Keeping the Mystery Alive: what Doctor Who can learn from Twin Peaks

In an era when marketing a TV show relies heavily on revealing content in press screenings, trailers and interviews, the secrecy surrounding Twin Peaks: The Return has been central to its success with fans. Why has Doctor Who lost the element of surprise – and how can it learn from the refreshing spoiler-free approach of Twin Peaks?

by Becks

This article contains major spoilers for Doctor Who, up to and including modern era season 10 episode 12, and for Twin Peaks, up to and including The Return part 9. There is also a minor spoiler for Angel season 4.

On Saturday 1 July 2006, roundabout 7pm, I was glued to the TV, alongside several million other viewers. The situation was dire: Cybermen were overrunning the earth. They had slipped through a breach from an alternative universe, a tear in reality caused by an impossible ‘void ship’ that took the form of a large metallic sphere. Who, or what, was responsible for the existence of the void ship was unclear – the Cybermen had followed in its wake, but Torchwood were clueless, and the Doctor was doubtful that any of the players on the board could have the technology to create such a vessel.

Probably not sent by ??????? and Senorita Dido

Then the sphere started to open.

To adequately explain my excitement at all this, given that I was a grown woman old enough to still have a Radio Times subscription, you need to grab your acid wash jeans, get in your DeLorean and head back to the 80s. As a kid, Doctor Who was the most thrilling show on TV. I have very vague recollections of Peter Davidson – mostly just the image of his cricket jumper. By Colin Baker’s era, I could follow enough to understand what the cliffhangers were, and those moments are still imprinted on my brain – moments which may in fact be 30 different shots of Bonnie Langford screaming, since that accompanied the typical end-of-episode monster moment. But by McCoy, and Ace – how I loved Ace! – I was right there with them. The week between each episode felt like an eternity, especially when they were left suspended in some life-or-death struggle, and I had not yet figured that these moments would always turn out just fine. And while Doctors 5, 6 and 7 were the ones of my childhood, millions before me had enjoyed the same thrills and spills with their Doctors, all the way back to 1963. (Let us take a moment, then, to empathise with those poor children of the 90s wastelands…)

Once Who was cancelled in 1989, it became a bit of a cultural joke. If the 90s were good for anything it was cynicism. Who became a by-word for cardboard sets, confusing plots, and villains whose costumes looked like they’d been knocked together out of tinfoil and sticky-backed plastic round the back of the Blue Peter studio. But when it was on, none of these things bothered me at all, because it was so much fun. I could have carried on watching it forever. Still, with the cultural tide turning the way that it did, it really felt like the end of the road. The once-terrifying Daleks were reduced to comic turns in KitKat commercials. And isn’t a quarter of a century a decent lifespan for any TV show?

“I’ll see you again, in 25 years.”

In 1991, just two years after McCoy and Ace went to check on the temperature of the galaxy’s tea, the axe fell on Twin Peaks. I wasn’t old enough to be allowed to watch Peaks at the time, but I was aware of its existence. For years afterwards, other shows would market themselves as being “the new Twin Peaks” which was either hubris on the part of the production team or excessive optimism from the marketing department. I don’t need to explain its lasting cultural relevance, or the way that it changed the TV landscape forever – that much is well documented. But when I did get to watch it for the first time, years later, I was left with the same almighty cliffhanger that millions of others had lived with since 1991 – the bloodied face of dear, sweet Agent Cooper twisted in a laugh, and in the mirror, Bob laughing back. When Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me came out, all we learned of Cooper’s tragic fate was that the good Dale was in the lodge, and couldn’t leave. And that was that. Forever.

Look, I don’t know how Annie is, so stop asking.

Or so we all thought.

“Run!”

An attempt was made to bring Who back in 1996 via a slick American-produced TV movie, but it went no further at the time. In retrospect, without it we wouldn’t have the wonderful McGann Big Finish audiodramas, the quality of which have made McGann a real fan-favourite. And it was through audiodramas, novels and fan-driven content that Who carried on, with no prospect of a further reprieve on TV itself. Then, in 2003, the good news came out of nowhere. That blue box we like was going to come back in style.

