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Saturday 23rd July 2011

Farewell To TWIDW
(posted 23rd Jul 2011, 2:31am - TWIDW post #1115)
This Week In Doctor Who was born in July 1998. It was a weekly guide to all Doctor Who broadcasts around the world. TWIDW was a reference, an archive, and a hope that Doctor Who would return to prominence on television for new fans to discover. There were many highs and lows. The game changed when Doctor Who actually returned to television, bigger and more popular than ever. TWIDW went from covering a forgotten old show to covering a vibrant hit. In January 2011 I published what would turn out to be my final edition. In April 2011 I went public that I was retiring from writing the column. I discussed some of the details, but not all of them. Here is the story of how I decided to close the door on the second biggest journey of my life (biggest before I got married).

In all these years, I have never gotten any financial benefit from This Week In Doctor Who. My family thought that I should. I was advised to write a book. I was advised to contact the BBC and get them to bankroll TWIDW so I could be official, get information more efficiently, and afford to use better tools to do the column well. I was advised to try to use my work on TWIDW to get media jobs. Apart from Doctor Who belonging to the BBC and all the copyright issues involved, I always viewed the column as a project I did because I was a big fan of the show. I wanted to help Doctor Who because I liked Doctor Who. This was my contribution to the world of Doctor Who. The only benefit I was ever likely to get was the appreciation of fans who utilized the column, or found out about the show because of the column. That was and is enough.

For years, I thought I could handle the increased workload of Doctor Who's success. So the show's been picked up in a bunch of countries. I was pretty good at tracking, and if you just look for the local language version of the word Doctor you tended to find Who or House. Torchwood - usually look for the places airing Doctor Who. Sarah Jane - look for kids' channels. K9 - well, by the time of K9 I was having other issues.

Most of you know that I've been having health problems for close to 2 years. It takes a lot of time and energy to look through all these schedules and piece together the data, and it's a challenge when you're healthy. I injured my back while moving, an injury that significantly slows me down and depresses me, an injury that I am still trying to get fixed. I was moving because we were trying to short sell my house. I was one of the more impressive casualties of the housing market - the previous owners manipulated things to make the house look good and I bought when prices were ludicrously high for even the crummiest places. When your home's value goes from $271,000 to $80,000 in 24 months while just about everything in the house is breaking and there's no chance of finding the former owners to make them deal with selling a place that should never have been on the market without prior renovation - well, it took a long time to clean up that mess. And that's before you throw in a mortgage company that was taking money for not foreclosing on my property, saying that they would look at the short sale paperwork, and constantly trying to foreclose the property at the same time (Bank Of America).

When I got the house issue off my back, I thought things would improve. My back was going to get better with proper health care (it didn't - but I did not know that then). I would have more time. Well, the injury hasn't gotten better and it leaves me tired. It saps my focus. I can pretty much handle my job, where I know that I'm getting a paycheck at the end. But to put focus and energy on much else - it is a challenge to keep anything from falling by the wayside.

This Week In Doctor Who is not a sprint - it is a marathon. Not all the stations update their listings at the same time. You need to be able to look at a little bit here, save the file, go do something else. Come back, do a bit more, and save. All through the week. Much as I do not want to admit it, I currently cannot do a project like This Week In Doctor Who unless it is my primary work. If it was the 40 hour a week job that you do in the day and then drop to rest with family and friends, I could just about do it, on my better weeks. If the BBC did not think This Week In Doctor Who was worth it to finance and use in the last 7 years as Doctor Who has come back to live, they're not going to think it now. The column is never going to be more than a hobby unless someone at the BBC gets the bright idea to do a version themselves or to find fans who can do what I've done.

Of course, This Week In Doctor Who might have been doomed anyway. I was getting less and less satisfied with the quality of the column, even when I got it published on time. Finding schedules is getting harder. So is being able to promote some of these TV stations with a straight face. If I had been healthier in body and mind This Week In Doctor Who was going to have to change. It was time for me to do battle with the Mediocrity that is overshadowing the presentation of Doctor Who and its spinoff.

I have always wanted to get people interested and invested in catching Doctor Who broadcasts on television. Doctor Who is a TV show. It can be other things as well, but the TV episodes need to work on TV, just like Movies need to look their best in a Movie theatre and you wouldn't want to buy a paper book in a Bookstore (physical or virtual) where the spine was ripped off before you got it.

Unless you live near Seattle, Washington, when was the last time you saw classic Doctor Who (pre-2005) on your TV? We've let 26 years of a TV show just melt away, figuring that it's okay as long as the episodes eventually become available on DVD. Oh, and if a station airs Classic Who they have to skip the Dalek stories, because there's been a contract dispute since 2003 and somehow BBC Worldwide has been uninterested in solving the problem in spite of the commercial potential of anything with the Doctor Who label on it these days.

Oh, and you don't really watch a TV show on TV in most cases these days. The TV show is just the background filler for the station. It's the screen saver in the background which they put text messages and channel logos over. The closing credits - well, we can't possibly risk people not sticking around for our text messages, so we'll just omit that section of the show. And no one cares anymore if a show is edited or time compressed. None of it matters. We are either supposed to accept it like sheep or spend money. The TV broadcast is the FREE PREVIEW! If you want to see the real show in an unadulterated form anytime soon, you buy or rent it from a place like iTunes or Amazon in the days of weeks afterwards. If you want to guarantee good quality and a chance at a physical product that will survive your next hard drive crash or a copyright dispute causing files to be recalled, you can buy DVDs and Blu-Rays at a later date. But TV as something for people to enjoy on its own merit? Being able to turn on a TV show for the first time and just find yourself drawn into the story for a while? The concept is practically gone, and we are not supposed to mourn its passing. Well, if watching a TV show on TV does not matter at all, then This Week In Doctor Who's time was over anyway, because the reason for the column does not exit.

