Doctor Who and Jodie Whittaker. It is all about time too.
On Sunday 16th July, if you haven’t been living under a rock on Skaro, you would know that Jodie Whittaker was confirmed as the 13th Doctor to take up a sonic screwdriver to protect the human race.
From our perspective as brand builders within television, the announcement was interesting less because of the gender cast, but more because of the timing.
Time. It is a big thing in the Whovian galaxy. It is also a major factor in how to launch and maintain interest in big global brands like Doctor Who through the inevitable months off air. In our recent book The TV Brand Builders, we mark several points in our involvement with the show, from the rebirth under Andrew Davies in 2005, through the 50th anniversary campaign to the arrival of Peter Capaldi. Each new logo, new trailer, new stunt, marking a moment in the development of brand marketing for global franchises.
In summer 2017, as a new show runner takes over in the form of Chris Chibnall, and a new series needs to be written, pre-produced and filmed for the marketers at BBC Worldwide, BBC America and the other global host broadcasters, keeping the product front and centre of mind beyond the tight fanboy/girl circles is crucial.
What the announcement gave the show was worldwide front page coverage, endless column inches (and blogposts like this one) – six months ahead of Jodie’s first likely emergence from the TARDIS. On Christmas Day. In recent analysis of the new calendar for drama marketers we have seen increasing activity 6 to 9 months ahead of show launches. From Stranger Things season 2 trailed during the Super Bowl for a Halloween launch date, to Netflix’s The Crown given nearly a year’s advance notice, the curve of the “cultural momentum” map we describe in The TV Brand Builders (attributed to SyFy’s launch of Defiance) needs to be ever longer.
A second interesting time factor was the pre-publicity for the reveal being timed after the Wimbledon Men’s Final on Sunday. In a summer without a major football tournament or Olympics, the Men’s Final is about the closest thing BBC One has to a guaranteed sizeable audience – despite peaking at a modest 6.5 million. Of course, that audience was only a fraction of the worldwide interest. Watching it live via the #DoctorWho13 hashtag was quite extraordinary. From the screams of frustration for the time it took to interview Roger Federer after his quick dispatch of Cilic, to the unbridled joy and speculation at the spotting of David Tennant in the Royal Box. This was a reveal with a deep understanding of social media reaction at its heart.
A social media reaction that in one tweet also showed the deep lasting affection and power of the Doctor in the hearts of the watching audience. Jenny Trout’s daughter and her beaming smile proved that while 6 months will be a long time to wait, for many the new Doctor will be the best gift to arrive for Christmas.