It's a week now since the latest season of Doctor Who wrapped up in the U.S. on the Sci Fi Channel, and now comes the long wait for new episodes. It won't be quite so long for some: keeping the tradition of the last two years, there's a special holiday episode on the way in advance of the new spring season, which the BBC will air at Christmastime. If the Sci Fi Channel keeps to its tradition, though, U.S. viewers won't see this episode till next summer, at the earliest.
Except, that is, for U.S. fans who are Net savvy enough to know that the moment something of geek interest airs -- and geeks don't get much more interested than in Doctor Who -- it can be found, if one knows where to look, on the Internet. Which is how I watched the latest Doctor Who season long before the Sci Fi Channel started airing it. And I'm glad I did, because along the way, as I also watched the Sci Fi cablecasts, I discovered that Sci Fi has been chopping up the episodes for its airings, not just to shove in commercials -- which is annoying but just about tolerable as a necessary evil -- but to shorten the running time so it could fit in even more commercials. And even that wasn't too egregious for most of this season. The few moments that were cut here and there were barely missed, in fact, until the last Friday's season finale.
The third part of a three-episode arc, "Last of the Time Lords" ran much longer on the BBC than a regular episode: 52 minutes as opposed to 45. Now, you'd think the thing for the Sci Fi Channel to do would be to really play it up, make the season finale a big deal, give it a 90-minute slot, let the whole thing run unedited. (And a 52-minute episode in a 90-minute slot would have left room for a ton of promos for the newest crappy Sci Fi Original movies!) But no: Sci Fi destroyed the episode by cutting out around 10 minutes of material, including vital scenes that develop character, create theme, and advance plot. The edited version verges on incoherent, which is infuriating, because the full episode is one of the best in the series' history.
And American fans are starting to find out about this now because people are talking about it online. (I've been blogging about the series on an episode-by-episode basis, and much of my discussion of "Last of the Time Lords" focused on how egregiously it was edited for American audiences, complete with a YouTube clip of the most essential scene that was cut.) Wouldn't it be wonderful if fans got up in arms enough to demand that Sci Fi treat the episodes with more respect when it airs the 2008 season?
Or, here's a better idea. All those folks who are downloading episodes from the Net? They're not criminals. They're customers who are telling a company how they want to use their product. The BBC finances its shows through the TV tax that British residents pay: I would be delighted to pay the equivalent if it meant I could watch Doctor Who as it airs in England (not to mention all the other great TV that never makes it across the pond). I would be delighted if the BBC threw up a firewall I could get past with a credit card number, beyond which I could download to my heart's delight.
The technology exists. It's only stubborn adherence to an outdated business model -- one that the consumers are screaming with their actions is no longer viable -- that prevents it from being implemented now.
MaryAnn Johanson (email me)
reviews, reviews, reviews! at FlickFilosopher.com