BBC Studios Vanessa Hamilton on the near-limitless opportunities to extend the Doctor Who brand

Doctor Who’s Vanessa Hamilton on how she steers the brand through licences of every kind as well as dimensions in time. Kind of…

Vanessa, tell me a little about your background…
My passion is helping people have a deeper relationship with the stories they love, as there’s such a sense of personal connection and community when a story speaks to you. I’ve been lucky enough to work at world-class brands at Disney and amazon, but the brand that I’m the biggest fan of is Doctor Who.

And how did you come to be involved with it?
When I moved to the UK from the US a little over four years ago, I thought “How amazing would it be to use my skills on this brand that I love?”. So, I actively sought out the chance to work on the brand. Talk about landing your dream job!

You actually targeted it? Impressive! So what did you do for Disney and amazon?
Well, the majority of my career has been focused on media sales and marketing, helping companies connect to their target audience through the power of storytelling and personalised targeting. As a Senior Account Executive at Radio Disney, I created custom multi-market promotional programs that connected advertisers to families…

Vanessa Hamilton, BBC Studios
They utilised some of Disney’s most powerful franchises. I then made the move to amazon Toy & Games, where I worked with brand owners such as Disney, Star Wars, and Nickelodeon and their licensees to effectively drive sales on the world’s largest e-commerce platform.

With Doctor Who, the brand-extension opportunities seem limitless: gaming, immersive theatre, escape rooms, audio, books, figures, apparel, home entertainment… And you have decades of material for inspiration! How do you know where to start?
More than anything, Doctor Who should feel welcoming and inclusive, no matter if you’re “New to Who” or have been with the brand since 1963. For me, our brand values will always be our guiding star when thinking about how we should think about the extension of the brand and what partners would be a good fit. For example, all things Doctor Who should spark your imagination and have a sense of adventure at its heart – or hearts…

“All things Doctor Who should spark your imagination and have a sense of adventure at its heart – or hearts…”

Ha! Excellent! And in what categories do you think the brand naturally thrives?
I think the brand thrives in editorially led categories such as audio, publishing, gaming and live events, that allow for exploration of the nooks and crannies of the adventures we don’t get to see on screen. For example, Big Finish have just launched The Ninth Doctor Adventures with Christopher Eccleston, allowing fans to explore new stories with the Ninth Doctor for the first time.

Vanessa Hamilton, BBC Studios
Christopher Eccleston came back to the role? I hadn’t heard; that’s interesting…

Right?! And collector items are also a big hit with our fandom, with figurines from Character Options and Hero Collector, and new partners such as Build-A-Bear, offering fantastically fun products for all generations.

Another area that seems to resonate with our fanbase are “quirky” products that allow them to show off their fandom in unexpected ways like the popular TARDIS French Press Carafe. A new partnership that I think our fans will be excited about is with Geeki Tikis, a line of drinkware that combines pop culture’s most beloved characters with the unique stylization seen in traditional tiki culture.

Vanessa Hamilton, BBC Studios
I’ll have to check that out! Conversely, are there any areas that have tended not to work? Things that you now look at with a little hesitation?

The brand has the scope to work well across almost any category, so for me it’s more about ensuring it feels authentic. For example, Doctor Who has always been different than other heroes that you see on TV.

In what way?
I think former showrunner Steven Moffat put it well. He said, “When they made this particular hero they didn’t give him a gun, they gave him a screwdriver to fix things. They didn’t give him a tank or a warship or an X-Wing, they gave him a call box from which you can call for help, and they didn’t give him a superpower or a heat-ray, they gave him an extra heart.”

That’s very good; that really communicates the brand tone…
So, putting the Doctor as the primary character in a first-person shooter game wouldn’t be authentic to the brand. But that doesn’t mean that gaming as a category doesn’t work for the brand, it absolutely does.

Vanessa Hamilton, BBC Studios
It just needs handling smartly?

