The Doctor will resume hostilities with the Daleks when former Time Lord David Tennant returns for the 50th birthday edition of Doctor Who today.
However, the much anticipated anniversary show, The Day of the Doctor — which will be simulcast in nearly 100 countries and shown in nearly 1,500 cinemas in 3D — will also resonate in a battle over the future of the BBC.
BBC controller of drama commissioning Ben Stephenson said the episode is a celebration not just of Doctor Who, but of the BBC.
The corporation has long been targeted by the UK Conservative Party, but it has also come under fire from one of its most respected presenters, Question Time host David Dimbleby, who this week suggested it was “too powerful for its own good.”
“There are quite rightly a lot of people with strong opinions about the BBC,” Stephenson said. “The very best way to defend ourselves is to stand up for the core of what the BBC is about, making the highest quality of programs for all audiences for which people feel it is worth paying the license fee.”
“We have got to be better at standing up for ourselves,” he said. “There is no other drama in the world that is like Doctor Who, with its history and level of ambition. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that it came out of the BBC.”
Huge secrecy surrounds the 50th anniversary show, which will see the return of Tennant and his companion Billie Piper, alongside the outgoing incumbent Matt Smith and special guest star John Hurt.
Already the BBC’s biggest drama export, the special 75-minute edition will be one of the corporation’s biggest-ever simulcasts, to be shown in 94 countries.
It will also be shown in 3D in 1,450 cinemas, about 400 of them in the UK.
In the US, where it will be shown on BBC America, 10,000 cinema tickets were sold out in 28 minutes.
Exported to more than 200 countries, Doctor Who is one of the BBC’s five biggest earners, alongside brands such as Top Gear and the international version of Strictly Come Dancing, which last year together generated revenues of more than ￡300 million (US$486 million).
“It’s one of the BBC’s oldest programs and also one of the most loved. It is really important for the BBC and its reputation globally,” said Adam Waddell, director of entertainment brands at the BBC’s commercial arm, BBC Worldwide.
Stephenson said the appeal of the show lay in its “ingenious format, which means you can go anywhere, anytime.”