- Doctor Who: The Unfolding Event–Marketing, Merchandising and Mediatizing a Brand Anniversary by Matt Hills
Matt Hills's cleverly titled monograph, Doctor Who: The Unfolding Event, widens our understanding of media events, particularly the media anniversary, by highlighting the paratexts that surround these occasions. Hills begins by debunking the argument that a media anniversary is simply a commercial enterprise constructed by the industry to generate hype around a programme. Rather, these events become multi-layered through their reliance on paratexts that, potentially, shape the meaning of the television programme for fans and create cultural relevance for the entities tied to the anniversary. Focusing on the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who (UK 1963–) in 2013, Hills suggests that we look beyond the textual focus of the anniversary episode to consider the ways in which the media anniversary becomes an event that plays out and unfolds over time. Hills, therefore, does not spend much time on 'The Day of the Doctor' (23 Nov 2013), which, although not explicitly called an anniversary episode, is clearly intended as such; instead, he examines the paratexts surrounding this episode and the anniversary such as trailers, webisodes, merchandising, screening series and the like that were made available to fans over time. Hills aims to balance the industry focus of paratextual studies with the sometimes overly celebratory and textually focused media events theories. He argues that linking these approaches provides a framework for exploring how paratexts create meaning not just for industrial participants but also for fans. Although the voices of fans are not heard within this monograph, Hills's analysis strongly demonstrates that the media event of the anniversary may not only be essential for the programme being celebrated but also for the industrial and institutional entities tied to the anniversary celebration.
According to Hills, one of the primary beneficiaries of Doctor Who's 50th anniversary was the BBC, which, along with other organisations, gained legitimacy from the different paratexts. Further, however, he argues that the paratexts did not simply encourage fan nostalgia for a beloved programme, but more importantly, reflected the ambiguous position of the BBC in the contemporary media environment. For example, the marketing of the anniversary–including [End Page 499] trailers and television specials–can be seen as what Hills calls a BBC metonym. These paratexts, and their reception, reflected the tensions faced by the BBC, such as the push/pull between exclusivity and mass appeal or public service education and entertainment. For example, just a week before the premiere of 'The Day of the Doctor' BBC 2 aired The Science of the Doctor, a special that focused on exploring science with what Hills calls an 'underdeveloped' connection to Doctor Who (41). A week later, the same network aired a historical docudrama about the creation of Doctor Who at the BBC in the 1960s, An Adventure in Time and Space. And, immediately following 'The Day of the Doctor', BBC 3 hosted Doctor Who Live: The Afterparty, a television special that borrowed from the reality format in an attempt to appeal to young viewers. These three different specials demonstrate an attempt to appeal to different audiences as well as to speak to the different expectations that exist for the BBC and its programming: to be entertaining and educational; to appeal to older viewers and young; and to offer traditional and innovative programming. Paratexts surrounding the 50th anniversary, Hills argues, did not simply encourage viewers to create a nostalgic connection with Doctor Who and the BBC and thus build the BBC brand, but through their practices and contradictions, demonstrated the current pressures faced by the BBC in its navigation of contemporary media, economic and political environments.
Hills, additionally, makes a claim for embracing the merchandising goals of the BBC, despite its public service remit, as a tool for legitimising and strengthening the importance of the BBC for contemporary viewers. Merchandising, Hills argues, is not strictly the commercialisation of objects; rather, these paratexts created meaning for fans, helping them to create memories of their experiences with...