Doctor Who first appeared on BBC television at 17:15 GMT on 23 November 1963. Wow!
BBC television drama
BBC Books (also formerly known as BBC Publishing) is an imprint majority owned and managed by Random House. The minority shareholder is BBC Worldwide, the commercial subsidiary of the British Broadcasting Corporation. The imprint has been active since the 1980s.
Via its Ebury Publishing division, Random House publishes a range of books connected to BBC radio and television programming, including cookery, natural history, lifestyle, and behind the scenes "making-of" books. There are also some non-programme related biographies and autobiographies of various well-known personalities in its list.
Amongst BBC Books' best known titles are cookery books by former TV cook Delia Smith, wildlife titles by Sir David Attenborough and gardening titles by Alan Titchmarsh. In the BBC Publishing days, it turned down The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy,][ a book which has now sold over 14,000,000 copies worldwide.
Since 1996, BBC Books has also produced a range of tie-in novels connected to the television science-fiction series Doctor Who, the only full-length fiction to be printed by the company. Their first release related to the series was a novelisation of the telemovieDoctor Who1996 published in the spring of 1996. Then, in 1997, BBC Books launched two concurrent series of books, the Eighth Doctor Adventures (EDA) (featuring the then-current incarnation of the Doctor), and the Past Doctor Adventures (PDA), featuring the seven previous incarnations. Between 1997 and 2005 approximately 150 original novels were published for both lines, combined. BBC Books also launched a short-lived line of Doctor Who-related short story collections called Short Trips; Big Finish Productions later obtained the rights to publish these books and that series continues as of 2010.
In 2005, BBC Books began to phase out the EDA and PDA lines as it launched a new series of books (informally dubbed the New Series Adventures) based upon the newly-revived television series. Featuring the Ninth Doctor, the new books were published in hardback (as opposed to the EDA, PDA and Short Trips lines that were exclusively paperback releases). The Eighth Doctor line was discontinued during the summer of 2005, followed by the final Past Doctor Adventure in November. Beginning in 2006, BBC Books continued the New Series Adventures, now featuring the Tenth Doctor, with no word (as of September 2009) whether any more Past Doctor Adventures are planned. The books continue to be published in hardback, with the exception of four novellas, I Am a Dalek, Made of Steel, Revenge of the Judoon and Code Of The Krillitanes, which are paperback releases under a series called Quick Reads. The 4th novella still featured the tenth doctor David Tennant, even though the eleventh has made his TV appearance.
In January 2007, BBC Books launched a new line of original novels based upon the Doctor Who spin-off series, Torchwood. These books are also being published exclusively in hardcover and, like the TV series itself, are aimed at an older audience.
In May 2008, BBC Books issued its first original made-for-audio Doctor Who adventure, Pest Control, which was released as part of the Tenth Doctor Adventures line and read by David Tennant.
In 2006, the Ebury Publishing division of Random House acquired a majority shareholding in BBC Books.
In 2011, BBC Books launched a publishing programme around BAFTA-winning TV series, Sherlock, which was inspired by the adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle's Victorian detective Sherlock Holmes. The titles will each feature the show's branding and introductions by key members of the Sherlock team, including co-founders Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss.
The first title, Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock: A Study in Scarlet, with an introduction by Steven Moffat was released on the 15th of September 2011. Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,with an introduction by Mark Gatiss, followed on 27th October 2011.
Three books Sherlock: Sign of Four, Sherlock: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock: The Hound of the Baskervilles with introductions by Martin Freeman, Steve Thompson and Benedict Cumberbatch were released on the 29th of March 2012.
In autumn 2012, BBC Books will publish Sherlock: The Casebook as a hardback gift guide, revisiting all the mysteries solved throughout the TV series.
Donald Wilson (writer and producer)
BBC television dramas have been produced and broadcast since even before the public service company had an officially established television broadcasting network in the United Kingdom. As with any major broadcast network, drama forms an important part of its schedule, with many of the BBC's top-rated programmes being from this genre.
From the 1950s through to the 1980s the BBC received much acclaim for the range and scope of its drama productions, producing series, serials and plays across a range of genres, from soap opera to science-fiction to costume drama, with the 1970s in particular being regarded as a critical and cultural high point in terms of the quality of dramas being produced. In the 1990s, a time of change in the British television industry, the department went through much internal confusion and external criticism, but since the beginning of the 21st century has begun to return to form with a run of critical and popular successes, despite continual accusations of the drama output and the BBC in general dumbing down.
Many BBC productions have also been exported to and screened in other countries, particularly in the United States on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) Masterpiece Theatre strand and latterly on the BBC's own BBC America cable channel. Other major purchasers of BBC dramas include the BBC's equivalents in other Commonwealth nations, such as Australia's ABC, Canada's CBC and Gibraltar's Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation (GBC).
Already an established national radio broadcaster, the BBC began test transmissions with the new technology of television in 1929, working with John Logie Baird and using his primitive early apparatus. The following year, as part of one of these test transmissions, the BBC screened their first television drama production, an adaptation of the Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello's short play The Man With the Flower in His Mouth.
Broadcast live at 3.30pm on 14 July 1930, the play was produced from a small studio in the Baird Company headquarters at 133 Long Acre, London. The play was chosen because of its confined setting, small cast and short length, and was directed by Val Gielgud, who was at the time the BBC's senior producer of radio drama. Because of the primitive 30-line camera technology, only one figure could be shown on screen at a time and the field of vision of the cameras was extremely restricted. The Prime Minister of the day, Ramsay MacDonald, watched the play with his family on the Baird Televisor Baird had previously installed at their 10 Downing Street home. The reviewer for The Times newspaper commented that: "This afternoon on the roof of 133, Long Acre will prove to be a memorable one... The time for interest and curiosity is come, but the time for serious criticism of television plays, as plays, is not yet."
The BBC's test broadcasts continued throughout the early part of the decade as the quality of the medium improved. In 1936 the BBC launched the world's first "high-definition"—then defined as at least 240-lines — television channel, the BBC Television Service, from studios in a specially converted wing of Alexandra Palace in London. At the time of the channel's debut on 2 November 1936 there were only five television producers responsible for the entire output. The producer selected to oversee drama was George More O'Ferrall, who had some experience with working in a visual medium as he was a former assistant director of films. This was unlike most of his colleagues, who came across from the BBC's radio services.
The first drama production to be mounted as a part of the new, regular service was a twenty-five-minute selection of scenes from the West End play Marigold by L. Allen Harker and F. R. Pryor, produced by O'Ferrall with the original London Royalty Theatre cast. This was broadcast live from the Alexandra Palace studios on the evening of Friday 6 November 1936. Later BBC Television Head of Drama Shaun Sutton wrote about the production for The Times in 1972. "It was probably little more than a photographed version of the stage production, with the camera lying well back to preserve the picture-frame convention of the theatre." Most initial drama efforts were of a similar scale; productions of selected dramatised 'scenes' or excerpts from popular novels and adaptations of stage plays, and a programme entitled Theatre Parade would regularly use original London theatre casts for re-enacting selected scenes.
An increasing number of full-length dramatised productions began to take place in the Alexandra Palace studios during 1937, with Journey's End in November 1937 being a notable full-scale adaptation of a play. When television transmissions on Sundays began in March 1938, one Sunday per month would see the broadcast of a full-length Shakespeare play by actors from the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Productions also become more technically advanced, with the use of film inserts on telecine and more ambitious shooting, cutting and mixing, as opposed to televising the equivalent of a standard theatrical performance with unmoving cameras. Outside broadcast cameras were used to show thirty Territorial Army troops with two howitzers in the Alexandra Palace grounds for added effect in The White Chateau (1938), and boats on the Palace lake in scenes depicting the Zeebrugge Raid in a World War I play.
The Times credited the ambition of BBC television drama in its review of a July 1938 modern dress version of Julius Caesar, while also criticising some of the production's technical failings.
"From the moment when Mr. Sebastian Shaw and Mr. Anthony Ireland were discovered sitting at a café table, discussing the political situation over a glass of beer, looking like two Fascist officers, yet speaking the lines assigned to Brutus and Cassius, the attention of the audience was riveted... The penumbrascope, a device for providing a background by means of shadows, which came into play for the first time in this production, was used so carelessly that its edges were often visible. The essence of stagecraft is illusion, which must not be shattered by such accidents. Caesar's ghost was also very unconvincing, nor did the handful of people listening to the funeral orations suggest an excited mob."
Greater praise was given by the same paper to Felicity's First Season, broadcast in September 1938 and, unusually for the time, written directly for television.
"The play relies on dialogue throughout, and there is a skilful use of film to suggest the journey to Scotland. While there are few characters and little change of scenery, enormous cocktail parties, balls, and jumble sales seemed to be in progress just out of sight. The result was something between a stage play and a film—that is to say, good television entertainment."
The overwhelming majority of BBC television drama produced during the 1930s consisted of adaptations of stage plays, but there were exceptions. These included the first multi-episodic drama serial, Ann and Harold, a five-part story about a married couple which began showing on 12 July 1938. There was also Telecrime, a series of ten- and twenty-minute plays which presented various crimes, with the viewers given enough clues to be able to solve themselves using the evidence shown on screen.
As with almost all programmes of the era, the live television broadcasts meant that no record of the drama productions were kept outside of photographs, scripts and press reviews. BBC Programme Organiser Cecil Madden later claimed that they had experimented with telerecording a production of The Scarlet Pimpernel, but were ordered by film director Alexander Korda to destroy the print as he felt it infringed his film rights.
Despite the difficulties and challenges its production often presented, drama had become a central part of the BBC's television schedules; a BBC audience research survey conducted in 1937 found that 90% of those replying generally enjoyed the drama productions, a figure equalled only by outside broadcasts. In Christmas week 1938, drama accounted for fourteen of the twenty-two hours of programming broadcast. By the following year, drama programming had fifteen producers working on it, compared to nine for all other types of programmes combined.
In 1939, the total audience for the BBC's programmes had grown to an estimated audience of 100,000 viewers, watching on 20,000 television sets. However, BBC television broadcasting ceased on 1 September 1939 in anticipation of World War II. The station remained off-air for the duration of the conflict. The British Government were afraid that the VHF transmission signals would act as a guiding beacon for German bombers targeting central London, and the technicians and engineers of the service would in any case be needed for war efforts such as the radar programme.
