‘Soaps are collapsing’: Screenwriter on last day of filming Doctors

The end of the series has been called ‘disastrous’ for emerging talent.

‘Soaps are collapsing’ – screenwriter on last day of filming BBC Doctors BBC Studios

A screenwriter has warned that TV soaps are “collapsing” as he marked the last day of filming Doctors.

The BBC soap will come to an end on screen later this year after the corporation axed the show due to “super inflation in drama production”.

Set in a Midlands GP practice, the show – launched in 2000 – has seen Game Of Thrones star Emilia Clarke, This Morning’s Alison Hammond, Ruthie Henshall, Fantastic Beasts film series actor Eddie Redmayne and Sheridan Smith all make appearances.

Emilia Clarke is among several global stars to have appeared in Doctors.PA Media

In a series of posts on X, formerly Twitter, on Friday, Philip Ralph explained as a 19-year writer on the show he was “personally impacted” by the “disastrous decision” to cancel the soap.

He said in its 24-year history, Doctors has given “opportunity and experience” to budding actors, writers and production staff.

“Over 600 guest actors every year likewise got the chance to work, be seen, renew their faith in their abilities, and keep going,” he added.

“A writing team of up to 60 writers crafted original, bonkers, moving, real (and often surreal!) stories based around the lives of our regulars.”

He also said that “there is nowhere in the industry” for TV workers to find the experience to get into the industry.

“The TV industry is contracting,” Ralph, who also worked on Holby City which was axed in 2021, said. “Production across the board is way down.

“(Union) Bectu recently surveyed its members and found 68% of them are currently out of work. Doctors was a much-needed ‘finger in the dam’ of this terrible situation. And now it’s gone with nothing to replace it.

“Without opportunity and experience, the TV industry is simply not a sustainable profession. Now you might well point me towards a million schemes and opportunities for new writers, producers, and crews to gain early career experience..

“But if there is no work available for them beyond that, and even experienced creatives are unable to find work, then you simply do not have a viable industry.”

He said this “excludes those from less well-off and more diverse backgrounds” as they will not be able to make the same sacrifices while waiting for work.

“The soaps are collapsing,” Mr Ralph added. “Mid scale drama is contracting. This leaves just the high profile writers and creatives succeeding, and everyone else scrabbling around for scraps, hoping to somehow ‘win the lottery’ and get onto an existing show or…– even more miraculous in the current climate – get their own original series idea commissioned.

“There’s no ‘career ladder’ left. There’s incredible good fortune – or there’s nothing. And that’s no way to build and grow a sustainable industry.”

He added that outside of the impact on the industry and staff it is also “disastrous for the tone of public discourse” as he claimed the soap is a positive show compared to other dramas.

“Don’t get me wrong – no TV show has the right to continue to exist if ratings fall or tastes change,” he also said.

“But Doctors was a success. Its ratings were high. Its audience was loyal. It cost next to nothing, and the benefits of making it clearly far outweighed the expense.”

Ralph claimed the real reason was due to the BBC’s budget being squeezed due to the corporation’s licence fee being frozen in recent years.

“I believe every crisis is an opportunity,” he also said.

“Times of change are times of renewal. Every storyteller knows that endings are just beginnings in disguise.”

Announcing the decision to end Doctors, which will see its final episode airing in December 2024, the BBC also cited “further investment” to refurbish the Birmingham filming site.

The BBC licence fee is set to rise in April, to £169.50 a year in line with September’s (Consumer price index) CPI, a way of calculating inflation at a lower rate than previously used.

The corporation previously said this would “require further changes on top of the major savings that we are already delivering”.

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