What Doctor Who did for television production in Wales

Tuesday 19 November 2013, 11:16

Rhodri Talfan Davies Rhodri Talfan Davies Director, BBC Cymru Wales

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In television, as in any other major industry, there are defining moments. Moments that capture the imagination, that open everybody's eyes, moments where just about everything seems possible.

The revival of Doctor Who in 2005 was one such moment. Alongside its popular and critical success, the revival of this sci-fi classic transformed perceptions of the television sector in Wales.

For years, we'd struggled to make an impact on UK network screens, but with the TARDIS in town suddenly everything really was within our grasp.

Shooting Doctor Who in Cardiff Shooting on location in Cardiff for the first series of Doctor Who.

To be fair, there was some good drama being made in Wales before the Doctor - but it was limited and sporadic. Network commissioners at the BBC tended, if pushed, to favour projects that chimed with some of the clichés of Welshness.  You know the stuff – the choirs, the sheep, the miners, the tall hats.

But the launch of Doctor Who in 2005 changed all that. And for one simple reason. It created a confidence and belief that Wales could deliver.

Looking back now, my predecessor Menna Richards took a real gamble. Everything hung on the series’ success. She recognised that, of course. And she gathered some extraordinary talents around her – including one Russell T Davies and executive producer Julie Gardner – to lead the charge.

Shooting Doctor Who in Cardiff Billie Piper, Noel Clarke and John Barrowman on location in Cardiff during filming for series one of Doctor Who in 2004.

Success was by no means assured. We had audience research back then that told us there wasn’t much interest in seeing the old series reborn. But research can be wrong, and this time it was very wrong.

With Doctor Who, the commissioners could see Wales delivering with a confidence and impact that they'd never seen before. And in the TV business that opens doors, it creates new possibilities. It means commissioners ring up and ask, “What’s next?”

The transformation was remarkable. And the vast production machine of Doctor Who sprinkled its magic dust everywhere. Some of the foremost independent producers in the field – companies like Shine who produced Merlin and Hartswood who produce Sherlock – opened bases here in Wales. BBC Wales also seized the opportunity: Casualty was moved to Cardiff and a giant production centre was built at Roath Lock in Cardiff Bay.

This clustering effect helped to transform the skills base in South Wales. And perhaps for the first time ever, the brightest talents in Welsh drama production now had the chance to forge their careers in Wales without having to weigh anchor and set sail for London. On productions like Atlantis, Wizards vs. Aliens, Indian DoctorDa Vinci's Demons, the new S4C/BBC production Hinterland/Y Gwyll (shot in both Welsh and English) and many others.

The result is that Wales is home to some wonderful talents. People like BBC Wales dubbing maestro Tim Ricketts who has been a permanent fixture on every Doctor Who episode since 2005. Or production designer Arwel Wyn Jones who's led the design teams on Sherlock, Upstairs Downstairs and Wizards vs. Aliens. Or Nikki Wilson – who joined BBC Wales in a development role, then took the reins as series producer of Casualty, and is now producer of Doctor Who.

These are all people, and talents, who would have been lost to Wales – but now they are able to stay here, to make their mark here, and to inspire another generation. It is all part of the extraordinary Doctor Who story. And I'm certain the best is yet to come.

Rhodri Talfan Davies is the Director, BBC Cymru, Wales

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