BBC Television resumed broadcasting on 7 June 1946, and the service began in much the same way it had ceased in 1939, with many of the 1930s drama producers returning. In 1949 there was a major development in drama when Val Gielgud was made the new head of department, a position he had previously and successfully occupied at BBC Radio. Since producing the first television play in 1930, Gielgud had worked in television again, serving on attachment to the service at Alexandra Palace in 1939 and directing a half-hour adaptation of his own short story Ending It, starring John Robinson and Joan Marion and broadcast on 25 August 1939, less than a week before the service was placed on hiatus.
Gielgud was an unpopular choice with many in the television service, with the channel's controller, Norman Collins, protesting that "Anything less than complete familiarity with all aspects of television production will mean... that the Head of Television Drama is an amateur." Gielgud himself felt that television drama was too influenced by the cinema and ought to be closer to its radio equivalent, with television plays being more like illustrated radio broadcasts than independent entities in and of themselves. Gielgud eventually returned to radio, being replaced as Head of Drama by his assistant, the experienced producer Michael Barry, in 1952.
One important move that had occurred under Gielgud was the establishment in 1950 of the Script Department, and the hiring of the television service's first in-house staff drama writers, Nigel Kneale and Philip Mackie. Barry later expanded the Script Department and installed the experienced film producer Donald Wilson as its head in 1955. Television was now developing beyond simply adapting stories from other media into creating its own originally written productions. It was also becoming a high-profile medium, with national coverage and viewing figures now running into the millions, helped by the explosion of interest due to the live televising of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in the summer of 1953. 5
That same year, Barry invested the majority of his original scripting budget into a six-part science-fiction serial written by Kneale and directed by Rudolph Cartier, an Austrian-born director who was establishing a reputation as the television service's most inventive practitioner. Entitled The Quatermass Experiment, the serial (miniseries in American terminology) was a huge success and went a long way towards popularising the form, where one story is told over a short number of episodes, on British television: it is still one of the most popular drama formats in the medium to this day. Kneale and Cartier went on to be responsible for two sequel serials and many other highly successful and popular productions over the course of the decade, drawing many viewers to their programmes with their characteristic blend of horror and allegorical science fiction.
It was they who were responsible for the 1954 adaptation of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, the second performance of which drew the largest television audience since the coronation, some seven million viewers, and is one of the earliest surviving dramas in the archive. The telerecording process had by now been perfected for capturing live broadcasts for repeat and overseas sales, although it was not until the early 1960s that the majority of BBC dramas were prerecorded on the new technology of videotape. The BBC, unlike American broadcasters, only gradually produced dramas shot entirely on film from the 1960s onwards; ITV's filmed series were in the minority, and most of the commercial channel's drama productions were made in the same 'hybrid' form as those of the BBC. Filmed sequences would be mounted for external scenes which would be pre-shot and inserted into productions at relevant points, later being inserted into shows at the video editing stage. "These sequences bought time for the more elaborate costume changes or scene set-ups, but also served to 'open out' the action," as the British Film Institute explained on its Screenonline website in 2004.
The BBC suffered during the second half of the 1950s from the rise of the ITV network, which had debuted in 1955 and rapidly begun to take away audience share from the Corporation as its coverage spread nationally. Despite popular hits such as the police drama series Dixon of Dock Green and soap opera The Grove Family, the BBC was seen as being more highbrow, lacking the popular common touch of the commercial network. One of the major figures in commercial television drama of the late 1950s and early 1960s was Canadian producer Sydney Newman, the Head of Drama at ABC Television responsible for such programmes as Armchair Theatre and The Avengers. In December 1962, keen to turn around the fortunes of their own drama department, the BBC invited Newman to replace the retiring Barry as Head of Drama, and he accepted, keen on the idea of transforming what he saw as the staid, docile image of BBC drama. 6
Even before Newman's arrival, some BBC producers were attempting to break the mould, with Elwyn Jones, Troy Kennedy Martin and Allan Prior's landmark police drama series Z-Cars shaking up the image of television police dramas and becoming an enormous popular success from 1962 onwards. Newman, however, restructured the entire department, dividing the unwieldy drama group into three separate divisions: series, for on-going continuing dramas with self-contained episodes; serials, for stories told over multi-episode runs, or programmes which were made up of a series of serials; and plays, for any kind of drama one-offs, an area Newman was especially keen on following the success of Armchair Theatre at ABC.
Newman followed BBC Managing Director of Television Sir Huw Wheldon's famous edict to "make the good popular and the popular good," once stating: "damn the upper classes! They don't even own televisions!" While he did personally create populist family-entertainment-based dramas such as Adam Adamant Lives! and the incredibly long-running science-fiction series Doctor Who, he also attempted to create drama that was socially relevant to those who were watching, initiating The Wednesday Play anthology strand to present contemporary dramas with a social background the resonance. Says Screenonline of this development, "It was from this artistic high of the 'golden age' of British TV drama (this 'agitational contemporaneity', as Newman coined it) that a new generation of TV playwrights emerged."
The Wednesday Play proved to be a breeding ground for acclaimed and sometimes controversial writers such as Dennis Potter and directors such as Ken Loach, but sometimes Newman's desire to create biting, cutting drama could land the Corporation in trouble. This was particularly the case with 1965's The War Game by Peter Watkins, which depicted a fictional nuclear attack on the UK and the consequences of such, and was banned by the BBC under pressure from the government. It was eventually screened on television in 1985.
Newman's reign saw a large number of popular and critically acclaimed dramas go out on the BBC, with Doctor Who, Z-Cars, Doctor Finlay's Casebook and the epic The Forsyte Saga picking up viewers while the likes of The Wednesday Play and Theatre 625 presented challenging ideas to the audience. Newman left the staff of the BBC once his five-year contract expired in 1967, departing for an unsuccessful attempt to break into the film industry. He was replaced by Head of Serials Shaun Sutton, initially on an acting basis combined with his existing role, but permanently from 1969. 7
Sutton became the BBC's longest-serving Head of Drama, serving as such until 1981 and during the BBC's move from black and white into colour broadcasting. His era took in the whole of the 1970s, a time when the BBC enjoyed large viewing figures, positive audience reaction and generally high production values across a range of programmes, with drama enjoying a particularly well-received spell. The Wednesday Play transformed into the equally celebrated and longer running Play for Today in 1970; later in the decade the BBC began a run of producing every single Shakespeare play, a run which Sutton himself would later take over the producer's role on following his departure from the Head of Drama position in the early 1980s.
Popular dramas such as Doctor Who and Z-Cars continued into the new decade, and were joined by costume dramas following The Forsyte Saga such as The Pallisers, The Onedin Line and Poldark. Family-audience based period dramas, often adaptations such as The Eagle of the Ninth (1977), were popular on Sunday afternoons, with the 'Classic Serial' strand which ran there becoming something of an institution until the early 1990s. Another success between 1973 and 1977 was the popular Warship drama series, filmed with a documentary-like look for forty-five episodes over four seasons on a Royal Navy frigate. Along with many BBC dramas of the decade, Warship was also very successful in countries such as Ireland and Australia.
There were also failures, however. The epic Churchill's People, twenty-six fifty-minute episodes based around Winston Churchill's A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, was deemed unbroadcastable by Sutton after he had viewed the initial episodes, but so much time and money had been invested in huge pre-transmission publicity that the BBC had no choice but to show the plays, to critical derision and tiny viewing figures. Never again would a fifty-minute series be given a run as long as twenty-six episodes, for fear of being too committed to a project: runs of thirteen became the norm, although in later years even this began to be considered quite long. Plays such as Dennis Potter's Brimstone and Treacle and Roy Minton's Scum were not broadcast at all due to fears over their content at the highest levels of the BBC, although despite this Potter continued to write landmark drama serials and one-offs for the Corporation throughout the rest of the decade and into the 1980s. Both Brimstone and Treacle and Scum were eventually transmitted some years later.
Whenever writers and media analysts criticise the current state of British and particularly BBC television drama, it is frequently the 1960s and 1970s period which they cite as being the most important and influential, with a vast variety of genres (science fiction, crime, historical, family based) and types of programme (series, serials, one-offs, anthologies) being produced. "What may justly be rated as the golden age of television drama reached its zenith," as The Guardian described it in their 2004 obituary of Sutton. Or in the words of the Royal Television Society, "...an era that championed new writers, young directors and challenging drama. The amazing diversity... helped to make it the golden age of broadcasting."
However, despite this high esteem, the television drama of the era does not fully exist in the archives. Most of the live output was not recorded at all, and a large amount of material from the 1960s and early 1970s was wiped once it had been repeated the number of times contractually allowed, or when it was of no further use for overseas sales. This practice continued in the early years of colour television, although by 1978 the BBC had realised the historical value of its archive and ceased the wiping process. However, by this stage many series were completely missing – United!, a football-based soap opera which ran from 1965 to 1967 has no episodes existing at all. Others have large gaps; Dixon of Dock Green has only about thirty of its more than four hundred episodes surviving from its twenty-year run.
Following Sutton's departure from the Head of Drama role in 1981 and his return to front-line producing duties in the Shakespeare cycle, his place as Head of Drama was taken by Graeme MacDonald. MacDonald had been Head of Serials and later Head of Series & Serials under Sutton, with the two departments having been merged in 1980, remaining so for most of the decade before separating again at the end of it. MacDonald maintained the status quo, and was only Head of Drama for a short time before he was promoted again to run a channel as Controller of BBC2. He was succeeded in turn by his own Head of Series & Serials, Jonathan Powell.
Powell had been a producer of high-quality all-film drama serials such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979) and its sequel Smiley's People (1982), and he very much favoured this form of short-run, self-contained filmed serial over longer-running videotaped drama series. It was under his aegis, therefore, that the BBC produced some of its highest-quality examples of this type of drama, of particular note being 1985's Edge of Darkness by Troy Kennedy Martin, and the following year's Dennis Potter piece The Singing Detective, both regarded as seminal BBC drama productions. "A gripping, innovative six-part drama which fully deserves its cult status and many awards," was the British Film Institute's verdict on Edge of Darkness in 2000.
Powell also oversaw the rise of more populist continuing drama series, however, encouraged by the ratings-chasing strategy of the then Controller of BBC1, his friend Michael Grade. It was during Powell's tenure that the BBC launched the twice-weekly soap opera EastEnders (1985–present) and the medical drama Casualty (1986–present), both of which remain linchpins of the BBC One schedule today and the highest-rated drama productions on BBC television. Indeed, EastEnders achieved phenomenal success in its early years, its Christmas Day 1986 episode earning a massive 30.15 million viewers, the highest British television audience of the 1980s.Aside from these continuing dramas, based in one major location and shot entirely on videotape and thus comparatively cheap to make, longer runs of drama series became rare, with short series of six or eight episodes becoming the norm.
