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Friday, 25 December 2009

BBC at the end of (its?) time

If you’re reading this at the time it’s been published (6 p.m. British time on Friday, 25 December 2009) – which, in case you hadn’t noticed, is Christmas Day – then shame on you!

Get thee to a television set and tune to BBC1 (before the Tories dismantle it, more of which below) for the swansong – beginning now, at 6 o’clock – of the man who reinvented Doctor Who and ensured it became regular Christmas Day fare, gay atheist Russell T Davies.

Well, it’s his swansong as far as Doctor Who is concerned. He’s working in America now, and that’s where another for whom this is a swansong – David Tennant – is spending a lot of his time.

Tennant has played the Doctor since 2005. Tonight’s episode, and that of New Year’s Day, The End of Time, Parts 1 and 2, are his last, and the last for Davies, who’s been chief writer and executive producer since 2003.

Stephen Moffat is the new supremo, and the new Doctor is Matt Smith, whose debut as the Time Lord will be in spring 2010.

And it’s rather ironic that, on a day held in awe by Christians, a gay atheist has created what will be the biggest televisual event of the day.

The BBC, though, may become a tiny shadow of its current self if the Tories get their way. This is Davies’s warning reported in the UK’s Daily Mirror this week.

He has a lot of time for the Beeb, but is worried that it will all but disappear.

“It’s going to be appalling. Jeremy Hunt [shadow Culture Secretary] has absolutely attacked the licence fee and then suddenly, a few weeks ago, he backtracked and said, ‘Oh no, we won’t interfere with the charter.’

“They want the votes but once they get in they are going to be absolutely vicious. I think the BBC has got five or six years left.

“They’ll dismantle it slowly. It’ll get smaller and smaller until it just supports Radio 4 and some news.”

Well, we’ve all had our criticisms of the BBC, and it’s certainly had its moments of apparent homophobia (if only, as here, through carelessness), but would any of us really wish to see it go?

The Tories reckon the licence fee is a tax. Actually, no one has to watch television, and, if they choose not to have a set in their home, there’s no compulsion to buy a licence, but that small fact seems to escape so many people.

“They’ll freeze the licence fee,” he tells the Mirror, and persuade [Tory-leaning] Daily Mail readers it’s the right thing to do by saying they’re getting rid of all those digital channels they don’t watch; that’s the language they’ll use.

“I think politicians only experience broadcasting through their own prism, through [speech-based Radio 4’s] Today programme and through the interviews they do. They don’t sit down and watch [the soaps] Coronation Street or EastEnders. They don’t live for television like the rest of us.

“It’ll go slowly, because if someone stood up and said, ‘We’re going to get rid of the BBC tomorrow,’ the heartland of Britain would rise up. But things do disappear – look at the way children’s programmes went from ITV: they just slipped away quietly.

“When the politicians meet their constituents it’s the last thing they’ll talk about. The campaigns will be about hospitals and prisons and schools – not television. That’ll be very low down the list. No one’s going to win or lose an election because of television – but it is a huge part of our culture.”

So enjoy Doctor Who. And enjoy the BBC while you can.

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