EXCLUSIVE:Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall has promised fans that season 12 is going to open with the biggest and most ambitious episode ever of the BBC sci-fi drama.
Chibnall told Deadline that Jodie Whittaker’s Tardis-travelling time lord will be thrown into action in a “movie-like” two-part curtain-raiser called Spyfall, which will premiere on BBC One and BBC America on January 1, 2020.
“Episode one is probably the biggest episode of Doctor Who we’ve done, or has been done, I would imagine. Physically, there’s a lot of stunts, there’s a lot of locations, it’s a globe-trotting action thriller,” he said. “But you don’t want to lose sight of character and intimacy and emotion. You can’t do everything at 11.”
Guest-starring Stephen Fry and Lenny Henry, the episode features Whittaker’s Doctor coming to the assistance of British intelligence agencies who are under attack from alien forces. It is written by Chibnall with Jamie Magnus Stone directing.
Asked if audiences expect more from Doctor Who, a BBC institution for more than 56 years, given the increased ambition and budgets of rival fantasy dramas like Netflix series Stranger Things, Chibnall said: “Yes, I think they do.”
But he added: “ Doctor Who has a thing that those shows don’t have, which is that we go somewhere new every week. So every week, we’re in a new world, we’re in new locations, we’ve got new guest actors, got a new guest cast, got new monsters, we’ve got a new threat, got a new story. So the incredible thing is Doctor Who has already structured itself like that. Our responsibility is to make sure the production standards are up to scratch.”
Chibnall eschewed two-part stories in his first season in the Doctor Who hot seat last year, but said the new run will play with different narrative structures and have a thread that runs through the entire season. He would not be drawn on details, however, joking that it would be “useless putting it on television” otherwise.
“The success of last year really emboldens you. All that audience we gathered up last year, we’re now going to take them on a journey into the toy box of Doctor Who,” he said.
Chibnall added that he still feels a weight of responsibility looking after the show: “It’s easy to take for granted how loved Doctor Who is around the world and how loved it is in Britain, how important is to the BBC. How important it is to iPlayer – even when the show is off air. It’s got its own space in this world of streaming and on-demand and it’s much more than just linear broadcasting. Look at Netflix and Amazon, who have the back catalog, the importance of it to any number of industrial partners globally is kind of enormous.”
Gosford Park and The Hobbit actor Fry is making his debut in the show having always been a fan. Chibnall said he did not write the part specifically for Fry and approached him for the role more out of hope than expectation. “He said yes straight away. Sometimes it just goes like that,” he recalled.
Whittaker told Deadline she was proud to be starring alongside Fry. She said: “I was really emotional about the fact that he was going to be in ours because he incorporates everything that’s truly brilliant about the world of Doctor Who.
“He’s like someone from another world to me. He’s open-hearted, liberal forward-thinking, and he’s a pacifist in his actions, but not passive. And he’s funny. To us, he’s everything: he’s an actor, philosopher, he’s a writer. In years to come, he’s one of the great minds of our generation and he is in our series.”
By its nature, Doctor Who is a show filled with gaps and holes — the series was off the air for 16 years between the time it was canceled in 1989 and revived for a modern audience in 2005 by Russell T. Davies. Even when it’s on the air, our favorite time-traveling alien is having countless off-screen adventures that we’ll never be privy to.
The mystery of Doctor Who has allowed fans to fill those gaps with their own imaginations, or with the hundreds of audio book stories released by Big Finish. But imagination can only take us so far, especially when that’s the only thing we’re stuck with in quarantine. So former showrunner Russell T. Davies and current showrunner Chris Chibnall are stepping in to fill in those gaps with never-before-seen prequels to their respective runs on Doctor Who.
“Rose,” the inaugural episode of the modern Doctor Who revival that launched a whole new era for the sci-fi series, celebrated its 15th anniversary yesterday. In honor of the episode’s 15th anniversary, for which Davies lead a live-watch of “Rose” on Twitter, Davies wrote and published “Doctor Who and the Time War,” a short story covering the Time War and the Eighth Doctor’s Paul McGann regeneration into the Ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston, on the BBC website.
“This was never meant to exist,” Davies explained in an introduction of the short story. “Way back, maybe early 2013, Tom Spilsbury, the editor of Doctor Who Magazine, asked me if I wanted to contribute to DWM’s great 50th special. Maybe addressing that huge gap in Doctor Who lore, how did the Eighth Doctor regenerate into the Ninth?”
Davies was hesitant, as that would take the mystery out of the whole thing. But he ended up writing a short story, which would be rendered non-canonical by Steven Moffat‘s 50th anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor,” which introduced John Hurt as the War Doctor. So the story never ended up being published — until now. You can read it here, and giggle over the very appropriate first word that comes out of the Ninth Doctor’s mouth.
Davies’ story comes after Moffat wrote special introduction for Strax the Sontaran ahead of a live-tweet of “The Day of the Doctor” earlier this week, and after current showrunner Chibnall published his own prequel to the first episode of his run, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” on the BBC website. Chibnall’s story is equally brief, and mostly documents the chaotic thought process that Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor went through as she fell to Earth from her exploding TARDIS. You can read the story here.
While these aren’t new episodes, or even short mini-sodes of Doctor Who by the way, I miss those, BBC, it will be...