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“Doctor Who” movie: 5 pieces of advice for director David Yates

“Doctor Who” movie: 5 pieces of advice for director David Yates (photo)

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Today’s report that “Harry Potter” director David Yates was planning to make a “Doctor Who” movie has caused no small amount of discussion around the online world, and public opinion seems to lie somewhere between “the worst idea ever conceived” and “the most brilliant project of our generation.”

Already a polarizing topic for fandom, some of Yates’ initial comments about adapting the beloved British television series have only seemed to add fuel to the fire. In discussing his plans to give “Doctor Who” a “radical transformation” en route to the big screen, Yates said he plans to “put aside” the current version of the series — which relaunched in 2005 but is steeped in almost 50 years of continuity — and “start from scratch” for the movie.

While Yates’ plans for “Doctor Who” will still unfold under the watchful eye of the BBC, longtime fans of The Doctor’s adventures can’t help but wonder how much will change in this new incarnation of the franchise. As a lifelong fan of “Doctor Who,” I have a few pieces of advice for Yates to consider if he wants to find success in The Doctor’s big-screen future while parting ways with the character’s past.

1. The Actor Makes The Doctor

One of the most unique elements of “Doctor Who” is the series’ ability to recast its lead on a regular basis. Along with current lead Matt Smith, ten other actors have played the role over the series’ long history, and each one has brought a particular set of mannerisms, fashion sense, and even a level of “humanity” (without forgetting that he is an alien, after all).

That’s why, when casting the “Doctor Who” lead, it’s important to keep in mind that the actor won’t simply be inhabiting an existing character — he’ll be creating his own version of The Doctor. And while that may seem like an appealing role for some actors, that blank slate can be as a daunting to an actor as a blank page of paper can be to a writer. There is no single performance to model The Doctor after, but rather 11 very different takes on the character that any new iteration will be measured against. When it comes to choosing the lead, make sure he’s up the challenge.

2. Don’t Let Effects Make The Doctor Ineffective

Even the most loyal “Doctor Who” fans will acknowledge that some of the series’ special effects haven’t been very, well… special. Still, “Doctor Who” has achieved success despite its famously low-budget digital effects and makeup, and Yates would do well to consider why that is. It’s probably not too off-base to assume some of that “radical transformation” he mentioned will be focused on the aliens and other effects-driven elements of the series. And that can certainly be a good thing, if handled properly.

Over the decades, “Doctor Who” has overcome its low effects budget by relying on great performances from its cast and letting its leads pull the audience along at a pace that doesn’t allow them too much time to ponder the rubber costumes or silly ray-guns — after all, when you craft a compelling story, the audience will fill in the fuzzy spots on its own. If Yates is looking to bring “Doctor Who” into the modern effects era, he should remember that the series’ fans would rather be told a good story than watch a sequence of fancy effects.

3. Companions Aren’t Sidekicks

In our era of superhero cinema, it’s easy to lump The Doctor’s companions in with traditional “sidekicks” and similar character archetypes whose purpose is to either be rescued or make a mistake whenever the story could use some exposition from its hero. In the “Doctor Who” universe, despite the fact that The Doctor is a brilliant alien who will outlive us all, he’s rarely framed as being “above” his human companions. Over the years, his companions have been his advisors, best friends, caretakers, confidantes, and in a few rare cases, his love interest. More often than not, though, they’re simply his traveling buddies.

When it comes to adapting “Doctor Who” for the big screen, Yates should avoid Hollywood’s need to establish a clear hero-and-sidekick dynamic. Let The Doctor’s companions treat him as their eccentric, time-traveling buddy and let him revel in showing them the universe. When it comes down to it, that’s the relationship dynamic that made the last 50 years of “Doctor Who” so enjoyable.

4. Remember: Keep It Fun

“Doctor Who” has had its share of serious, somber moments over the years, but at its heart the series has always been about the wonder of discovery, the thrill of adventure, and the joy of returning to a familiar, friendly place after all is said and done. At a time when every adaptation seems to be going after a “darker” version of the source material, “Doctor Who” is the sort of project that relies on its lighter elements for success. While the temptation might be to make “Doctor Who” a more serious affair when it heads to the big screen, it’s worth keeping in mind that everything is already world-threateningly dangerous when it comes to The Doctor.

One aspect of the series’ appeal is The Doctor’s ability to make light of scenarios that would have the average person crying on the floor while curled-up in the fetal position. Don’t give The Doctor a “Batman Begins” or “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” treatment that has him grimacing at the world. Don’t let the big-screen Doctor be a big downer.

5. The Past Can Still Be The Future

Sure, Yates said he wants to “put aside” The Doctor’s past and the 50 years of continuity that comes with it, but when former “Doctor Who” showrunner Russell T. Davies set about relaunching the program, he made sure to include ample nods to the decades of stories behind the character. At first, they were just vague references that only the longtime fans would catch, but as the series progressed, those references to the past became as important to the series’ success as all of the new characters and creatures that were created. Acknowledging the series’ history not only gives the show a sense of weight, but it also rewards fans for the time they’ve spent with The Doctor.

However, that’s not to say the movie should let itself be bogged down in decades of continuity (Davies and current “Doctor Who” showrunner Steven Moffat still play fast and loose with The Doctor’s fictional history), but rather that Yates shouldn’t shy away from making his big-screen version of The Doctor a product of his past. In the end, The Doctor is supposed to be brilliant, fun, and mysterious — and what’s more mysterious than someone who has had years and years of adventures in time and space that he hasn’t told you about yet?

And there you have it, fellow Whovians and “Doctor Who” newcomers: some words of advice for David Yates as he begins work on a task that will make the scrutiny he was under during the “Harry Potter” years seem tame by comparison. Whether you’re excited about the “Doctor Who” movie or terrified by the thought of it, the one thing to keep in mind is that we all want to see the best “Doctor Who” adventure possible — and that’s something everyone can agree on, right?

Chime in below or on Facebook or Twitter with your “Doctor Who” advice for David Yates.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Uncle-Buck

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…