Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

The Year of the Doctor: Celebrating the 50th, Regenerating Public Value?

Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

The Year of the Doctor: Celebrating the 50th, Regenerating Public Value?

Article excerpt

The year 2013 saw an onslaught of marketing for Doctor Who's 50th anniversary. Commercial fan magazine SFX exclaimed, 'The Day Of The Doctor? More like The Week Of The Doctor' (Farley 124). In fact, the time frame for anniversary celebrations was more extensive than this: each month of the year was linked to a different Doctor in the lead-up to 23 November's 'Day of the Doctor' (Hills 'Anniversary'; Tostevin). Doctor Who's paratexts also proliferated across 2013, whether in the form of monthly BFI screenings, a San Diego Comic-Con trailer or even a royal reception hosted by Sophie, Countess of Wessex (Hills 'Hype').

Here, I want to consider how the BBC and BBC Worldwide exploited the anniversary: how did 50th commemorations performatively sustain a public service agenda? While 'new Who' was first in production, the BBC produced a manifesto in support of its Charter renewal, Building Public Value (2004). Less than a decade later, to what extent do the managerial precepts of 'public value' still resonate with the BBC's approach to monetising one of its flagship brands in the contexts of 'austerity' (Hendy 130-1) and neoliberal 'common sense' (Hall and O'Shea)?

In order to explore this, I will consider how 'public value' has formed part of the BBC's self-justification (Collins). As a rather loose concept, public value leads to a focus on multiple forms of value rather than simply positing a binary of 'commercial culture' and 'gift economy'. Public value therefore complicates approaches to 'hybrid' economies said to emerge from interactions between commercial 'value' and fan/communal 'worth' (Jenkins, Ford and Green 67; Booth 24). I will argue that 'public value' debates have masked the merging of public service broadcasting and commercial forces, just as 'neoliberal economics more generally... seek to integrate the social and the economic in ways that make it hard to distinguish between them' (Jenkins, Ford and Green 63). This insistent blurring of market forces with public service - what Harvie refers to as neoliberalism's 'mixed economies' (177) - has resulted in BBC attempts discursively to contain market relations. As Catherine Johnson has observed:

Rather than rejecting the commercial activity of public service broadcasters altogether as inevitably polluting their ability to provide public service broadcasting [PSB] or inevitably distorting a free market in broadcasting, we need to ask how public service broadcasters are managing the relationship between their public service and commercial activities. ('Brand Congruence' 316; see also Branding Television)

The impetus behind my focus on this topic is a sense that while neoliberalism has increasingly become a significant topic in cultural studies (Gilbert; Ventura), scholarship on Doctor Who has largely failed to relate the programme's twenty-first-century existence to neoliberal culture. Seeking to restore this missing incarnation of analysis, I want to link wider debates surrounding PSB and neoliberalism (Leys) to BBC Wales' Doctor Who, addressing the 50th anniversary as a mode of 'BBC nostalgia' (Holdsworth 113). In the following section, the concept of 'public value' will provide a way into discussing Doctor Who's neoliberal broadcasting contexts. I will then move on to address the Who-related operations of BBC Worldwide, the BBC's commercial arm, particularly focusing on the ExCeL 'Celebration' event which was run from 22-4 November 2013. First, though, how did the BBC's turn to 'public value' work to defend its public service identity?

'BBC Nostalgia' and the public value of an anniversary commemoration

Since at least the Peacock Report of 1986 and the political climate of the 1980s, the BBC has been under pressure to align itself with market-based models (Steemers; Tracey). Ultimately the BBC has had little choice other than to respond to these political contexts, implementing Producer Choice under Director-General John Birt, and then embracing a fuller role for BBC Worldwide (formerly BBC Enterprises) under Greg Dyke: 'the corporation proved itself no longer commerce-averse. …

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