The single play, in its original studio-based form, also began to disappear from the schedules, with the final series of Play for Today airing in 1984, and the last single drama recorded at Television Centre being Henry IV, Part 1 in 1995. The BBC was envious of the success of its rival Channel 4's newly formed film arm, which had seen made-for-television one-offs such as Stephen Frears' My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) gain cinematic releases to considerable success. New strands such as Screen One and Screen Two concentrated on short runs of all-film, cinematic-style one-off dramas, with the most successful of these being Anthony Minghella's Truly, Madly, Deeply (Screen Two, 1990) which became a successful film released to cinemas. (Screen One and Two ran until 1994.)
The Plays department eventually disappeared altogether, being replaced latterly with a 'Head of Film & Single Drama' position with autonomous powers for investing in feature film production, co-commissioning television one-offs with the Head of Drama. This interest in film production is perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that both of Powell's successors as Head of Drama, Mark Shivas (1988–93) and Charles Denton (1993–96), went on to work in the film industry after leaving the position.
Another major change to BBC production methods in all areas, but particularly affecting drama, occurred the passing of the 1990 Broadcasting Act, which amongst other things obliged the BBC to commission 25% of its output from independent production companies. Many BBC drama productions were subsequently outsourced to and commissioned from independent companies, although the BBC's in-house production arm continued to contribute heavily, with the separate Drama Series and Serials departments remaining intact. Production arms such as costumes, make-up and special effects were all closed by the early 21st century, however, with these services now being bought in from outside even for in-house programmes.
Jonathan Powell's attempt to repeat the success of EastEnders in 1992, when he had become Controller of BBC One, led to one of the BBC's most notorious and costly failures. Eldorado was set in the British expatriate community in Spain, created by the same team of Julia Smith and Tony Holland who had come up with EastEnders. The costly soap opera, hugely maligned by critics and the victim of a viewer backlash against the massive advertising campaign the BBC had undertaken to promote it, was scrapped by Powell's successor Alan Yentob after less than a year's run, under pressure from the Director-General of the BBC John Birt.
The 1990s saw a rise in the popularity of costume drama adaptations of literary classics, mostly adapted by the acclaimed screenwriter Andrew Davies. One of the most successful of these was a 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. Contemporary social drama, a BBC signature style since the 1960s, remained in the form of landmark productions such as Our Friends in the North (1996), but it was notable that this was transmitted on the more niche BBC Two channel rather than the mainstream BBC One as might well have been the case in previous decades.
There was criticism of the department's commissioning process in some quarters, which was seen as being overly intricate and bureaucratic. As The Independent described: "Lengthy agonising over whether the BBC1 saga Seaforth would be given a second series (eventually, it wasn't) further encouraged the view that the BBC's management floor is full of desks where the buck does not so much stop as hang around for a few months." Further problems emerged for the drama department after the departure of Charles Denton as its Head in May 1996. He was briefly replaced on a temporary basis by Ruth Caleb, the Head of Drama at BBC Wales. However, Caleb had no interest in taking the job on a permanent basis, and after a six-month attachment left the post at the end of the year. With no suitable candidate to take the job on a full-time basis having been found, Director of Television Alan Yentob was forced to oversee the department, again on a temporary basis.
There was much criticism in the press over the inability of the BBC to find a full-time Head of Drama, with even the BBC Chairman Sir Christopher Bland criticising the amount of time it was taking to find a new Head of Department, stating publicly that: "There aren't a lot of people who are pre-eminently qualified and able to do the biggest job in drama. That's the difficulty." . Experienced BBC Drama staff such as Michael Wearing (Head of Serials) were leaving the department, which was seen to be in trouble after the failure of hugely expensive productions such as the historical drama Rhodes in 1996. "Many in the drama business, and not just BBC insiders, are worried about the hand-over of creative say to the controllers, low morale and the lack of a head," The Guardian reported in December 1996. Finally in June 1997 Colin Adams was appointed as the new Head of Drama. Adams was a surprising choice, his previous role at the Corporation having been as Head of Northern Broadcasting. However, he was essentially an administrator and seen by Drama staff as a temporary appointment.
In 1997 the BBC approached Mal Young, best known for producing Liverpool-set Channel 4 soap Brookside, to head up the Drama Series section of the in-house Drama Department, which had become something of a poisoned chalice with many Controllers departing in quick succession. As Controller of Continuing Drama Series, Young oversaw the move to volume production and also commissioned a new medical Series, Holby City. By the time Young left the BBC to join 19 Television Limited as head of Drama in December 2004, the BBC had increased Series production to nearly 300 hours per annum, including EastEnders at four times a week, Holby City for 52 episodes, Casualty for 48 episodes. Volume Series production was a controversial move because it took a large part of the Drama budget away from original production and contributed to accusations of "dumbing down" its programming. "The decision to show EastEnders four nights a week, followed by Holby City has left the corporation open to accusations that the BBC1 schedule has been cleared for a diet of 'precinct pulp'," reported The Guardian in 2003.
As of 2010, the current Commissioner of Drama at the BBC is Ben Stephenson. Working with Stephenson are: Head of Series & Serials Kate Harwood and Controller of Continuing (i.e. year-round) Drama Series John Yorke (who also acts as Head of Drama for the BBC's in-house production arm), with David M. Thompson of Film & Single Drama overseeing one-offs. Sarah Brandist and Polly Hill are the commissioning editors for independently-produced drama programming.
Having been Head of Serials from 1997 to 2000, Jane Tranter was made Head of Drama in 2000. Tranter's era from 2000–06 saw a return to longer-run episode series, with programmes such as Spooks being given longer second runs following successful debut seasons. Recent years have also seen a huge increase in continuing drama output, with EastEnders gaining a fourth weekly episode to add to the third added during the mid-1990s, and Casualty and its spin-off series Holby City (1999–present) turning from regular seasonal shows to year-round soap opera-style productions. These moves have been criticised in some quarters for filling the market with insubstantial populist dramas at the expense of 'quality' prestige pieces, although there have been several notable drama serial successes, such as Paul Abbott's State of Play (2003) and the historical drama Charles II: The Power and The Passion (BBC Northern Ireland - 2004).
Another move of recent years has been the regionalisation of BBC drama, in response to criticisms that the majority of programmes were made and set in and around London and the surrounding areas, with the BBC's central drama department currently being based at Television Centre in West London. As far back at 1962, the makers of Z-Cars had deliberately set their programme near Liverpool in the North of England to break away from the perceived London bias (although, ironically, it was shot in the BBC's London studios), and in 1971 an English Regions Drama Department had been established at BBC Birmingham headed by David Rose with a remit for making 'regional drama', gaining a major success with Alan Bleasdale's Boys from the Blackstuff in 1982. In the modern era, however, the separate BBC branches in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have their own drama departments with Heads of Drama who have autonomous commissioning powers, both for in-house production and co-production with or commissioning from independents.
Although some of these shows are purely for regional consumption, such as BBC Scotland's River City and BBC Wales' Belonging, many programmes networked nationally on BBC One and Two are made in 'the nations', with perhaps the highest profile being the current BBC Wales revival of Doctor Who. The larger English regions also produce drama productions of their own, with BBC Birmingham providing the detective drama Dalziel and Pascoe, daytime soap opera Doctors and anthology series The Afternoon Play for national consumption, for example.
From 1999 until 2006, the BBC also had a new in-house drama division, BBC Fictionlab, which specialised in producing dramas for the corporation's digital stations, particularly BBC Four. Notable Fictionlab productions for BBC Four included The Alan Clark Diaries (2003), a live re-make of The Quatermass Experiment (2005) and the biopic Kenneth Tynan - In Praise of Hardcore (2005). Several of these have later seen analogue transmission on BBC Two. However, in January 2006 the BBC announced that Fictionlab was to be disbanded, as the digital channels were now well established and no longer needed a specialised drama production unit.
The BBC has established a strong reputation in the field of children's drama, although children's dramas are almost universally commissioned and / or produced by the BBC's Children's Department rather than the Drama Department itself. There are however occasional crossovers - Doctor Who, for example, would commonly be regarded as a children's or family programme, but has always been produced by the main Drama Department.
Throughout much of the department's history, the emphasis has been on continuing productions of short-run drama serials, including adaptations of classic children's literature such as Little Lord Fauntleroy, as well as made-for-television productions. Science-fiction has been a popular theme, from Stranger from Space (1951–52) through to the likes of Dark Season (1991) and Century Falls (1993). Since the middle of the 1980s, children's dramas - with the exception of the Sunday evening 'classics' slot - have almost always been screened in the weekday BBC One 3pm-5.30pm Children's BBC (CBBC) strand.
Longer continuing drama series became common from the late 1970s, spearheaded by the 1978 launch of the popular school-set drama series Grange Hill. Created by Liverpudlian dramatist Phil Redmond, the intention of the programme was to present issues relevant to children in a realistic manner, showing characters in a modern Comprehensive school and concentrating on the issues facing children in such schools. The series was a huge success, and in 1989 a similar programme, Byker Grove, set in a youth club, was launched by the BBC's North-Eastern arm and screened on Children's BBC.
From the 1990s onwards, in common with BBC programming in other genres, children's drama has often been commissioned from independent producers as well as being made in-house. Grange Hill switched to independent production after twenty-five years as an in-house programme in 2003, when production was taken over by Mersey Television, the company established by the programme's creator Phil Redmond in the early 1980s. Co-productions with foreign broadcasters are also common, with BBC Scotland's successful 2004 fantasy drama Shoebox Zoo being made in collaboration with the Canadian company Blueprint Entertainment.
As of 2005, the BBC continues to broadcast children's drama, usually in the weekday afternoon CBBC slot, but also occasional Sunday early evening / late afternoon prestige productions such as the adaptation of Kidnapped (April 2005). As of July 2005, the Head of Children's Drama is Jon East.
C. E. Webber
Donald Wilson (1 September 1910, Dunblane, Scotland – 6 March 2002, Gloucestershire, England) was a British television writer and producer, best known for his work on the BBC's adaptation of The Forsyte Saga in 1967.
His initial career was in the film industry, working for MGM at Elstree Studios, where he was Assistant Director of such films as Jericho (1937) and Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939). During the war he worked on documentary films, and then in 1955 was recruited to BBC Television by the then Head of Drama, Michael Barry. As the Head of the Script Department, Wilson was ultimately responsible for overseeing the commissioning and development of all the original scripts and adaptations transmitted by BBC Television.
