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The relaunch of the Doctor Who website

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Andy Dudfield | 17:20 UK time, Friday, 9 April 2010

dw_homepage_large_ib.jpgThe recent relaunch of the BBC Doctor Who website is an interesting one for many reasons. Having worked on the Doctor Who site for a number of years now, our team in Wales were very aware that the entire franchise was going through something of a regeneration. The new Doctor, companion and creative team on the show meant that changes to the tone of the brand were coming and we were all keen to ensure that we reflected these in the site.

The brief was a simple, if daunting one, 'make the site the no.1 destination to experience the world of Doctor Who, past, present and future'. In web design terms, this is something of a dream ticket. Having a chance to extend the reality of a show with such rich subject matter as Doctor Who is an amazing opportunity and we were keen to ensure that we could take the impossible world of Doctor Who and make it feel possible in an online context.

We were also eager to ensure that the website could be built in such a manner that it became a platform to distribute originated content associated with Doctor Who - creating an appointment to view - not just a means to reflect and promote the linear TV experience. This in turn meant that the goal was to ensure Doctor Who becomes more than the Saturday night TV programme and becomes a 24/7 experience of which the online element is a key component.

This is where working for a large media organisation came in handy, as several work streams were instigated to allow this to happen.

From a technology point of view we were able to utilise the new BBC Platform. The use of the new Platform has opened up a new suite of development tools to us. You should see this reflected positively in the speed of the site and it will allow us, over time, to produce more dynamic and customisable content. We have also worked with colleagues within the /programmes team to ensure that we keep a single, unique reference to each episode, but supplement this with additional, originated content.

The new Global Visual Language afforded us the ability to (literally) think big with our designs. Bronwyn explains this better than I ever could but we have looked to consistently use these new design principles across the Doctor Who site. Additionally, we will be using the metaphors of time and depth more and more within the site and this is something that you will be seeing over the coming months

We also started to work with R&D to realise what may become a powerful way of engaging with narratives online. This is a very interesting area, as it helps us explore how to tell stories that don't fit in to single Doctor Who episodes.

Obviously, none of the above will make any difference if we don't have amazing content. Over the past few years, we've accrued much feedback from our audiences from our 'red site' - this has been key in our redesign:

dw-weeping-angel_large_ib.jpgMonsters We know our audiences love monsters - so we've introduced a brand new section in the site for viewers to explore and learn more about them. Iconic foes like Daleks and Cybermen have had repeated encounters with the Doctor and we wanted to reflect this importance within the sites designs. Most obviously, this has come across via the high impact designs seen within this section.

News & Features: We are seeking to position the Doctor Who site as the destination for Doctor Who fans and the news section is important to us for two reasons here. Firstly, the greater level of production news (which is a key request from our users) and also the ability to break important Doctor Who news stories on the site. We are also working to ensure we have better links with the main BBC news site.

Fun & Games: This section of the site is a major priority; it's also extremely popular with our younger audience. We've introduced a brand new look and feel to this section to keep it visually engaging and entertaining. We are also working on the development of our very exciting Adventure Games that you will be hearing a lot more about via the site in the near future.

Past Series
: There's a significant piece of work underway to unlock the archive and migrate content from the old into our new site. It's a major undertaking, however as there is so much rich content currently available (albeit in old templates) - we didn't want to hide it away, and will be highlighting classic content.

So the very first phase of the new site is available online now. We will be adding a lot more to it over the next year and trying to ensure we meet our goal of being the 'no.1 destination to experience the world of Doctor Who'. We hope you like it.

Andy Dudfield is Delivery Manager, FM&T Wales.


  • Comment number 1.

    The first episode with the new Doctor was fantastic on the HD channel. I can't wait for the next episode.

  • Comment number 2.

    I thought this page was about the website

  • Comment number 3.

    I love the redesign, much better than the old site.

    Will you be providing a feed for the News section? Also can we get some wallpapers on the site (preferably nice HD 1920 x 1200 ones instead of the low res ones the old site had)?

  • Comment number 4.

    Great work guys!

    That's why Doctor Who is still here 45 years on - it keeps re-inventing itself.

    Love the new design.

    Cheers, daveac -
    Co-host of The Cultdom Collective Podcast (Talkshoe ID 54821)

  • Comment number 5.

    If your mission is 'make the site the no.1 destination to experience the world of Doctor Who, past, present and future', you're set up to fail by your use of geo-location which makes the majority of features inaccessible in major parts of the Doctor Who-viewing world.

