Could Doctor Who have ended in 2008? It sounds unlikely but that’s the intriguing alternate reality floated by showrunner Steven Moffat, who says there was a very real possibility that the programme could have been canned with the departure of David Tennant.
“David owned that role in a spectacular way, gave it an all-new cheeky sexy performance and became a national treasure. And he didn’t do it instantly, he did it over time. So the idea that Doctor Who could go on at all in the absence of David was a huge question.”
“I didn’t realise how many people thought it wouldn’t succeed at all. That was quite terrifying when I found out about it later. I think there were plans maybe to consider ending it. It was Russell T Davies saying, you are not allowed to end it.”
On the face of it, the notion that Doctor Who could have ended in 2008 or 2009 seems fanciful. The first three series of the revived show had been a storming success, rounded out with 2007’s Christmas special Voyage of the Damned achieving an audience figure of 13.3million. Russell T Davies The Writer’s Tale confirms that the BBC were ‘desperate for a Series 5 as soon as possible’ when the idea was floated to have a year of special episodes in 2009, and he writes of some bafflement high up in the organisation at the thought of any production hiatus when they had such a hit on their hands.
Against that, before the news broke that there wouldn’t be a full series in 2009 there were rumours online that the programme would be coming to an end. Perhaps Moffat’s comments reflect the uncertainty and gossip that people connected to the programme were encountering? We’ll probably have to wait for a Moffat-authored Writer’s Tale to find out more. And it’s important to note that his remarks are very much from his point of view and qualified with a fair amount of caution.
The more interesting question is surely this: if Doctor Who had bowed out at the close of the Tenth Doctor’s era, how would it have ended? There are different possibilities depending on when the axe had fallen… If we take the close of Series 4 as our imaginary endpoint that means Journey’s End, with its roll-call of companions from Series 1-4, would have been a particularly apt title. Not such a bad note to end on, really – the Doctor’s friends all do their bit to save the world from Davros and the Daleks, and Rose pairing up with the other Doctor would have left a whole new universe of possibilities for fan fiction….
Or if we’re to take it that The End of Time would also have been The End of the Series, that means the Doctor would have bowed out due to… well, maybe that massive dose of radiation in the Gate’s isolation chamber? Or would he have been forced to sacrifice himself to ensure he sent Rassilon ‘back into hell’? Or perhaps he would have just died of old age on that very extensive farewell tour, saying goodbye to his old pals?
All of this is fun and frippery, of course. Doctor Who didn’t end in 2008, just as it didn’t end in 1989. The people who love the programme saw to that. The one thing we can be sure of is that, even if the series had been cancelled or suspended with the departure of David Tennant, the fans would have kept it going in some form, whether that be comics, magazines, audios, online episodes… That’s the most important lesson to take from any of the attempts to cancel Doctor Who – the fans just won’t go along with it.
What do you think? Say Moffat is correct that the show might have ended – what would have been the impact? Demonstrations in the streets? Tenth Doctor stories from Big Finish? A re-release of Doctor in Distress? Let us know!