Doctor Who is run like a business. On other scripted TV shows, when the actors age out of their roles or audiences get sick of looking at them, the show is cancelled. On Doctor Who, the producers simply replace the actors with new ones, as a company would swap out managers who retire (or are, uh, “asked” to retire).
The ingenious story device that allows for actor replacement on DW is called regeneration, a trick in which a mortally wounded Doctor can regenerate his body into a healthy new one with a different face, voice and personality. It worked great in 1966 when star William Hartnell had to leave the series unexpectedly to be replaced by Patrick Troughton, and it will work great in December of this year when current Doctor Peter Capaldi takes his final bow.
Indeed, fans of the long-running British television series learned this week that Capaldi, the twelfth person to play the iconic part (as a series regular), is making way for a new actor to step into the TARDIS, the Doctor’s temperamental time
“It’s bigger on the inside!” his passengers exclaim when stepping on board the first time, the Doctor Who equivalent of the Star Wars franchise’s recurring line, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
Per the show, the Doctor is a renegade alien from the planet Gallifrey, which means his ability to regenerate requires no explanation. The actor who plays him (or her, if the BBC decides to go in that direction this time) has no such skill. So you can bet the BBC keeps a short list of potential replacement performers under lock and key, monitors each actor’s availability, and keeps a hotline open to their respective talent agencies.
That’s another way Doctor Who is like a business … at least a well-run business with a succession plan in place, data available on top performers, and developmental programs to prepare the next generation of leaders for growing market share and improving profit margins.
The premise of Doctor Who has the 2000-year-old Time Lord travelling through space and time alongside his latest companion (typically a young, attractive woman. Go figure) and relying on his exceptional wits to overcome all manner of nefarious aliens and malevolent robots. The Doctor has had occasion to take a companion billions of years into the future, when Earth is either a charred cinder or gone entirely. Which generally leaves the companion despondent and questioning the meaning of life, understandably to us but not to the Doctor, who struggles to understand human emotion.
Now picture yourself taking a time machine into the future. Not billions of years but, say, 20. Not to see if intelligent alligators rule the universe (yet) but to see how your company is faring in a 2037 business environment. Perhaps there are two futures: an inspiring one that results from having implemented a meaningful succession program with good data analytics at its core, and another, far bleaker one that results from having put off the development of a succession plan because it seemed unimportant in the moment.
Don’t worry! These are the shadows of things that may be, not the shadows of things that will … oops, wrong British time-travel story.
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