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BBC license fees and a British hostile government, or why Doctor Who has outgrown the BBC

After 60 years, it is time for the Doctor to leave the nest

Ncuti Gatwa as Doctor Who
Image credit: BBC

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For a show that has been on the air for more than 60 years, Doctor Who has always called the BBC its home. However, that is set to change with the release of Doctor Who season one (which is actually season 14 in the New Who era, but who is counting?) as the iconic sci-fi show will land on Disney+ for international audiences. The reason for the change is a complex mix of budget restrictions, a UK government that has been openly hostile to the BBC, and the strange way that the network receives its funding, according to showrunner Russell T. Davies.

Speaking to io9, Davies laid out the background behind the change. When he came back to the show, he explained, there was a desire “to increase the budget, but I don’t think it’s right to increase the budget from the BBC license fee.” For readers outside the UK, the license fee is a monthly payment that is required by law to watch broadcast and streaming TV in the country that then funds the BBC and its child networks and programs. Because the BBC doesn’t run commercials during its shows, this is the main way that the station is funded.

The license fee is seen as a way to ensure that the BBC, which is a beloved public institution in the UK, remains funded regardless of how the political winds blow. Which is important because, as Davies went on to explain, the channel has been “under a lot of attack and criticism from our terrible government.”

While the BBC was apparently willing to give Doctor Who a bigger season for its new season, Davies was reluctant to take more license fee money for the show. “The BBC license fee goes into news making, news and all the radio and all community stuff it does, as well as its dramas. [It] is extraordinary broadcasting. So, if you want Doctor Who to have a bigger budget, it’s not right that it comes from the license fee – it is right that we go to a bigger broadcaster, a bigger platform, and go into co-production with them.”

With that bit of context, Disney, with their nigh-inexhaustible wealth and global reach, makes the perfect partner for a show like Doctor Who, which has, after 60 years on the air, possibly grown too big for the BBC. This solution lets the show expand its audience through Disney+ without having to leave its traditional home on the BBC or spend more taxpayer money.

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