When the show restarted in 2005, it took less than a week for the first major spoiler to leak. Christopher Eccleston wasn’t returning for a second season, and we could therefore all look forward to an inevitable regeneration at the end of the current season. The BBC later admitted that they had agreed with Eccleston to keep his departure a secret until the time was right, and apologised for confirming it to the press so soon and without his involvement. David Tennant became the odds-on favourite for the role almost immediately and was officially announced before the season had finished airing. No subsequent regeneration, or identity of a new Doctor, would ever be a surprise to the audience. Matt Smith was revealed in a special episode of Doctor Who Confidential, a now sadly defunct behind-the-scenes Who documentary on BBC3 which was bumped to BBC1 especially for the announcement. Peter Capaldi was wheeled out in a cringeworthy live broadcast. At time of writing, the 13th Doctor will be named tomorrow, in an unknown format, directly after the Wimbledon men’s final.

But I’d rather not know who it is.

Capaldi’s 12th Doctor was last seen holding back his regeneration energy as he stumbled out of the TARDIS. We know he’s leaving – we’ve known for months, since before the most recent season started airing. In fact, the whole team was off, in front of the camera and behind it. So long Bill, we hardly knew ya. Goodbye Missy and Nardole. And farewell Moffat, for good or ill. And so the season felt like a slow, steady march to a destination we already had marked on our maps, the only uncharted territory being the identity of 13. But rather than attempt to keep the secret until the Christmas special so the audience could experience the excitement when the regeneration happens, the BBC have decided to tell the world. Unless you plan on moving to a cave for the next 5 months, you’re bang out of luck.

True story – in the UK, the final season of Breaking Bad aired on Netflix. An episode would go out on a Sunday night in the US and would be up on Netflix the following day, leaving me watching on a Monday night. And so, on 30 September 2013, I sat at my desk at work with headphones in my ears, refusing to talk to anyone or look at anything on the internet until I could go home and watch the very last episode spoiler-free. My colleagues thought I was nuts. I’m 99.999% certain that this tactic won’t work for the next 162 days until Christmas.

“Dear Twitter Friends”

On 3 October 2014, David Lynch and Mark Frost (co-creators of Twin Peaks) simultaneously posted near-identical tweets that sent Peaks fans into wild celebrations. The rumours – and Laura’s words to Cooper in the Red Room – were coming true. The show was returning after 25 years, to the Showtime network.

Hands up everyone who read Lynch’s tweet in a Gordon Cole voice…

Skip over the subsequent turbulence about budget, season length and will-he won’t-he involvement from Lynch, by the time we arrived at the season premier on 19 May 2017, what did we actually know about the new series?

A cast list had been announced, but without character names attached. So it was possible to see the return of familiar cast members from the original run, but Kyle McLachlan aside, in the world of Lynch/Frost that was no guarantee that they would get much screen time, or even be playing the same characters as before. Missing in action were some big figures – with no Michael Ontkean, would Harry be recast or replaced? Did the absence of Heather Graham mean we’d never know how Annie was? But this was all speculation, because Lynch, Frost and Showtime were guarding the show like Mike guarding his last can of garmonbozia.

It may have felt unexpected for a show shrouded in such secrecy to release a cast list. Interestingly, there were 217 people on in. Costume designed Nancy Steiner then revealed that there were 238 speaking roles, sparking theories that there were hidden cast members (of course, it could also have meant cast members playing multiple speaking roles). And in a subsequent trailer, we saw a glimpse of a woman (who we now know to be Buella, played by Kathleen Deming) which sent the internet into a frenzy, because nobody could work out who she was from the 217 listed. Theories abounded that she was one of the cast in heavy makeup. But as soon as part 1 aired, it was clear that there were people not listed among the 217. The cast list reveal hadn’t really told us much at all. Could we still see Ontkean, Graham, or other missing names like Kenneth Welsh (Windom Earle), Piper Laurie (Catherine Martell) or Joan Chen (Josie Packard)?