When the Script Department was rendered redundant by Sydney Newman’s radical shake-up of the BBC Drama Department after his arrival as its head in 1962, the highly respected Wilson was given one of the most senior positions under Newman as Head of Serials. In this position, Wilson was responsible for overseeing the creation and development of a series that Newman himself had originally conceived; an educational science-fiction adventure serial for children entitled Doctor Who. It was Wilson, together with Newman and staff writer C. E. Webber, who co-wrote the first format document for the programme.
Wilson was responsible for much of the early development work on the show, although he did strongly attempt to dissuade producer Verity Lambert from using writer Terry Nation’s script featuring a race of aliens named Daleks. However, once the script had been made and transmitted to great success, he called Lambert into his office to admit that she clearly knew the show better than he did and told her that he would no longer interfere with her decisions.
In 1965, Wilson gave up his position as Head of Serials to concentrate on realising a long-held ambition of bringing The Forsyte Saga to the screen. Acting as both adapter and producer, Wilson created one of the BBC’s most popular and successful drama serials of all time, which was a huge hit on its eventual screening on BBC Two in 1967, and was quickly repeated on BBC One. Later, he acted as adapter and producer again on such prestigious costume dramas as The First Churchills (1969) and Anna Karenina (1977).
He went on to work for Anglia Television before retiring to his home in Gloucestershire, where he died at the age of 91 in March 2002.
List of Doctor Who serials
Cecil Edwin Webber was a British television writer and playwright. He is best remembered for his contribution to the creation of the famous science-fiction series Doctor Who while working as a staff writer for the BBC in the early 1960s. Although none of his scripts were eventually used in the programme — Head of Serials Donald Wilson felt he was not capable of 'writing down' to the level required — he participated in many crucial early development meetings, and co-wrote the first format document for the series with Wilson and Sydney Newman. His draft script for the proposed first ever episode formed the basis of the broadcast first episode eventually written by Anthony Coburn. Webber received a co-writer's credit on internal BBC documentation for the episode, although not on screen.
His published stage plays included Be Good, Sweet Maid (1957), Out of the Frying Pan (1960) and The Mortal Bard (1964).
Other television shows he wrote or created for the BBC included the 1961 action adventure serial Hurricane, the 1962 William children's comedy starring Dennis Waterman, based on the books by Richmal Crompton, and in 1964 episodes of the Thorndyke detective series.
Science fiction on television
Doctor Who is a British science fiction television programme produced by the BBC. As of 18 May 2013, 798 individual episodes, including one television movie of Doctor Who, have been aired, encompassing 239 stories. Additionally, four charity specials and two animated serials have also been aired. The show's high episode count resulted in Doctor Who holding the world record for the highest number of episodes for a science-fiction programme. For comparison, the Guinness World Record holder for the highest number of consecutive episodes, Smallville, aired 218 episodes.
Doctor Who ceased airing in 1989 and began again in 2005. Each story in the original series (1963–89) is a multi-episode serial, with two exceptions: the 1965 cutaway episode "Mission to the Unknown"; and the 20th anniversary story The Five Doctors. The characters in the column after the serial titles indicate the code used by the production team to designate the serial, where applicable, and are followed either by the titles of the individual episodes where given or by the number of episodes otherwise. Unless otherwise noted, episodes in this period are 25 minutes long. During the early seasons of the programme most serials were linked together and one would usually lead directly into the next. Starting with the 2005 revival, the production team abandoned the traditional serial format for a largely self-contained episodic format with occasional multi-part stories and loose story arcs. Unless otherwise noted, the new episodes are 45 minutes long.
Due to the BBC's 1970s junking policy, 106 episodes from the 1960s are missing, with the result that 27 serials are incomplete, although all of these still exist as audio recordings, and some have been reconstructed. In the first two seasons and most of the third, each episode of a serial had an individual title; no serial had an overall on-screen title until The Savages. The serial titles given below are the most common title for the serials as a whole, used in sources such as the Doctor Who Reference Guide and the BBC's classic episode guide, and are generally those used for commercial release. The practice of individually titled episodes resurfaced with the show's 2005 revival, when Doctor Whos serial nature was abandoned in favour of an episodic format.
The three-digit story numbers are not official designations but are merely to serve as a guide to where the story stands in the overall context of the programme. There is some dispute about, for example, whether to count Season 23's The Trial of a Time Lord as one or four serials, and whether the uncompleted Shada should be included. The numbering scheme used here reflects the current internal practice of describing "Planet of the Dead" (2009) as the 200th story, used in the official magazine's 407th issue. Other sources, such as the Region 1 serialsDoctor WhoDVDs of classic , use different numbering schemes which diverge after the 108th story, The Horns of Nimon (1979/80).
The first incarnation of the Doctor was portrayed by William Hartnell. During Hartnell's tenure, the Doctor visited a mixture of stories set in the future and in historical events that had no extraterrestrial influence, such as fifteenth century Mesoamerica. In his last story, The Tenth Planet, the Doctor gradually grew weaker to the point of collapsing at the end of the fourth episode, leading to his regeneration.
Verity Lambert was producer with David Whitaker serving as script editor.
Dennis Spooner replaced David Whitaker as script editor after The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and edited the remainder of the season apart from The Time Meddler, which was edited by Donald Tosh.
John Wiles replaced Verity Lambert as producer after Mission to the Unknown. Innes Lloyd, in turn, replaced Wiles after The Ark. Donald Tosh continued as script editor until The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve, which was also script-edited by his replacement, Gerry Davis. The practice of giving each individual episode a different title was abandoned after The Gunfighters, near the end of the season.
The Second Doctor was portrayed by Patrick Troughton, whose serials were more action-oriented than those of his predecessor. Additionally, after The Highlanders, stories moved away from the purely historical ones that featured during William Hartnell's tenure; instead, any historical tales also included a science fiction element. Patrick Troughton retained the role until the last episode of The War Games when members of the Doctor's race, the Time Lords, put him on trial for breaking the laws of time and forced him to regenerate.
Peter Bryant joined as associate producer for The Faceless Ones, and replaced Gerry Davis as script editor for the last four episodes of The Evil of the Daleks.
Victor Pemberton was script editor for The Tomb of the Cybermen, with Peter Bryant as producer. After this, Bryant resumed the role of script editor, with Innes Lloyd returning as producer, until The Web of Fear when Bryant took over from Lloyd as producer. Derrick Sherwin replaced Bryant as script editor at the same time.
Terrance Dicks took over from Derrick Sherwin as script editor from The Invasion, with Sherwin resuming the role for The Space Pirates. Derrick Sherwin took over as producer from Peter Bryant for The War Games.
The Third Doctor was portrayed by Jon Pertwee. Sentenced to exile on Earth and forcibly regenerated at the end of The War Games, the Doctor spent his time working for UNIT. After The Three Doctors, the Time Lords repealed his exile; however, the Doctor still worked closely with UNIT from time to time. The Third Doctor regenerated into his fourth incarnation as a result of radiation poisoning in the last moments of Planet of the Spiders.
Barry Letts took over as producer from Derrick Sherwin after Spearhead from Space. From this season onwards the programme was produced in colour. To accommodate the new production methods the number of episodes in a season was cut: season 6 has 44 episodes; season 7 has 25 episodes. The seasons would continue to have between 20 and 26 episodes until season 22.
This season forms a loose arc with the introduction of the Master, the villain in each of the season's storylines, and introduces the companion Jo Grant.
This season introduces the companion Sarah Jane Smith.
The Fourth Doctor was portrayed by Tom Baker. He is, to date, the actor who has played the Doctor for the longest time, having held the role for seven seasons.
Barry Letts served as producer for Robot, after which he was succeeded by Philip Hinchcliffe. Robert Holmes took over from Terrance Dicks as script editor. All serials in this season continue directly one after the other, tracing one single problematic voyage of the TARDIS crew. Despite the continuity, each serial is considered its own standalone story. This season also introduced the character of Harry Sullivan as a companion; this character was intended to undertake action scenes, during the period prior to Tom Baker being cast, when it was unclear how old the actor playing the new Doctor would be.
During this season, Ian Marter (Harry Sullivan) left after Terror of the Zygons, but returned for a guest appearance in The Android Invasion
Graham Williams took over as producer from Philip Hinchcliffe. Robert Holmes was replaced as script editor by Anthony Read during The Sun Makers.
Douglas Adams took over as script editor from Anthony Read for The Armageddon Factor. Season 16 consists of one long story arc encompassing six separate, linked stories. This season is referred to by the umbrella title The Key to Time and has been released on DVD under this title.
John Nathan-Turner replaced Graham Williams as producer. Barry Letts returned, as executive producer, for just this season. Christopher H. Bidmead replaced Douglas Adams as script editor. In a return to the format of early seasons, virtually all serials from Seasons 18 through 20 are linked together, often running directly into each other.
Season 18 forms a loose story arc dealing with the theme of entropy. Full Circle, State of Decay, and Warriors' Gate trace the Doctor's adventures in E-Space; they were released in both VHS and DVD boxsets with the umbrella title The E-Space Trilogy.
The Fifth Doctor was portrayed by Peter Davison.
Antony Root took over from Bidmead as script editor for Four to Doomsday and The Visitation, after which he was replaced by Eric Saward. The show moved from its traditional once-weekly Saturday broadcast to being broadcast twice-weekly primarily on Monday and Tuesday, although there were regional variations to the schedule.
Castrovalva, together with the previous two serials, The Keeper of Traken and Logopolis, form a trilogy involving the return of the Master. They were released on DVD under the banner title New Beginnings.
To commemorate the twentieth season, the stories in this season involve the return of previous villains. Mawdryn Undead, Terminus and Enlightenment involve the Black Guardian's plot to kill the Doctor; they were released individually on VHS and as a set on DVD as parts of The Black Guardian Trilogy. This season was broadcast twice weekly on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings on BBC1.
Episodes were broadcast twice weekly on Thursday and Friday evenings, with Resurrection of the Daleks broadcast on two consecutive Wednesday nights.
The Sixth Doctor was portrayed by Colin Baker.
The series moved back to once-weekly Saturday broadcasts. All episodes were 45 minutes long, though they also exist in 25-minute versions. Although there were now only 13 episodes in the season, the total running time remained approximately the same as in previous seasons since the episodes were almost twice as long.
After an 18-month production hiatus, the series returned. Eric Saward was script editor up to part eight, when Nathan-Turner unofficially took over script editing the remainder of the season because of Saward's departure. The whole season is titled as The Trial of a Time Lord, and is split into four segments. The segments are commonly referred to by their working titles (listed below) but the season was broadcast as one fourteen-part story and the working titles did not appear on screen. Episode length returned to 25 minutes, but with only fourteen episodes in the season, making the total running time of this season (and subsequent seasons) just over half of the previous seasons, going back to season 7.