    There is a valid justification for making web streaming of whole episodes unavailable internationally, as it undermines the BBC's sales to other countries, which provides significant funding for the production of the series. But restricting the collateral - including but not limited to trailers, interviews and previews - is not justifiable.

    So sorry. This is not an either-or situation: either abandon geo-locating non-episodic content, or give up the goal of being the #1 destination. You can't have it both ways.

  • Comment number 6.

    I was rather disappointed with the new site. I spent 15 minutes hunting for wallpapers earlier this week. In the end I came to the conclusion they had either been removed or weren't anywhere obvious (to me at least). I gave up and went to the old site and then looked elsewhere. For this at least it won't be the "no.1 destination"

  • Comment number 7.

    The previous site offered a lot more to worldwide Doctor Who fans than your new site.
    Australia has one of the biggest Who fan bases outside the UK, yet we cannot access any of the video content because its blocked for all users outside the UK. The problem is that the new site uses streaming media for almost all its content; even simple news announcements!
    That means it now hardly functions for international users, its all just 'access denied' messages. I don't think you're ever going to achieve 'most visited Who fansite' while its 'crippled' like it is now.

  • Comment number 8.

    I went to the site to look for a simple list of episodes in the current series, with broadcast dates. Then I gave up and went to Wikipedia.

  • Comment number 9.

    I really liked the fake websites which you did for the first series. In particular the site run by Clive, which was then taken over by Micky. He would comment in this every week and it gave an extra dimension to the program. For example when he was given the computer virus by the Ninth Doctor and told to use it so it would remove every mention of him online, Micky said on the web-site that he would never do this.

    I also rather liked the Unit site with the bulletin board messages from the people from Unit.

    The current site is brilliant at being *about* the program and the making of it (and I love this - the section on the making of the first minute of the 11th hour was great), but it would be nice to have a place where the characters themselves speak.

    Maybe one of Amy's friends could keep a blog, or perhaps Amy could have a twitter account using her phone (the Doctor could sonic it) ...

  • Comment number 10.

    Too much pizzazz, not accessible enough, too much video. What I liked about the old site, the Fear Factor, the stories behind the scenes have gone or all been moved to video. The ability to 2 screen the show has gone; if I'm watching the show and want to look something up, then it's either hidden in video (so I'm not going to watch it) or just plain hidden. As _Ewan_ said, wikipedia is quicker and is more valuable.

    Whilst I do like the things you have done and can understand the reasonings, especially given the target young audience, how about also providing something that can be seen as plain and boring, but still very useful. So episode airings, title, cast, crew, summary, and analysis all on a single text page. No fancy stuff, just the plain information.

  • Comment number 11.

    Oh, and as other commenters have said, make sure your business objectives are achievable. 'no.1 destination to experience the world of Doctor Who' is impossible with the rights challenges, so you're setting yourself up for failure. Restrict that to the UK - you're still up against competition, but at least you could actually achieve it!

  • Comment number 12.

    I'm glad you've written about the launch of the new Doctor Who site. As an avid watcher of all things BBC, design and internet, it gives me an opportunity to provide my opinion on the design—all the more important given it is the first site to make use of the GVL3 design guidelines.

    When I wrote about GVL3 on my blog, based upon the introduction to it provided by Bronwyn and on the Research Studios, I was overjoyed! The consistency and set of standards seen in GVL2 but with added design flare, design principles even!

    However, if the Doctor Who site is a taste of what we can expect from future sites using these new guidelines (notably the upcoming News and Sport website redesigns) then I'm very worried indeed.

    Sure, when you scale down these sites as you have done here they look great, yet on the web, in full size, there is absolutely no subtly to the design what so ever.

    I'm all for big text, but not throughout the site? Typographic treatment is frankly woeful, just large Helvetica, often at sizes that make it hard distinguish between headings and body copy. Move paste the head of the page, and all you see is boxes, blue text links and black semi-transparent overlays. Margins and padding seem arbitrary, and interactive elements (such as the 'Fact File' pull out drawers) are easy to miss. This disregard for detail is especially apparent when you compare this to the previous Doctor Who site.

    As such, I just hope this is an interim release of the site (the design gives that impression anyway) and there is more to come. If this is what we can expect to see for all future GVL3 websites—if this is what is meant by 'Modern British'—then I really hold little hope for design at the BBC over the coming years.

  • Comment number 13.

    Typeface far too large throughout the new site - looks ridiculous. The layout and content seems fine - just make everything less chunky (and yes, I am viewing in a high-res display mode). I have to take the zoom down two notches from standard just to make it bearable.

    My only hope is that you've made it oversized because Dr Who is a children's programme (that also appeals to adults). Please sort out this aspect of your new 'visual language'.

  • Comment number 14.

    One thing I would ask for is the site provide more HD content... videos, wallpapers, etc. Afterall, if the BBC America website and even YouTube page can provide 1080 content, then surely the UK website who pays their licence fee [not to mention the country the show is made] can be provided with it aswell.

  • Comment number 15.

    I was very disappointed with the site relaunch. It is so empty and hard to navigate. I much preferred the easy tabs to pictures, videos and sounds there was before. Now, its a pot luck as to what comes up. The text is so huge I barely get any of the screen in my window! There are no wallpaper images or podcasts. It seems like with every improvement to the site we actually get less. We lost the individual homepages interactive homepages with the first change and a lot of content is actually stranded on the 2005 version of the site because it was never transferred.

    Right now the Classic Series site is three steps away from the homepage, and there is no link to the 2005 site and as I said, content is stranded there. Your main priority isn't the games, its getting absolutely everything from the last 5 years into an orderly site that is easy to get around. Then you have to update the classic series site with new content, where was the update about Tom's 'Hornet's Nest' for BBC Books? What about user reviews for each episode? How about highlighting the hunt for missing episodes? Maybe more out of print books in txt and pdf format? Its like you are not even trying!

    It seems you are so obsessed with graphics and new aesthetics you are betraying us on content. All flash and no substance. You are a long way from being my first stop for Doctor Who news.

  • Comment number 16.

    I very much dislike the way the new site has trampled all over the standard episode pages on the BBC Programmes website, with cast lists and broadcast history. For example, this: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00s56d2 is supposed to be the episode page for 'Victory of the Daleks', linked to from next Saturday's BBC1 schedule page, yet contains no information at all about the episode - in fact, it's identical to the Series 5 homepage: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00rs69w ! I notice that when refreshing any of the episode pages, the standard page does actually try to load at bottom before getting obliterated.

    Incorporate the standard episode pages into the overall site design by all means, as has been done with many other programme sites on the BBC website, but as it is, the new Doctor Who site fails to offer anything approaching a useable episode guide for Series 5.

  • Comment number 17.

    I note your screenshot is on a Mac with it's totalitarian version of font smoothing. Well on Windows the overuse of Arial at strange sizes looks hideous and makes the site look half finished. Why only the one front? Why not use Gill Sans? It's on practically every computer as it comes with Office so I can't see the old excuse of not being available working.

    And who exactly decided on the weights and comparative sizes of the fonts? Did you just shove random numbers in to the CSS until it fit the box and then not bother to look how they all worked together? Body text is too large, the sizes have no nuance, you're just bombarded with a big lump of text and your eyes have nowhere to do. The only bit that catches your eye is the header because the big photo of Matt is not utterly obliterated with text.

    Why are the headings for News & Features and Latest Galleries the same size? Surely the first one should be slightly larger than the others as it is the main draw to the page.

    Actually I just swapped back to the ta with it open and genuinely for a moment thought I'd pressed the zoom key and triggered old style IE6 font resizing. The descriptions next to the small thumbnails are far too large a font size. It just looks so so poor.

    The second page looks better as there is more space to breath, smaller body text and it generally seems more thought out. But why is the "only psychopaths" quote in Arial AGAIN? Why not use a second font for headers? You have amazing graphics and an amazing logo and then just shove plain writing everywhere. I wasn't a fan of that font used on the last site with the underlined letters but at least it helped break up the page a bit. Why not use Gill or Tahoma or something slightly different to break the monotony?

    I do like the way that the background breaks out of the box though, that looks good, but then it stops half way down because the fonts are so utterly massive that it makes the page a third longer than it needs to be. You're then stuck with a plain teal background that looks incredibly dull.

    I was also incredibly excited when I saw the previous post because although big fonts still feature it uses nicer fonts, they're more subtle, the weights are better and it seems more thought out. Please have a tinker with the stylesheet before you launch any more new style sites. I appreciate big fonts are in, and that people moaned about the 2007 homepage but at least it was thought out more carefully than this Doctor Who site.

