Though the show Doctor Who is relatively old (it originally ran from 1963 – 1989), it has made a point to modernize itself and forge a context in modern television since its re-launch in 2005. Doctor Who has consistently experimented with transmedia storytelling, and the series of “Tardisodes” released along with Series 2 of the show in 2006 is a great example of this.
These Tardisodes (TARDIS + episodes) were short 1-2 minute videos that were released a week before the new full episode aired and were either sent to your phone or released online. Even though they were offered both online and via cell phone, the main intention of the Tardisodes was for viewers to download them to their phones. However, they were not nearly as successful on mobile phones as the producers expected. There were only about 40,000 downloads total (about 3,000 per week) versus the 2.6 million online users. Therefore, the producers considered the episodes to be a failure. However, I think that the Tardisodes demonstrated transmedia storytelling’s power through the internet.
The formula of each Tardisode is very similar. They are mainly used to set up the following episode or provide its backstory. They often leave the viewer in suspense and have no resolution, which creates excitement about the next episode. This is what Geoffrey Long refers to as negative capability. The poet John Keats originally created the term negative capability to describe something that is mysterious or uncertain. But when used to describe storytelling, it is the concept of building gaps into a story “to evoke a delicious sense of ‘uncertainty, Mystery, or doubt’ in the audience” (Long, 53). This allows viewers to hypothesize/imagine what they think might have happened, and it compels them to watch the following episode in hopes of having their questions answered.
It also demonstrates the term “additive comprehension”, which Henry Jenkins describes in his article “Transmedia 101” as the way in which each text presents new information that makes you revise your understanding of the whole fiction. In the case of the Tardisodes, it means that those who have watched them may have a different understanding of the following episode because they have information the TV viewer doesn’t have. For example, I watched an episode of Series 2 (“The Girl in the Fireplace”) first, and then went back and watched the Tardisode. The episode features a broken clock in a little girl’s bedroom, which is never explained. However, the Tardisode shows a crew member of a ship being killed by something (which you find out in the episode is a clock-like android) and then the clock breaking.
Another component of these Tardisodes is the idea of worldbuilding. This is a common transmedia element which Jenkins explains in “Transmedia 101”. It is the idea that these transmedia stories take place within a complex fictional world that extends beyond just the characters or plots we are aware of, and this creates an “encyclopedic impulse” (Jenkins) for viewers to learn about the entire fictional world. These Tardisodes contribute to the worldbuilding of the Doctor Who universe because almost every Tardisode only features minor characters that will disappear after the next episode or after that Tardisode. Almost none of the main characters that viewers are familiar with appear in the Tardisodes. Doctor Who constantly brings in new characters to be introduced to the audience, and then throws them away after the episode and/or Tardisode are done. The transient nature of the majority of the characters, then, allows the viewer to understand that there is a larger, more complex world that the main characters of the show exist within.
I think that though the Tardisodes failed to receive as many views from mobile downloads as the creators had intended, the online support and interest in the Tardisodes proves that the internet is a powerful transmedia tool.
Jenkins, H. (2007). Transmedia Storytelling 101. Retrieved from: http://henryjenkins.org/2007/03/transmedia_storytelling_101.html
Long, G. (2007). Transmedia Storytelling: Business, Aesthetics and Production at the Jim Henson Company. Available from MIT Comparative Media Studies database. Retrieved from: http://cmsw.mit.edu/transmedia-storytelling-jim-henson-company/
Bulkley, K. (2006, October). ‘Tardisode’ audience fails to materialize. The Guardian. Retrieved from: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2006/oct/16/bbc.broadcasting