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BBC: Take Down ‘Doctor Who’ Virgin Ad

David Tennant and time travel too much for British broadcaster

If anyone is going to commercialize “Doctor Who,” it’s BBC … and if anyone else tries (even in passing), they better watch out.

Even if you’re Virgin Group head Richard Branson.

A new commercial touting Virgin’s video on-demand service with TiVo has BBC up in arms, not because it features former “Doctor Who” star David Tennant, but because the entire commercial appears to be themed after “Doctor Who.” (See the commercial right here).

In the ad, Tennant is sitting on a couch in a warehouse, flipping through his Virgin Media on-demand television system while Branson is in the background tinkering with a time machine. Tennant shares the features of the TiVo-based system, including the fact that you can look up shows and movies based on actors. When Tennant brings himself up, it shows his past work, including the Harry Potter films, and “Doctor Who” (using the current logo after his departure).

In the meantime, Branson gets in his time machine, and then steps out a much younger version of himself, but still with his trademark facial hair.

BBC, however, wants the ad pulled down.

“Virgin did not run this advert past us, and if they had, it probably would have been turned down,” a BBC source reportedly told The Mirror in the United Kingdom.

However, Virgin is standing firm, saying that while there may be aspects that may relate to some of Tennant’s past work, what television viewers see in the Virgin Media ad is not “Doctor Who.”

“Our new campaign explores some of the benefits of Virgin Media TiVo, including the ability to search for your favorite actor and discover TV programs, films and YouTube content available live, on-demand and as catch-up TV,” a spokesperson for Virgin said.

BBC, a government-subsidized broadcaster in the United Kingdom, generates non-tax revenue from international sales of its programs to commercial distributors, including BBC America in the United States. “Doctor Who” is one of the BBC’s most popular properties internationally, and has traditionally been very protective of how the franchise is portrayed through other media.

The Mirror, however, also suggests this might be more about how the BBC is perceived than “Doctor Who” itself. According to BBC guidelines, the broadcaster has to be careful as not to appear to endorse outside companies or organizations.

“We can achieve this by ensuring commercial advertising, promotion and press releases by outside companies to not give the impression of BBC endorsement, and advertising does not ‘pass off’ BBC programs,” according BBC’s guidelines.

There is no word if Virgin will remove the ads, or what kind of legal action BBC can take if Virgin does not comply with the request.

See the Virgin Media ad in question by clicking here.

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