Doctor Who - The New Series


In 2006, with the new series of Doctor Who suddenly proving to be the BBC's first major mainstream, cross-generational success for years, the corporation's managers realised they could use its second season as a springboard to test out various marketing tactics. As well as creating (at a conservative estimate) ten billion spoof websites for the show's fictional characters and companies, it also began to experiment with new media, in this instance specially-made mobile phone episodes.

These had already been tried the year before by The Fox Network, who had put together the poorly received 24: Conspiracy mobile-only show, but the BBC was undeterred. After dismissing the possible names "Whosode", "Epi-mobe" and "Who Alert", the project was titled "Vortext" and placed into production. The episodes were given their own budget seperate from the main series, and writing and directing duties were passed to Gareth Roberts and Ashley Way, respectively, who had both worked on the previous Christmas's Doctor Who digital TV game "Attack of the Graske".

Each mini-episode was to be approximately a minute long and expand on the story of each upcoming episode without impacting directly on it. Without either of the series's two stars available, Roberts was forced to look to supporting characters and non-traditional narrative devices to make each one worthwhile. Notable examples of the latter are the Tardisodes for "New Earth" (an advertisement for the sinister hospital featured in the episode), "Fear Her" (a clip from a fictional Crimewatch-style show) and "Doomsday" (a news report).

As well as being available on compatible mobile phones, the "Vortext" shows - later re-Christened "Tardisodes" - were also available from the BBC's official Doctor Who website. Each Tardisode was released immediately after the end of each Doctor Who episode, with the exception of the "New Earth" one, which was released a week before the series began.

Despite being prominently advertised on the BBC and promoted during the children's TV spin-off Totally Doctor Who, the mobile phone downloads were not as popular as was initially hoped, averaging 3,000 per episode. The BBC claimed that this was down to cost; although they provided the footage for free (which they had to do as part of their Charter), the mobile phone companies would sometimes still charge a fee. A lack of compatible phones was also cited as an issue. The website downloads, however, proved more popular - approximately 2.6 million downloads were registered over the course of the run.

Review: Although the Tardisodes (an unfortunate name, by the way - not just because it's clumsy, but also because it's hard to pronounce without emphasising the syllable "tard") are a good idea, the actual execution is distinctly lacking. Having just 60 seconds to play with doesn't leave either Roberts or Way room for maneouvre and the unsurprisingly low budget means that most of them look fairly awful - Tardisode eight, for example, was filmed in the canteen at BBC Wales.

There are some good ideas here and there, though; Tardisode 11 ("Army of Ghosts") does what could be an entire X-Files episode in 60 seconds, Tardisode nine ("The Satan Pit") is actually fairly atmospheric in a cheap way and Tardisode four ("The Girl in the Fireplace") does fill in one of the gaps in the actual episode. But for the most part they fall into a regular format of people talking for 55 seconds followed by five seconds of a scary, out-of-context image, and - worse - contribute very little to the episodes they're meant to compliment.

A noble attempt, but at the end of the day the restrictions of budget and format mean that it was always going to be a wasted exercise.

Go to the episode index

Sources: - Outpost Gallifrey - A Brief History of (Time) Travel

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