The Mark of Confidentiality
Ah, wasn’t the final episode of Doctor Who Confidential great?
Bill the cameraman and Jodie the producer finally got together after six long years of will-they-won’t-they and we finally found out who killed Nikki the perky young production runner in series three. Who knew it would be Arthur Darvill? We even saw Mrs Evans again and she explained what exactly happened in The King's Head when it blew up in the series four finale.
Of course not, as Harry Hill often says, but the series has now finished with its usual behind the scenes look focusing on The Wedding of River Song. Fandom is now up in arms and the usual worries that the main show is in trouble once again have reared their paranoid head. There's even a Save Doctor Who Confidential single, recorded by podcasters, making a bid for the Christmas number one based on the infamous Doctor in Distress single from 1985.
The reason the BBC have given is that they want to concentrate on original British commissions unique to BBC3. Um, isn't that Confidential though? Unless it's being beamed in from Poland every week and translated unbeknownst to the rest of us. They have also cited the usual budget concerns but surely this is one of the cheapest shows to produce? Even reality TV stars need paying, the production staff and the Doctor Who team are on the BBC payroll anyway. These days budget cuts seems to be getting a more common defence for the TV companies wanting to cancel shows. I guess part of me is still smarting from the cancellation of The Bill last year when budget was the given reason by ITV. The same company next threw millions of pounds at a couple of presenters to front a breakfast show which they've now been sacked from.
Confidential began in 2005 when Doctor Who returned to TV. Initially it delved into the history of the show, providing classic series clips for new and old fans alike. As the years went on it grew bigger and began to take on more of a presence. In the later years it explored the various ways the show is made and the contributions from various BBC departments. However it could also contain a lot of padding at times or send the stars off on jaunts with little or no connection to the episode they were meant to be telling you about. Confidential’s greatest moment came on Saturday 3rd January 2009 when the episode entitled The Eleventh Doctor was allowed a prime early evening slot on BBC1 to reveal Matt Smith as the actor to take over from David Tennant. The show has been a force for good in many ways. The Black Dog podcast's Lee Medcalf has said that watching the curtain pulled back and the monsters shown to be guys in suits dancing around has helped his young daughter to sleep peacefully on Saturday nights. Of course on the flip side, you could say that it takes the magic out of the main show. Indeed it did jar a little switching over straight away to see how it was all done. The show is also one of the only programmes about the making of television itself. A whole generation of kids have probably just seen their future occupation on TV.
Aren't we being a bit greedy though? The main show is still on the air and that's all good, right? It's true that the mighty spin-off empire of Time Lord is not what it was. CBBC companion piece Totally Doctor Who was the first to go, the sad death of Elisabeth Sladen has ended The Sarah Jane Adventures prematurely and Torchwood's future is up in the air. After some of the reactions to Miracle Day there are few who will welcome it back as eagerly as they did this year, hoping for another Children of Earth. In the old days interviews were scarce anyway and the fans were lucky to see a location report on Nationwide or an interview on Blue Peter and heaven forbid that we ever saw inside the TARDIS or into the production studios themselves. Thanks to Confidential there are doubtless some who have complete plans of Upper Boat.
It's interesting to compare the ‘making ofs’ on the classic series DVDs to Confidential. One has the immediacy of production while the other has introspection. You're unlikely get the complete picture of the production on Confidential, as the cast and crew toe the company line. Any problems or on set clashes may not be known for years, although some of the stuff about the RTD era has already been revealed by the man himself in the excellent book The Writer's Tale. The cast are all good value though, with David Tennant his usual enthusiastic self. The new TARDIS team however, I could happily listen to for hours as they tease and riff off each other. Nicknames such as drunk giraffe and plural chin abound and if the Doctor makes a reference to Rory's nose then you can bet that it originated from Matt Smith. In many ways they are like the modern day Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe. Its fun to wonder what Confidential would have been like had it been produced alongside the classic series. Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker would have regaled the cameras with many a tall tale, Frazer Hines would be caught chatting up the local talent on location and what an insight it would have been into those first few years as the show blossomed. Perhaps we may even have seen a Nimon or the Zygons dancing a jig, caught Tom Baker flinging a script across the rehearsal room and declaring it "whippet shit!" or even the iconic ‘eyepatches’ joke played on Nick Courtney on the set of Inferno. Although perhaps it would not have become as well known if we could watch it and not imagine it through a tipsy actor’s story.
So then, will I miss it? A little, but it will probably be one of those shows I'll vaguely remember as time goes by. The cut downs will continue to appear on the DVDs in another form but if someone is filming it anyway then why not continue the show? In true Doctor Who style it has its own missing episode. The Confidential for the Christmas special is rumoured to have been shot but the controller of BBC3 has denied it. It would still be nice to have an end of the year show or Christmas special. At least while it lasted it was a fascinating insight into the production of one of the BBC’s best known programmes in the early 21st century. Let’s hope that the money saved will go into something good and not the various problems concerning today’s crop of young chavs.