The Seventh Doctor was portrayed by Sylvester McCoy.
Andrew Cartmel took over as script editor. This season was moved to a Monday schedule.
The series was moved to Wednesdays.
The final season continued to push the series towards a darker approach, focusing this time more on Ace's personal life as well as The Doctor's past and manipulations. This season set the tone for the Virgin New Adventures novels that followed.
The Eighth Doctor was portrayed by Paul McGann. The movie is the only television appearance of this Doctor. The only production title held by this story was Doctor Who. However, producer Philip Segal later suggested Enemy Within as an alternative title. Lacking any other specific name, many fans have adopted this to refer to the movie. Fan groups have also used other informal titles. The DVD release is titled Doctor Who: The Movie.
In 2005, the BBC relaunched Doctor Who after a 16-year absence from episodic television, with Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner and Mal Young as executive producers, Phil Collinson as producer, and Christopher Eccleston taking the lead role of the Ninth Doctor.
The revival adheres to the original continuity. The new series is formatted to a 16:9 widescreen display ratio, and a standard episode length of 45 minutes. For the first time since the 1965/66 season each episode has an individual title, although most stories do not span more than one episode. The show also returned to its traditional Saturday evening slot.
The 2005 series constitutes a loose story arc, dealing with the consequences of the Time War and the mysterious Bad Wolf.
The Tenth Doctor was portrayed by David Tennant, who was cast before the first series aired. Mal Young vacated his position as executive producer when he departed the BBC after Series 1. He was not replaced in that capacity.
The back-story for the spin-off series Torchwood is "seeded" in various episodes in the 2006 series. Each episode also has an accompanying online TARDISODE.
This series introduces Martha Jones and deals with the Face of Boe's final message, the mysterious Mr. Saxon, and the Doctor dealing with the loss of Rose Tyler. Susie Liggat was the producer for "Human Nature" and "The Family of Blood", with Phil Collinson credited as executive producer for those episodes.
This series explores the coincidences binding the Doctor and Donna together. Susie Liggat was the producer for "Planet of the Ood", "The Sontaran Stratagem", "The Poison Sky", "The Unicorn and the Wasp" and "Turn Left", with Phil Collinson credited as executive producer for those episodes. Phil Collinson left the position of producer at the end of the series.
From "Planet of the Dead", episodes were filmed in HD. Susie Liggat produced "The Next Doctor", while Nikki Wilson produced "The Waters of Mars" and Tracie Simpson produced "Planet of the Dead" and The End of Time. For practical reasons, these specials continued to use Series 4 production codes.
The Eleventh Doctor is portrayed by Matt Smith. Steven Moffat took over as head writer and executive producer after Russell T Davies stepped down. Julie Gardner also stepped down as executive producer and was replaced by Piers Wenger and Beth Willis.
Tracie Simpson and Peter Bennett shared producer duties for this series only, with Patrick Schweitzer co-producing with Simpson for "The Vampires of Venice" and "Vincent and the Doctor".
Sanne Wohlenberg produced "A Christmas Carol".
The original transmission of series 6 was split into two parts, with the first seven episodes airing April to June 2011 and the final six from late August to October 2011. Sanne Wohlenberg continued as producer for the first block of filming, consisting of "The Doctor's Wife" and "Night Terrors". Marcus Wilson then took over as series producer, with Denise Paul producing "Closing Time".
The Christmas special was executive produced by Moffat, Wenger and Caroline Skinner. Beth Willis left the BBC and stepped down as executive producer after series 6 and Wenger also departed following the Christmas special, leaving Moffat and Skinner as executive producers for series 7.
Series 7 started with five episodes in late 2012, followed by a Christmas special and eight episodes in 2013.
Denise Paul produced "The Bells of Saint John", "The Rings of Akhaten", "Nightmare in Silver" and "The Name of the Doctor" with Marcus Wilson credited as series producer on those episodes.
The 50th anniversary special is planned to be broadcast in 3D, and will feature the return of David Tennant and Billie Piper as the Tenth Doctor and Rose Tyler respectively. Following Caroline Skinner's departure, BBC Wales' Head of Drama Faith Penhale serves as Executive Producer with Moffat for the anniversary special; Brian Minchin, previously a script editor in series 5, takes over the role thereafter.
It was announced on 1 June 2013 that Matt Smith would be stepping down from the role of the Doctor, and that the Doctor is going to regenerate in the 2013 Christmas special. The casting of the Twelfth Doctor has yet to be announced, but there has been extensive media speculation on the subject.
The eighth series is planned to start filming in September 2013. Jenna-Louise Coleman has confirmed she will be returning. BBC One confirmed on their Twitter account that the new series would air in 2014. The series is rumoured to contain 12 episodes and be broadcast from August 2014.
There have also been several special Doctor Who episodes and serials that are produced by the BBC. They usually consist of spoofs and crossovers with other TV shows, and stories produced for special occasions.
There have been many Doctor Who radio broadcasts over the years. In addition to a small number of in-house BBC productions, a larger number of radio plays produced by Big Finish began to be broadcast on BBC Radio 7 from 2005, featuring the Eighth Doctor (again played by Paul McGann) with mainstay companions Charley Pollard and later Lucie Miller. Many more of these were released on CD than were broadcast on the radio; only those plays broadcast by the BBC are listed here. See the list of Doctor Who audio releases as a starting point for other audio plays and audio books, notably the list of Doctor Who audio plays by Big Finish which includes considerably more plays than were broadcast.
The following are all Eighth Doctor dramas produced by Big Finish and broadcast on BBC Radio 7.
In 2011, BBC Radio 4 Extra began a series of Fifth Doctor dramas produced by Big Finish.
December 2011 saw the broadcast of the Fourth Doctor audio Hornets' Nest on BBC Radio 4 Extra.
In 2012, BBC Radio 4 Extra began a series of Seventh Doctor dramas produced by Big Finish.
BBC Radio 4 Extra has aired some of BBC Audio's audiobook readings of Classic Series novelisations, all read by Tom Baker.
Death Comes to Time was released on CD by the BBC, and later re-released as an MP3 CD featuring the original illustrations. Real Time and Shada were released on CD by Big Finish. The webcast for Shada was released on DVD on 7 January 2013 as part of 'The Legacy Collection' and is only viewable on a PC or MAC. Scream of the Shalka was released in novel form in the Past Doctor Adventures series. While it has been classified for DVD release by the BBFC, a planned release was postponed due to the programme's return to television. It is now scheduled for 16 September 2013.
In 1983 Doctor Who: The First Adventure was released for the BBC Micro. followed by Doctor Who and the Warlord in 1985 and Doctor Who and the Mines of Terror also in 1985. Later several other games were released.
On 7 April 2010, the BBC announced that the fifth series would be supplemented with four "interactive episodes", released online for free in the UK. They are described as "part of the universeDoctor Who", and will "go on to define the look and feel of future TV episodes." Executively produced by Moffat, Wenger and Willis with Anwen Aspden and Charles Cecil, the games are developed by Sumo Digital and written by Phil Ford and James Moran. Matt Smith and Karen Gillan provide full voiceovers for the digitised Doctor and Amy, both of whom are playable characters. Each episode offers around two hours of gameplay. The Adventure Games were recommissioned by the BBC for a second series in 2011, but after the release of The Gunpowder Plot, they were cancelled so the BBC could focus more on console games such as Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock.
Doctors to Be: 20 Years On
Science fiction first appeared on a television program during the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Special effects and other production techniques allow creators to present a living visual image of an imaginary world not limited by the constraints of reality; this makes television an excellent medium for science fiction, which in turn contributes to its popularity in this form.
Science fiction has been a popular genre with television viewers in the United States almost since mass media broadcasting's inception.
The first popular science-fiction program on American television was the children's adventure serial Captain Video and His Video Rangers, which ran from June 1949 to April 1955. Within eight months of Captain Video's debut, two other landmark series were launched - Tom Corbett, Space Cadet (8/50 - 6/55) and Space Patrol (3/50 - 2/55). ABC attempted to cash in on the burgeoning television science fiction market with a small screen version of Buck Rogers in 1950, but failed within months. Another series of the fiftes, Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers broadcast live Saturdays from April 18, 1953, to May 29, 1954. The show was eventually cancelled due to a copyright infringement lawsuit based on the shows conceptual similarity to Tom Corbett.
Other children's series of note in the 1950s would be Captain Z-Ro which was broadcast starting in 1951, Rocky Jones, Space Ranger, and Flash Gordon (1954 TV series) syndicated in 1954.
The first science fiction series for adults, was also its first fully science fictional anthology Tales of Tomorrow by ABC on August 3, 1951, lasting until 1953, as there were already similar shows for children. This was followed two months later by Out There on CBS only lasting twelve episodes. Science Fiction Theatre was another early anthology series, running from 1955 and 1957. It was followed by The Twilight Zone in 1959 and The Outer Limits in 1963.
The mid-1960s brought a resurgence of episodic science fiction to the airwaves, mostly thanks to producer Irwin Allen. In 1964, he launched Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, based on his 1961 film of the same name. The series ran for four seasons. His next series, Lost in Space, a space opera which aired from 1965 to 1968, became popular with audiences, and quickly led to two other sci-fi favorites in 1966; Time Tunnel and Land of the Giants.
Next came the unexpected sleeping juggernaut, Star Trek, conceived by Gene Roddenberry, and aired on NBC. When NBC tried to cancel it in early 1968, the show was so popular among fans that a campaign organized by Bjo Trimble successfully demanded its return, redefining the relationship between television networks and audiences. However, the eventual cancellation of Star Trek led to a decline in science fiction on American television.
During the late 1970s, Star Wars reignited interest in science fiction. This led to the production of shows including Logan's Run then there was Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Battlestar Galactica (1978–1980). In the earlier 1970s before this, there had also been, Planet of the Apes, and later movie sequels
In 1983, the miniseries V used both Cold War and World War II allegories about totalitarianism, propaganda, collaboration, and resistance.
In 1987, enduring fan interest, partially preserved by the first four installments of the film franchiseStar Trek from 1979 to 1986, those films' popularity led to the development of the Star Trek sequel Star Trek: The Next Generation, which became extremely successful, and led to the later sequels Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, and finally Star Trek: Enterprise, which ended in 2005.
In 1993, seaQuest DSV explored environmental themes. In the same year, Babylon 5 began, set in a detailed universe, using a multi-threaded multi-level story arc. Although ratings were weak among general audiences, Babylon 5 had strong support within science fiction fandom. It raised the bar expected by audiences and led to a broad increase in the quality of science fiction on television in the late 1990s. The time travel drama Quantum Leap used contemporary settings to find a broader audience.
