There’s no doubt about it – Doctor Who‘s popularity has soared since its move to BBC America in 2009. The network has been pushing and promoting the show with vigor, giving it the star treatment and prime-time advertising that SyFy never afforded it. They’ve been pushing the show on social networks – the official Doctor Who Tumblr page is a little annoying at times but there’s no doubt they have a winning social media strategy. BBC America are amazing and are undoubtedly one of the key reasons for the show’s current popularity here in the States.
BBC Worldwide, on the other hand, appears to be staffed by incompetent morons who don’t really seem to understand what they’re sitting on.
The international sales arm of the BBC are the cause of a number of issues for the show – just speak to anyone working for a company licensed to make Doctor Who merchandise – but nowhere is this more apparent than the show’s, frankly, appalling presence on Netflix. Since the show was added to Netflix in 2008 it has consistently been mishandled, mislabeled and mismanaged, and nobody at BBC Worldwide seems to have any interest in remedying any of the problems viewers may encounter when watching the show.
Let’s list those problems now, shall we?
There are a number of issues with Netflix’s presentation of the revived series. When the show was first added only the first two series were available, and they’d been cropped to a 4:3 aspect ratio. Other widescreen BBC shows such as The Office also got the same treatment, though while they were fixed during 2010-2011, Doctor Who‘s first two series remained cropped and incomplete until early 2012 when they were updated with their correct, widescreen episodes.
It’s not the only time the show hasn’t looked its best on the streaming service, either. Series 4 suffers from serious aspect ratio issues that occur when the stream quality changes. It’s most noticable when watching “The Unicorn and the Wasp” on a slightly dodgy connection – as the quality rises and falls, the aspect ratio changes from 16:9 to 4:3 letterbox. Series 5 also looked incredibly dodgy when it was first uploaded, with severe artifacting throughout, and missing effects scattered throughout the series, though this has mostly been fixed. Some Series 5 episodes, including “The Vampires of Venice” and “The Big Bang”, weren’t even available in HD until relatively recently – arguably two of the show’s best-looking episodes, and they weren’t even given the best possible presentation. Shameful.
Perhaps the worst problem, though, is the fact that the 2009 Specials – “Planet of the Dead”, “The Waters of Mars” and “The End of Time” – are listed as separate items on Netflix as opposed to part of the show itself, meaning it’s entirely possible for an uninformed viewer to jump from “The Next Doctor” straight into “The Eleventh Hour” with no idea why or how the Doctor regenerated. Presentation of “The End of Time” is inconsistent as well, with part one available in HD and part two only available in standard def.
“The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe” is similarly listed separately, though it didn’t used to be – it was listed as the fourteenth episode of Series 6, and titled “2011 Christmas Episode”. It’s since been split from the core show listing, though it hasn’t been renamed and it doesn’t have any cover artwork. Still, that’s better than “A Christmas Carol” gets – the 2010 Christmas special doesn’t appear on Netflix at all.
This is terrible, appalling treatment for a show that is not only beloved by millions worldwide, but is also generating BBC Worldwide a preposterous amount of money. It’s their single biggest money-maker right now, with Top Gear a somewhat distant second place. You’d think they’d spend a little time making sure it’s all watchable, in order, in the best possible manner. Is this a ploy to get people to buy more DVDs? Possibly, but if one discovers the show on Netflix and has no idea the 2009 specials exist how on Earth can one go out and buy the ruddy box set? If they can’t even be bothered to give David Tennant’s send-off proper pride of place in the show’s listing, why the Hell do they deserve my money in the first place?
Netflix isn’t the only place BBC Worldwide’s mishandling of the show can be seen. In October 2011, almost two years after Tennant’s swansong, BBC Video released Doctor Who: The David Tennant Years, a very fancy-looking DVD boxset containing everything from the second series right up to “The End of Time Part Two”. Ignore for a moment the obvious stupidity in releasing a boxset that ignores the show’s first series, and take a moment to look at the reviews from the time the product was released – because they’d opted to slot the discs into cardboard sleeves, customers ended up with scratched discs that, in some cases, customers couldn’t even take out of the packaging. This is apparently no longer an issue with the box set if recent reviews are anything to go by, but the existing reviews have left this box set with something of a stigma. Glod knows I won’t be buying it in a bloody hurry.
You may wonder, isn’t Netflix responsible for the listings? Isn’t Warner Home Video responsible for the DVD packaging? The answer to the former is, actually, no. The answer to the latter is… well, maybe, but this shit has to be approved first. Someone at BBC Worldwide has to look at this stuff and give it a thumbs up.
Someone at BBC Worldwide authorized and approved of both of these things, and that’s a serious problem.
I don’t feel compelled to give my money to an organization – BBC Worldwide – that seems to have no interest in putting out the best possible product, in giving their star show the best possible presentation. Who’s in charge of the Doctor Who brand at BBCW? What the bloody Hell are they thinking? I can’t possibly believe that the creative team in Cardiff are anywhere near happy with the way they’ve handled the show.
They need to course correct, because these problems, and other problems like them, only serve to ultimately harm the brand that’s helping keep their business afloat.