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News: Updates

Doctor Who spin-off announced! plus Terry Pratchett, TV industry news and more

Doctor Who's Captain Jack Harkness

What's happening in the world of TV…

• BBC Three has today, 17th October, announced the commissioning of Torchwood, a new Doctor Who spin-off series featuring John Barrowman’s popular Who companion Captain Jack Harkness. The 13-episode series, created by Doctor Who executive producer Russell T Davies, is set in modern-day Cardiff and, according to BBC Three Controller Stuart Murphy, focuses on “a renegade bunch of investigators who investigate real-life, normal crimes. They also look into alien happenings. They have been charged by the British government to find alien technology that has fallen to Earth and they need to do it without the FBI and UN knowing."

The series is aimed at a post-watershed audience; Davies describes the series as “a British Sci-Fi paranoid thriller, a cop show with a sense of humour – it's dark, wild and sexy, it's The X-Files meets This Life. It's a stand-alone series for adult audiences which will have its own unique identity.”

Understandably, given that the series is aimed at an older audience than Doctor Who, the two series will not feature interlinked storylines – though eagle-eyed viewers will have spotted a reference to the ‘Torchwood Institute’ in Who’s Season One finale The Parting of the Ways, and references to Torchwood will be seeded throughout the forthcoming Doctor Who Christmas Special and Season Two. Writers confirmed for Torchwood include Sapphire and Steel’s PJ Hammond and Born and Bred creator Chris Chibnall; the series will be transmitted in Summer 2006.

• CBBC has announced a new Sunday teatime drama adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s bestselling children’s novel, Johnny and the Bomb, adapted for television by Peter Tabern. The third title in Pratchett’s Johnny Maxwell trilogy focuses on the adventures of a Time-travelling bag lady, and stars Zoë Wanamaker, Frank Finlay and Keith Barron. The second book in the trilogy, Johnny and the Dead, was adapted by ITV in 1995.

• The BBC has revealed plans for a new series based around the Arthurian druid Merlin. Speaking in MediaGuardian, BBC controller of drama commissioning revealed that, “It's in early development. It's a fictional piece about the young Merlin set in Arthurian times, being developed for the Doctor Who slot, 7pm on Saturday."

It follows the earlier announcement that the BBC are developing a new version of Robin Hood for the same slot; it’s thought that Robin Hood will air in Autumn 2006, while Merlin will be on screen in 2007. Born and Bred creator Chris Chibnall is penning the draft scripts for Merlin, which is produced by Sue Hogg and Simon Lewis.

• ITV and the BBC have joined forces to launch a new free digital satellite service in an attempt to take on the current pay-TV market-leader BSkyB. The broadcasters announced that the satellite service will “complement” their existing Freeview set-top box service, and will compete with Sky’s own free satellite system. ITV chief executive Charles Allen said: "Many people want Freeview but are unable to get it, and don't want to join a pay-TV service for various reasons." The BBC/ITV Freesat service will offer all of the digital channels provided by both broadcasters, including BBC3, BBC4, ITV2, ITV3 and the forthcoming ITV4. Channel 4 will not be involved in the initial launch, claiming that it has "no present plans" to review its current arrangement with Sky, but that it would "watch how Freesat develops with interest."

• SMG, the owner of the ITV1 franchise in Scotland, is mulling the possibility of launching a national digital TV channel. As well owning the Scottish ITV license, the Glasgow-based group owns Virgin Radio – leading to speculation that it might be planning to launch a TV station with the Virgin brand name. "I would like to have a national channel sat alongside my other national businesses,” SMG chief executive Andrew Flanagan told MediaGuardian. We are comfortable with our position in each of our marketplaces but I would like to protect our position in TV."

• More for the Doctor Who rumour mill – according to posters at the Digital Spy web forum, reports suggest that One Foot in the Grave’s Annette Crosbie has been cast as Queen Victoria in Season Two. It’s unconfirmed by the BBC at present, but Crosbie has a good track record in playing the grumpy monarch; she played Victoria in the 1975 mini-series Edward VII.

• The WB has premièred its new paranormal series Supernatural on the Internet. The 60-minute first episode can be viewed on Yahoo!’s US TV website here.

Catch up on the latest news, in
TV Zone #195

Image © BBC
News © Visual Imagination 2005. Not for reproduction

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TV Zone #195, see below for ordering options
TV Zone #195
November 2005
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