Doctor Who is a television show, which first aired way back in 1963. It introduced to the world a mysterious time-traveller (originally played by William Hartnell) who went by the name “the Doctor”. The show went on to become incredibly successful, running from 1963-1989. After a brief break, it tried to re-launch as a film for television in 1996, and then successfully re-booted as a TV show in 2005. It continues to be successful, with a new season airing in April, 2011.

Doctor Who ran from 1963 until 1989, one of the longest periods that a science fiction television series has stayed on air. Part of the reason the show has been able to run so long is built into the plot itself. The Doctor does not die, instead he regenerates into a new body. Effectively this means that a new actor can step in to play the character whenever it is required. This allows the show to remain fresh and changeable, and leaves room for change as well in terms of convergence culture.

    Though Doctor Who didn’t start out with a “transmedia plan” as such, it has still managed to branch out and converge over several different mediums over time. As technology advances, so does the show and its approach to transmedia and convergence culture. Neil Perryman tells us that “The British science fiction series Doctor Who embraces convergence culture on an unprecedented scale, with the BBC currently using the series to trial a plethora of new technologies, including: mini-episodes on mobile phones, podcast commentaries, interactive red-button adventures, video blogs, companion programming, and `fake' metatextual websites. In 2006 the BBC launched two spin-off series, Torchwood (aimed at an exclusively adult audience) and The Sarah Jane Smith Adventures (for 11—15-year-olds), and what was once regarded as an embarrassment to the Corporation now spans the media landscape as a multi-format colossus.

  • Online Games
With the re-boot of “New Who” in 2005, BBC started branching out into online games through its website. In this newest branch of convergence, fans can now interact with their favourite characters and monsters in different ways, often able to explore different plot possibilities.

  • Books
Books were the first medium for the show to branch into, with the first book released in 1964, the year after the show first aired. From that point there have been written literally hundreds of books based in the storyworld of Doctor Who. This has been a reliable and long lasting way of exploring alternative storylines and reaching fans who want to know the most about their favourite characters that they can. 

  • Audio
Another way of reaching audiences in a different way is through audio. These can take the form of talking books, radio dramas, original television soundtracks, documentaries, and audio adventures. The two spin-off shows, Torchwood and The Sarah-Jane Adventures, also have expanded storylines through audio.   

  • Spin-Off Shows
When Doctor Who successfully started again in 2005, it generated its own spin off shows. One aimed more at an adult audience, and the other for younger children. All three shows have had cross-over between them and are all connected to the one Doctor Who universe.
    • Torchwood
Torchwood first aired in 2006, with at first limited success, but bounced back and returned in 2008, with a new season currently in production. Torchwood takes a more “grown up” approach, often tackling much darker or more controversial storylines than Doctor Who.
    • Sarah Jane Adventures
The Sarah Jane Adventures first aired at the start of 2007. The show is based around the character of Sarah Jane, a companion who was introduced to Doctor Who way back in 1973, and continued to make appearances even after she left in 1976. The Sarah Jane Adventures was aimed at a much younger audiences, and so featured not only Sarah Jane, but also her adopted son and his friends, as well as K-9 the robotic dog. Since the death of Elisabeth Sladen (the actress who played Sarah Jane all the way through) the show will not be continuing.

  • Television Movie
In 1996, a Doctor Who movie was released. It was received with mixed reviews, some loved the new perspectives and ideas within it, but others hated the American take on a quintessentially British brand.  The producers managed to alienate a big part of their fan base by going off cannon with the plot. Many of the ‘heretical’ claims made in the film (such as the Doctor claiming to be half human) have since been for the most part ignored by the revived TV series.

One of the traits of a successful convergence brand is that someone can enter the universe of the storyworld at any point on any platform or device and still be able to at least vaguely know what is going on. Doctor Who is really only now starting to succeed in this, branching out into more experimental forms of storytelling that stand alone, but still adding depth to the overall universe.

On the Official ABC Television blog, they had this to say about Doctor Who in April of 2010, when Series 5, starring Matt Smith and Karen Gillan, began. “Friday night’s midnight debut of the new Doctor Who series on the catch up tv service ABC iView has proved a huge success, with more than 112,000 views over the weekend of the Australian premiere of the cult series online and a further 1,033,000 tuning in to the Sunday night screening on ABC1and a free-to-air share of 18.6%. Doctor Who’s launch on ABC iView also resulted in the catch up tv service receiving its biggest boost to visitor numbers. In the week ending April 18, ABC iView recorded a total of 224,000 visitors, 540,000 visits and 2.8 million page views.

Doctor Who is starting to become a successful transmedia brand, but it still has a little way to go before it fully embraces transmedia storytelling. The way that Doctor Who succeeds in transmedia at the moment is the depth of engagement that fans can choose to have in the overall world, with the few deep inlets into the universe.


CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is a very successful crime show, which has its home set in Las Vegas. The show centres around a team of forensic scientists and other experts in criminology doing their best to protect everyday citizens, catch bad-guys and solve the twists and turns of each weeks murder. The show first aired in 2000, and soon became one of the most popular shows on television. Soon the show branched out into a whole “universe” with spin off shows CSI: New York and CSI: Miami, while also making special episodes with other crime shows like Cold Case and Without A Trace. CSI has certainly made a big impact on current trends not only in television but also in convergence culture.

CSI has been around for just over a decade now, which in comparison to Doctor Who is quite a short time. However in relation to the impact that CSI has had on convergence culture, that longevity doesn’t seem quite as important anymore. Time will tell now whether or not the show continues to have the same success, and if it lasts anywhere near as long as Doctor Who.

CSI aired just as big ideas on convergence and transmedia were beginning to explode, so CSI was structured with those ideas in mind. It was created with room to grow into a whole universe that could be entered into at any point and still make some sort of sense. This is why CSI has been able to compete so strongly, because of a strong sense of convergence culture.

  • Spin-Off Shows
After the success of the original show, the producers were quick to release the spin-off shows CSI: Miami in 2002, and then CSI: New York in 2004. Both spin-off shows are based on the same principles as the original, but have their own distinct flavours. They are different to each other not only the aesthetics but also the thematic explorations. This is because the central characters are all very different from each other, and all have different back-stories and different relationships to each other, meaning that there are different overall themes that the show can explore through them.

    • CSI: New York
CSI New York recently tried out Second Life as a transmedia experience. “It's a bit of an ARG, really, playing out on television, in Second Life and through blogs, videos and podcasts. If only there were mobile text messages being sent when you got stuck - that's what always happens in the TV show, isn't it? In a rather spooky yet compelling way, this is also why you're in Second Life in the first place: on the trail of a stalker cum murderer who trailed his victim into Second Life to kill her. First life, Second Life... all this transmedia stuff is getting a bit heavy.

    • CSI: Miami
CSI Miami solidly became part of nerd culture with an internet meme. The main character Horatio always does the same kind of move at the beginning of each show, and fans soon picked up on it, mimicking him to comic effect.

  • CSI - The Experience
A big part of CSI’s transmedia plan has been portals into the storyworld that anyone can access. CSI - The Experience is a big part of that. There are two parts to this, one is real world interaction and the other is online.
    • Real World
In the real world exhibit, you can go along and solve cases in a really interactive way. There are things to see, buttons to press and storylines to uncover. They use footage and ideas that haven't been used in the show, so there are new things to see and explore. So far the exhibit has been quite a success.
    • Online Experience
The Online Experience offers a similar idea, but online instead. There are many mysteries to solve, and has unique insights into the universe of CSI. There are videos to watch and buttons to click, and many different outcomes to explore. Most of the fan reviews on the official website are quite positive, revealing that this idea too is a success.

  • Games on Various Platforms
The games have all received fairly mediocre reviews, mostly because their “appeal still remains elusive to all but the most vehement fans of the TV series.” Gamespot was quite harsh in its review of the CSI adventure games, even saying “Fans of CSI will likely enjoy the game's representation of the show, but anyone serious about adventure gaming will probably just find the game boring and stupidly easy.” This is one area where CSI has been less successful in exploring convergence culture, mostly because instead of exploring the limits of the platform or even new ideas, the games stayed stuck in the mold of the original TV show.

Each episode and ‘branch’ of CSI as a brand is designed to be at least to some degree, self contained. Each week there is a murder or mystery that must be solved, and unless there is a cliff-hanger ending, that murder or mystery will be resolved by the end of the episode. The main characters may go through some sort of character growth, but this doesn’t usually get in the way of the main storyline of the crime to be resolved. This means that there are multiple levels of engagement. If you follow the episodes chronologically then you will get a fuller view of the characters and their growth.

According to TV By the Numbers, “CSI, the number 1 show in 2009 lost Gil Grissom and also lost one spot and is now number 2 on the list. M*A*S*H, a show now only seen in reruns also dropped one spot and moved from number 2 to number 3.” Also, according to some of the latest statistics (May 6th 2011) CSI managed to get an audience of 10.67 million viewers.

CSI has been a successful transmedia brand right from the outset, but whether or not it lasts the test of time is another question CSI has had more initial success, and because it set out to be a transmedia brand from the very beginning.


So what can we, as media practitioners learn from the success's and failures of Doctor Who and CSI?
  • The content and characters are what is important, the creative idea that keeps the project alive and what allows it to keep on regenerating.
    1960’s Doctor Who is famous for the non-realistic special effects used, but that didn’t end up being important to the way audiences came to love the characters and their storylines. On page 18 and 19 of The Essential Science Fiction Television Reader by J. P. Telotte, it is mentioned that the success of shows like Doctor Who and Star Trek can be attributed to the fact that they paid “less attention to special effects than to character and situations”. The characters within the show and the stories they follow are what is important.

  • Having a convergence plan right from the start is a good idea.
    CSI can attribute a lot of its success to the fact that it allowed space for growth. They continue to explore different ways of telling the stories, which encourages fan engagement, which then allows for the show to keep on expanding.