Yes, exactly. And a great example is Doctor Who: The Edge of Time, our interactive VR game published by Maze Theory. The game focuses on problem-solving to save the day, allowing it to remain authentic to how the Doctor would approach any challenge – brains over brawn every time!

And I guess that’s important, because it would be the easiest thing in the world to just brand slap Doctor Who on stuff. How important, then, is great design in what you do?
It’s hugely important. While “brand slaps” could be an easy thing to do, we would risk eroding trust with fans, and for that reason, design and authenticity are always top of the mind in the development process. It is our priority to continually surprise and delight our fans.

“Brand slaps risk eroding trust with fans, so design and authenticity are always top of the mind in the development process.”

You say “our” – who’s on the team?
Internally, we’re lucky to have Gabby DeMatteis as Brand Editorial Manager, and Ross McGlinchey, Consumer Product Development Executive. They both know the brand inside and out and work with our partners to ensure development aligns with brand guidelines and design standards.

We also get the chance to work with some fantastic designers across our partners. One recent example that stands out for me is Rebecca Brower, the production designer for our live experience Doctor Who: Time Fracture. Her brilliant set and costume designs will immerse audiences into the world of Doctor Who when the event launches later this year.

Vanessa Hamilton, BBC Studios
Yes; there’s been a lot of buzz about that. And can you give us a couple of examples of other brand extensions that you think have nailed it?

Looking back on my time in the role, the project that I am most proud of is Time Lord Victorious. This is a combined storytelling experience spanning over six months… It turns a single moment in the canon of Doctor Who into a multi-platform adventure with 40 products across 10 platforms. It was a fantastic example of cross-division collaboration and partnership and it has been so rewarding to see the positive fan reactions to the project.

And moving forward? What’s next?
We have quite a few brand extensions we’re excited about. Last week, Maze Theory launched The Lonely Assassins. This is a thrilling ‘found-phone mystery’ that builds on the iconic Doctor Who episode ‘Blink’ – with the terrifying Weeping Angels.

Later this year, we have Doctor Who: Time Fracture by Immersive Everywhere, which I mentioned earlier. It’s a ground-breaking immersive theatrical adventure: it plunges you into the incredible universe of Doctor Who. Last but, certainly not least, Christopher Eccleston returns to the role of Ninth Doctor this May in a new series of audio adventures from Big Finish Productions.

That must have got fans very excited! And I appreciate things will be different every time but, broadly speaking, what’s the creative process for you?
I’ve found the most integral part of unlocking the creative process has been collaboration across the key stakeholder teams. They include production, licensing, and marcomms… Facilitating that collaboration across the brand is a big part of my role, and includes weekly meetings with the Cardiff-based production team.

Vanessa Hamilton, BBC Studios
The actual TV production team?

Yes! We tie in with them to manage inbound opportunities and important work upstream, to identify future areas of opportunity for the brand and our partners. It is an ongoing exercise in connecting the dots to maximise opportunities.

You have some insight into what’s coming up on screen, then? Interesting… Alright. There can’t be many areas left for you to explore – but is there anything you’d love to do with the licence that you’ve not yet had the opportunity to do?
We’re always looking for new ways to work with partners to engage more meaningfully with our audiences. Time Lord Victorious highlighted the power of synergy and how well our ecosystem of partners complement one another. So, I’d like to see us iterate and improve the learnings that we took from that project.

Finally, what’s the one question I should ask you but I haven’t asked you so far?
I can tell you the question that people typically want to ask: “What’s coming up in the next series of Doctor Who?”

Well now that you mention it – what’s the answer to that?
The answer is, “I could tell you but then I’d have to exterminate you!”

Oh no! You’re kidding?! I thought you were going to tip your hand a little!
I’m kidding about extermination – but I’m still not telling you anything.

Vanessa Hamilton – thank you so much for your time!

Vanessa Hamilton, BBC Studios

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