Guy Freeman: The Man Behind Doctor Who Live

There is nowhere near enough mystery in life. Fact. The internet has seen to that and has been rightly banned from most pub quizzes. So the genuine excitement around who will be Who is something a bit special – but how to deliver it?

Peter Capaldi 2

In an intriguing article on the BBC’s official Doctor Who pages, Guy Freeman, executive producer of Doctor Who Live: The Next Doctor, explains the cloak and dagger hi-jinx behind the BIG reveal. Now, a number of viewers weren’t enamoured with the general tone of the show and I agree there was a hearty dollop of *cringe*. Not all of us are comfortable with our show cultivating celebrity or a glammed-up finish with glitter-guns (these are for fighting Cybermen, not public announcements). But that said it was a hugely impressive PR event simply because of the attention and secrecy involved.

The biggest challenge was how to recruit a studio audience of Doctor Who fans, without giving the game away. In the end, we asked Audience Services to place an ad on their website for a new “entertainment pilot, celebrating long-running TV shows. This episode looks back at 50 years of Doctor Who”. Within two days, 5,000 people had applied for tickets.

It’s easy to forget how much organisation and hard work goes into any television broadcast but getting that done at short notice and under the scrutiny of international press is impressive work. Discovering who Doctor No. 12 was required no less than two cover-ups – one for the audience and one for the TV listings. Then there’s the chap (a chap this time round) who all the fuss was about. Code-named ‘Houdini’, Mr Capaldi’s arrival was as carefully planned as any Cold War subterfuge.

…one of our co-ordinators drove around Borehamwood, looking for an anonymous car park. Having given that location to Brian, this is where Houdini was brought to, at lunchtime on Sunday. Peter Capaldi – as we could then call him – was bundled into a people carrier, where he lay on the back seat with a blanket over him, as our co-ordinator drove him down Borehamwood high street and into the studios.

Whatever we thought about Doctor Who Live, (aside from the WONDERFUL casting news), a lot of effort went into the show. So, whether it was a glorious welcome to a new hero or a cynical exercise in brand-management, was the secrecy it worth it?


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