Doctor Who Confidential ran from 2005 to 2011 and was, surprisingly, one of the most popular Doctor Who spin-offs ever made.
And with all manner of familiar faces returning to the Whoniverse for the 60th anniversary (under the aegis of new showrunner Russell T Davies) is it possible that Doctor Who Confidential could also make a re-appearance? And would there still be an audience for it in 2023?
For those of you who don’t know, Doctor Who Confidential was a documentary series that ran parallel to Doctor Who between 2005 and 2011. These episodes came in various forms and lengths, but in essence they were documentaries that explained the making of the particular stories that had just aired. As part of this format, Doctor Who Confidential also included interviews with the show’s cast and crew, and also delved into the backstory of any characters or monsters that might have returned that week, such as the Daleks, Cybermen or Sarah Jane Smith.
Interestingly, the full-length editions of Doctor Who Confidential became surprisingly elusive after their original broadcasts, with only a handful receiving home media releases, namely the episodes connected to ‘The Runaway Bride,’ ‘Planet of the Dead,’ ‘The Waters of Mars,’ ‘The End of Time‘ and ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Most of the others were released as Doctor Who Confidential: Cut Down for DVD and Blu-ray, and there are some episodes (such as the one featuring the announcement of Matt Smith as the Doctor) that have never been made available. These DVD abridgements were probably made as a cost-cutting measure, as the longer episodes tended to include licensed music and would also have been more expensive to classify.
And speaking of the Matt Smith announcement, Doctor Who Confidential marked many other important moments in Doctor Who history. For a start, the very first edition of Confidential (‘Bringing Back the Doctor’) featured David Tennant’s first ever ‘appearance’ in the world of New Who, as he was chosen to narrate that particular episode – before his casting as the Tenth Doctor had been announced!
In addition, the episode that aired on the 23rd April 2011 was a special tribute edition to the actor Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith) who had died just a few days before. The episode included interviews with various key figures from the Doctor Who cast and crew and was transmitted just before the Series Six episode ‘The Impossible Astronaut,’ which also featured an on-screen tribute to Sladen.
And whilst Doctor Who Confidential was something of a niche programme, airing primarily on BBC Three, it proved immensely popular with viewers. The first two series had running times of around 30 minutes, whereas from series three onwards Doctor Who Confidential was upgraded to the 45 minute format, and this change lasted until the show’s cancellation in 2011. Moreover, Confidential attracted some high profile actors, with the likes of Simon Pegg, Mark Gatiss, Anthony Head, Noel Clarke, Alex Price and Russell Tovey providing the voice-overs throughout the show’s six year run.
Why did Doctor Who Confidential get cancelled?
Doctor Who Confidential also enjoys the (somewhat unfortunate) accolade of being the first ever series from the Doctor Who universe to be officially cancelled. On the 28th September 2011, the then-BBC controller Zai Bennett made the announcement that Doctor Who Confidential had been culled as a cost-cutting measure.
Prior to this, other Doctor Who-related shows such as K9 and Company and Totally Doctor Who had just disappeared quietly, whilst other shows such as The Sarah Jane Adventures simply reached their natural end (as Elisabeth Sladen died midway through production of series five.) Similarly Torchwood was never officially axed – it just never returned, and the classic run of Doctor Who was only ever “resting,” even if fans did have to endure a “longer than usual wait” for the next series!
Doctor Who Confidential, on the other hand, was categorically cancelled just a few days before the transmission of ‘When Time Froze’ – the episode that accompanied the Series Six finale ‘The Wedding of River Song.’ The plug had officially been pulled.
And the outcry to this announcement was vocal. Fans in their thousands rallied together to try and reverse the decision, with dedicated Facebook and Twitter pages being established within hours plus an online petition that eventually garnered some 50,000 signatures.
Interestingly, the fan reaction did appear to have an impact. Although Doctor Who Confidential didn’t return in its original format, there was a series of online featurettes that accompanied the broadcast of Doctor Who Series Seven, albeit in a much shorter format with a running time of under five minutes. This was followed by another mini series titled Doctor Who Extra which accompanied the broadcast of Doctor Who Series Eight, and this was made available on BBC iPlayer.
So it’s hard to say whether Doctor Who Confidential could ever return in its original form, although with the likes of David Tennant and Catherine Tate returning for the show’s 60th anniversary (plus the return of 2005 producers Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner and Phil Collinson, no less) it’s not beyond the realms of possibility. Certainly, there’s a great appetite for the programme; the number of signatures on the ‘save Doctor Who Confidential‘ petition is not insignificant, and it’s notable that the programme was voted the most popular BBC Three show of all time in 2013 in a Radio Times poll, beating the likes of Torchwood and Torchwood Declassified.
In addition, the love for behind-the-scenes Doctor Who content is as strong as ever, and is arguably one of the big selling points behind the new Blu-ray Collection box sets. However, Doctor Who Confidential differs from the more ‘historical’ documentaries in that it’s not able to be as candid about the production process; the more retrospective documentaries on the Blu-rays are more likely to dive into script and production problems and the fractious relationships between the people involved in a way that Doctor Who Confidential never would (and perhaps never should!)
And yet this appetite for Doctor Who documentaries – plus the affection that people still hold for Doctor Who Confidential – might make it possible for the programme to return one day. “Time will tell. It always does.”
In the meantime, would you like Doctor Who Confidential to make a comeback? And what is your favourite memory of the programme? Let us know in the comments below!
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