When the 2nd series of Torchwood premiered in early 2008, I had just upgraded to HD and had the HDNet channel. HDNet's US service had a deal to air Torchwood 16 days after it ran on BBC America, or about 26 days after it aired on BBC Two/BBC Three. I waited for HDNet's broadcast on the first 10 episodes, finally switching to BBC America for the last 3, but watching HDNet later. HDNet had the channel logo on, but otherwise they actually tried airing the TV show. No crap on the screen. No editing. No closing credit destruction. I waited to be able to see the TV show as a TV show, instead of filler for what the station was selling.

Doctor Who was airing same day as the UK for a number of weeks on BBC America this year, but that just meant a chance to see it look terrible sooner. I couldn't show people those terrible recordings - I had to show them BBC America On Demand from my cable later, because that looked good, wasn't time compressed, and it felt like a TV show.

The public TV stations can air Doctor Who one year after BBC America, and assuming the station doesn't put a lot of their own junk on the screen, you get a full, clean broadcast. The PBS run should be heralded. It should be highly prized. Doctor Who on free TV (especially now that the first run is on BBC America, which is not on the cheaper cable tiers). When it began in 2007, NOBODY CARED! Only 40 PBS stations touched it at all, and it's less than 15 stations now. The few stories about the launch of the PBS run were cribbed from MY report based on the details Ken Patterson (then of KTEH) alerted me to at the Gallifrey convention when we were both supposed to be relaxing. Maryland Public TV bought the first series, buried it in late night, did no advertising, and constantly pre-empted it. Was This Week In Doctor Who supposed to be the engine that drove the PBS run? I tried my hardest. Ken kept in contact with me as long as he was at KTEH. I have an occasional contact at WILL Urbana, IL. I have a regular contact at Milwaukee Public TV. The rest is utter silence. Are you watching your PBS Who run? Did you tell them that BBC Worldwide sold them the incomplete 47 minute International Edit of Last of the Time Lords instead of the original 51 minute version? Did any of them even notice the error? It seems like this should be an easy success and we let it be a flop. It does not help the cause of airing a show as a show instead of as filler for something else.

Fans only care if BBC One's broadcast is unedited the first time around. Fans care about that because that's the version that gets pirated around the world. That's the version that people use to get screen grabs. That's the version you want if you're editing together a fan video about the Tenth Doctor's romance with Rose/Martha/Donna/Jackson/Captain Jack/a box of oreos. Put an animated Graham Norton on top of the BBC One Pirate Special, and people go beserk. If it happened on BBC America, or ABC Australia, or Prime New Zealand, or any of the BBC Entertainment channels, and people would have just went "ah, Graham Norton's back for a new season" - how many weeks till Jo Brand makes another appearance?

Of course, how will you even know if the show's being treated badly if you can't find it? Most of the stations airing the K9 series are local versions of the channel Disney XD (specialized version of the Disney Channel aimed at boys). Disney likes having a different version of their channel in every country. They like hyping how multi-cultural and international they are. But you just try to visit Disney XD in any country that is not your own. You get tossed back to your local version. You CANNOT find Disney listings for any country besides your own from a Disney site. And Disney XD often doesn't turn up in proper listings in local countries.

This brings us to the final insult to my work. I was looking up listings on the Western European BBC Entertainment Channel when I found myself unable to write any further. I had two sources for this channel's listings, and the BBC Entertainment website was flatly contradicting the Radio Times website. Also, BBC Entertainment stopped putting listings online for programming from Midnight to 6AM on all of their channels. It's important enough to air shows then, just not important enough to tell people what's on. I spent 15 minutes going page by page through BBC Entertainment to correct broadcast times for Doctor Who and Torchwood. Then I noticed that the listings were exactly 5 hours off from the UK Radio Times info. This BBC Entertainment site - ALL of the BBC Entertainment sites - had been reprogrammed to change all schedule information to match your computer's clock, instead of the time that shows were airing in the country of the BBC Entertainment channel. It was like the sites had been specifically modified to be harmful to ME. To use these sites, I have to 1) know how many time zones each one is away from me, manually converting every single listing and 2) cope with the fact that I will not be able to find 6 hours of the schedule, 6 hour which for several of the stations is their primetime. And that's when I stopped. That was the straw that broke the camel's back. I've been interested in how TV listings work since 1983, 2 years before I discovered Doctor Who. I've hardly looked at any in 6 months. It was that hard a blow.

We accept mediocrity even when it would cost nothing more to do stuff well. We don't care if anyone else can see Doctor Who or the spinoffs in a good format as long as we have our own supply taken care of. We think that junk is the natural order of things and if we get anything better, than we should be grateful.

I could not have kept smiling and supporting networks that handle Doctor Who and other shows terribly. I love new Doctor Who. But I hate how it gets presented on TV most of the time. I do not want to be an enabler any more. If I was healthy, I still would not want to be an enabler. I'd be an activist fighting to change this for the better.

I will always be writing. I expect to always be a Doctor Who fan. I just won't be writing This Week In Doctor Who anymore. Until next time, take care.
Benjamin Elliott - One Man From Manassas
July 22, 2011