“The sphere is not ours.”

Back to 2006, and the penultimate episode of modern era Who season 2. Everybody knew that the Cybermen were the big end-of-season villains. It had been all over the publicity for the show. Season 2 had gone heavily into parallel universes, and it was in another universe that this particular batch of Cybermen were found. For those unfamiliar with what Cybermen are, the long answer is that they are mechanised people whose emotions have been removed and, believing themselves to be an evolutionary step-up from flesh and blood, seek to ‘upgrade’ the rest of humanity. The short answer is that they are the Borg.

But in the final moments of episode 12, the Cybermen reveal that they are not behind the mysterious void ship that hangs in the air, existing and not-existing at the same time. And then the sphere starts to open. And if you were a journalist watching an advance copy, preparing your review, that’s where a title card kicked in, reading “final scene withheld until transmission”.

But as I watched it live, this happened.

Holy shit.

Memory is a funny thing. We rely on the version of events stored in our brains, but that version is malleable. The fog of nostalgia can affect our own perception of what we have lived through, and when it’s a shared cultural event our memories can get blurred just discussing them with others. But my memory of being utterly stunned by the emergence of freaking Daleks from the sphere is as clear as a bell. It’s not that Daleks hadn’t already appeared in modern Who. They had caused plenty of havoc in season 1. But nobody was prepared for them to turn up again so soon – and moreover, nobody was expecting them to swagger into the room in the middle of a Cybermen storyline, dishing us up the prospect of a truly epic smackdown between classic Who über-villains. Musing on the question “Who would win in a fight, Daleks or Cybermen?” is up there with RoboCop vs Terminator, vampires vs werewolves, and Shakespeare vs Aeschylus (that last one might be just me). But it really did feel like a childhood wish coming true.

And the lasting beauty of that unexpected moment is that every time I watch the episode, I feel that giddiness all over again. The experience of being surprised and thrilled is permanently connected in my brain with watching those scenes. It’s like hearing an old song that evokes the emotional state of some long-lost summer. When those surprises are pulled off by a show, it’s a gift that keeps on giving with each repeat viewing – but when they blow the surprise, the chance is gone forever.

“The stars turn, and a time presents itself.”

Sitting down to watch the first two parts of Twin Peaks: The Return is a very new memory, one that absolutely blazes. It was 2am here and we were watching it live, because of course we were. What does sleep matter when Twin Peaks has come back? Sometimes I have to remind myself that we are not, actually, living inside a dream, because it all feels too good to be true. And those 2 hours will stay with me my whole life. The astonishment at the NYC scenes; the nostalgia for Hawk and the Log Lady talking, or seeing Shelly and James at the Roadhouse; the mystery of Buckhorn; and the sheer madness of the Red Room. I’ve rewatched those first two parts multiple times already, and the feeling stays with me. Sometimes I’ll just find myself doing something normal during the day when Shadow starts playing in my head and the dizzying emotions come flooding back. And there’s no doubt that one of the reasons why it was so powerful is because I had absolutely no clue what to expect.

The marketing in the run up to The Return hid as much from us as it could. Teaser trailers featured Cooper emerging from shadow, and Gordon Cole eating a doughnut. Closer to the premiere we got trailers featuring mere snippets of dialogue and a handful of establishing shots. It was enough to set a mood while telling us almost nothing about what would happen.

You wanted more Agent Cooper? Tough. Here’s Cole eating a doughnut instead.

The feeling that I have sitting down to watch The Return every week is something that I haven’t felt in a long, long time. The excitement of knowing that I’m going to watch something awesome, but beyond that, knowing nothing at all. And I wonder if this will be the last time that I get to feel this way.

“A Mondasian Cyberman!”

On Mondas, no one can hear you spoil, but on Earth we bloody well can.