The X-Files tapped into popular conspiracy fears and generational angst to find great commercial success throughout the decade. Shows with fantasy and horror elements drew much influence from The X-Files, and generally attracted large audiences, most notably Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and spinoff Angel). Its influence on the sci-fi genre was still greatly felt throughout the 2000s (decade).
Near the end of the decade, some comic science fiction shows were popular: 3rd Rock from the Sun, and the animated series Futurama.
In the 21st century, series with paranormal themes like Medium and Ghost Whisperer had appeared on mainstream networks. Many shows popular with American audiences are now produced outside the United Series, including Stargate SG-1 and Battlestar Galactica.
In recent years, the much lower costs of reality television shows have hit all television dramas, but especially those with unusual cost requirements such as science fiction shows. This has led to a sharp decline in production since 2003, though series like the 2004 reimagined Battlestar Galactica series, NBC's Heroes, and ABC's Lost attracted strong audiences.
First run syndication was the most important venue for science fiction television between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s. After this period, specialty channels such as Syfy have replaced first run syndication as a significant venue for new shows.
Prior to recent years, science fiction television series were normally centered around a premise and characters were defined essentially based on what they did or encountered in the course of their adventures. However, the growing trend (or paradigm shift) towards character-centered drama and naturalistic plots and settings has replaced the episodic action-adventure format that was once standard for television science fiction. Cosmic themes, metaphysics, sense of wonder, exotic settings, technobabble, so-called Big Dumb Objects, psychedelic imagery, and "two fisted action" have been mostly phased out in favor of human content, contemporary themes, and strong focus on character relationships. Also, the demographic audience for science fiction has changed from mostly male to a significant female presence demanding more human elements and stronger female character representation.][ The aforementioned reimagined Battlestar Galactica is a primary example as it's strictly adult character drama focus is a polar opposite to the original Galactica's congenial, family-friendly heroic adventure format. Although television science fiction has always frequently addressed moral and social themes, recent series have done so with less subtlety and with more blatantly political themes. The anthology series format popularized by Rod Serling rarely appeared in science fiction television after the 1980s, though aspects of this were used in both The X-Files and the 1990s reincarnation of The Outer Limits. The current format, which was unintentionally popularized by Chris Carter of The X-Files, is toward either long story arcs and season long plots with character oriented subplots or more recently, shows whose primary focus is character studies and relationships while using a fantastical element as merely a backdrop setting (Lost, Caprica and Walking Dead) .
At one time, prominent science fiction authors were frequently recruited to write episodes of various series, such as William Gibson's and Stephen King's work on The X-Files. Other writers include Larry Niven who wrote for Land of the Lost. Recent involvement of science fiction writers include Harlan Ellison who served as a creative consultant on Babylon 5 and John Scalzi who served as a creative consultant on Stargate Universe. However, this has largely disappeared due in part to the logistics of writing for television and divergent trends in the techniques of the two media.
The first known piece of television science fiction anywhere in the world was produced by the BBC on February 11, 1938, a thirty-five-minute adaptation of a section of the play R.U.R..
In the summer of 1953, BBC staff writer Nigel Kneale created The Quatermass Experiment, the first of several Quatermass serials. In the 1960s, Britain's commercial television network, ITV, influenced by Canadian producer Sydney Newman produced the science-fiction serials Pathfinders In Space (1960) and its sequel Pathfinders to Venus (1961). In 1961, the BBC produced A for Andromeda about a supercomputer artificial intelligence created from instructions received from an alien transmission.
In 1963, the BBC began production of the longest-running science-fiction television series ever, Doctor Who, about a time travelling alien called the Doctor. Lasting for twenty-six seasons in its original form, it was successfully revived from 2005, now having 33 seasons. Doctor Who alumni moved on to create their own science-fiction programmes, such as Doomwatch (1970–73), Survivors (1975–77) and Blake's 7 (1978–81).
Gerry Anderson made science fiction series for ITV using the puppet based 'Supermarionation' technique including Fireball XL5 (1962–63), Thunderbirds (1965–66), Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967&68), and Stingray (1964–65) which all retain a following. Later he was able to develop live-action shows such as UFO (1970) and Space: 1999 (1975–77). A similar puppet-based series to the Anderson ones was Space Patrol (1962–64), produced by Roberta Leigh, for Associated British Corporation (ABC).
Other popular shows created during the 1960s that have achieved cult status included a tendency to look at the secret service for inspiration. Popular examples include the allegory Orwellian series The Prisoner, The Avengers and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), all produced for ITV.
ITV produced youth-oriented genre programmes during the 1970s, such as Timeslip (1970–71), The Tomorrow People (1973–79), and Children of the Stones (1977), as well as shows aimed at a wider audience such as the time-travel drama Sapphire & Steel (1979–82). Meanwhile, the BBC adapted The Changes (1975), which featured the quest of a teenage girl, Nicky Gore, to discover the cause of the shift back to the pre-industrial and pre-technological age, and bring it to an end.
The BBC adapted novels such as The Day of the Triffids (1981), The Invisible Man (1984), The Nightmare Man (1981, from the novel Child of the Vodyanoi) and The Tripods (1984–85), which however remained unfinished. The BBC also aired science fiction comedy series such as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1981) by Douglas Adams and Red Dwarf (1988–99, 2009, 2012). Doctor Who was finally cancelled in 1989, not to return as a regular television series until 2005.
The BBC also produced several children's science fiction series in the late 1990s to mid-2000s (decade). The most known examples of which being Aquila (1997–1998) based on the novel by Andrew Norriss and Jeopardy (2002–2004) which won the 2002 BAFTA for Best Children's Drama.
Russell T Davies, responsible for the latest Doctor Who revival in its earlier seasons, began working in the BBC children's department in the 1990s. His first science fiction serial was Dark Season; two years later he wrote Century Falls. The BBC also produced the action adventure series Bugs, and co-produced Invasion: Earth with the US Sci-Fi Channel. The new Doctor Who has spun off two series: Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures.
Other 21st century British science fiction series have included the time travel drama Life on Mars, its sequel Ashes to Ashes, Being Human, Eleventh Hour and Primeval on ITV.
At end of the 2000s (decade), current series included Misfits, a show about a group of misfit teenagers who get superpowers and Paradox, a crime series in which events from the future are downloaded from a satellite in space. Outcasts is set in the middle of the 21st-century on Carpathia, a so-called Goldilocks planet five years' travel from Earth.
Science fiction in Canada was produced by the CBC as early as the 1950s. In the 1970s, CTV produced The Starlost. In the 1980s, Canadian animation studios including Nelvana, began producing a growing proportion of the world market in animation.
In the 1990s, Canada became an important player in live action speculative fiction on television, with dozens of series like Forever Knight, Robocop, and most notably The X-Files and Stargate SG-1. Many series have been produced for youth and children's markets, including Deepwater Black and MythQuest.
In the early 2000s (decade), changes in provincial tax legislation prompted many production companies to move from Toronto to Vancouver. Recent popular series produced in Vancouver include The Dead Zone, Smallville, Andromeda, Stargate Atlantis, Stargate Universe, The 4400, Sanctuary and the reimagined Battlestar Galactica.
Because of the small size of the domestic television market, most Canadian productions involve partnerships with production studios based in the United States and Europe. However, in recent years, new partnership arrangements are allowing Canadian investors a growing share of control of projects produced in Canada and elsewhere.
Australia's best known Science Fiction series was Farscape; made with American co-production, it ran from 1999 to 2003. Early series made in the 1960s included The Interparis (1968) Vega 4 (1967), and Phoenix Five (1970). A significant proportion of Australian produced Science Fiction programmes are made for the teens/young Adults market, including The Girl from Tomorrow, the long-running Mr. Squiggle, Halfway Across the Galaxy and Turn Left, Ocean Girl, Crash Zone, Watch This space and Spellbinder.
Other series like Time Trax, Roar and Space: Above and Beyond were filmed in Australia, but used mostly US crew and actors.
Japan has a long history of producing science fiction series for television. Some of the most famous are anime such as Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy, the Super Robots such as Mitsuteru Yokoyama's Tetsujin 28-go (Gigantor) and Go Nagai's Mazinger Z, and the Real Robots such as Yoshiyuki Tomino's Gundam series and Shōji Kawamori's Macross series.
Other primary aspects of Japanese science fiction television are the superhero tokusatsu (a term literally meaning special effects) series, pioneered by programs such as Moonlight Mask and Planet Prince. The suitmation technique has been used in long running franchises include Eiji Tsuburaya's Ultra Series, Shotaro Ishinomori's Kamen Rider Series, and the Super Sentai Series.
In addition, several dramas utilize science fiction elements as framing devices, but are not labeled as "tokusatsu" as they do not utilize actors in full body suits and other special effects.
After the second world war English became the main language for large television productions, which caused a blooming of science-fiction series in the United Kingdom, but not in continental Europe. This together with a cultural climate that places more interest in historical and fantastic speculative fiction then the futuristic made the mostly German and French science-fiction sparse and mostly aimed at children. The same sparseness science-fiction can be found in the literairy tradition, but not in comics with the Franco-Belgian and Dutch comics producing several scifi like titles.
Among the notable German language productions is Lexx and , a German series first broadcast in 1966. Also well remembered in Germany are the movies by Rainer Erler, including the miniseries .
Star Maidens (1975, aka "Medusa" or "Die Mädchen aus dem Weltraum") was a British-German coproduction of pure SF. Danish television broadcast the children's TV-series Crash in 1984 about a boy who finds out that his room is a space ship.
Early Dutch television series were Morgen gebeurt het (tomorrow it will happen), broadcast from 1957 to 1959, about a group of Dutch space explorers and their adventures, De duivelsgrot (the devil's cave), broadcast from 1963 to 1964, about a scientist who finds the map of a cave that leads to the center of the earth and Treinreis naar de Toekomst (train journey to the future) about two young children who are taken to the future by robots who try to recreate humanity, but are unable to give the cloned humans a soul. All three of these television series where aimed mostly at children, but became popular with adults as well.
Later television series were Professor Vreemdeling (1977) about a strange professor who wants to make plants speak and Zeeuws Meisje (1997) a nationalistic post-apocalyptic series where the Netherlands has been built full of housing and the highways are filled with traffic jams. The protagonist, a female superhero, wears traditional folkloric clothes and tries to save traditional elements of Dutch society against the factory owners.
