The year of the Doctor: Celebrating the 50th, regenerating public value?

Matthew Hills

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article considers how Doctor Who's 50th anniversary was strategically utilised by the BBC. Framed within a neoliberal consumer-cultural context, the programme was extensively merchandised and commodified by BBC Worldwide, with profits going back into BBC public service programming. But at the same time as commercial exploitation threatened to encroach on the BBC's identity as a public service broadcaster - especially via events such as the ExCeL ‘Celebration’ - Who's commemoration was positioned as a matter of public value, providing the ‘social glue’ to unite a nation, if not a global array of fan-viewers, whilst drawing on ‘BBC nostalgia’ (Holdsworth 113). By analysing tensions between commercialism and public service broadcasting, I argue that the contemporary BBC displays a doubled attention to public service television, seeking discursively to separate public value from exchange value (via binaries such as UK-global or past-present), and yet also to legitimate commercial activity as a necessary supplement to licence-fee funding. Doctor Who's 50th, conceptualised and marketed as a ‘media event’, enabled the BBC performatively to align itself with historical value and social unification, but it also unevenly blurred together commercial and public value in a range of ways that were typically left uncontested by neoliberal ‘common sense’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-178
Number of pages20
JournalScience Fiction Film and Television
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jan 2014
Externally publishedYes


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