If someone with a passing interest in Who had made it to season 10 episode 12 without knowing that Mondasian Cybermen were appearing, it would have been a miracle. It was in the promo material plastered all over magazines and newspapers at the start of the season. They were in the standard episode trailer. In the “next time” teaser at the end of episode 11, the Doctor even calls them by name. We got it, BBC. The Mondasian Cybermen are coming.

A bit of background is needed. The Cybermen who have a smack-down with the Daleks in season 2 came from Earth in an alternate universe. In our own universe, as Who canon goes, the original Cybermen were from Mondas, and their first appearance in The Tenth Planet contained costumes and effects that were, well, of their time in 1966. The low-budget appearance of those early Cybermen included strange cloth coverings over their faces. The later, more famous design of the Cybermen would feature full metal helmets, and all modern era Who thus far had used these modern designs.

Episode 12, World Enough and Time (title taken from an Andrew Marvell poem), features a neat plot device. An incredibly long spaceship is slowly maneuvering away from a black hole. Due to the time dilation effect, time on the floors of the ship that are closer to the black hole moves at a different pace to time on the upper floors. Minutes can pass for people at the very top of the ship while decades go by on the floors at the very bottom. In classic Who style, plucky companion Bill ends up separated from The Doctor hundreds of floors away. Years pass by. A whole civilisation has sprung up on the lower floors, and in the creepy hospital where Bill lives there are cloth-covered patients undergoing mysterious and painful tests. Bill tries to find out what’s happening to them. Long, slow-burning scenes build up the suspense. Gee, I wonder who they could possibly turn out to be.

Left, 1966 Mondasian Cyberman; middle, modern Cyberman; right, a cloth-covered patient in World Enough and Time

In an alternate reality to our own, the BBC kept the appearance of the Mondasian Cybermen under wraps. Viewers went into that episode unaware that they were the end of season big bad. And as World Enough and Time played out its hospital scenes, Who fans familiar with the classic series viewed the cloth-covered faces of the patients with increasing suspicion. Were they? Could they? Tension and excitement built as more and more viewers caught on to what was unfolding, until the final reveal at the end of the episode served up the coup de grâce and sent fans into fist-pumps of delight.

But instead of that, we got half an hour of faffing around waiting for the big reveal we already knew was coming.

“This the dawn of a new age.”

Looking back at how careful the BBC were to hide the presence of the Daleks in the season 2 finale, it’s a shame that it now seems nothing can be kept under wraps. But the road to this point has been littered with own goals on the spoiler front. In 2007, the 10th Doctor faced a Dalek invasion in New York in a mid-season 2-part story. Since modern Who is largely composed of standalone stories, there aren’t many opportunities for the kind of cliffhangers I remember so fondly as a kid, but the odd 2-parter here and there gives them that opportunity. Sadly, the Daleks in Manhattan episodes were pretty poor, despite having a great guest cast, and I’ve never bothered to go back and watch them again. But it didn’t help at the time that the part 1 cliffhanger was waved in the nation’s collective faces a full 4 days before it aired.

Radio Times magazine is something of a British institution, having been around since 1923 when it was literally the timetable for what was on the radio. It now contains all major radio and TV listings, plus news and articles, similar to something like Entertainment Weekly. It has a huge circulation and appears on the magazine racks of pretty much every newsagent and supermarket. Getting the cover of Radio Times for your show is a big deal. And due to the longstanding connection between the magazine and the BBC, Who has received many cover articles over the years. Radio Times comes out on a Tuesday for listings starting the coming Saturday, and Who airs on a Saturday night. So when your end-of-part-1 cliffhanger involves the dramatic reveal of the first ever Dalek-human hybrid, maybe it’s not a good idea to print this on the front of the magazine beforehand?

Left, the cover that revealed the hybrid 4 days early; middle and right, dual covers from 2006 celebrating Daleks vs Cybermen, only issued after the cliffhanger aired.