Italian TV experienced a stint of interest in SF between 1970 and 1975. "A come Andromeda" (1972) was a remake of 1962 BBC miniseries (from the novels of Hoyle and Elliott). Two original teleplays created by Flavio Nicolini : "Gamma" (1974) and "La traccia verde" (1975). "Geminus" (1968) and the highly influential "Il segno del comando"(1970) should be classified into mystery-stories than strict SF.
French series are Highlander: The Series French science-fiction/fantasy television series (both co-produced with Canada) and a number of smaller fiction/fantasy television series, including Tang in 1971, about a super secret organization that attempts to control the world with a new super weapon, "Les atomistes" and bizarre 1970 miniseries "La brigade des maléfices".
Another French-produced science fiction series was the new age animated series (English: Once upon a time...space). An interesting phenomenon has been the continuing collaboration between French and Japanese animators, resulting in a series of French-Japanese cartoons/anime, including such titles as Ulysses 31 (1981), The Mysterious Cities of Gold (1982), and more recently, Ōban Star-Racers (2006).
Serbia produced The Collector (), a science fiction television series in the style of The Twilight Zone, based upon Zoran Živković's story, winner of a World Fantasy Award. Several science-fiction series were also produced in various European countries, and never translated into English.
Because of the need to market television to a wide audience, series outside the loose realm of science fiction will often tend to gravitate to established tropes, such as time travel or superheroes.
The classic mode of science fiction on television is space opera, in which a protagonist or a group of brave men and women venture into the black unknown. Starships are a conventional setting in this category, with Star Trek being the definitive example. Because the spacecraft environment is by definition limited, a very small number of sets can be heavily used, lowering production costs and allowing producers to focus on character development, setting detail, or sometimes simply to keep a production in the black so it can stay on the air. Variations on this are space station series, notably Babylon 5 and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, based on an open-port paradigm in which trouble comes in through the airlocks. Rarer are series based on space travel without vehicles; Stargate SG-1 is the prime example.
Near-future settings work well for science fiction on television; series such as The Six Million Dollar Man, TekWar, Quatermass, Star Cops, Mutant X and Fringe allow budget conscious producers to use street clothes and contemporary locations, using only minimal props and effects to foster viewers' suspension of disbelief.
Using stock sets for other series results in odd subcategories like the science fiction western; some established series also have the occasional episode.
Due to the potentially upsetting nature of horror, many subject matters and themes that are acceptable in films (many of which are Rated R) would be unsuitable for general television audiences or must be heavily tamed, if not removed completely. On the one hand, horror can often be produced with inexpensive techniques: creative cinematography, pacing, lighting, fake blood or other simple props, prosthetics, or costumes. However, horror relies on a definitive resolution, often with a negative result for main characters. The episodic nature of television generally involves a resolution at the end of the episode, with characters surviving to the next episode; over time, this lessens the extreme tension required in horror. This makes horror an excellent genre for films, but much less so for television, though many anthology shows, notably The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Night Gallery, avoid the problem. Investigative shows, related to the mystery genre, such as Kolchak: The Night Stalker, also mostly avoid the issue (though they are hard on secondary characters). Shows with humorous elements, like The Chronicle, relieve tension for viewers but not characters in the show, making things more accessible to audiences. Some horror shows use common horror tropes such as vampires with more conventional dramatic forms like the heroic myth (for example Buffy the Vampire Slayer) or even gothic romance (Dark Shadows). Demonic powers and black magic are common themes in series like Brimstone, Charmed, Hex and Supernatural.
Television is used as a medium for the visual presentation of fiction. In order to draw on an established audience, or simply to leverage the existing creativity of an author, television shows are sometimes based on novels or series of novels. The process of converting a print story is called adaptation. Producers, studios, or other intermediaries acquire the rights to produce shows based on a book with a contract known as an option; one might say "the studio optioned the book". Many popular novels are optioned, but only a tiny fraction of these ever materialize as an actual show; often, a producer who is interested in a particular show has to purchase an option from another producer who originally negotiated with the author. Rarely, other media are adapted for film, notably computer games.
The reverse process of adaptation also occurs. Shows may be translated into print novels as novelizations, where an author is contracted to write a prose version of the storyline. Just as television series are a collection of episodes, if there is a plan to convert a series to print, that usually is done as a series of novels. A popular series like Star Trek has resulted in hundreds of novelizations over the years. The visual content of a film is an excellent resource for the development of computer strategy or action games. As well, a series, particularly one that has lasted several seasons, has a rich background of character and setting detail that can provide a strong background and an established market for a role-playing game. The most popular series and novels can result in adaptation in many different media.
The need to portray imaginary settings or characters with properties and abilities beyond the reach of current reality obliges producers to make extensive use of specialized techniques of television production.
Through most of the 20th century, many of these techniques were expensive and involved a small number of dedicated craft practitioners, while the reusability of props, models, effects, or animation techniques made it easier to keep using them. The combination of high initial cost and lower maintenance cost pushed producers into building these techniques into the basic concept of a series, influencing all the artistic choices. By the late 1990s, improved technology and more training and cross-training within the industry made all of these techniques easier to use, so that directors of individual episodes could make decisions to use one or more methods, so such artistic choices no longer needed to be baked into the series concept.
Special effects (or "SPFX") have been an essential tool throughout the history of science fiction on television: small explosives to simulate the effects of various rayguns, squibs of blood and gruesome prosthetics to simulate the monsters and victims in horror series, and the wire-flying entrances and exits of George Reeves as Superman.
The broad term "special effects" includes all the techniques here, but more commonly there are two categories of effects. Visual effects ("VFX") involve photographic or digital manipulation of the onscreen image, usually done in post-production. Mechanical or physical effects involve props, pyrotechnics, and other physical methods used during principal photography itself. Some effects involved a combination of techniques; a ray gun might require a pyrotechnic during filming, and then an optical glowing line added to the film image in post-production. Stunts are another important category of physical effects. In general, all kinds of special effects must be carefully planned during pre-production.
Babylon 5 was the first series to use computer-generated imagery, or "CGI", for all exterior space scenes, even those with characters in space suits. The technology has made this more practical, so that today models are rarely used. In the 1990s, CGI required expensive processors and customized applications, but by the 2000s (decade), computing power has pushed capabilities down to personal laptops running a wide array of software.
Models have been an essential tool in science fiction television since the beginning, when Buck Rogers took flight in spark-scattering spaceships wheeling across a matte backdrop sky. The original Star Trek required a staggering array of models; the EnterpriseUSS had to be built in several different scales for different needs. Models fell out of use in filming in the 1990s as CGI became more affordable and practical, but even today, designers sometimes construct scale models which are then digitized for use in animation software.
Models of characters are puppets. Gerry Anderson created a series of shows using puppets living in a universe of models and miniature sets, notably Thunderbirds. In recent years, series like Greg the Bunny and Puppets Who Kill have portrayed puppets as an oppressed minority, for which the politically correct term is "fabricated-Americans" and the racial epithet is "sock". ALF depicted an alien living in a family, while Farscape included two puppets as regular characters. In Stargate SG-1, the Asgard characters are puppets in scenes where they are sitting, standing, or lying down.
As animation is completely free of the constraints of gravity, momentum, and physical reality, it is an ideal technique for science fiction and fantasy on television. In a sense, virtually all animated series allow characters and objects to perform in unrealistic ways, so they are almost all considered to fit within the broadest category of speculative fiction (in the context of awards, criticism, marketing, etc.) The artistic affinity of animation to comic books has led to a large amount of superhero-themed animation, much of this adapted from comics series, while the impossible characters and settings allowed in animation made this a preferred medium for both fantasy and for series aimed at young audiences.
Originally, animation was all hand-drawn by artists, though in the 1980s, beginning with Captain Power, computers began to automate the task of creating repeated images; by the 1990s, hand-drawn animation became defunct.
In recent years as technology has improved, this has become more common, notably since the development of the Massive software application permits producers to include hordes of non-human characters to storm a city or space station. The robotic Cylons in the new version of Battlestar Galactica are usually animated characters, while the Asgard in Stargate SG-1 are animated when they are shown walking around or more than one is on screen at once.
In general, science fiction series are subject to the same financial constraints as other television shows. However, high production costs increase the financial risk, while limited audiences further complicate the business case for continuing production. Star Trek was the first television series to cost more than $100,000 per episode, while Star Trek: The Next Generation was the first to cost more than $1 million per episode.
The innovative nature of science fiction means that new shows cannot rely on predictable market-tested formulas like legal dramas or sitcoms; the involvement of creative talent outside the Hollywood mainstream introduces more variables to the budget forecasts.
In the past, science fiction television shows have maintained a family friendly format that rendered them suitable for all ages, especially children, as the majority of them were of the action-adventure format. This enabled merchandising such as toy lines, animated cartoon adaptations, and other licensing. However, many modern shows include a significant amount of adult themes (such as sexual sitiuations, nudity, profanity and graphic violence) rendering them unsuitable for young audiences, and severely limiting the remaining audience demographic and the potential for merchandising.
The perception, more than the reality, of science fiction series being cancelled unreasonably is greatly increased by the attachment of fans to their favorite series, which is much stronger in science fiction fandom than it is in the general population. While mainstream shows are often more strictly episodic, where ending shows can allow viewers to imagine that characters live happily, or at least normally, ever after, science fiction series generate questions and loose ends that, when unresolved, cause dissatisfaction among devoted viewers. Creative settings also often call for broader story arcs than is often found in mainstream television, requiring science fiction series many episodes to resolve an ongoing major conflict. Science fiction television producers will sometimes end a season with a dramatic cliffhanger episode to attract viewer interest, but the short-term effect rarely influences financial partners. Dark Angel is one of many shows ending with a cliffhanger scene that left critical questions open when the series was cancelled.
One of the earliest forms of media fandom was Star Trek fandom. Fans of the series became known to each other through the science fiction fandom. In 1968, NBC decided to cancel Star Trek. Bjo Trimble wrote letters to contacts in the National Fantasy Fan Foundation, asking people to organize their local friends to write to the network to demand the show remain on the air. Network executives were overwhelmed by an unprecedented wave of correspondence, and they kept the show on the air. Although the series continued to receive low ratings and was canceled a year later, the enduring popularity of the series resulted in Paramount creating a set of movies, and then a new series Star Trek: The Next Generation, which by the early 1990s had become one of the most popular dramas on American television.
Although somewhat smaller, Doctor Who fandom considerably predates Star Trek fandom. Meanwhile, Star Trek fans continued to grow in numbers, and began organizing conventions in the 1970s. No other show attracted a large organized following until the 1990s, when Babylon 5 attracted both Star Trek fans and a large number of literary SF fans who previously had not been involved in media fandom. Other series began to attract a growing number of followers.
