Though Doctor Who side-stepped the initial coronavirus impactby shooting the next special, Revolution of the Daleks, as part of the last series in late 2019 and banking it for broadcast sometime over the coming seasonal Christmas/New Year break, it hasn’t managed to avoid the pandemic completely. The BBC has announced that though filming has finally commenced on the next run, the episode count has been reduced from 11 to 8.
“In this strangest of years, the Doctor Who production team have worked wonders to get the show back into production. We’re thrilled to be back making the show. Given the complexity of making Doctor Who, and with new and rigorous COVID working protocols, it’s going to take us a little longer to film each episode, meaning we expect to end up with eight episodes, rather than the usual 11. But rest assured, the ambition, humor, fun, and scares you expect from Doctor Who will all still be firmly in place. For everyone around the world, this is a challenging period – but the Doctor never shirks from a challenge!” Doctor Who‘s showrunner Chris Chibnall noted in a statement to confirm the start of proceedings.
BBC Studios‘ EP Matt Strevens added: “We are so thrilled to have unlocked the TARDIS, dusted down the sonic, and be able to start filming again for the next season of Doctor Who. The amazing production team, crew, and cast have worked wonders to get us shooting again in these challenging times. It’s going to be as fun-filled and action-packed as ever – with plenty of surprises.’
It’s not really surprising that the statements are energetically positive yet equally vague. In recent years even basic information on the scheduling and general production details have been sketchy at best, the show often not willing to part with anything more than fairly mundane press statements until very close to broadcast. While some of the internet scuttlebutt and bulletin-board rumours about the show have sometimes verged on the overtly dramatic, negative and unlikely (before the last season there were rumours that Chibnall had been fired, Jodie had quit and the show was being cancelled) some of the more unlikely story-elements cited/leaked did turn out to be fairly close to the mark with eventual confirmation that Chibnall had rewritten some of the core aspects of the show’s mythology (William Hartnell’s incarnation is no longer the first Doctor, the Doctor is a creature from another galaxy who gave the Time Lords the power to regenerate and he/she was once a gun-toting’ cosmic operative for Gallifrey’s darker intentions). The additions/reductions to the series were met with very mixed reactions (Though the show’s continuity had often being contradictory and in flux, EchoChamber‘s own reviews couldn’t ignore the erratic execution and huge implications).
It is not known whether COVID is the sole reason for the reduction in 2021 episodes – usually by the actual start of production the actual number of stories has been long been set by the production for plotting purposes etc – or whether this was always the plan. However given the late start, ongoing COVID restrictions and the post-production time needed to complete each story, the most optimistic guess for the show’s return to the screen would seem to be Easter 2021 at the earliest and likely much later, though a late 2021 debut was already a strong possibility.
Little is known about the Christmas holiday special itself – Revolution of the Daleks is likely to be something of a standalone… with the Doctor reeling from the revelations but having to deal more immediately with being suddenly imprisoned by the Judoon – apparently for quite a long time by the time we and her ‘fam’ find her again. There’s also the shocking destruction of Gallifrey, another Tardis around now disguised as a council-house and the possible escape of the Master to consider, but whether any of those will be addressed in the special is unknown.