“It’s really beautiful when you go into another world not knowing what you’re going to find.”

Prior to the Peaks premiere in May 2017, Entertainment Weekly ran a trio of covers celebrating The Return, but without giving away a single tasty morsel of information. The covers featured original cast members, some of whom have only been glimpsed in passing at time of writing, and two of whom are still AWOL altogether (looking at you, Big Ed and Audrey). Lynch (quoted above) disclosed little about what the audience could expect.

EW gave us plenty of nostalgia, but the cast and crew held back on spoilers of any kind.

It’s notable that the EW coverage gave us what we wanted – the old gang back together again, with a retro vibe of cherry pie and coffee. (It’s always time for cherry pie and coffee!) But this is not what the show has given us at all. The main hint here at what was to come is the blue rose on the table, visible only in the cover featuring Lynch himself.

Since the season began, cast members pressed on their involvement have only confirmed just how seriously secrecy was taken on set. McLachlan was the only cast member permitted to read the whole script from beginning to end, and confirmed that everyone involved signed NDAs. Others only read their own lines – Matthew Lillard had to plead with Mark Frost to give him more to go on when filming his daunting interrogation scene, and was unsure of what episodes he would even appear in once it was finished. Even minor cash members have been instrumental in keeping the mystery of the show alive. The actor who played the mysterious figure in the jail cell next to Bill Hastings refused to be drawn on his character, even though it had given the audience nightmares and generated a level of fan interest that he could not have predicted from a few seconds of screen time.

The result: not a single leak emerged from on set.

“Citizens of Earth, rejoice!”

The extent to which deliberate spoilers released by the BBC have encroached on Who can be illustrated with two appearances of the same character. Along with the Daleks and Cybermen, one of the most famous enemies of the Doctor is the Master, a fellow Time Lord who’s gone over to the dark side.

In 2007, just weeks after the Dalek hybrid Radio Times cover debacle, season 3 ended with a 3-part story of epic proportions, aided by some truly nifty secret-keeping. Earlier on in the season, during the wonderful episodes Human Nature and The Family of Blood (some of the best new-Who out there, for anyone looking to give it a go) we had been introduced to the maguffin of a pocket watch that used Time Lord technology to temporarily turn one of their species into a human being, ostensibly for the purpose of hiding from anyone who might be looking for them, with the unfortunate side effect that they promptly forgot who they were in the first place. In Utopia (the first of the 3-part finale) the character of Professor Yana, played masterfully (ha!) by Sir Derek Jacobi, appeared at first to be the kindly sort of guest star found in many Who episodes, a scientist desperately trying to save the last of the human race in the dying age of the universe. But as the episode went on, things didn’t feel quite right. Professor Yana didn’t feel quite right. And he had a pocket watch. And as the tension built, we wondered, and speculated, and wished… and in the final moments as he regained his Time Lord persona, and declared himself to be the Master, it was a truly glorious surprise. And to heap one shock upon another, before he could steal the TARDIS and head off on his nefarious schemes he got shot, and promptly regenerated into John Simm. Woah. Some critics called the big reveal the moment of the series, better even then the 2 episodes that came after. I have to agree, and the wonderful shock is right up there for me with the Daleks emerging from the void ship, giving me goosebumps whenever I rewatch the episode. It’s a memory for life.

Left, Jacobi’s identity as the Master was a shock to viewers in 2007. Right, John Simm’s disguised return in 2017 was spoiled months ahead.

Fast forward a decade and Who was suffering from spoilers like never before. Not only did we know that the whole cast was leaving, meaning an imminent regeneration, but the level of detail being freely given away for each episode was staggering. I really do not know what they were playing at. But one big, and rather complex, problem was the reveal that John Simm was returning as the Master.

For some more background for the Who-uninitiated – the Master, being a Time Lord like the Doctor, can regenerate. Simm’s master had long since been killed off, and the current Master was in fact Missy, played by Michelle Gomez since 2014. But since Who is a show that can go anywhere in time and space, and the Doctor had encountered other versions of himself on plenty of occasions, there was no reason the Master/Missy couldn’t do the same. It had just never happened before.