In the late 1990s, Buffy the Vampire Slayer drew a large mainstream audience into fandom; greater demand allowed (even obliged, for the sake of time management) Buffy actors to charge much higher appearance fees than the Star Trek actors had. This pushed appearances out of the reach of some volunteer non-profit fan groups towards commercial event promoters. At the same time, a market for celebrity autographs emerged on eBay, which created a new source of income for actors, who began to charge money for autographs that they had previously been doing for free. This became significant enough that lesser-known actors would come to conventions without requesting any appearance fee, simply to be allowed to sell their own autographs (commonly on publicity photos). Today most events with actor appearances are organized by commercial promoters, though a number of fan-run conventions still exist, such as Toronto Trek and Shore Leave.
The 1985 series Robotech is most often credited as the catalyst for the Western interest in anime. The series inspired a few fanzines such as Protoculture Addicts and Animag both of which in turn promoted interest in the wide world of anime in general. Anime's first notable appearance at SF or comic book conventions was in the form of video showings of popular anime, untranslated and often low quality VHS bootlegs. Starting in the 1990s, anime fans began organizing conventions. These quickly grew to sizes much larger than other science fiction and media conventions in the same communities; many cities now have anime conventions attracting five to ten thousand attendees. Many anime conventions are a hybrid between non-profit and commercial events, with volunteer organizers handling large revenue streams and dealing with commercial suppliers and professional marketing campaigns.
For decades, the majority of science fiction media fandom has been represented by males of all ages and for most of its modern existence, a fairly diverse racial demographic. The most highly publicized demographic for science fiction fans is the male adolescent; roughly the same demographic for American comic books. Female fans, while always present, were far fewer in number and less conspicuously present in fandom. With the rising popularity of fanzines, female fans became increasingly vocal. Starting in the 2000s (decade), genre series began to offer more prominent female characters. Many series featured women as the main characters with males as supporting characters. True Blood is an example. Also, such shows premises moved away from heroic action-adventure and focused more on characters and their relationships. This has caused the rising popularity of fanfiction, a large majority of which is categorized as slash fanfiction. Female fans comprise the majority of fanfiction writers.
For a list of notable science fiction series and programs on television, see: List of science fiction television programs.
People who have influenced science fiction on television include:
Doctors to Be: 20 Years On is a biographical documentary series first broadcast on BBC Four by the BBC in 2007. It is a sequel to the series about ten medical students Doctors to Be, and gives an update on the careers and lives of the same people after they had qualified.
Scream of the Shalka
Eleventh Doctor episodes
BBC Television is a service of the British Broadcasting Corporation. The corporation, which has operated in the United Kingdom under the terms of a Royal Charter since 1927, has produced television programmes from its own studios since 1932, although the start of its regular service of television broadcasts is dated to November 2, 1936.
The BBC operates several television networks, television stations (although there is generally very little distinction between the two terms in the UK), and related programming services in the United Kingdom. As well as being a broadcaster, the corporation also produces a large number of its own programmes in-house, thereby ranking as one of the world's largest television production companies.
Mechanically scanned, 30-line television broadcasts by John Logie Baird began in 1929, using the BBC transmitter in London, and by 1930 a regular schedule of programmes was transmitted from the BBC antenna in Brookmans Park. Television production was switched from Baird's company to what is now known as BBC One on August 2, 1932, and continued until September 1935. Regularly scheduled electronically scanned television began from Alexandra Palace in London on November 2, 1936, to just a few hundred viewers in the immediate area. The first programme broadcast — and thus the first ever, on a dedicated TV channel — was “Opening of the BBC Television Service” at 3pm The service was reaching an estimated 25,000–40,000 homes before the outbreak of World War II which caused the service to be suspended in September 1939. The VHF broadcasts would have provided an ideal radio beacon for German bombers homing in on London, and the engineers and technicians of the service would be needed for the war effort, in particular the RADAR programme.
Television transmissions resumed from Alexandra Palace in 1946. The BBC Television Service (renamed "BBC tv" in 1960) showed popular programming, including drama, comedies, documentaries, game shows, and soap operas, covering a wide range of genres and regularly competed with ITV to become the channel with the highest ratings for that week.
BBC TV was renamed BBC1 in 1964, after the launch of BBC2 (now BBC Two), the third television station (ITV was the second) for the UK; its remit, to provide more niche programming. The channel was due to launch on 20 April 1964, but was put off the air by a massive power failure that affected much of London, caused by a fire at Battersea Power Station. A videotape made on the opening night was rediscovered in 2003 by a BBC technician. In the end the launch went ahead the following night, hosted by Denis Tuohy holding a candle. BBC2 was the first British channel to use UHF and 625-line pictures, giving higher definition than the existing VHF 405-line system.
On 1 July 1967, BBC Two became the first television channel in Europe to broadcast regularly in colour, using the West German PAL system that is still in use today although being gradually superseded by digital systems. (BBC One and ITV began 625-line colour broadcasts simultaneously on 15 November 1969). Unlike other terrestrial channels, BBC Two does not have soap opera or standard news programming, but a range of programmes intended to be eclectic and diverse (although if a programme has high audience ratings it is often eventually repositioned to BBC One). The different remit of BBC2 allowed its first controller, Sir David Attenborough to commission the first heavyweight documentaries and documentary series such as Civilisation, The Ascent of Man and Horizon.
In 1967 Tom and Jerry cartoons first aired on BBC One, with around 2 episodes shown every evening at 5 pm, with occasional morning showings on CBBC. The BBC stopped airing the famous cartoon duo in 2000.
David Attenborough was later granted sabbatical leave from his job as Controller to work with the BBC Natural History Unit which had existed since the 1950s. This unit is now famed throughout the world for producing high quality programmes with Attenborough such as Life on Earth, The Private Life of Plants, The Blue Planet, The Life of Mammals, Planet Earth and Frozen Planet.
National and regional variations also occur within the BBC One and BBC Two schedules. England's BBC One output is split up into fifteen regions (such as South West and East), which exist mainly to produce local news programming, but also occasionally opt out of the network to show programmes of local importance (such as major local events). The other nations of the United Kingdom (Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) have been granted more autonomy from the English network; for example, programmes are mostly introduced by local announcers, rather than by those in London. BBC One and BBC Two schedules in the other UK nations can vary immensely from BBC One and BBC Two in England.
Programmes, such as the politically fuelled Give My Head Peace (produced by BBC Northern Ireland) and the soap opera River City (produced by BBC Scotland), have been created specifically to cater for some viewers in their respective nations, who may have found programmes created for English audiences irrelevant. BBC Scotland produces daily programmes for its Gaelic-speaking viewers, including current affairs, political and children's programming such as the popular Eòrpa and Dè a-nis?. BBC Wales also produces a large amount of Welsh language programming for S4C, particularly news, sport and other programmes, especially the soap opera Pobol y Cwm ('People of the Valley'). The UK nations also produce a number of programmes that are shown across the UK, such as BBC Scotland's comedy series Chewin' the Fat, and BBC Northern Ireland's talk show Patrick Kielty Almost Live.
The BBC is also renowned for its production of costume dramas, such as Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and contemporary social dramas such as Boys from the Blackstuff and Our Friends in the North. The BBC has come under pressure to commission more programmes from independent British production companies, and indeed is legally required to source 25% of its output from such companies by the terms of the Broadcasting Act 1990. Programmes have also been imported mainly from English-speaking countries: notable—though no longer shown—examples include The Simpsons from the United States and Neighbours from Australia. Because of the availability of programmes in English, few programmes need use sub-titles or dubbing unlike much European television.
The BBC also introduced Ceefax, the first teletext service, starting in 1974. This service allows BBC viewers to view textual information such as the latest news on their television. CEEFAX has not made a full transition to digital television, instead being replaced by the new interactive BBCi service.
In March 2003 the BBC announced that from the end of May 2003 (subsequently deferred to 14 July) it intended to transmit all eight of its domestic television channels (including the 15 regional variations of BBC 1) unencrypted from the Astra 2D satellite. This move was estimated to save the BBC £85 million over the next five years.
While the "footprint" of the Astra 2D satellite was smaller than that of Astra 2A, from which it was previously broadcast encrypted, it meant that viewers with appropriate equipment were able to receive BBC channels "free-to-air" over much of Western Europe. Consequently, some rights concerns have needed to be resolved with programme providers such as Hollywood studios and sporting organisations, which have expressed concern about the unencrypted signal leaking out. This led to some broadcasts being made unavailable on the Sky Digital platform, such as Scottish Premier League and Scottish Cup football, while on other platforms such broadcasts were not disrupted. Later, when rights contracts were renewed, this problem was resolved.
On 5 July 2004, the BBC celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of its television news bulletins (although it had produced the Television Newsreel for several years before 1954). This event was marked by the release of a DVD, which showed highlights of the BBC's television coverage of significant events over the half-century, as well as changes in the format of the BBC television news; from the newsreel format of the first BBC Television News bulletins, to the 24-hour, worldwide news coverage available in 2004. A special edition of Radio Times was also produced, as well as a special section of the BBC News Online website. In 2005 The pioneering BBC T.V. series Little Angels won a BAFTA award. Little Angels was the first reality parenting show and its most famous episode saw Welsh actress Jynine James try to cope with the tantrums of her six year old son.
The BBC Television department headed by Jana Bennett was absorbed into a new, much larger group; BBC Vision, in late 2006. The new group is part of larger restructuring within the BBC with the onset of new media outlets and technology.
In 2008, the BBC began experimenting with live streaming of certain channels in the UK, and in November 2008, all standard BBC television channels were made available to watch online.
The BBC domestic television channels do not broadcast advertisements; they are instead funded by a television licence fee which TV viewers are required to pay annually. This includes viewers who watch real-time streams of the BBC's channels online or via their mobile phone. BBC TV international channels are funded by advertisements and subscription.
These channels are also available outside the UK in neighbouring countries e.g. Belgium and the Netherlands.
BBC Three HD, BBC Four HD, BBC News HD, CBBC HD and CBeebies HD launching in 2014.
The BBC's wholly owned commercial subsidiary, BBC Worldwide, also operates several international television channels under BBC branding:
The BBC also co-owns the following channels in joint ventures with other broadcasters:
News channel that broadcasts in Persian-speaking countries including Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan in the Persian/Dari/Tajiki language.
BBC Japan was a general entertainment channel, which operated between December 2004 and April 2006. It ceased operations after its Japanese distributor folded.