Doctor Who Return Ruined By Digital Pirates

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

doctor who peter capaldi

Right now, fans are gearing up for a new era of Doctor Who: we have a brand-new Doctor and a new streaming home on Disney+ along with the return of beloved showrunner Russel T. Davies. In many ways, this is the biggest news for the franchise since it got a modern relaunch back in 2005. What most Doctor Who fans don’t know, however, is that the ambitious 2005 revival of the longrunning series was nearly ruined by digital pirates who leaked the premiere episode “Rose” to BitTorrent three weeks before it was broadcast on the BBC.

The Worst Time For Such A Breach

Christopher Eccleston as Doctor Who

Obviously, what made this leak so notable was that it was the premiere episode of a brand-new era of Doctor Who. Showrunner Russel T. Davies as well as the cast and crew had worked hard to craft a version of this venerable franchise that would appeal to longtime fans as well as newcomers. The episode leaking to the internet nearly a month before its worldwide premiere threatened to undo all that work, especially if the leak led to bad word-of-mouth.

Plenty Of Theories

Speaking of word-of-mouth, one of the big theories at the time was that the Doctor Who episode had been leaked by a disgruntled member of a fan organization who wanted to generate a negative fan campaign, effectively sabotaging the new show before it could find an audience. Another theory was that the BBC had deliberately leaked the copy themselves in order to generate positive word-of-mouth and get other countries to pick up the new show. In reality, it was leaked by an employee of a Canadian company who had a legit copy, and that employee was fired, with the BBC threatening to take legal action. 


It may be hard for younger readers to ponder, but another thing that made this Doctor Who leak so groundbreaking was that BitTorrent was relatively new at the time. The file-sharing protocol was released in 2001, and most fans in 2005 weren’t quite ready for how easy it was to share leaked copies of big-budget productions. In some ways, the Doctor Who creators were lucky that the leaked episode was nearly finished, meaning it looked far better than the infamous workprint leak of the 2009 film X-Men Origins: Wolverine which had embarrassing animatics in place of many finished special effects.

The Only Difference Was Musical

In fact, the only real difference between the leaked Doctor Who episode and the final version is that it lacked the new theme song arrangement by Murray Gold. As such, those who did watch the leaked version early mostly debated things like how good Christopher Eccleston was as the Doctor and how cute Billie Piper was at the newest Companion. In other words, they simply debated what everyone else was debating three weeks later, so this leaked version didn’t cause any real harm to the franchise.

The Doctor Vs. Pirates

doctor who edgar wright

These days, digital piracy is much more ubiquitous, but companies like Disney have gotten very adept at preventing leaks from happening. As such, the latest Doctor Who premiere hasn’t been leaked, and we are all waiting to be dazzled by the latest series. While waiting for it to premiere (oh, to have a TARDIS and travel a few hours into the future), we are left considering the irony that the Doctor had no trouble with pirates back in the 17th century but was nearly defeated by an entirely different kind of pirate in the 21st century.