And it could have been kept a secret that it was happening now. Sadly, a tabloid newspaper got hold of a rumour that Simm had been on set for the filming of season 10, and published it, thereby proving once again that gutter journalism is one of the reasons why we can’t have nice things. If Twin Peaks ‘Diane’ is free, I might send her over with some choice words for those responsible. But the way the BBC handled the situation was absurd. They could have simply refused to comment. There were any number of reasons Simm might have been filming – a flashback, a dream sequence, a recorded message… anything. Hell, he could have been playing another character entirely – it’s happened in Who plenty of times. But instead, the BBC announced the whole shebang, that he was not just returning as the Master but would also be in an episode opposite Missy. Great, thanks for that. And with the cat out of the bag, they threw it into the show’s publicity with gusto.

And so back to season 10 episode 12, when the audience is totally not wondering who the mysterious patients in bandages are (because we’ve already been told repeatedly in the trailers that the Mondasian Cybermen are returning), the other thing we totally aren’t doing is wondering who the mysterious old man is who works in the hospital, who befriends Bill while she is stuck there. Because the trailers have also given away that Simm’s Master is appearing,  and knowing that he is due at any moment makes it far too easy to spot Simm under the makeup. So, the bandaged patients are becoming Cybermen and the old man is the Master in disguise. We know this, yet the show still takes half an hour to reveal it, as if we are all supposed to have suffered a bout of amnesia since last week’s “next time” trailer. The reveal of the Master’s identity could have been the sort of slow-burn suspicion followed by wonderful surprise that we had with Jacobi, but it wasn’t to be.

Sometimes, even when the BBC do try to keep a secret, it only takes one eejit to not get the memo. Around the 50th anniversary of the show, a mini-episode called The Night of the Doctor was put up on iPlayer. This was to act as a precursor to the feature-length multi-Doctor anniversary episode. Details on the mini-episode were slim. It wasn’t broadcast – instead, you had to go to iPlayer (the BBC’s free on-demand platform) and watch from there. Navigating iPlayer is simple, and everything present has an accompanying thumbnail image. Now, the BBC had gone to great lengths to hide the fact that this mini-episode was, in fact, the regeneration of McGann’s 8th Doctor, not seen on-screen since 1996, into the War Doctor, played by John Hurt. When McGann appears part of the way in, it’s meant to be a wonderful surprise for long-term fans. So some genius, uploading the episode onto iPlayer, gives it this thumbnail:

Whoever put McGann in the thumbnail – I’m sending Diane round for you, too.

Although the TV movie was not brilliantly received, McGann’s portrayal of the Doctor was a success with fans and critics. The ongoing popularity of the audiobooks meant that the 8th Doctor had many years of adventures off-screen. But fans had never expected to see him on the show again. An opportunity for a wonderful surprise was even scripted into his opening line: “I’m a Doctor. But probably not the one you expected.” Unfortunately, thanks to the thumbnail blunder, we were all expecting him.

Another true story. One of my best friends and I watched Buffy and Angel religiously. Often we’d get together to watch and have dinner during the week (Jo, you make the best lasagne I’ve ever had) but if we couldn’t, we’d talk about it at work. They aired back-to-back on the same channel in the UK, despite now being on different channels in the US. This meant that directly after Buffy there would be a trailer for the episode of Angel due to start next. One week, during Buffy’s final season and Angel’s fourth, I’d watched them live but Jo had taped it to watch the next day (yes, I do mean taped, on VHS and everything). And I pleaded with her – whatever you do, at the end of Buffy do not watch the trailer for Angel, just skip straight to the show. Because it was the now-infamous puppet episode, and the trailer completely ruined the reveal of puppet Angel sitting up in a pile of boxes. I understand the commercial reasons for trailing such a thing – casual viewers might decide to watch, or not watch, depending on what they see – but there has to be some space left for artistry and surprise.