    I do like the new style video boxes though, before you press play, with the left aligned text box. Will the flash player get a new skin at some point though as it looks somewhat out of place.

  • Comment number 18.

    Well yes that was a bit longer than I thought it was. Consider it an example of how much I care about the issue.

  • Comment number 19.

    It's a pity that the commentary "podcasts" on each episode by the producers/actors in the show have been dispensed with. It would be nice if we could be told the reason these are not being done any longer.

    I do understand why content can't be seen beyond the UK - it is because it is being paid for by the UK television licence payer, isn't it?

  • Comment number 20.

    A good example of the poor design: all I'm trying to do is find a cast list (to work out who played Liz Ten). It seems to be impossible. Can you please fix the basic programme information!

  • Comment number 21.

    Surely the goal is the 'no.1 destination to experience the world of Doctor Who' FOR PEOPLE IN THE UK.

    We Doctor Who fans in the rest of the world find that even ads and promos for upcoming episodes are blocked. Many things like the advent calendar also feature items that are blocked.

    I've had a look here but hardly worth coming back since so many of the most interesting parts are blocked.

    Especially frustrating when the ABC in Australia links to this site. Even when they have the rights to broadcast the show shortly after its' UK telecast, we Aussies are still denied access to these interviews and promos.

  • Comment number 22.

    Oh - and what happened to Fear Factor - one of the few reasons to visit for overseas fans??

    As others have said wikipedia is easier to access and far more informative.

  • Comment number 23.

    Hi Ewan, you also on here.!!List of new DW eps try Gallifrey bolg spot/news....

  • Comment number 24.

    It would be nice if the older series where incorporated into the new site. We now have...
    - https://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/dw (new website)
    - https://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/s4/ (series 4)
    - https://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/index.shtml (series 1 - 3)

    It might allow also the new site not to be placed within a /dw sub-folder, resulting in the URLs looking a bit nicer. On a related note could URL redirects such as https://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/news be updated so that they point to the new news page instead of the series 4 site version.

    Please also reinstate a "Classic" link on the new website. It's also disappeared from the series 4 website, as if someone is wishing to deny Doctor Who's past.

  • Comment number 25.

    It would go some distance toward making this “the number one destination” Doctor Who site if everything — the trailers, etc. — were accessible to everyone. Here in the United States, the video clips say “Not available in your area.” So what’s to entice us to return? This was not always the case for this site.

  • Comment number 26.

    Rather than geo-restrict trailers and clips - which, after all, are free advertising when people link to them, thus increasing the BBC's value for money - why not use this awesome geolocation technology to present users with locally relevant information about broadcast times and channels? Something to help users rather than frustrate them.

  • Comment number 27.

    These new /programme pages seem a little bizzare and poorly designed.
    The normal /programmes would normally show me the cast list and the series links as well as when the programme was last shown and when it is on next etc. These new pages download all of this information and then hide it from view! I can't even navigate direct from The Beast Below page to the previous episode (but I do have a link to The Beast Below - the page I'm already on!).
    There also appear to be some coding errors - I'm not sure about other browsers but on my copy of IE7 the vertical labels on the programme pages(Overview or Fact File) are missing from the closed slider bars so they are just empty (they do work correctly on the character pages though).
    The /programme pages also take a long time to load on my PC here (maybe due to lots of CSS and Javascript?) far longer than the normal pages - far too long for what is actually quite simple page....

  • Comment number 28.

    The text is too large

  • Comment number 29.

    hi-res wallpapers please, as we have had before

  • Comment number 30.

    Sadly, I have to agree that the new site is not easy to navigate, particularly if like me, you are a fan of the 'classic' series. I hope you can make links to these and other pages as above, more obvious please.

  • Comment number 31.

    The new site is awesome - it's no wonder that Dr Who still rocks after 4 decades!

    Definitely agree with #25 (mcc306) about making trailer content etc available for fans abroad.. have the same problem when travelling in South Africa re: Video clip not available messages.

    And ditto the requests above for hi-resolution wallpapers on the new site please!


  • Comment number 32.

    I too think this is a poor advertisement for the show. The navigation is all over the place with fonts and graphics that are way, way too big and simplistic.

    Fair enough if this was a novice web designer just getting to grips with CSS — it's a competent effort. But from the BBC I would have expected something more professional-looking.

    The whole thing needs scaling down and tidying up. If the missing content requested by other posters was included, you wouldn't need to hide the relative emptiness by making things larger.

  • Comment number 33.

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