Can we have too much of a good thing?
Ahh, our beloved franchises. And we do love them, don't we?
So many are grown from that little acorn of a cult classic film (or film series) TV show or iconic comic book. The corporations know just how much gold is in them there hills. That's why they relentlessly go mining for more.
But when one of those corporations sets their sights on a British TV institution that has been around for sixty years, should that make us all excited… or perhaps a little nervous? Because we've seen what happens. We're seeing it right now.
But hey, it's a business. They aren't producing such content because they're nice people. They need those cinema returns, streaming subscriptions and merchandise sales. We know this anyway. And we'll keep watching… until we lose interest.
“Those” in the 1970s queued around the block to see Star Wars. They saw how the studios realised that if it sells, make ten more just like it. Most of which weren't that great but we went to see them all regardless.
Back then we had to wait three years between Star Wars films, which felt like an eternity when you're a die-hard fan, chomping at the bit for the next instalment.
But nowadays Star Wars content is like buses – there'll be another one along very soon. I still love Star Wars, but are we beginning to feel like maybe it's all getting a bit… diluted? A Star Wars event now perhaps doesn't create the same level of anticipation because we're getting used to it – and there's a handy phrase for that.
Star Trek, that other famous space-faring franchise, had its resurgence in 1979 with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which spawned many sequels and TV reboots.
And it's been going strong ever since? Erm… not exactly.
The 2002 outing, Star Trek: Nemesis disappointed at the box office. So much so that the producer, Rick Berman, rationalised that this was down to what he labelled as “franchise fatigue”. And maybe he had a point. After all, there had been new iterations of Star Trek on our TVs almost nonstop since 1987, with The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and lastly Enterprise. It seems audiences had had their fill of boldly going anywhere. The franchise had stalled. It remained that way until JJ Abrams was given the keys to the Enterprise for the 2009 reboot.
That couldn't happen again, could it? Surely studios would learn to be more selective in their output so as not to fall into the dreaded franchise fatigue trap. Well maybe we're already seeing Star Trek warp towards that same trap. This last year, there has been a slew of TV Star Trek, with Picard, Strange New Worlds, Discovery, and the animated shows Lower Decks and Prodigy.
Discovery is about to launch its final season after being cancelled and bizarrely, Prodigy has been already removed from Paramount's own streaming channel — selling it off to Netflix.
Whilst we're on it, let's talk about Marvel. Or more accurately, The Marvels, the recent cinematic release, which Variety reports as being as “the lowest grossing in MCU history”.
Why is that? Sure, there's a big woke, or anti-woke conversation going on about it – which many don't buy. We have been saturated with MCU, some of which is brilliant. Some not so much. Perhaps it just doesn't excite like it used to because it's not the massive event that it once was. There's only so much spandex out there to go around anyway.
Which brings us to the here and now.
Doctor Who also had its franchise fatigue moment, being cancelled in 1989. Apart from an attempted TV reboot in 1996, a co-production between the BBC and Universal Television, it remained on hiatus until Russell T Davies brought the show back in 2005 – and what a golden age it was, firmly embedding Doctor Who as prime time family viewing again, as it deserved to be.
Since then, it's had its ups and downs – and that's fine. It was always that way. We all have our favourite Doctors and eras. There are classic stories from the 1970s that still stand up today, visual effects aside. There has been a decline in recent years though, in the ratings at least, for whatever reason you care to pick. Perhaps audiences just weren't ready for a female Doctor? Too many companions? Perhaps the writing hasn't been as strong as under previous showrunners?
So taking that into account, does the BBC rest it, or go for broke? They go big, of course. Chances are you have been unable to avoid the frenzied publicity that the Doctor is back, bigger than ever. Russell T Davies is back too, full of enthusiasm and big ambitions for the show that he loves so much.
But this time, there is a new player in the game. This time, Doctor Who, that ever so British institution is being co-financed by Disney. The same Disney that has perhaps over saturated MCU and Star Wars. The same Disney that likes to exploit (for want of a better word) their franchises to achieve maximum global exposure and earning potential. And nobody does it better — just so long as audiences don't get bored of that over saturation.
But hey, let's not panic.
What will that Disney money bring? Well already we're seeing how polished the new series looks, allowing it to finally compete with those slick looking American shows. But make no mistake, going forward Disney will be keeping a careful eye on their new investment, despite Russell T Davies insistence that Disney will be hands-off. After all, why would they really be hands-off when they're investing so much in it? They expect a lot from our favourite Time Lord.
Russell T Davies has spoken in the past about making Doctor Who a more expanded universe, and with the recent rebranding of it as the Whoniverse, I'd say we're on course for this to be the case very soon. But will it too get diluted as Star Wars has been heading towards? How many spin-offs are coming? Past companions? UNIT adventures? There's also David Tennant's Doctor still around somewhere, don't forget. Spin-offs have been tried before, with the excellent Sarah Jane Adventures followed by the darker series Class, which was only produced for one series.
Perhaps the will was there but not the money. Not this time though. Now there is a whole pot of cash to dip into. But if this expanded Whoniverse doesn't perform to Disney's expectations, will there be a point were they pounce, installing their own showrunner? Perhaps someone that they'll feel is more attuned to the direction Disney sees the series going in? If so, will we have lost Doctor Who forever? Once audiences get used to slick Disney-financed VFX, could audiences ever be satisfied with going back to a BBC budget?
Now after seeing the Christmas Day episode, which introduced the new Doctor, it's clear that interesting times are ahead.
But if that over-saturation comes, as history has proven that it often does, at what point will the audience decide… maybe we really can have too much of a good thing.