Why The Wilderness Years Weren’t So Bad

The BBC know how to treat Doctor Who, it being the prized work of genius we Oldies have always maintained it was, but this wasn’t always so.

When the final episode of the Classic series broadcast in 1989, that was that – thanks for the past twenty six years, now you leave through the back door and take the dustbins with you. The BFI’s 50th Anniversary screenings have tracked the show Doctor by Doctor and Yahoo Blogger Amanda Keats reflects on the Eighth Doctor’s panel discussion of the Wilderness Years. She discovers that after the initial silence (much like the Zygon infested waters of Loch Ness), the period between Classic and New Who may have been calm, but was never empty…

“After the Doctor Who movie didn’t immediately lead to a continuation of the TV show, it seemed like it was over but, through their work at Big Finish, more stories continued to be told. [Producer, Marcus] Hearn insisted that he and many of the panel spent the 90s in a bubble because of it. To them, the show continued. It just wasn’t on TV.”

She notes an interesting observation that videos and DVDs of old stories became more widely available in the 1990s and there was actually more Doctor Who around for those who sought it out. Many fans of the current show first discovered the Doctor in various guises on home video without having to wait a week between cliff-hangers. And without Who on the telly, imaginations of the faithful were free to take over…

“What followed was what fans have come to call ‘The Wilderness Years’ but this wildnerness did not seem to touch the panel who all had plenty to say about the fandom. [Gary] Russell speculated that ‘everyone who grew up watching Doctor Who wanted to do something creative’… [Justin] Richards said that it’s a ‘very open format’, explaining that there are always more stories to tell. [Jason] Haigh-Ellery also speculated that the Doctor will always be with us in some form or another, just like Sherlock Holmes..”

And this all followed in the wake of the sudden cancellation of the original series. Andrew Cartmel commented that after this ‘there was just silence’ and I recall it certainly feeling that way at the time. But there was such a lot of enthusiasm for the show and creative energy that, arguably, the Wilderness Years had hidden benefits. Many of the team currently making the international hit that Doctor Who has become (again) were fans who simply loved the show. After it was cancelled, and silence fell, suddenly they had the freedom (and the need) to develop their own vision. In fact it may be fair to say that without the gap between Classic and New, we wouldn’t have the wonderful version we have today. No Silence without the silence?

What do you think – was the cancellation somehow important to the show’s current success, or were we cheated out of a wonderful Series 27?


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