Is Doctor Who being "Disneyfied?"

One of Doctor Who's producers is trying to assure fans that the iconic sci-fi series won't be "Disneyfied" just because it's now on Disney+!
The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) in Doctor Who.
The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) in Doctor Who. /

Fans of Doctor Who have been concerned about how the show now being backed a bit by Disney is going to change it up. Yet one of their key creators is trying to assure fans not to worry about the iconic franchise being "Disneyfied."

Few sci-fi properties are as distinctly British as Doctor Who. Begun in 1963, the story of the time-traveling alien known as the Doctor has been an international favorite while always based in England. The Doctor (who "regenerates" into a new body now and then, allowing a different actor to continue the role) has been more successful since the BBC revived the show in 2005. 

While the series has had its ups and downs, it was still something when it was announced that starting in 2024, Disney+ would be the international distributor for Doctor Who outside of the U.K. Disney has already begun by airing a trio of holiday specials. 

The highlight was the third special, where the 14th Doctor (David Tennant) made a strange "bi-generation" that allowed Ncuti Gatwa to become the 15th Doctor. That was followed by a new special that introduced Millie Gibson as the Doctor's latest companion, Ruby Sunday. 

However, fans are thrown by the news that Gibson is leaving the show at the end of the upcoming Season 14 (of the current series). Varada Sethu (Andor) will join as the Doctor's newest companion. 

It should be noted that there is a history of actors playing companions to only be around for one season and replaced by another. It's also hinted that there is some sort of mystery around Ruby's birth that will play into this season, and thus, it is possible she was always intended to be around only for one year. 

Yet that this comes after filming for the current season has wrapped is a bit surprising. This has fired up worries that the series may become "Disneyfied," with Disney insisting on changes to appeal to their audience, from casting to more fantasy elements in the previously purely sci-fi show. 

However, executive producer Joel Collins is trying to assure fans not to worry too much about The Mouse influencing the series.

Collins on the real Disney input

Speaking to SFX Magazine, Collins said the key benefit of Disney has been the bigger budget involved. While Who is known (and often loved) for its frankly cheap effects in the past, Disney's influence has been felt with bigger flair in the specials. A good example is the lavish new interior of the Doctor's time machine, the TARDIS.

According to Collins, the key thing that prevents any "Disneyisation" is the return of former writer and showrunner Russell T. Davies, who was key to reviving the show in 2005. He left the series in 2009, but his return has already been felt, and Collins said that it's Davies who will ensure the series retains its flavor. 

""From the Disney perspective, it's just a bigger audience. So, the show is bigger. But it's the same? It's hard to explain...  So, all of the fear that everyone had, the 'Disneyisation' or whatever you call it, that would only happen if it wasn't being made by Russell. Or by somebody who wasn't as big a fan as Russell.""

Collins added that Davies was inspired by Disney, especially Pixar films and follows their example of working over the story points. 

""Russell wanted to bring fun to it, he just wanted to bring joy into the show and challenge people in all the right ways that Russell does. But also make it fun at the right points, make it really fun, take you on a ride. So, I think that's where the barrier to entry is removed, because adults and children alike enjoy that. And it's not like, 'Oh, it's just for kids,' or 'It's just for adults' or any of this stuff.""

While it's likely Disney may have a bit of a say, the BBC still owns Doctor Who itself and Disney only distributes it internationally. It also seems integrating fantasy elements was Davies' own idea. 

Thus, while fans may fret about Disney transforming Doctor Who, it sounds like Davies and the BBC are intent on the show retaining the magic that's made it so iconic for sixty years.

Doctor Who 2023 specials airing on Disney+.