Chris Chibnall’s public time on Doctor Who begins a slow end this coming weekend with the arrival of Legend of the Sea Devils, the first of three special episodes that form the final chapter of Chibnall and exiting-Time Lord Jodie Whittaker’s time on the show. But for the writer at least, he nearly left much, much sooner.
Speaking to the Radio Times, Chibnall revealed that the pressures of the early days of the covid-19 pandemic on Doctor Who’s production — or lack thereof — meant there was a time when 2021’s event series Flux never happened at all, and both Chibnall and Whittaker simply bowed out after just two seasons. “That we made Doctor Who at all during the past two years is a miracle,” Chibnall said. “There was a point around April/May 2020 where it looked like we’d have to call it a day after two series. If we hadn’t already planned to leave after series three, there’s no way I’d be staying on now after going through that experience.”
Chibnall and Whittaker’s peculiar final “season,” the six-episode Flux, 2022’s New Year’s Day Special “Eve of the Daleks,” and now three more standalone episodes littered between Easter 2022 and Who’s 60th anniversary in November 2023, was heavily transformed by the realities of the pandemic. Flux as an idea, a heavily serialized series of episodes as chapters in a larger story compared to Doctor Who’s usually episodic story format, wouldn’t have existed without the constraints put on ensuring safe filming after the UK exited its first series of lockdowns. Originally billed as eight episodes — already down from the 10 of prior seasons — Flux was cut further down to a run of six. Chibnall further noticed at least one plan for a New Year’s special was scrapped at the last minute, necessitating a new script.
“We had to ditch our original idea and I had to write a new script in just over a week,” Chibnall said. “You can’t just go, ‘Right, we’ve got the series and then we’ll do the specials.’ You’re constantly on this treadmill.”
Making Doctor Who is a fraught prospect at the best of times, but trying to make it amidst an unprecedented global crisis would test even the most seasoned showrunner. At least Chibnall is getting to end his time on the show on his own terms, rather than having his hand forced… even if not all of those terms have necessarily turned out quite so well.
Doctor Who returns to BBC One and BBC America this Sunday, April 17.