“This is Phillip Jeffries, right?”

I don’t know, Bad Coop, DoppelCoop, Mr C, or whatever we’re calling you this week. Are you speaking with Phillip Jeffries?

I said extra garmonbozia, and hold the pineapple.

In fact, the only people know who are McLachlan, Lynch/Frost and the production team, whoever is playing Jeffries (if, indeed, anybody is) and whatever lucky souls at Showtime have seen the whole thing already, a screening I like to imagine took place in one of those old-timey bank vaults a hundred feet below ground, with everyone drinking dark red wine on velvet chairs and Cerberus perched just outside the entrance for good measure.

Mr C himself is a revelation. In retrospect, you can see how easy it would have been to use him in the marketing. Some magazine cover splash: “Exclusive! First pictures of the evil Doppelganger of Agent Cooper in the new Twin Peaks!” with an article about how the look was achieved. Instead, we had golden silence, right up until the moment those headlights wound their way across that dark country lane to the slowed-down refrain of Muddy Magnolias’ American Woman, and Mr C emerged. Instead of hype, the audience were given a revelation, and the revelations have kept on coming. I really cannot thank the cast, crew, and Showtime enough for keeping the secrets of the new season. At time of writing, Phillip Jeffries remains a pivotal but stubbornly absent figure within The Return. Maybe we will never see him. Maybe the late, great David Bowie filmed something. We don’t know. All that we do know is that there will be another revelation, and whatever it is, it will be unspoiled.

Tension between the marketing team wanting to get the hype out, and the production team who have built surprises into a show and don’t want them interfered with, is inevitable. There are rumours that Lynch nixed a whole series of trailers for The Return because they gave away too much. How it was agreed to keep the audience in the dark I do not know, but I fear that anyone without the power of a Lynch/Frost combo coming back to a show that changed TV forever would struggle to win such a fight.

Instead, the hype has built in other ways. Before part 8 aired, a cryptic post appeared on the Instagram account of Peter Deming, the Director of Photography.

He wasn’t kidding.

Then in an interview with a Russian magazine, McLachlan said that Lynch had worked on something for part 8 for days, without telling anyone what he was up to. By the time the episode aired, it’s safe to say that anticipation levels were dialled up to 11, but without having to actually tell the audience anything at all about what was to come. And as it turned out, what was to come was possibly the greatest hour of TV ever broadcast. Twin Peaks started trending on Twitter all over the world, including here in the UK even though it was 3am. There is no advance hype that can be achieved through the reveal of plot points or new characters that can compare to the word-of-mouth buzz generated by people who have just had their minds blown.

“Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey.”

If there’s one thing I could say to the new team taking over Who next year, it would be please, please, please play your cards close to your chest. Or, more likely, tell your marketing department to rein it in. We’ll already be excited when the new season rolls around, and the less we know, the more excited we will be. Who audiences have been in decline – this is well-known. But what is more likely to reverse the trend – a dozen Radio Times covers telling us every little thing about the new season before it begins, or casual viewers overhearing their friends and colleagues saying how much they enjoyed watching that week’s episode? That enjoyment comes, in no small part, from the element of surprise. And with more and more people watching shows on demand, that post-show word of mouth is becoming more important than traditional pre-show hype.

I’m not saying they have to go out and make everyone sign NDAs, or release the hounds on the paparazzi. They can start fixing things within their own marketing department. We were surprised before, as the 10th Doctor encountered the Daleks and the Master when we were least expecting it. Just as we’re surprised now when we find out the truth behind Dr Jacoby’s gold shovels, resulting in fans all over the world hurling their wild theories into the bin, ours included. I laughed out loud when that advert played. Audiences want to experience the unexpected.

Now find me some glasses that will filter our spoilery-trailers, please, fellas.

In summary, stop telling us what we’re going to see before we see it. Just let us experience it. And if it’s good, the audience will follow.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *