – even if they were under the sprinklers Lime Grove Studio D.
So when did Doctor Who spoilers become a “thing”? When did people start sharing information about future storylines and castings? It’s hard to say. Certainly, as fanzines and appreciation societies began to spring up in the 1970s, there were more people coming together to talk about the programme, and this meant more speculation as what the future held for the good Doctor and his friends.
But it wasn’t until John Nathan-Turner became producer that the issue of Doctor Who spoilers was taken seriously. Nathan-Turner knew that there were people chomping at the bit for juicy details – not least the popular press, who were always wildly speculating as to who the next Doctor would be, particularly when Tom Baker announced his departure in 1980. Could the Doctor really regenerate into a woman?! The rumour mill was in overdrive.
And whilst Nathan-Turner certainly knew how to gain headlines for Doctor Who, he also knew the power of surprise. Indeed, in 1982 he turned down the opportunity to have a Cyberman on the front cover of the Radio Times. The programme would certainly have benefitted from the exposure, but at the same time JNT wanted to preserve the impact of the Cybermen‘s return in ‘Earthshock.’ Thus, the Doctor Who spoilers were quickly reined in, and the monsters were given the generic credits of “Leader” and “Lieutenant” in the pre-broadcast listings, quelling any fan speculation.
This was a trick that JNT continued to use throughout his tenure. He employed a similar tack with the Master, who was played by Anthony Ainley. To keep fans from guessing that the Doctor’s arch enemy would be returning, he made sure the character was credited under a pseudonym; for example, in ‘Time Flight’ you will see the character is played by the mysterious Leon Ny Taiy (an anagram of Tony Ainley), whilst in ‘The King’s Demons’ he is billed as James Stoker, which is an anagram of “Master’s joke.”
This tradition was maintained (albeit accidentally) by Russell T Davies when the Master returned in 2007, under the name “Mister Saxon.” This is actually an anagram of “Master no. six,” although Davies maintains that the anagram is a coincidence. Still, the desire to keep a lid on Doctor Who spoilers was the same. You are not alone, JNT.
That being said, in recent years it has become harder for producers to stop Doctor Who spoilers from leaking out. Indeed, the first episode of the revived series was leaked onto the internet in 2005. Apparently, this was traced back to an employee at a third party company in Canada, who had access to an early copy – although it did not contain Murray Gold’s new version of the theme, or the trailer for the next episode ‘The End of the World.’ Despite this, the episode was widely shared (and even reviewed) before the full episode was broadcast in the March of that year.
And sadly, a similar thing happened in the build-up to Series Eight when the first five episodes inadvertently found their way onto the internet. These were black and white “pre air screeners” that were missing some visual effects, and had been uploaded to a file-sharing platform which had been left open to the public. At the same time, many of the shooting scripts from these episodes also leaked out, and fans were urged to keep any Doctor Who spoilers to themselves, and wait to see the finished episodes in all their glory.
This incident came shortly after the leak of ‘The Name of the Doctor’ – the final episode of Doctor Who Series Seven. This time, the Doctor Who spoilers were courtesy of Amazon in the US, who had inadvertently shipped a number of Blu-ray box sets before the season finale had aired. Fortunately, this only impacted 210 fans, and the producer Steven Moffat put out a message asking fans to keep the episode’s secrets to themselves. They did, and were promptly rewarded with a special interview with Matt Smith and David Tennant, captured during the filming of the fiftieth anniversary special.
At the same time, Moffat was making his own plans to prevent Doctor Who spoilers from leaking onto the internet. For instance, in the episode ‘Dark Water,’ it is revealed (spoiler alert) that the Master has returned in a new body – and this time she’s a woman. The scene in question was being filmed in the centre of London, and Moffat knew that there would be a lot of people watching. So in the interests of maintaining secrecy, he ensured that the actors were only miming their dialogue, so that any key revelations could be dubbed in later.
However, the production team also shot a fake version of this scene, hoping to put fans on a false scent. In an earlier take, Missy says to the Doctor: “You know who I am. I’m Missy. Or, if you’d prefer, Random Access Neural Integrator. Rani for short.”
But typically, none of the watching crowd overheard this exchange, so these Doctor Who spoilers went completely unreported. That is, until Steven Moffat revealed them at a fan convention. (The Rani, for those of you who don’t know, is a renegade Time Lord from the Doctor’s home planet.)
These days, it’s quite hard to extract any details from upcoming Doctor Who episodes. Even some of the episode titles aren’t revealed until relatively close to their transmission dates, and the pre-broadcast trailers tend to be brief. They’re more like teasers, far removed from the full-blown theatrical reels that fans saw during the Tenth Doctor’s era.
But how do you feel about Doctor Who spoilers? Do you like to have all the juicy details ahead of time? Or do you prefer to watch the episodes cold, going in with as little knowledge as possible? Let me know in the comments below.
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